Finding Middle Ground

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Tips to successfully navigating divorce, remarriage and blending families.

One of the requests we receive most often from our readers is a request to post more information on how other women have navigated life changes like divorce. This is certainly not a fun subject to cover but having been through it myself, I think it’s important to open up the conversation and offer inspirational insights from amazing women who have paved the way for all of us by honestly and openly providing details around their personal experiences. And because SFH is a forum for real women to discuss real issues and real strategies that help us all be the best versions of ourselves, we decided we needed to share Tawnya Penney’s inspirational story.

Tawnya Penney

I sat down recently with an amazing woman, Tawnya Penney, to learn more about her perspectives on divorce, co-parenting, finding new love and what she feels she’s learned in the process.

Tawnya is not only the mom of two beautiful adult children, she’s also a successful woman in business and works as a Senior Real Estate and Construction Manager for AT&T. Talk about your #girlboss, Tawnya was a #girlboss before it became “a thing”.  However, life wasn’t all roses and backyard BBQ’s, although she entered into marriage just the way we all do, with lifetime goals of love and happiness.

“Divorce is something you never plan on when you get married. I always thought I would be married forever.” ~Tawnya Penney

Ten years and two children into her marriage Tawnya and her husband decided to separate. Her children were seven and five at the time. It was an incredibly difficult decision but she knew it was the best choice for all of them. She explains they spent the next full year separated; it was tumultuous and hostile. What she learned during this time was that in order to move forward and be sure the children managed to get through this with as little damage as possible, they would have to resolve the enormous tension between them. How did they achieve this?

These four key factors played a vital role in making it work for Tawnya, her ex-husband, and her children:

  1. Never talk about the other parent in front of the kids
  2. Never argue in front of the kids
  3. Remember, the kids didn’t choose this path so keep them out of the arguments
  4. Reassure the kids, as much as possible, they are loved more than ever by both parents
  5. Co-parent: I always recommend co-parenting even though you are not together. This was so important to both of us and provided our children with some sort of consistency no matter what house they were at. I truly feel (even though this was hard) this is what made the biggest difference in making our blended family unit work. We became very diligent about talking to the other parent when issues arose and even with disciplinary actions, we agreed before we acted.

I asked Tawnya, What specific things did you consciously or unconsciously do that helped your children adjust to the divorce and eventual remarriages?

“Co-parenting was the most important part of the process. Once we decided this was vital to our kids we managed to put our disagreements aside long enough to make this happen. It was one of the best decisions we made during the divorce process”.

Explain the process you went through to blend your families after remarrying.

We always supported the kids as a family. I remarried first, then Mike did and they had another child. No matter what sporting event we went to for the kids we all sat together and cheered them on together. This way they didn’t have to choose who to go say hi to or make it awkward for them.

The bonus for all of us, was with the kids in sporting events every weekend all year long. We always got to see them, even if it wasn’t our weekend.

Trust me this was not easy at first but as time went on and the kids flourished with us doing this….. we all became more comfortable. Now, I go to Disneyland on a regular basis with the kids new little sister and step Mom. We have become friends. We had graduations (High School and College) to go thru as a family unit and we still have weddings and possibly grandchildren to celebrate together. Why miss out on wonderful memories when you don’t have to?

What key advice would you give other women who are trying to blend families and raise children through a divorce?

Forgive…… don’t hold on to your anger. Leave the negative energy behind and embrace the power of forgiveness.

Remind yourself that the hard times will pass and remember the rewards far outweigh the hardships.

Life is too short and time with your children is so precious. So make the most of the time you do have with them. And when they are with the other parent make the most of that time as well. Take care of yourself, this allows you to be a better parent for them.

Take one day at a time. Be kind and remember the kids come first.

Be the bigger person (This is the hardest thing to do) No matter how hard it seems, take the high road. Kids are smart and they will see the truth as they get older. So always take the high road and be the better person when the other parent is making your life difficult.

 

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. ~Henry David Thoreau

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Running Strong

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Feel the Glow

One of our favorite mantras here at SFH is summed up by this quote, “Move and then move more, you will never regret it”. Exercise is one of the most important keys to unlocking a positive attitude, feeling confident, beautiful and celebrating the happy moments in life. And now that summer is in full swing, we’ve received a lot of questions about exercise and nutrition from our readers so we thought it would be perfect timing to list our exercise recommendations, beginning with a good run!

