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One Step at a Time

#TAS

9

That is the number of years I have been a runner.

I have run with others, I have run races, I have run with my husband and all four of my daughters. What started out as therapy has turned into a source of strength, a life compass, and well—still manages to be a pretty decent therapy. Every new run is an adventure.

And it all started by taking a step.

Running shifts your focus: instead of collecting things, a runner collects moments.

I have run through freak storms, swirling autumn leaves, felt the first snowfall of the season against my cheeks, slugged through 90+ degree heat, and have seen nature sky shows so gorgeous that God should charge admission to view them.

These moments, better than movies or screenshots or memes, help me to better appreciate all of the little moments of simple beauty in my own life.

Running makes you a better listener.

I hear geese making their trek North or South—or here in Kentucky, just flying in confused circles. I’ve heard herons, deer, otters, skunks, and one pitiable crawfish squirming on its back in the middle of a road (which I relocated to a tiny stream.) I hear “Good morning,” from others I encounter. The sounds of nature, city sounds, and the environment a crescendo all around me.

And more than that, running helps me listen to myself nonjudgmentally. Anyone who has ever dealt with anxiety can appreciate the simple peace that comes with that kind of clarity.

Running is a challenge.

Like all challenges, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is a rush, the middle sometimes a struggle, but at the end there is a sense of elation and pride. Completing a run helps you realize that you can tackle other challenges in your life in the same way—one step at a time.

Life can be complicated. With so many different views, entertainment in so many forms, problems, and decisions, the word “simplicity” is relegated to a dusty back shelf somewhere, behind all of its shiny counterparts. Yet the best parts of life are always the simplest. And they can be found by

Taking

A

Step.

😉 Julie
#TAS

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March 23, 2018 · 12:09 pm

Start a Ripple

#STWK

It’s been almost a year since I have written a blog entry. Sometimes as a writer, and a person, you just have to write yourself for a while. The complications of life, high expectations and emotions, real world problems, and the constant barrage of negativity in social media is literally crushing for a sensitive artsy type like me. It is the great diversity in this world that makes it such a beautiful place. With what kids today are dealing with, I feel that social media is complicating the problems with hysteria. It’s almost as though everyone is screaming in a different language and no one is listening to one another. Coming together like that is impossible even when we all really want the same thing : a better world for our children.

The universal translator that is available in any form, online, in real life, the written word, the spoken word, a tangible act, a facial gesture, something that “the deaf can hear and the blind can see” (Mark Twain) is kindness. It is a one-size-lifts-all gift that is just as beneficial for the giver as the recipient. They say “kill them with kindness,” well I say “save them with kindness.”

There is no way to measure the pain of another human soul, but how can we show kids that pain means there is an opposite and just as strong peace on the other side of it? And that both emotions are merely building blocks to write their own stories? The misconception that life is about being happy all of the time can be found in the media, commercials, even in fairy tales that conclude “happily ever after.” But even a “happily ever after” has a “rest of the story.” The pain can be so isolating, it makes you believe you are totally alone in dealing with adversity while everyone else seems to have it so much easier.

Emotions are meant to be ever changing. You can’t protect your children from disappointment, pain, fear, or being tempted to do the wrong thing. To do so would be to stop them from feeling, which sets them up for living in an unreality that social media, drugs and alcohol, and the bad people of the world are only too happy to provide them with.

How can you help kids see that there is a way through the darkness?
Be supportive, listen, tell your children every day that you love them and that they are enough. Give them boundaries and let them feel the consequences of their choices. Read to them. Take them outside. Tell them about your childhood, moments that you were proud of and mistakes that you made as well. Let them know from the time they are very young that their feelings are significant but also manageable. Empower your children by showing them how they can help others in the real world.

Tell YOUR story. I know you have one, we all do. Whether you were bullied, the bully, or a faceless watcher who did nothing to help during the trying world of childhood and adolescence—tell your story so that kids know they are not alone. #STWK

Encourage your children to show kindness to others, always. Share your abilities, your time, your smile. Involve your kids in the good acts you do, let them see how good it feels to lift others. Have them “start a ripple” and flood social media with positivity #STWK

*Start a community campaign with local businesses donating space to have children paint positive quotes all over town

&/or post an uplifting quote on your social media page.

