Thoughts on Being Brave

We can find thousands of articles online telling us how to deal with the pain of life. Archives documenting the right steps to take to heal after suffering, grief, betrayal, heartache and devastation are just a click away. We can find how-to guides on rebuilding by focusing on loving ourselves, empowering ourselves again, regaining our courage, our ability to accept love again. We keep clicking and reading because whatever has happened to us has hardened and hollowed our hearts and we want to find the reverse button.

We are so focused on surviving the next days of pain and grief that we don’t stop to think about when the healing is over. We never talk about the phase after healing, when someone walks into our lives and finds us not in pieces anymore and wants to love us. We never hear about how terrifying vulnerability is after the labor it takes to reconstruct a shattered soul.

We have to learn to love again, with an open and brave heart.

Learning this is a process. Melting the ice that covers our heart after heartache takes unparalleled courage.

We are at the point in healing where we have taken the damaged parts off of ourselves, like Christmas ornaments unhooking from a pine tree, we’ve let them go. We emerge new and somehow, love has walked into our lives again.

But what do we do now?

After healing it’s vital that we live life with an open heart again despite the fact that living that way and getting burned is how we end up in these inevitable phases of life in the first place. There’s not one person out there who hasn’t been trusting and loving to the wrong person. Who hasn’t paid the very high price of that. The betrayal, the hurt, and the heartbreak that sets us back with nothing besides our bare bones.

For especially traumatic experiences people close up. We build a concrete wall around our hearts and refuse to let anyone in. We sometimes even hurt others, because that way we can’t be hurt first. We don’t trust, we question everything and believe nothing.

But we can’t start a new chapter of our lives like this. It’s not fair to all the work we put into our souls after painful experiences like divorce or loss. It’s not fair to the new versions of ourselves that emerge after healing our hearts and finding all that happiness that everyone said was just around the bend. It’s not fair to the person out there waiting on the other side of all this, waiting to wrap you in love.

We have to allow our hearts to be open after heartbreak because what’s the alternative? You’ve suffered, you’ve persevered, you’ve sat in the emotional shit of starting a new chapter of your life all so you can be hard and guarded? To be too terrified to care about anyone again?

That’s no way to live. Out of all the difficult things we go through in life, no one really talks about the bravery required to open our hearts to people, after we’ve been hurt by those we loved.

Leading with an open heart is the truest act of bravery your soul can embark on.

Brave is not knowing if someone is feeling the way we are but telling them we’re all in anyways.

Brave is letting the door to our heart remain open even when someone’s run inside and fucked everything up.

Brave is knowing this might really hurt one day but realizing it might also be a beautiful gift.

Brave is believing the best in someone again.

Brave is giving someone our best again.

Brave is saying the words “I love you,” even though the thought of love nails knots down in the pit of our stomachs.

Brave is trusting someone with our story, not knowing if it’s too soon or too weighted down with pain for them to carry with us.

Brave is letting someone see our flaws, our beautiful scars.

Brave is saying “Hey, I’m here and I’m scared but you’re worth it.”

There’s nothing more amazing to see than someone who was knocked down, hard, and who got up, pulled it back together and shines even brighter, someone brave in the way they love.

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In Response To

Occasionally writers will create an article in response to another piece by another writer. For example, in my community, a journalist recently wrote about a tragic pitbull attack on an elderly woman where the woman was killed by the dog. The writer who reported the opinion piece believed the community needed to stand up and do something about vicious pitbulls. As you can imagine, pitbull lovers from all neighboring cities came out against this opinion and another writer wrote an article in response to the piece, taking the stance that it’s not the dog, it’s the owner. You get the idea.

I have come to the conclusion that I owe the world an article in response to something.

Let me set the stage for this.

My writing career started with an article about dating an older man and dispelling the judgments that surround age difference relationships. Through writing about a subject that, frankly, was never really talked about openly on the internet before, I received hundreds of emails in support and appreciation from young women that felt as though I was a pioneer for age gap love. In their eyes and in my own, I was making something traditionally taboo normal, through sharing the details of my relationship on the internet. I often felt like a fairy, sprinkling a little normalcy on a relationship outsiders typically turned their nose up to.

Five years after that first, deeply personal and honest article went live, I have allowed dozens of other deeply personal and intimate truths to slip from my fingertips and into the abyss of the world wide web. These articles have always been in favor of dating whomever makes you happy in this world, regardless of age.

My age difference relationship ended about seven months ago, after seven years together, and I have been having that out of body experience some do when they finally get out of the fog they have been living in and see things clearly.

I have to write an article in response to my own now, in response to age gap love being 100% normal and good.