I love to run (more than the rest of the team) and I know a lot of women who are avid runners these days. It’s one of those things that doesn’t require previous athletic ability in order to get started. And the results are amazing!

I can’t begin to explain how running has personally impacted my life but it has been vital to my health, both physical and mental. Our lives are busier now than ever and the stress from the way we live in 2018 can take a toll on our ability to stay focused on what’s important. Research on this subject confirms when we run, we not only release endorphins but also enhance the growth of new nerve cells in the brain that are linked to learning and memory.  Running also builds bone density (an important key to our health as we age), gives us a better self-image, stimulates confidence both mentally and physically, helps to increase metabolism and provides an overall feeling of well-being. Seriously, ladies, who doesn’t want a little of this medicine?

If you want to begin running and you’ve never been a runner, be sure you’re in good health before you begin. If necessary, visit your doctor for a checkup and let them know you’re going to begin a running program. Start slow and work up to your goals at your own pace so you see and feel results and don’t get discouraged.

Here we go!

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Carve out 30 minutes of your day (4x per week) to either run on the treadmill or outside. I prefer outside but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate so the treadmill is my next best option.

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Be sure to make yourself accountable by telling a friend you’re beginning a running program or post on social media that you’ve begun your training. Get others involved so you have to provide updates. This will get you out the door on days that you’re not feeling it and help you see progress sooner than later.

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Buy a great pair of running shoes, make a “running” playlist to take with you on your run (I use Spotify), wear comfortable clothes and hit the road! I’ve outlined a basic training week below that you can replicate to get started. Continue to use the training program weekly to help guide your progress.


Day 1: 30 Minutes

Warm up by running in place for a few minutes and then stretch out your calf and thigh muscles using basic stretches. Don’t stretch too hard, just a nice soft stretch to help eliminate any potential leg cramps or muscle tightening.

When you get out on your first day, time yourself and stay out for 30 minutes. Do a run/walk combo. I recommend running for 1 minute, walk for 2 minutes. Run for 1 minute, walk for 2 minutes. Do this run/walk system the entire 30 minutes your out for your run.

Don’t forget to hydrate! Water will help you to not only feel less fatigued when you’re finished but will also help flush out the toxins your body will be processing from sweating.


Day 2: 30 Minutes

Repeat Day 1


Day 3: Rest Day


Day 4: 30 Minutes

Repeat Day 1


Day 5: 30 Minutes

Repeat Day 1


Day 6: Rest Day


Day 7: 30 Minutes + Miles

Today you should map out how far you’d like to run and increase your run/walk to 5 minutes running and no more than 2 minutes walking. At this point, you should see a slight difference in your stamina and the ability to run longer than you did on Day 1.

Repeat this first week for the next several weeks and eventually, you will be running a full mile without walking!

We definitely want to hear from each of you who begins a running or exercise program so be sure to post on our She’s Finding Happy Facebook page.   Let’s inspire each other with pictures, updates, progress, milestones, etc! We can’t wait to celebrate with you!

Now Let’s Talk Nutrition:

Beginning any workout or exercise routine requires a healthy diet so don’t cheat your body of healthy proteins and fats. Here are a few easy and delicious recipes I recommend from our Health and Nutrition contributor, Chef Karista Bennett. Enjoy!

Farro & Summer Peach Salad

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Pan Cooked Chicken Breasts with Sweet Mini Pepper Relish

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Salad Lyonnaise

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Order Up! A Plate of Truth With A Side of Bad Ass

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Photo by Andres Chaparro 

If you read this blog long enough or follow us on social media, you will notice a trend, we’re huge fans of Dr. Brene Brown. Frankly, we can’t get enough of her “badassery” {we can’t take credit for this amazing word, it’s all hers and we love it!} And after spending a few months reading as many of her books as possible, I personally knew I wanted to share what her research and beautifully articulated guidance meant to me, but also, what it could mean to you as well. So, here are two quotes I read often.

