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Monday, September 1, 2014

Drawing a Line in the Lemonade

It’s Sunday, Journeyer, and this is what I have to say: The wheels on the mini-van go ‘round and ‘round…
This time we’re in Virginia for another training seminar that Fave and Warren are doing.
I’m the unofficially official videographer for this event and let me just say my son has figured out how to treat his mama right.
This introduction would make any mother beam with pride: “That beautiful, amazing woman over there? That’s my mom, a great addition to this camp. She’s going to be taking videos of the lifts so we can do video analysis later. Everyone say, ‘Hi, Mom.’ ”
I had the pleasure of meeting twenty-two delightful people from all over the United States.
As I looked through the photos and notes from the week, I couldn’t help but notice how those happy moments offset those not-so-happy ones.
It’s a bit like drawing a line in that proverbial glass of lemonade.
We refuse to be defined by the The Five D’s that seem to take up so much space in our heads and our hearts.
When our happy organ starts to go dry, we fill that well back up simply by choosing to pay homage to those simple and sizable pleasures that make us smile or laugh or feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
In the middle of the week, I made this note: HAPPY F-N HAPPENS!!!!!
I finally figured out how to find Facebook post URLs and then how to shorten them with that most amazing Bit-ly program that every online writer should have in her toolbox., Baby. One of your new best friends.
Clarification. I thought I had mastered something new. On Friday all of that sort of unraveled.
No. Nothing sort of about it.
I discovered that not only hadn’t I learned how to do this task correctly, I’d BLASTED cyberspace with erroneous links.
All. Over. The. Internet.
That’s the bad news.
Other Happy Moments include seeing my two boys bonding a little more and enjoying one another’s company.

Seeing this antique car, fully restored to its original glory, with a modern day bike rack on the back. How much fun is that?!

I reread the Letting Go inspirations/worksheet and had an epiphany, that brought with it a release of tension.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging everything, but to allow others to effect their own destinies.”
Even though I’ve always worked as a teacher in some capacity, even though I fully believe in Maya Angelou’s “When you learn, teach. At our best we are all teachers,” I do not have to always be wearing that mentor’s cap.
When I read that statement this time, it came to me as a gentle reminder that the best teachers allow people to learn from their own experiences, be they in the form of failure or success.
I do not always have to be imparting knowledge and encouraging thought…
I love entertaining as much as I love learning, so hosting a spaghetti dinner for Big Guy’s soccer team was one of my week’s happiest highlights.
They are one of the most gracious and well-rounded group of young men you can imagine.

Sixteen boys took over two floors of our home, and we barely knew they were here.
Guilty pleasures are a must and, though I don’t play Candy Crush nearly as often these days, I still feel excitement in my veins when I finally complete a level that I’ve been stuck on for months!

This pay-it-forward gift from a good friend couldn’t have shown up on my doorstep at a more opportune time!

She knows how much I love writing letters on stationary!
Coincidentally, I also put together the first of five-pay-it-forward gifts to people who responded to my Facebook pay-it-forward post.
Knowing that there are a few items we don’t think about purchasing when we’re setting up a new house, I gifted Fave with a few necessities I’m sure he’ll need for his new place.
Every bachelor pad needs specialty drinking mugs

There's nothing like family stories that live into legacy, and this weekend another tale was born.
Fave inherited my penchant for mixing metaphors...
Here are the two Annah-isms, though I guess they'd be called Fave-isms, that materialized through my otherwise intelligent, articulate, and well-spoken son: "I slept like a light." "We're trouble solving."
And I just love the Hampton Inn’s comforts and perks and the little touches that make being away from home feel like we are home.