The first basic thing you should know is I lied. Not completely but I rounded sharp edges, I polished the rust off the damaged spots of my life. I claimed to bare my heart for those reading along and see now, in hindsight, that I only told half the story.

In my defense, I have been wearing rose-colored glasses for the past seven years. I felt that I was being loyal to my boyfriend by not sharing everything, only the parts that made us look good, the parts that made our relationship look shiny. I never had an issue sharing my own personal troubles, my own personal flaws, but I felt this deep need to protect our relationship. To never expose anything that put a light on our bad qualities or the tension that lived behind our closed doors.

I want to be honest this time when I tell you that my relationship ended because of a lot of things. Jealousy, insecurity, abuse in a number of shapes and forms- vices, words, emotions, a lack of emotions, stress, coping skills, grief, hate, love and so on from us both, not just him and not just me but us as a unit. Part of me wants so badly to hold true to all those articles I wrote that said age didn’t matter. Part of me still wants to just let it lie, say it was all these things and not the age difference. Yet, I sit here knowing fully that I will never get myself into another relationship with an age gap.

As much as it pains me, I have to admit that the age difference was an issue and I have to be mature enough to say I was wrong.

Age does matter. At least in the demise of my relationship it did. And it will matter in all future relationships I embark on.

It matters in so many ways and can be tied into each and every other reason that I listed above. I won’t go through specific examples but I will say that being with someone who isn’t in your general age range is beyond hard.

I was just starting my life while my partner’s life was entering a season of calming down. I was headed to 8am business meetings while he was headed to a Monday free of obligations and schedules. I was walking toward marriage and babies while he was walking through the door to happy hour. I actually can’t believe I am saying this but it’s impossible to navigate life with someone who isn’t even on your metaphorical street. Not even the same neighborhood. Not even the same city.

And how sad for one of you to sacrifice for the other. For him to start over, or for me to never start. For one life to be forever altered by the other. Maybe that’s true love, I don’t know. I used to think so, I used to be willing to give up anything for the man I loved. My 28 year-old-self is really, truly glad that I didn’t give up, that there is still a lot of life ahead of me.

Don’t get me wrong, there where issues well beyond being in different life stages but today, I can easily see how age played a roll in all other issues. Either in the front seat, commanding complete attention, or quietly in the back, out of sight but never out of mind.

And there you have it. My truth today, different than it was 3 years ago, both authentic to my experiences at the time. How painful, beautiful and exciting it is to grow in your life, to see things from a different angle and to adjust accordingly instead of staying rooted in ways and lifestyles not meant for you.

 

Resolutions- 2017

2016 broke my heart and 2017 is going to heal it, folks. Not magically, by God sprinkling good happenings all over me but by my own decisions, actions and mindfulness moving into a new year. While last year was rough, I did learn a ton about myself. Emotional rock bottom does that to you right?!

So before going into a few resolutions for 2017, I want to reflect on some positives from 2016.

  1. I learned a simple, deeply moving, truth about myself that I will carry with me for the rest of my life: I can do hard things. I can do anything, even hard things. How much of our lives do we spend avoiding hard things? Think about this for a moment. We probably stay in awful jobs, toxic friendships, poor relationships, bad behaviors, negative thinking, addictions, etc because changing would be hard, really and truly hard. We, as humans, do so much to avoid pain, sadness, loneliness and the unknown. We go to great lengths to justify the bad in our lives so that we can avoid dealing with hard things that ultimately will lead us to a better life, all because we don’t realize how strong we really are. If no one has ever told you these words, let me be the first. You can do hard things. You are strong, you are never alone and you matter. You will be in pain but you will get through that pain by your own will and strength because you can do anything, even hard things. Don’t betray yourself another day by avoiding the hard things.
  2. Being a “people pleaser” is the worst way to live life. I learned this year that being consumed with the need to make everyone happy is just plain bullshit. I kid you not when I admit it took all 27 years of life for me to see this truth clearly. I have always had the mindset that doing what other people want is how you show them love. If you don’t know this about me personally then I am sure you know someone in your life that has this obnoxious way of thinking. They are the person that never speaks up for fear of making others unhappy, the person that doesn’t say “I want Mexican!” because you might want Italian and they want you to eat what you want or the person that wants to rent a movie after working all week but goes out every Friday night because they can’t say no to their friends or partner. If you are this person, STOP IT. Right now, today, this minute, STOP. Trying to please others is useless because half the time the person you’re pleasing has no idea you’re making an inner sacrifice and really doesn’t want you to anyways. You are the only loser in this lifestyle. Your relationships are sucking because you never address real issues, you’re getting fat off pasta (true living, in my opinion), you’re waking up with a lot of hangovers for no reason and you’re a walking ball of psycho anxiety wondering if everyone is living in harmony! You lose. You have to have a balance in life of being true to what you want, speaking up for yourself and going with the flow at times.
  3. God is love, love is God. Faith is needed to keep your heart afloat during tough times.

