A Bitter Pill

One of life’s most bitter pills to swallow is the realization that perhaps you haven’t quite conquered the pain of your past demons.  Sometimes these pesky guys find a way into your everyday life no matter how hard you have worked to overcome them.   At that moment, your heart splits wide open as your mind beats you up for momentarily losing the battle.   And then a sobering sense of reality falls upon you and allows you to acknowledge that you are only human and recognizing the pain from the past makes you stronger as long as you leave it there. 

Waste not fresh tears over old griefs.  ~Euripides, Alexander

Leaving the past behind and learning to get rid of the clutter the past can sometimes deposit into our brains, is a healthy step to keeping a life full of love, peace and satisfaction.  It is not that any of us, including myself, wish to have these moments clutter our lives and make our hearts more vulnerable and insecure.  Most of us just want to move on and feel the freeing sense of peace that enveloped us when we made the decision to move our lives forward in the first place.

Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.  ~James Thurber

It seems the first step to keeping ourselves from having to swallow that bitter pill more than once in a lifetime, is to acknowledge the past for what it was but never allow it to control us, our lives, our hearts or our minds.  Leave it in the past and know that who we are today is a stronger, better version of who we were then.  The second step is to surround ourselves with those who will love us unconditionally; however, will not allow us to fall into the trap of dwelling on the past.  Sometimes “tough love” is the best kind of love for those of us who have worked diligently to leave the hurt behind but find ourselves in a moment of emotional self-destruction.  These individuals, who love us for who we are, provide us with the compassion and honesty that are key to our success.  Sophocles said it beautifully…

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is LOVE.”

If you are struggling with hurt, insecurity or another demon from the past, embrace the NOW and those you love who are in the NOW with you.  Leave behind those things that weigh you down and keep you from living the productive and happy life you were meant to live.  Embrace the beauty of the present and look forward to the joys of the future.

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I Have The Power To Change My World

“I have the power to change my world, to change my circumstances, to change myself, to make a difference and I alone have the power within to be happy.”

 

Some years ago, I sat at the top of the stairs in the home I had created and I realized, it was now just a house.  I felt alone and as if my feet were stuck in cement and I could not move myself out of my life drama.  Some years ago, I lost my HAPPY.  I couldn’t find it no matter how hard I tried.  Everything seemed cold, empty and pointless.  

Not too long after that deeply pathetic moment I discovered empowerment.  Mostly because, quite frankly, I could not stand the sad, needy, wisp of a woman I had temporarily become and I discovered that if I could find my HAPPY, I could empower myself to move forward, reach goals and see change.   

So how do you empower yourself to find your HAPPY and change your world you ask?   Hmmm…well, I put a lot of thought into that and tried a few things that worked and a few things that did not work.  However, I’ve narrowed down my recipe with three ingredients to finding your HAPPY and getting your self-empowerment and self-motivation back on track…here we go!

FEED YOUR MIND

We feed our bodies food and water, even vitamins so why not feed our mind, heart and soul?  When I was at my lowest point in life I became a ferocious reader.  I would take myself and my daughter to the library, find a stack of books for her and a stack for me.  I love reading from real books but audio books are good too, especially if you have a long commute each day. I read everything inspirational and instructional that I could find on those dusty shelves.  I drank in knowledge, perspective, instruction and guidance on everything that applied to my life at that moment.  I knew that if I could arm myself with information, I could begin to thaw out my brain and think things through on a different level.  It worked.  It was a satisfying meal for my mind.

FEED YOUR HEART

So, this one was tough because sometimes our hearts are cut and bruised and there’s not a band-aid in the world that stops the bleeding.  However, there’s no better medicine for a hurting heart than to do for others who have less.  YES, you heard me, give of yourself, your time, your expertise, your assistance.  I know what your thinking, “are you kidding me? I’m a mess!  I can’t help anyone!”  Okay, yes, those words crossed my mind a time or two and perhaps even left my lips as I was talking out loud to myself;  however, if you can find somewhere to volunteer and help make someone else’s life better, you will have provided your hurting heart the medicine it needs to recover and at the same time, given valuable and maybe even life changing help to someone in need besides yourself.  I’m not suggesting you spend all of your free time volunteering, but find something that will fit into your life and commit to it.  You will begin to discover that while you are helping the world around you, the cut heals, the bruising goes away, the starvation leaves and life begins to seem more beautiful.   And then…real happiness begins to enter back into your heart.