How about you, Journeyer? What Moments filled your happy organ last week? Would love for you to share one or more of them here so that we can live vicariously through your joy, too!
Until next time, yours in healing, hope, and happiness.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Eleventh Commandment and Other Tips from The (Great) Writer's Codebook

“Don’t squish the bread.”
All you moms out there know exactly what I’m talking about.
We’ve conveyed those four words in all types of tones, though usually the command is projected with emphatic, if not menacing undertones.
You’ll go without lunch for a week or Can’t cut the crusts off of crushed bread, Kiddo.
I’m afraid I can’t relate to the latter, nor can my children.
Who in this blessed world has time for cutting the crust off bread?
Besides, there are starving people
Grocery shopping was notoriously a family event in our house, and “Don’t squish the bread” was a weekly directive.
“Is that like the eleventh commandment?” Fave once asked.
Squishing the bread is akin to a cardinal sin; it’s like culinary sacrilege at its best.
So, I know what you’re thinking: What on God’s green earth does squishing the bread have to do with writing?
Well, first of all it involves a story.
Second of all, a writer’s words are her bread and butter, food for the soul, or any other cliché you can think of.
And today I realized that I have spent the past week squashing some of my most important words, squeezed the very life out of them.
I’m talking about the kind of crushing that leaves that slice of wholesomeness so flattened it looks and feels like a gummy wad of nearly dried-up glue.
It’s totally useless…
I posted the links on Google and Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram and I asked you to share and share and share.
AND YOU DID! This post has one of my highest click rates of all time!
But after a week of watching that count go up and up, I began to wonder why no one was submitting nominations. Not one. Zilch. NADA.
So I did a bit of sleuthing today and realized my grave, grave mistakes.
1)   I had not tested the bit-ly link for the Facebook post.
2)   As if that weren’t bad enough, I discovered that the e-mail link on The Five Facets website was broken.

Heaven only knows how many of you have submitted entries to this giveaway!
O…M…G… even worse, how many of you have written for information in the six months since this blog went live?!
Talk about EPIC FAIL.
Falling flat on one’s face.
Suppressing any enthusiasm I might have drummed up.
I squashed those perfectly shaped writing resources and our connection with Olympic-caliber and perfect form.
Fortunately for me, we writers tend to be the forgiving kind, and fixing the little problem is almost as easy as hitting a few delete buttons.
I can also turn my little mishap into a post and offer a few gentle reminders for all of my writing friends out there.
One of the best ways to be successful is to pay attention to those habits and suggestions of those people you deem successful.
Below are a few of the tips I’ve culled from writers who seem to have made a place for themselves in The Writer’s Kingdom.
Eleven Commandments from The (Great) Writer’s Codebook
                1)     Write because you love words more than you need riches.
                2)     Write about what you know; it’s comfortable and it makes you look smart and savvy.
                3)     Write about what you don’t know; it’s a humble reminder that we don’t know everything and it makes everyone else feel good about what they do know.
                4)     The world is your oyster-ly muse. You can write about anything from tampons to that cat who just stuck his paw in your morning cup o’ joe.
                5)     Find your voice, that sweet spot that reflects your own cadence and flair and style. Personal style lends credibility and sense when you write about feminine plugs and that favorite feline.
                6)     Use your active voice; passive voice puts your readers to sleep and begins to feel like a sharp stick poking her in the eye.
                7)     Put your ass in that seat and your phone in another room.
                8)     Set a timer everything from showering and social media to writing.
                9)     Get up and MOVE; your fingers aren’t the only part of your body that needs exercise.
              10)    Patience is your new best friend. With it you won’t hit that Submit button when there are errors awaiting your attention. Without it you just might go stark raving mad before you receive that coveted acceptance letter.
And the eleventh commandment?
It’s actually one of the first things we learn and one of the last so many of us heed.
It’s so important that it’s worth amending The Writer’s Ten Commandments.
Here’s hoping The Writer’s Eleventh Commandment will now stand out as the most important
Are you ready?
If you have to, pay your kids or the neighborhood’s five-year-old  tech-genius to test your links.
There ya have it, Folks.
Now that you’ve sighed and winced and laughed a little, go proof that piece AND please, please, please get busy nominating your favorite teacher for our $500 pay-it-forward teacher supply giveaway!
Ten lucky teachers will each receive $50 in much needed classroom supplies.
You’re awesome.
Until next time, yours in healing, hope, and happiness.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to School in Serendipitous and Chicken of the Sea Style, and a #Teacher Supplies #Giveaway!