“When we make the decision to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked.”  “We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, we cannot have both, not at the same time.” ~Brene Brown

Whoa. My head almost popped off my shoulders when I read this because, at the time, I had not yet recovered from getting my ass kicked.  Oh yeah, really kicked, in fact, still very sore from the kick. It was as if the Universe was speaking to me at that very moment in time saying, “girl, you got your ass kicked but, hey, you dared to try”. I’ll be honest, after reading Brene Brown’s words, my soul, and my ego were still so bruised that I couldn’t help but cry like I had just watched an ASPCA commercial with Sarah McLaughlin singing, “in the arms of an angel”. And trust me when I say this, I am not one of those people who look pretty crying. I was on a flight at the time (which was packed to the brim with people and luggage) and I chose, of all days to go with the “self-help” book instead of the “fiction” book, both of which were in my carry on bag. As I struggled to find a tissue or some sort of clean, mildly soft clothing in my bag to wipe my face and keep my eye makeup from melting off, I realized that I’d rather be the kind of woman who chose courage. I didn’t want to play it safe all the time and I never have.  Of course, that is why I’ve been face down in the dirt before and will probably be there again at some point. Shit, this hurts, I thought. But I want every moment of my life to count and when you have that burning desire inside, it’s next to impossible to choose comfort over courage. I want the comfort, I do, but only when I know I’ve pushed myself to the point where I have exhausted all of my potential and purpose for this life.

Dr. Brown takes it further when she states, “if we can learn to “own” our stories of struggle, we can write our own brave endings. When we own our stories we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling.”  Yikes! so much truth here! This was a light bulb moment for me and again I began to tear up on my flight. However, at this point, the cute little guy sitting between me and his mother had a puzzled stare directed right at my face, so I decided to throw a little smile his way and pull myself together before I scared the poor child. I’m sure my black raccoon eyes and bright red nose didn’t help but he cracked a shy smile back at me with a cute wrinkled nose as if to say, I got ya, no worries.

Suffice it to say these passages were exactly what I needed to read, maybe not an optimal read for a business trip, but never-the-less timely for my life. And while I am certain the Universe is consistently conspiring to help me be a success, I’ve found a deeper meaning to life and growth amidst all the discomfort. There’s a real beauty in our truth and it’s important for us to recognize this beauty because when we can own our truth and our stories, we can fall down,  get back up, recognize that it hurt like hell and move forward with more wisdom and grace.  That, my friends, is being a Bad Ass.

“People who wade deep into their stories and tell their truths are the real Bad Assses.” ~Brene Brown

 

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Photo by Quang Anh Ha Nguyen 

Raindrops On Kittens

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About a year and a half after I had launched a business and officially became an “entrepreneur”, I met JB. Well, that’s what I call her, however, she does have a real name, but I’m not going to use it yet. JB was one of my customers and we became friends, or should I say pen pals? Anyway, she made a customer inquiry one day and the rest is history. Her emails were witty, clever and funny and after a few exchanges about products on my website she had piqued my interest. Who was this quick-witted, sarcastic woman on the other end of this email dialogue and what was her story? I wanted to find out more, so I asked a few questions and she obliged, giving me a window into her life and ultimately into her beautiful soul.

Aug 28, 4:29 PM

JB:

I have two blogs.
And they’re rough.
One of them has a few light pieces but the focus of the blog is recovering from anorexia.

The second consists of only a few pieces. They’re more recent. They chronicle my journey back from the darkness of being raped last year, the subsequent pregnancy, and my decision to keep the baby. I know…I just changed the mood of these emails.

Also, I stabbed my husband 86 times with a screwdriver when he left the toilet seat up ONE TOO MANY DAMN TIMES.
No. I didn’t. Not yet. (Destroy this email. Plausible deniability). But now things seem a little less Lifetime movie, yes?

Daughter of a comic.
Far too fertile woman.
Killer etch a sketch artist.
If I could only watch one movie for the rest of my life it would be The Princess Bride.
I can talk organic and clean food with the best of them but if given the chance would eat white bread and marshmallow fluff sandwiches every day of my life.
I can’t resist buying art supplies when they’re on sale. I’m not an artist. At all. (Except of course, for the aforementioned etch a sketch).