FEED YOUR SOUL

Feed your soul with something that touches you on a spiritual level. I’m a nature girl and I feel completely at peace outside with the trees, birds and blue sky. For me, long walks or runs in the outdoors takes my soul to a place that restores me on a level like no other. It’s my church. However, it doesn’t matter what works for you, a Catholic church, Jewish Synagogue, Mosque or traditional Christian Sunday School. It’s finding a place where you can quiet your mind and your soul long enough to hear God. I grew up going to a traditional Christian church and I remember what I felt when truly in the presence of this higher being. It still resonates with me. Feeding your soul is as important as feeding your mind and your body. I found this to be paramount to my empowerment and my well-being. 

Finding your happy is a continual process. It eventually leads to the deepest joy imaginable and you will soon realize that it’s a product of understanding the power you have to change your circumstances and thus the world around you. It’s a journey, so don’t sprint, take your time to walk the road, view the beauty, reflect and listen. You will begin to see a change and feel true happiness. 

Spread the HAPPY and Don’t Wear White After Labor Day

 At my house we give these awesome little “Happy’s” to each other.  Not all the time, just now and then and I think it’s such a cool idea (which I cannot take credit) that I wanted to share it with all of you today.  I really love this…here is how it started. 

During my first job out of college I met one of my dearest friends, Susie.  She was (and still is) a lovely, gracious and beautiful Southern Belle with perfect skin and hair (of course).  I, on the other hand, with a lot of the SoCal girl still in my blood and a love for all things a bit left of center, flip-flops and my Jeep, didn’t exactly scream “Debutante”,  but hey, I managed.  Anyway, I think she was the first person to embrace my somewhat offbeat personality and I think I might have been the first to admire her complete sense of style and total togetherness.  It was then, and is still today a relationship that I treasure.  Not only did I learn more than I ever thought I could learn about the appropriate wardrobe for good Southern girls (like never wearing white or patent leather after labor day (which was never and is still probably not a rule in California), she taught me a little something about spreading happiness to the ones you love.

     

A “Happy” is a little surprise gift you give to a friend, a loved one, a spouse or a child.  It’s a simple gift that says “you’re important to me”.   A “Happy” doesn’t have to be expensive or a one-of-a-kind treasure, just personal; no breaking the bank on this one.  One of my first “Happy’s” from Susie through the years was a necklace.  It was not just any necklace because it had a little glass bird charm on the chain and she knew I LOVED birds.  How thoughtful, how very cool it was to have her sunshiny self drop by my house with a “Happy” for her friend.  It meant so much to me and made me feel so good that she thought of me that day and she didn’t even realize it had been a difficult week.   This was the little ray of happiness that gave me a smile and made me feel like things were looking up.   

I adopted this creative gift giving ritual and use it with my family.  Although sometimes a “Happy” in our house is simply bringing home their favorite ice cream and movie, It’s also finding my daughter a fun set of earrings and wrapping them up in a colorful bag and placing it on her bed so she will find it after school or surprising my nieces with cool and colorful flip-flops.  It’s a small gesture that delivers a big dose of wonderful. 

So here’s a challenge; think about a little something special you can bring home tonight to your kids, the hubby, significant other or a fantastic neighbor and start spreading the “Happy” beginning today!

Mom, Your Child-Like Spirit Was Genius

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of childhood into maturity – Aldous Huxley

When I was about nine I remember my mother strapping on roller skates and taking me for a spin on the carport that sat just below our house.  I also remember her taking my sister, brother and I to the top of our motor home,  in the middle of the desert, with canvas and paints in hand so we could paint the sunset.  How cool is that?  At the time, I couldn’t appreciate her child-like enthusiasm for life but now I draw upon it as if it were a part of my very existence.   I love these memories of my mom because she was so unconventional and she didn’t think like a grown-up.  I’m certain her child-like enthusiasm gave me a piece of my inner self that otherwise would not exist.  Whether I knew it or not, spending this kind of play time with her was a huge confidence booster and made me feel secure inside. 

This brings me to one of the core pieces of the H.A.P.P.Y. plan, “Playful Parenting”.  I think most parents naturally play fun games with their kids but this is a subject worth revisiting because we live in a crazy busy, high-stress world with computer games, movies-on-demand, Ipods, Ipads, etc.  and the child who may be struggling with a family related crisis could definitely benefit from a dose of play-time with mom or dad.