“When you learn, teach. At our best we’re all teachers.” ~Maya Angelou

It’s a great day, Journeyer, and it’s about to get EVEN BETTER!
Today, we have the opportunity to change lives.
Many lives.
You and me and Chicken of the Sea and the neighbors filling the rooms next door to us are about to make a difference of the Nth degree kind.
Across America people are preparing for Back to School.
Some of us are shopping at places like the Gap, where I once saw a woman ring up a tab of nearly six-hundred dollars on two outfits.
Some of us are shopping at outlet malls or back-to-school sales or at big-box retailers.
Some of us are shopping at thrift and second-hand shops.
Some of us are not shopping because the event hasn’t found its way into our busy schedules.
Some of us are not shopping because we don’t have the financial means to make those purchases or the physical means to get us there.
And, sadly, there are those among us who are not shopping because their personal priorities conflict with their children’s needs.
For those of us who can and do, there is a great deal of excitement and anticipation mixed in with a little stress and anxiety about the unknown for us and for our kids.
Those same things hold true for many of those students whose parents cannot come up with the means and for those of parents who won’t.
But for many of those children there is a great sense of dread, an overwhelming angst about how they are going to fit in, how they are going to be able to do their homework on empty stomachs, or how they’re ever going to be able to stay awake in class after a night of sleeping on a hard, cold floor.
And though our system is stressed to splitting its support seams, there are millions of people who are working hard to give these children what they need to survive and to thrive to the best of their ability and in spite of their environmental circumstances.
Some of those people are the teachers that stand in the front of their classrooms.

Having been involved in the wings of our education system for many years, I know that these leaders are more than educators.
Many of these people are, to the children, like the parents that are missing from the home equation.
Year after year I watch as these mentors spend countless dollars on supplies for their classrooms, most of the time these materials are for the students of those families who won’t or can’t.
Additionally, though, these givers are also spending their hard-earned dollars on items to help enrich their curriculums and programs, to enhance creativity, and to make the classroom more functional for all of its children.
I have teacher friends who regularly pool their financial resources with colleagues to purchase pure necessities like socks and pants and shoes.
Though teachers are allowed to write off a certain amount of these job-related expenses, the people I know far exceed the expenditure cap.
This recent Forbes article shines a tiny little light on the gravity of this generosity.
What teachers want and desperately need are classroom books and pencils and crayons and binders and flash drives and even bigger items like iPads for special needs students.

These are the gifts that we can wear day in and day out, they are the material things that are seen and used and blessed with thanksgiving almost every single day.
After I wrote that article, I had this big idea to do a grand scale drive and to donate collected materials to teachers in need everywhere.
I purchased some supplies to start off the endeavor, but when The Five Facets work began to take off, my attentions were redirected.
But the idea has stayed with me.
When school supplies started hitting the stores a month ago, I bought a few more items to add to the stash.

As you know, I’ve spent most of the summer on the road and following a very hectic schedule, one that hasn’t allowed me the time to take on such a venture.
But something happened three days ago, Journeyer.
I’m calling it Serendipity.
On August 9th, I stumbled upon Stephanie Weaver’s blog post Gratitude, Good Deeds, and Paying it Forward with Chicken of the Sea, and her call for entries to a $250 pay-it-forward sweepstake challenge she was facilitating for Chicken of the Sea.
I entered with my idea about providing much needed supplies to teachers. Then I forgot about it.
There were two-hundred responses by wonderful women and maybe a few men who had some of the most fabulously charitable thoughts, like the woman who was going to purchase fresh produce for elderly residents.
My little inspiration and I were lucky enough to be randomly selected.
The time to act is now.