*Become a mentor for a troubled child or foster children who need a family and a home

&/or make a special uplifting note for each child in a class or school.

*Start a “SAVE THEM WITH KINDNESS” wall at your school where children can post anonymous acts of kindness they saw or did in a place that everyone can see it and be inspired

&/or share stories of acts of kindness that you witnessed with your children and friends.

*Donate time to the arts or youth programs that encourage children to create something of their own while spending face to face time with peers

&/or sponsor an underprivileged child who is unable to afford attending such programs.

*Dream BIGGER!

We all know that positive change won’t come from killing, it won’t come from screaming at one another, and it won’t come from any one person, deed, law, or decision. So challenge yourself to make a ripple. Encourage your children that their own stories will be much richer with each ripple they have the power to make. The ripples from each act can create a tidal wave of change for a better future for all of us.

 
😉 Julie

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February 25, 2018 · 1:24 pm

Like a rainbow between storms

22 like a rainbow between storms

Last week a turbulent storm kept us up half the night.

Watching a stormy sky is a much different experience than watching the globs of primary colors on the radar screen. Both indicate the weather. One is twisting around you with gusts of wind, flashes of lightning, and gurgles of thunder. The other contrived with mathematics, equipment, and computers.

Same storm, two perspectives. Real life vs. reality.

It seems like reality has a whole new meaning. Like “reality” television. Like instant access to information, entertainment, gratification. A sense of entitlement that makes power outages refer not just to devices, but to people as well. Because technology seems to, in many ways, have become an extension of ourselves and our reality.

Like the night of the storm :

“No red boxes!” I said, my face lit up by the computer screen. Then jumped as a rumble of thunder shook the house.

A few minutes later, I went onto the back porch. The storm whipped against my face as lightning made curtains of rain shimmer like a disco ball. Thunder boomed so often that it was impossible to differentiate the thunder from its echoes. The back yard looked like a Van Gogh landscape being electrocuted. It was scary, life-affirming, and real.

Not a red box in sight.

Einstein feared the day that technology would surpass human interaction and create a generation of idiots. As grateful as I am for severe weather warnings to keep my family safe, I regularly limit screen time for my kids because no device should be a substitute for intelligence or good judgment. I don’t want them to feel at a loss when the power goes out—on the screen and in real life.

Technology is handy, no questions about it. It has saved lives, enhanced education, and improved the world in many positive ways. But like any good thing, there can be too much of it. To depend on technology to make your choices can alter real life. It can shrink the world to within the four corners of a high-definition screen. Updating your status and waiting for likes instead of talking to people. Googling far off places instead of travelling there. Choosing your outfit based on a celebrity you have never met. Uploading a photo and not until the appropriate number of “likes” pop up do you consider it a worthy one. Or checking weather.com for the temperature when you can just as easily open the back door and judge for yourself.

Kids should grow to learn that the most important person to depend on in life is themselves. To develop into a strong, independent, optimistic, and dependable person who makes the most from their circumstances. Without relying on any device (or person, or media outlet, or drug…) to do their thinking for them.

Life throws some hard lessons your way. That repeat over and over until either you learn, or you buckle under the pressure. But deciding how you feel based on some update in cyberspace shouldn’t be one of them. Go outside, face the storm, and feel it for yourself. You may be surprised what you hear when you start listening to yourself in the real world.

Like a rainbow between storms… you may realize that you are enough.

 

😉 Julie

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March 10, 2017 · 12:35 pm

The Story is in the Struggle

the-story-is-in-the-struggle

I love a good fairy tale as much as the next person. But there is a formula for fairy tales that can be misleading for impressionable minds. The “happily ever after” factor.

 

Ever after what?

 

Because what makes a story magic isn’t the happy conclusion. It’s the unique conflict the protagonist endures. Although the words “happily ever after” are probably programmed in our vocabulary before we can recite the alphabet, it is all of the chaos, strife, laughter, and tears that give it meaning.