Over the weekend I attended a friends baby shower and the group was asked to individually fill out a card with a bit of parenting advice for the new mother.  I spontaneously wrote down an idea for a really fun kitchen game that I used when my daughter was  between the ages of 3-6.   I would spread a large piece of wax paper on my kitchen counter and pour prepared chocolate pudding on the wax paper.  We would then begin drawing the most wonderful pudding art in the world that was spectacular if I do say so myself.  The best part was licking the pudding off our fingers while we were painting!  I was kind of proud of myself for remembering this idea, after all, it’s been quite a few years since my daughter and I spent the afternoon making pudding art.  What I remember most, however, is how much fun we had.  As she became older our playtime changed; there were Barbie’s, American Girls, bike riding, roller blading and now it’s “family game night” or “girls night out” (which is a great excuse for getting dressed up for dinner and a movie).  

Spending time with your child regardless of age, creates security and stability and eventually shows up in their self-confidence and self-esteem.   And as it turns out, it’s not only good for your kids, it’s good for you too.  If you’re in the midst of a family crisis, whether its divorce, financial problems or some other issue, you can bet your child is feeling the stress of the situation.  So dig deep, find your inner child and become a playful parent today…relax, enjoy and give them the most valuable gift you can give – your time.

Be Careful, Contents are Fragile

After a conversation with a friend of mine this week,  I was reminded of how fragile a child can become when managing emotions and life while their parents go through a divorce.  This was one of the subjects that prompted me to even begin working on H.A.P.P.Y.   I found I had come in contact with many other single mom’s concerned about this same issue and quite frankly, we were all muddling through and hoping we were handling things well.   

Most children enter and exit an extremely fragile state while trying to navigate their emotions during divorce.   So our jobs as mothers becomes even more demanding as we find ourselves the key to helping our children overcome this fragile state and move into a more secure and stable emotional place. 

Now that I’ve revisited this subject, I thought I’d send out a bit of mommy wisdom for those of you that are in the same situation I was in a few short years ago.

If you are a single mom reading this and asking yourself, “is my child still in this fragile state and if so, how do I fix it?”   I’m not a family counselor so my first recommendation is to see one.  I believe in getting a good family counselor that you can see on a regular basis or when you feel everything is becoming too much to bear.  A good counselor will guide you through helpful steps specifically for your family needs.   Secondly, there are a few basic things that you can do at home that I found effective with my daughter as we were trying to adjust to divorce.  

I 100% believe in the power of a positive attitude (Go Zig!)  So #1 is as expected:

1.  Keep a positive attitude or as a very good friend of mine always says…”keep your head high” (which is her German version of stay positive)

I feel this should be repeated because a healthy attitude and positive view on life is good medicine.  I don’t want to oversimplify the situation and I don’t expect anyone to glide like a ballerina around the house singing “Zippidy Doo Da” ; however, it’s like baking a cake, if you use quality ingredients and follow the recipe to the best of your ability, you will have created a beautiful cake that is ready for the frosting.  Your child (the cake) will be ready for life (the frosting).

2.  HUG ME time…refer to my earlier post on this subject.

3.  Turn off TV, phones and computer and have dinner together.  Talk, laugh, tell jokes, whatever it takes to focus on them for at least 30 minutes.  And don’t talk to much, let them do most of the talking; listen as much as possible.  Listening to your children tell stories and showing interest in what is important to them will light up their little brains and their hearts.

4.  Go to Church, Synagogue, Mass, Temple, etc.  Take them to a place of serenity, respect and quiet even if it’s just a few times a month.  This is not only a benefit to them, but to you as well.  There’s just something so peaceful, enriching and calming about spending a few moments listening to spiritual instruction and participating in spiritual reverence.  It rejuvenates the soul.

5.  Don’t tear down your Ex in front of your kids. 

Our little guys and gals can only handle so much, so if you fight with your ex or display your anger in front of your children on a regular basis and say things that tear him down, your child will potentially do one of two things; retreat or rebel.  Both are equally serious.   If your situation is dire, go see a family counselor and vent to them, not your children.  I’ve witnessed the damage of a newly single mom who cannot seem to wrap her arms around her situation.  My heart hurts for her because I’ve experienced the same feelings and I understand the frustration but at some point we have to pick ourselves up and move forward for the beautiful little people in our lives.  It’s ultimately our responsibility to be sure their hearts and their minds are healthy and maturing at a normal pace.

One last recommendation is a book that I’ve found to be extremely insightful and helped me to understand my daughters emotional behaviour and needs.  I recommend reading The Five Love Languages of Children and/or the Love Languages of a Teenager by Gary Chapman.  I’ve recommended this book before because it gave me important insight and ultimately helped me as I parented my daughter through divorce.

Keep in mind all situations are different, some more serious than others; however, these five simple steps worked for me and my daughter.  None of us need to reinvent the wheel, so try them on for size and see how they fit.  You may find your home a happier place and your children loving life just a bit more.