No more excuses or putting this on the back burner, and I might add that I’m so thanking my lucky stars because I no longer have to worry about all those glue sticks drying out!
Here’s what I’ve decided to do, Journeyer.
I’m taking the $202.37 royalty payments from Digging for the Light: One Woman’s Journey from Heartache to Hope and adding the balance to match Chicken of the Sea’s pay-it-forward campaign.
Five-hundred dollars, Journeyer!
I’m so excited, and though I’d love to give to every educator with a need, I’ve got to make it count in as many ways as possible.
I’m going to take advantage of back-to-school sales, purchase as many items as I can, and donate fifty dollars worth of school supplies to ten deserving teachers.
Here’s where you come in, Journeyer.
Are you ready?
Put on those thinking caps because there are many ways for you to join in!
I’m going to select five of those teachers from my own back yard, and I’d like to choose the remaining five from your suggestions, matching needs to my stash.
That’s #1, nominate a deserving teacher here.
Spread this invitation like unbridled knowledge.
Spread it anywhere and everywhere! And if you’re on Google+ or Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter be sure to mention us!
Hashtag #BestTeachersGifts
I’d also be super-stoked if you’d click those little Like and Add buttons, too!
Some of you will be thinking We can reach more than ten teachers. We need to reach even more!
We do and we can!!
Start your own collection. If you’re a homeroom mom, ask parents to contribute whatever they are able to toward a collective Christmas or end-of-year gift for your child’s class.
Or, if you don’t have school-aged children, start a collection through any groups you belong to and make a donation to a local school.
If you want to do more but aren’t in a position to start your own collection, purchase items and send them to The Five Facets. If you have a target audience, let me know. I’ll do everything I can to match the supplies with an instructor with a similar wish.
If you have access to coupons or discounts or think of any other way to maximize these efforts I’d love to hear from you!
If you know a business you think might be willing to participate, send them to our site.
If two heads are better than one, then many minds are just downright genius and glorious!
Maya Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. At our best we’re all teachers.”

When we understand the value of giving, when we practice paying it forward, then so we edify philanthropy.
Thank you, again, Stephanie and Chicken of the Sea for making this possible.
Thank you, Journeyer, for whatever small or big part you are willing and able to play in this endeavor!
We have until October 15th, at which time I’ll finalize the ten recipients and begin packaging the items to send out around November 1.
Ready. Set. Sponsor! Share! Shop!
Until we meet again, yours in healing, hope, and happiness…


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Just Like the Proverbial Shit Happens, Happy Happens

Good morning, Journeyer,
This week has been agonizingly long and brutal…
I did not write.
I accomplished few, if any, of my daily designated tasks or goals.
I fought regularly with Warren.
I spent the better share of three days trying (unsuccessfully) to unravel an internet connection problem.
I experienced several nights of interrupted sleep, which is a rare occasion for me.
I spent the better share of the week feeling drained and fatigued.
I spent the better share of each day stuffing food into my mouth, vain attempts at creating some sort of energy.
I spent the better share of the week avoiding clothes with non-elastic waistbands.
I spent a good share of the week with puffy, swollen, and mascara smudged eyes.
And even though my newsfeeds are no longer headlining stories about Robin Williams’ life and subsequent death, I cannot seem to shake his suicide’s significance…
The short version?
My week sucked.
“How are you?” We ask people, but rarely do we want to know the truth.
Let’s work on that, shall we?
Let’s not pretend that our worlds are prim and proper and rosy and sweet smelling when they’re actually wearing a Royal Suckiness crown.
No, we don’t have to spill the laundry list to every person we come in contact with, but do we have to smile and say that we are fine or wonderful or peachy?
Can’t we say things like, “I’ve been better,” or simply, “I’m glad to see the sun shining today,” or “Thank you for asking?”
Even as I type those words, though, what is also crossing my mind is, Why can’t we just freaking say, “My day has sucked, really; how’s your day been?”
In essence, that’s what I’m doing with this weekly column.
Each week I invite you to share your moments of joy that happened as randomly as that old proverbial shit, and to encourage us all to remember that even when life seems to be placing steaming piles of shit at our feet, it is also presenting us with random moments of joy and peace and love and kindness.
It is the combination of all of those things that ultimately combine to create our sense of happiness.
And though I felt an extreme sense of overwhelm this past week, I was acutely aware of those moments that filled my happy organ.
As is often the case, many of this week’s events were like electric flashes, happening so quickly that I didn’t have time to capture them by photo.
When those fleeting moments present themselves, especially during trying times, I take pause long enough to write them down, so that I don’t forget, so that they don’t fade away into nothingness, so that they are given the attention and reverence they so deserve, the values of which I so deserve to reap…
This is the list I kept in my phone notes…minus those dastardly autocorrect errors and typos…
A paint horse kicking up his heels and frolicking in the rain
Running to the car in the rain with Big Guy, my sandal slipped off my foot and went skidding off in the water
Laugh with Big Guy as we ran from the photography studio to the car, in the pounding rain
Dinner and joking with Big Guy
Soaking in the hot tub and seeing two brilliant shooting stars
Hearing Fave’s excitement about his new truck
Thinking about getting closer to having Zee back
Going to dinner with Warren and friends (nice diversion)
And then there were these moments of reflection that combine to close this week on a happy note…
Big Guy and the baby toad he found…