 

Though there is not a well-coiffed villainess/villain or mythical beast to contend with, life does have its share of evil forces in different forms. All we can do is to keep fighting the good fight, teach our children to never give up, and not judge one another. For everyone is battling their own adversary and we cannot know each other’s struggles.

 

Better than marrying a prince of a fairy tale, I found a warrior. He’s moral, feisty, hilarious, fiercely protective, and does the dishes sometimes. He unquestionably believes in my dreams and gives me the strength to be both a warrior and a princess.

 

More romantic than gifts on an appointed day, my husband loves me at my worst even harder than at my best, because he knows I need it more then. He surprises me with books I mentioned I wanted to read at unexpected moments and plays football with our daughters so I can have some quiet time to paint. He is as handsome as he is stubborn, helpful, resilient, and there isn’t anyone on earth I would rather write my story with.

 

Our fairy tale has been tumultuous and beautiful. It has been impossible at times, unbelievably happy at others. We have been up all night with sick babies, barely able to form a sentence much less a romantic interlude. There have been times that we have really, really not liked each other and days we have laughed nonstop. We have gripped each other’s hands while awaiting the fate of our 3-day-old baby in surgery and we have watched that daughter play the lead in her school play at age 8. We have waited until the kids were asleep to break out the new sleds when an unexpected snowfall arrived and we have argued ourselves hoarse.

 

The story is in the struggle. The life, real life, so much better than the fairy tale. And when it concludes with “Happily Ever After,” I think ours will be a pretty awesome tale.

 

😉 Julie

 

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February 15, 2017 · 1:31 pm

new horizons, new chances, new beginnings

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There are times I desperately want a do-over. I just want to turn my wooden pencil around and erase until the paper is fresh and new. But then, even that leaves a trace—an indention between the turquoise lines of the paper that never truly goes away. Even if you ball it up and toss it squarely in the trashcan on your first try.

It took many years before I realized that sometimes those mistakes can be useful, even necessary. How will you know where not to go if you haven’t been there? How do you know what you truly want until you have the opposite?

Sometimes life becomes about looking at these marks, these indentions between the lines, a different way. A new perspective can give an old mistake new strength, new direction, new possibilities.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. We live in a very visual world that seems to create more problems than it solves, if you listen to the variety of media influences. But the world has always had both good people and bad, and most of us falling in between somewhere. Life is a mixture of circumstances, influences, and choices.

Often, when we are young, we make some of the same mistakes. No matter what our caring parents/teachers/etc. tell us from their experience or history in general. No matter what positive quotes or compliments or brilliant advice we receive.

I’ve always felt so different from my peers. Even having an awesome, loving family and childhood. Even when I was in a group of kids that lovingly embraced me just as I was. Even when I met a wonderful man who loves me completely and was blessed with four daughters who think I am awesome. Even when I said “unique” instead of “different.”

That feeling makes me feel sad and alone at times. Although it has been erased many times over, the indention between those turquoise lines is clearly there.

As I started observing the world beyond my own fears, I realized that we are all different. And that is the beautiful thing about life. Embracing the differences and pursuing them instead of trying to shut them away. We are not here to fit in, we are here to navigate circumstances, influences, the life we were given, and to choose to do the most we can with these gifts to make the world a better place.

Circumstances often can’t be changed. Influences can’t be unseen or undone any more than choices we have made in the past.

But you can change how you look at them. The world is a big place, and as wonderful or horrible as you choose to see it. The sun rises each day, and with it come golden hours of opportunity. Opportunities to write over the indentions with all of the wisdom of experience, and then finally be able to turn the page.

 

😉 Julie

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January 14, 2017 · 12:53 pm

Every Day is the Best Day of the Year

every-day-is-the-best-day-of-the-year

It’s New Year’s Eve 2016. Most grownups are probably planning to dress up, head out, and party.

As for me, I am in Minnie Mouse hand me down sweatpants, my husband’s sweatshirt, a messy pony tail, and glasses. After 3 hours of hard core cleaning, I am sitting here smiling as I listen to the faint sounds of my husband singing Martina McBride to the girls in the playroom (he really pulls off soprano quite convincingly!)