That should quash your desire to get to know me. 😉

And there it was, this soulful connection that transcended formality or for that matter, secrets.

From that point forward she had my personal email and I had hers because she was always burning the midnight oil and so was I. What resulted within the next year was a random but recurring email conversation. It felt good to share some gritty, honest vulnerability with one of my kind, a woman, a mom, a new friend, who was as genuine and vulnerable in return. When she wrote, I felt both empathy and pain laced in the words on the screen. She was unknowingly a lifeline and a voice of reason for me across many miles. However, the most astonishing part of this story is her story.

Late one evening, once everyone in my house was tucked in bed, I began to follow up on overdue work when JB popped up on my computer screen. I knew it was her because the subject line always read “Raindrops on Kittens”. Because, you know, she was a master at clever prose and always trying to make me smile. Tonight she was replying to my latest email from a few days prior…

I’m not sure I’d inspire you if we lived closer. I’ve been in the same pajama pants for three days now and I’m sleeping under a huge pile of clean clothes that I’m too tired to fold. So far, TIME hasn’t called me for their Woman of the Year cover but I expect it’ll be any day now.

Things are hard right now..in so many ways, but if there were no other people on earth, the six others in this house who love me provide more than enough fuel for me to keep climbing forward.

Scars. Yeah, I’m getting to be a regular Frankenstein’s lady monster. If I’m going to be scarred like this anyway I should at least be getting a boob lift and tummy tuck out of the deal. Hey! One day I’ll work for you and you can get an insurance plan that covers those. They shouldn’t be considered cosmetic surgeries. They should be under the category of repairing the damage. Work on that!

She was navigating life post the aftermath of a devastating violent rape and she often shared sad, tough moments through email, some were harder than others to read:

JB:

My dad passed away about an hour ago. I don’t know what else to say about that..

KB:

Oh, Jennifer. I’m so incredibly sorry. Please know my thoughts and prayers are with you. ❤  XO

JB:

First picture of the 7 of us.

It took a funeral.

One is looking off in the distance, another is making a face even though he’s been told to STOP IT a hundred times, and by the time we got a semi-decent shot, the baby had fallen asleep. Perfect.

Days later…

KB:

I was just thinking about you!!!

How are you doing? My heart hurts for you and I just kept saying little prayers that God would wrap His arms around you and hold you tight.

 LOVE this picture. Can’t even!!! You have a beautiful family and it appears they have your personality 😉

Will write more when I can focus. It’s like a zoo at this office today.

XO and an extra XO because you need it.

And then a few weeks later….

JB:

Just checking in. Are you okay?

KB:

Yes 😉 thanks for checking in. Tired, have one eye open today, worked until 2 last night. Worked all day Saturday as well and had to be at the office early this morning. Been a long week and weekend but the upside is I’m still here, I have everyone around me that I love and I just have to keep pressing on! Your video was gorgeous by the way. What a sweet tribute to your friend. I’m so sorry for your loss. So much pain, so many people who just can’t seem to find their way.

I hope you’re feeling better. I need an update soon 😉

XO
 
JB:

I’m fine.

Just need to touch base with you every so often to make sure you haven’t worked yourself into the ground or been checked into the hospital for a psychotic episode from the breakneck pace you’ve been going.

I’d need to know where to go, where to get my hands on a janitor’s uniform, learn how to pick locks..springing someone from a psych ward is no mean feat.

But once we hit that beach in Acapulco and had Cabana boys bringing us fruity drinks on the beach….what was I talking about?

Right. Don’t burn yourself out. Anything I can do from here..that sounds lame but..name it. You might want to read this twice to get the full gist. I’m not sure with only one eye open that you’ll get all the subtle nuances.

The cheeky and random back and forth banter about life and work and tough decisions and kids and family and death and surgery and hurt and happiness and courage and love and just f***ing getting through the days…well, it was healing. The deep down in the darkness of your soul kind of healing.