…which brings back fond memories of helping each of my children with their second grade Frog and Toad book projects, a tradition at their elementary school.
This photo also reminds me of the big fat PAPA TOAD I found and brought in for Big Guy to see. I found the hopper after a late night walk with the dog one night. We couldn’t help but laugh as the creature peed all over me and the floor…
I recently learned that my life insurance company might reconsider my rates, since I am no longer a smoker.
AND THEY DO! There’s even an app (okay, a form…) for that!!!

Filling out this form reminded me how happy I am to be a non-smoker. I actually classify myself as a “recovering smoker.”
There’s not much that will cure what ails ya better than a day out with a girlfriend.

Needing a little adventure, we decided to quench our curiosity and try Thai food for the first time.
K enjoys food with bite while my taste buds don’t tolerate anything sour or spicy.
I LOVE the fact that you can order your meal with a spiciness rating from 0 to 5.
The waitress laughed when I told her minus or triple zero, and she winked at me when she said, “No try her food. Way too spicy.”
The presentation and the flavor was just right for both my friend and me.

We visited a local pottery store and then one of my all-time favorites, Ten Thousand Villages.
I purchased a few birthday and Christmas gifts, as well as one for myself…
This plaque made me think of Beauty, the only left-handed person in our immediate family.

One of my little hummingbirds created a disturbance outside of my window to let me know the feeder was empty.
I find great enjoyment in making homemade nectar and watching a steady stream of flyers outside my office window.

If you’re a hummingbird enthusiast and have never made your own, it’s a snap!
Homemade nectar recipe
One part sugar to four parts water. (I use ¼ cup sugar, 1 cup of water.)
Combine water and sugar and place over low heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved.
Be careful to not overheat and DO NOT BOIL.
Cool completely. Fill a CLEAN feeder. Enjoy the sight!

And last, but certainly not least is this BIG BIT OF JOY:
I am one of four lucky winners to receive a $250 pay-it-forward sweepstakes hosted by Stephanie Weaver over at Recipe Renovator and the folks at Chicken of the Sea.

Though I’m not always successful, paying it forward is something I try to keep at the forefront of my mind.
Whenever we enter a contest of any kind, we always hope to win, we toss out a bit of a wish onto the universe before forgetting about the entry and moving on with our lives.
One of the first things I usually do in the morning is log on to my computer and check my e-mail, but alas, I was faced with a fourth day of fluky internet service, which led to several more frustratingly unsuccessful hours of trying to solve the issue.
Finally giving up, I shut down my computer and opened my e-mail from my cell phone, right before heading out for my afternoon rendezvous.
That’s when I saw Stephanie’s message: You won the $250 cash prizes for pay-it-forward good deeds giveaway!
I can’t tell you how FREAKING EXCITED I am, Journeyer!!
But more importantly, this selection is not only spurring me on to do something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, it’s increasing the reach I’d envisioned.
I have something very special planned for these funds and I hope you’ll be a part of it.
If you’re a teacher or know a teacher or if you don’t know a teacher but know someone who knows a teacher, please, please, please come back on Tuesday to be part of a paying-it-forward to some of our world’s most deserving people: Teachers.
As the great Maya Angelou said: “We are all teachers whether we know it or not…”
What about you, Journeyer? What Moment(s) brought you a sense of peace or joy, what instance(s) made you laugh or smile? I invite you to share any or all of them here.
Until next time, yours in healing, hope, and happiness…