My party days have really changed since… well, no, changed is not quite right. I did the “popular” thing before once or twice. In college and beyond, parties where people dressed up like a movie and held a really cool glass with some bubbly/translucent liquid and just seemed to… get it. The party thing. The “COOL” thing.

Even when I studied it closely, even when I pretended… I never either a) got it b) convinced a soul that I got it.

But… maybe I get it now.

Today, I hosted 23 kiddos 12 and under in a Cupcake Wars-Style NOON Year’s Eve Countdown. After 4 hours sleep+3 hours sleep the night before. My kitchen was a MESS. Like, even worse than when I   cook in it. (And that is saying something! Doubters, verify with my husband.)

Crazy? Absolutely.

Magic? Maybe. At least for me. It was totally fulfilling to show these awesome kids how to pipe icing, give them hints about different textures/shortcuts/etc. and have them teach me several as well. To see them working fluidly together to create a cohesive cupcake with the crazy ingredients they were assigned.  Just to see the brilliance of their imagination, because it is immeasurable. 3 hours of cleaning is nothing compared to seeing THAT look on a kid’s face. Just their imagination being real for a moment. Because, how awesome is that? I remember those days, when I wanted so hard for the magic to be real, when I picked berries and mixed them with whatever ingredients were in our cupboards for a dessert treat (the tears in my parents’ eyes as they “enjoyed” it were clearly joy, right?)

So I sent home with these kids 42 confetti-filled balloons they collected from the balloon drop countdown, 36 cent boxes with cupcakes and Father Time (aka Santa, thank you 90% off Walmart pricing!) and passed out face first on my bed for 45 minutes before my cleaning spree. And since then… I haven’t been able to stop smiling.

Because I did it. At least, I think I did.

I finally fit in. Granted, I was wearing a Gryffindor Quidditch Captain sweatshirt and a pair of 5-year-old Chuck Taylor’s that had an unrecoverable chocolate pudding stain from my lunch monitor days… but I had 23 (little) people who were totally thrilled with being together, celebrating, and accepting one another for exactly who they are.

The little faces that looked at these balloons coming toward them with absolute acceptance.

So as I fix my kiddos dinner and tuck them in while the wind roars fiercely outside, and anticipate folding a week’s worth of laundry while watching “Forrest Gump” as always, I anticipate 2017 wholeheartedly with all of its quirks and uncertainties.

Happy New Year’s! May everything you ever have dreamed come true.

 

😉 Julie

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January 1, 2017 · 1:04 am

Play, Imagine, and Believe

19-play-imagine-and-believe

Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  

Kids seem to reach this realization naturally. Often they grow out of it and only return briefly when something touches them deeply enough to believe and imagine once more. 

If there is any time of the year to be a kid or at least a kid at heart, it’s Christmastime. Even when I was a brooding teenager, I couldn’t deny the magic of Christmas. Something about the lights, the kindness, the perpetual hope of the season, special movies that never go out of style, and, of course, the real reason for the season. 

This time of year it seems like everyone is willing to play, imagine, and participate in all of the good feelings that make Christmas—and childhood— so magical. From commercials to news stories of kindness to the many people that donate their time to ring bells in the cold, gather coats and food for the less fortunate… the selfless feelings that travel in perpetual waves and embrace the true spirit of human goodness. 

And it is not knowledge that brings the conclusion of caring and kindness, but imagination. All there is ever is “to know and understand.” 

“This girl said that Santa Claus isn’t real. She’s in third grade so she knows,” one of my daughters confided in me the other day. 

“People are allowed to believe anything they want to,” I told her. “That’s what makes the world a colorful place.” 

She thought about it for a while. I could see the gears turning as her eyes glimmered with the warring conclusions in her mind. 

I was happy to hear her participating in the subsequent impromptu musical in the playroom with her sisters, “Santa Claus, the Ninja, and the Fairy Princess Who Saved Christmas.” (Or something along those lines!) 

Knowledge is a powerful thing. But so is imagination. As silly and loud as it can get, hearing my kids play is an indication of the wonderful, creative, compassionate, brave young women they will become. 

Wishing everyone a merry, playful, memorable, magical Christmas!

 

😉 Julie

 

 

 

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December 22, 2016 · 4:28 pm