For Cecelia

I completely and wholeheartedly love being a mom.   I love everything right down to the complete exhaustion I feel at the end of a very, very long day.  I know this sounds crazy, but I  try to soak up all the moments I have with my child because I want to remember them for as long as I possibly can.  Why, I wonder?  Why is motherhood so fulfilling, so satisfying, so completely wonderful?   Why do we, as women, get to a point where we want to mother something?  Why am I able to push myself as hard as I do and still come home to simply do it all over again and be content with that?  It’s because I’m feeding and tending a beautiful garden of life and I get to be a part of watching this garden of loveliness grow into a beautiful young woman.  And at some point, if I’ve done my job well, she will enter the world and the world will become a better place because she is in it. 

I cherish the thought that every single day I get to teach her, love her, share with her, dream with her and show her how to be the woman I know she can be.  It’s not a simple task; it’s complicated and time-consuming, but the reward is so great that its difficult to put it into words.  There are times when I feel as if I might have failed her or myself, but then, miraculously, she does something that makes me realize I am indeed doing things right and she is listening.

There really isn’t anything else in this world that gives me the same kind of satisfaction as watching my child exceed at life.  I watch her navigate through troublesome teenage dilemmas, learn how to manage her time, pursue her dreams, develop friendships and gain confidence.  It’s not easy allowing her to do things on her own, I guess its normal to want to do things for her but I force myself to let her be and let her discover her true abilities and reach her potential.  Sometimes she interprets this as my lack of interest in her life but I know deep down I’m doing what needs to be done; making her test her wings so that someday she will fly on her own.

I’m writing this mostly because I’ve been reflecting on motherhood quite a bit in the past week.   Someone I love lost a very special mother and my heart is hurting from the inside out.   I sat silently and watched closely, through my tears, as each of her children paid tribute to her; their rock, their center.  One by one, the memories were recalled as they came together and remembered her strength, her love, her care;  they knew, they had each become the people they were today because she was their mother.  She gave the world nine of the most beautiful souls on this earth and she was delighted by each one of them every single day of her life.

So tonight, as I recall her sweet face and the love in her eyes every time one of her children called or came to see her, I’m inspired.  Inspired to be the kind of mother Cecelia was to her children.  The kind of woman who understands the gift she has been given and the responsibility of it all.  The kind of woman who counts her blessings and appreciates the goodness of the children she raised and the lives they chose to lead…because she was their mom.

  

It was as if she was an angel that landed here on earth

Her eyes sparkling with a mischievous light

And her laughter full of mirth

A gentle spirit with a loving firm hand

A wise woman who loved a good man

Who gave her all that he could give

And showed his love in the courageous life he lived

A home full of children and warmth she did bring

Nine smiles and nine faces of happiness ring

Through her love shining in the lives of her nine

Their goodness and success her sweetest wine

An angelic smile and gentle ways

Her love of life, her hope to stay

As strong as she could forever be

To watch it grow, her family tree

She was a mother, first and foremost

Her heart with each one and her voice always close

She will be greatly missed but loved again and again

And all will listen for her wings in the wind.

Time For Dinner

I believe one of the best parts of being a mom is listening to all of the wildly funny and crazy things our children say.  I love to listen to my daughter talk about life from her perspective.  She see’s the world in such a different light and often times it prompts me to take a second look at the way I view the world and those in it. 

Some of the most rewarding and interesting conversations I’ve had with my child through the years has been while sitting around the dinner table.   When she was very young I remember thinking I could hardly wait to hear what was going on in that cute little blond head of hers.  It seemed I really couldn’t get much out of her until it was time to sit down and eat dinner.  Even now when I ask, “how was school?” I get the standard, “fine”.   But when dinner rolls around and I manage to coax her to the dinner table, I get all of the delicious details of the day!  

I’ve always been an advocate of the family dinner time but even more so after my divorce.  And, mom’s, allow me to be very honest about this; it was a mental and emotional challenge for me to work all day, pick up my daughter from after-school care, help her with homework, cook dinner, finish household chores, etc.  In addition, there were the “hug me” evenings.  I’m a realist and I completely understand the challenges involved here, especially if you have multiple children in a single parent home.  However, that being said, it’s vital to create “the dinner time”.  The benefits of sitting down together to eat dinner are enormous.   It’s an opportunity to connect with your child, talk about the days events, talk about things that are important to them and to you.  There are a few websites full of information regarding the benefits of eating dinner together; one of my favorites is the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services website.  It provides detailed and statistical information on the benefits of a family mealtime in addition to providing resources for assistance if needed.  I recommend this link: http://family.samhsa.gov/get/mealtime.aspx.