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tough as Woodpecker Lips

Laugh with me, Journeyer!
It is 8:29 on this Sunday morning and, for those of you who follow these weekly posts, you know what’s coming…
We are on the road, AGAIN…
Another nine to ten hours of driving today, this time to take Beauty back to college.
As I looked through this week’s photos, the experiences seemed so far away.
Given the fact that we’ve covered so many miles over these past seven days, I guess those happy moments were that distant.
Time seems to warp when our lives are crazy busy, when we’re juggling children and work and phone upgrades and paying bills and washing laundry and watering plants and feeding people and pets and walking ourselves and our animals and trying to keep relationships going…
“Tough as woodpecker lips.”
Though I can’t recall the context, I haven’t forgotten what that gold old southern boy gym owner said during last weekend’s seminar.
“What exactly does that mean?” I asked.
“I’m not really sure, but you can imagine how tough they must be,” he replied.
That’s what comes to mind this week, Journeyer!
We are all as tough as woodpecker lips, because that sort of strength is what it takes to survive life, sometimes.
My cyber friend, Angela Schmoll of The Reluctant Grandmother comes to mind right now.
Today is the one year anniversary of the last day she saw her son in the flesh, the last time she hugged him, the last time she got to tell him, in person, that she loves him.
Today is also the one year mark since she hosted a granddaughter’s birthday party, the event that brought the family together.
Today, as she celebrates the growth and boundless joy of one child, she grieves the end of another life and mourns the incessant turmoil that contributed to that demise.
All I can say is that we do have to be as tough as woodpecker lips when life presents us with such extremes.
Join me Journeyer, in holding space for Angela, for all of us who might be facing such complexity.
And let us remember that always, always in the midst of chaos and uncertainty there are moments that feed our happy organ, instances that make us smile, warm our heart, give us a sense of peace, or present us with closure…
Moments like these simple pleasures from my hectic week…
The Hampton Inn’s fun little welcoming gestures that remind us of simpler, more relaxing times…
In the elevators...

In the hallways…

I loved walking the beautiful LSUS campus one last time, strolling down these arbor-ed walkways and listening to the song of the cicadas...

My mama’s heart swelled with pride as Fave’s friends and neighbors and peers talked to us about how much they’d miss him, about the wonderful role model he’s been for their own little ones…

…when he talked about how much fun he had decorating for Halloween and entertaining the neighborhood children…

I loved listening to Fave and his roommate, an underprivileged youth mentor, delight in how excited the group was going to be with all of the donations he was leaving to them…

I was so happy to be able to say goodbye to many of these people who have become like family these past four years…

This quote taped to the gym door certainly talks about how striving for new heights is like being tough as woodpecker lips…

Speaking of closure, I enjoyed seeing Fave’s enthusiasm as we made final visits to some favorite stomping grounds…

…visited a few places he’d wanted to see but had never gotten to…

Isn't this sexy?

The "little fella," a blue-tailed Skink that Fave rescued from inside the boot store

…and I loved the wonder in his voice as he pointed to this glorious "sendoff sunset"…

…and I loved sharing in his excitement when he spotted his first armadillo…

Rounding out the week was Beauty’s twentieth birthday gathering…

...taking her back to college (photo to come)...
And school shopping and lunch with Big Guy (who didn't want his face in the photo)…

These are the moments that carried me through a very tough week, Journeyer, one in where I definitely had to be as tough as woodpecker lips…
What about you? What instances brought you joy or peace or happiness?
Until next time, yours in healing, hope, and happiness.