I was in the midst of losing a battle, while she was waging a horrific war and we found each other at the perfect moment in life. It wasn’t a coincidence. It was the exact time for our souls to collide, while both armed with enormous emotional artillery that’s often acquired while doing what many women do best; muscling through life with a smile pasted on her face (because that’s what we were taught to do) and telling herself, I refuse to show or share the pain or disappointment or whatever sh** she’s going through.

Oh, I’m not advocating emotionally highjacking your soul to make it through the days by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s where we both were at the time. That mutual state of mind (and heart) brought us virtually together all those late nights. Life was turned upside down like Raindrops on Kittens or Whiskers on Roses, but that was okay because we were sorting it out, soul to soul, sister to sister, one email at a time.

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JB will be featured on SFH in the coming weeks, however, for now, I wanted to share how we became friends.  Her story is gut-wrenching and beautiful and she’s courageous and bold. I’m honored she is going to allow me to share a small piece of her story on SFH and my hope is that you will be forever inspired and forever changed.
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Life Around Her Table

Chef Karista Bennett Serves Food for the Soul

kbennettThere’s no doubt that what makes Chef Karista Bennett of Karista’s Kitchen, happy is food! However, when you take a moment to peek inside her soul, you see that food is just the beginning of her amazing story and what she views as her real path to happiness.

Karista Bennett began her food journey in 1999 when she realized her cooking could “probably cause a slow and painful death”.  At the same time, she was longing for a change so she began researching ways she could make a difference and decided to enroll in culinary school. There she discovered her passion was now her purpose and a new door opened to the magic and joy of inspiring healthy, delicious food for all families.

When you take a trip through Karista’s website, you’ll find it gloriously peppered with beautiful images of real food, friends, and family along with fun vignettes about each recipe posted. They are the small window’s into her food journey and into her warm soul.  But as beautiful as her life appears on the pages of the site, it took a devastating turn when her oldest daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“This literally stopped time for our family, all we could do is focus on helping Alex through this and getting well.”

Her daughter, Alex, thankfully, recovered but Karista and her family would never be the same. Her focus on food as a healing element for the body strengthened along with her resolve to inspire home cooks to use local, fresh, organic and sustainable foods. The result is not only amazingly delicious recipes on her site, but foods and ingredients that are healing to the body and inspirational insights that are healing for the mind, and the soul.  Karista has taken the online culinary community to a new level and her beautiful story will soon be available for everyone to read in an upcoming book this fall. But for now, here’s a little inspiration from Chef Karista Bennett.

What makes you happy?

Chef Karista: Peace, the quiet, walking in nature. Beautiful food that tastes so good it causes a soul-filled joy. The little things in life-like a text from one of my daughters asking about my day, an unexpected snuggle from my dog and teaching home chefs how to cook.

How do you create your own happiness?

Chef Karista: Gratitude. Every day I think about three things that make me grateful. I admit, some days that is harder to do than others. But I always find something. Whether it’s a break in the PNW [Pacific Northwest] spring rain so I can walk my dog without getting drenched, or find fresh kumquat at the market when I wasn’t expecting it. Finding gratitude and appreciation in every day helps me keep “the happy”.

What is the one piece of advice you’d offer to women everywhere about finding and keeping happiness?

Chef Karista: I once heard the phrase, “trade expectation for appreciation” and it hit me…when we expect things to go a certain way and then they don’t, we feel serious disappointment and unhappiness. But, when we trade that expectation for appreciation and simply appreciate the moment, even if it’s not where we want to be, we keep our spirit lifted and find the happiness we deserve.

 

A Sash and a Tiara

An afternoon text from my daughter…

Daughter:  MOM!

Daughter:  MOM!

Me: What? You ok?

Daughter: I just found out I have to cheer on my bday!!

Me: Is that good or bad?

Daughter: OMG MOM!

Me: What?

Daughter: I can’t believe I have a game that night! It’s my bday!

Me: Oh, wow, okay, well we can celebrate on the following night.

Daughter: Yeah, I guess so. But if I have to cheer on my bday I’m requesting a Bday Sash and Tiara!

Me: You go girl!

I can’t believe it took so many text messages to get to the bottom of this exchange but I’m sure any mom reading this can completely relate. I mean, I was in the middle of some intense work meetings and conference calls and then to get the proverbial panic text from my non-dramatic teenage daughter (not) about having to cheer on her birthday, well, you have to love motherhood at that moment, am I right?