Once you’ve read the statistics on the children who eat dinner regularly with their families, you will find the discipline and effort placed into this evening meal with your own family is worth every ounce of extra work.

To help make this a little easier, I’ve created a few quick ideas that worked for me and should help make it more fun for you and your family.

#1 – Plan a menu

I know, it’s that dreaded word, plan!  With everything that’s on your “plate” planning a weekly menu can be a real challenge; however, there’s no need to overwhelm yourself by planning a full week’s menu, you can plan three or four meals at one time and come up with a fun dinner out or a “serendipity” night (everyone gets to have what they want, as long as its healthy).  My daughter still loves “serendipity/anything goes” nights because I let her eat her favorite cereal and a cup of yogurt or we make eggs and toast or sometimes we even make pancakes for dinner.  Add a cup of fruit or cottage cheese and you’ve got yourself a room full of happy and healthy kids.  Just continue to remind yourself to keep things simple and don’t stress over dinner.  The key is having dinner together and listening to all the fantastic things that happened to your child during the day.  Once again, it’s about creating a secure environment that makes your child feel loved.  Providing them your undivided attention at the dinner table goes a long way to helping develop a happy and well-adjusted child.

When you plan your menu try to get everyone involved.  Take a few minutes each weekend to plan a few meals for the following week.  Give your child/children a list of dinners that you know they like and you feel comfortable cooking and let them choose the menu.  This gets everyone involved and makes it easier for you because now your menu is planned.  Place a corkboard, whiteboard, or small chalkboard in your kitchen and post the daily dinner menu.  Most children are extremely visual and it’s exciting for them to see the dinner menu, especially in the morning as they are walking out the door to school.  I’ve often heard my daughter say, “Yea! It’s taco night!” 

#2 – Give everyone a dinner duty

Everyone old enough to carry a dinner plate should have a dinner duty.  Whether you have one child or five, carve out a particular duty for each child during the dinner hour.  It can be as small as clearing the table and bringing dishes to the sink or placing the silverware on the table, stirring the sauce (supervised of course) while you cut up the vegetables.  Whatever you feel they can handle is what you should assign them to do during dinner time. Giving your child/children a dinner duty will build self-confidence and create positive dinner habits for a lifetime.

#3 – Have a themed dinner night

To help my daughter get excited about helping out with dinner, I would occasionally create a themed dinner night, such as a “Fiesta night” which included tacos and pink lemonade.   If I wanted to cook spaghetti with meatballs, I’d call it our “Fun in Italy Night”.  I’d ask her to draw a picture for the table that would match our theme and help me decide the menu based on the theme.  It was a lot of fun for both of us and took some of the stress out of planning dinner. 

#4 – Enjoy a living room picnic

Okay, this was and continues to be so much fun that we probably do it more than we should.  Most of the time I required the television to be turned off during dinner but during our “picnics” I would put in one of her favorite movies.  This isn’t something I would recommend every night but there’s just something so fun about moving the coffee table out-of-the-way, placing a big blanket on the living room floor and having a picnic for dinner.  Sometimes I would even pack up her favorite sandwich and fruit in a picnic basket to help make it feel as if we were really on a picnic.  I’ve served just about everything imaginable during our living room picnics but I think her favorite was Mac and Cheese. 

Today, we make homemade pizzas on the grill and when they are ready we place them on a big platter and get comfortable on the living room floor in front of our favorite movie. 

#5 – No dinner dishes!

I’m a firm believer in cooking at home for many reasons, one of them is simply cost another is making healthy food choices; however, sometimes its fun to have a special night out at a favorite restaurant.  So, if it’s in the budget, let your child pick their favorite restaurant and give yourselves a fun night out together. 

During our first few post-divorce years my daughter and I had a favorite restaurant that we frequented.  To this day she remembers having our once a week out-to-dinner night.  She remembers what she ordered, how we sat outside and talked about the day and most of all, how much she enjoyed that time together.  It was time and money well spent.

Well, Mom’s, I hope I’ve inspired your inner chef and you will begin your own family dinner rituals that will help you place a little “happy” in your family’s day.

One side note:  There are many meal choices when it comes to cooking for your family so I asked my sister and professional chef, Karista Bennett, to kindly develop a recipe section for the H.A.P.P.Y. Plan.  Some of her favorites will be listed in an easy recipe section of the book.  However, until the book is ready, you can visit her website for even more family friendly recipes at www.karistaskitchen.com.