Aside from my first inclination to be irritated, I was outrageously amused. When I had a few minutes to really review this text all I could do was smile and giggle at the wholehearted sincerity of her feelings. She was so definite about her value in the world. “I’m going to request a birthday sash and a tiara”, because, you know, if one has to cheer at a game on her birthday she’s going to damn well make sure everyone knows it’s her birthday! I loved this! I was all of a sudden, at the most inconvenient time of day, reading a text from my teenage daughter, who at such a young age, totally realized her value.  Not only as a part of her cheer team, but as a person. She had such self-confidence about how she wanted to feel on her special day.

In the scheme of things, this was a small issue, however, it was huge to her and it should have been. She deserved to celebrate and to let everyone know how excited she was to have made it through another year.

I remember closing my computer and thinking how much she had taught me in this single (although semi-panic ridden) moment.  I. Have. Value. We all have value but as moms, as women, we tend to press on without celebrating our value to ourselves and the world around us. I think it’s simply a part of motherhood, a part of our social norms, we do things without being thanked or noticed because it’s simply what we do. We have an innate need to be sure the ones we love are fed, clothed, cared for, feel loved, celebrated and secure. And yet, we fail to celebrate ourselves and each other.

What if we put on our own sash and tiara’s (figuratively, of course) and encouraged each other to do the same? I wonder, would we all feel more supported? I think so. I challenge each of you to post a #asashandatiara moment on social media and celebrate a fellow mom, and woman. Why? Because it’s time to feel, know and share our value with each other.

 

She Made Broken Look Beautiful

I read a poem several months ago that stayed with me, haunted me actually. I found it when someone I loved passed and I wanted to find a way to immortalize her life with one single social media image. This is not an easy thing to do, at least not for me. I hesitated to post it but I knew she was here somewhere, watching over us and most likely smiling at all the fuss we made. She didn’t like fuss, but I could feel her warmth and hear echos of her sweet southern voice carried on the breeze around me and I knew, this was it.

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She made broken look beautiful and strong look invincible. She walked with the Universe on her shoulders and made it look like a pair of wings. ~Ariana Dancu

After pausing a moment from the daily chaos and noise, I had an opportunity to consider how blessed I am to have so many amazing women in my life. And she was certainly one of them.

I’ve felt compelled to tell a bit of her story ever since I read this quote because I admired her so much for the life she led. She was an angel with a broken wing but defied her life circumstances every step of the way.  She had such tenacity and she never really knew it. And something else, something we could all learn from her. She was always grateful. She would point out the bright side of life even when darkness was staring her directly in the eyes and challenging her spirit. I’m convinced her continual sense of gratitude was the key to her happiness.

She was born into a coal mining family in the Appalachians. Married at 15 and a single mother by her early 20’s. She kept herself and her family moving forward despite her circumstances. She went back to school, raised two sons and completed a nursing degree.

She was 78 when she passed and I bet she’s just as feisty, strong-willed and lovely on the other side as she was here on earth. I smile when I think about some of the things she would say in her charming, sweet southern accent, “life is what you make it baby girl, you just have to believe it’ll all work out as it should”. There was an innocence about her even at the end. Although, I’m not sure if it was an innocence or simply the way she chose to see humanity and the world around her. She was accepting of the parts of humanity she didn’t understand and proud of the things she had learned to understand. This was true throughout every step of her life.

She wasn’t famous or wealthy but she was a superstar in my book. Even when she was broken she pressed on; no complaints, simply gratitude for the opportunity to be more than what was expected or what life gave her. She divorced twice and married the love of her life at 75. She never lost hope or let age get in her way of living life to its fullest. Even when the Universe was heavy on her shoulders, she flew as gracefully as anyone I’ve ever known.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and we celebrated women all over the globe. It was heart-warming to see social media light up with tributes to my gender. Had she still been with us, she would’ve been right in the middle of it all, even if she didn’t know how to post on Facebook.  So, here’s to you my dearest Mimi, may your example of gratitude, acceptance, kindness and tenacity be evident in all of us who knew you and loved you.