Now, for 2017, here are a few of my realistic resolutions.

  1. Be mindful. According to Mindful.Org, “We all have the innate ability to be present, composed, and to pause before we overreact to the challenges of our busy lives—and that’s the ground of mindfulness. With some guidance and training, mindfulness can develop into a way of living that brings greater focus and effectiveness as well as kindness and caring into everything we do. Both science and experience demonstrate how being mindful brings positive benefits for our health, happiness, work, and relationships.” Someone told me this year that when you’re crying it is because of something in the past or something in the future upsetting you and to calm down be mindful of simply breathing in and out. I have done this a few times when I am upset, worried, anxious or overwhelmed and it’s helped me. I hope to explore mindfulness more this year and other simple exercises to be more present in the moment.
  2. Take the GRE. Hey, this is a real and achievable goal! I want to take the GRE in the spring and apply for the MFA Creative Writing Program at ODU in the fall. I have a degree in science and I have a great career so why not go back to school and study the craft I love? I am young and nervous to apply, nervous to put in all that time and effort but more afraid that if I don’t try, I will forever regret it. First step: take and pass the GRE.
  3. Quit buying useless stuff. Along with mindfulness, I have been reading a lot about minimalism. While I don’t plan to sell all my worldly possessions, live from two pairs of jeans and three shirts and never watch Netflix again, I do see a lot of value in buying less shit. I spend a lot of money on clothes and while I love fashion, having so many things makes them less meaningful. I often find stuff in my closet with tags on it, never worn and now of no interest to me. About a month ago I stopped buying clothes and it feels good to enjoy what I already have. I cut my cable package too, I was paying $19.99 for HBO when I might watch Game of Thrones once every three months. I cancelled my monthly Sephora beauty box subscription (that was hard) and started taking my dogs to daycare once a week instead of twice. I want to continue this in 2017, I want to be mindful of how I spend my money and aware of the clutter that surrounds me. I don’t need anymore things.
  4. More sunrises and sunsets out in the world and not from my bed. This will always be on my resolution list.

I could go on but those are my thoughts as we end 2016 and move into 2017. I pray everyone has a beautiful new years and the best 2017!

Resilience

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As summer comes to an end I have found my way back to my computer. 2016 has not been my year. 2016 has been filled with turmoil, sadness, grief and anxiety. There have been beautiful and joyful moments, don’t get me wrong, but overall this year has been the hardest I have faced.

This happens in life, right? Life is made of ups and downs and sometimes the downs last a long while. Oftentimes the storm lasts one day and other times you’re trying to see the sun 9 months later. The point is that you stay hopeful regardless.

This is me staying hopeful. This is me learning to be resilient. I keep thinking about wasted time. I am haunted by wasted days. Days eaten up by shedding an unnecessary tear, by arguing a meaningless fight, by worrying a over an irrelevant situation. This year I have spent hours on end with my stomach in knots of uncertainty. Where I once felt confidence, assurance and optimism, I now feel endless ambiguity. This change has left me tired and pessimistic.

I keep spending time mad at myself for letting this year take my joy and I have to let that go. If anything, my experiences this year can be seen as an opportunity to grow, a chance to become closer to God, whom I often lean on, and a time to truly focus on the good in life.

Have you ever heard the saying that the way to quiet your fears are to name your blessings? Trying times are exhausting but that is one way to keep things in perspective. It could be worse, it could be unbearable and for some people it is.

Through this year I have learned to deal with heartache, with situations that just don’t make sense, with feelings of indifference and with the inevitable trials that, frankly, weren’t part of the damn plan.

I have learned (read: barely) resilience. I think this year I have been shocked that times are not always great. Bad times come and they go and sometimes, they stay.

I know I am not alone in this rut, so many people all over the world deal with hardship. From the death of a loved one to a year in that uncomfortable grey fog of life, we have all been there and the good news is we all will survive.

So that is where I have been, in the grey. Tangled up in the uncertainty that comes with life’s ebbing tide.

Week Three Recap- Tone It Up Bikini Series

Week three is done!

Next week is the half way point and I think I will weigh myself then. I am not terribly concerned with how much weight I lose because I know the number doesn’t matter and it is about how you fit in your clothes but I figured I would check in with my progress at the halfway point. Shana cracked and couldn’t wait until the half way point and she’s lost weight! So that is encouraging and a nice boost to work harder and push even more.

Results are motivators and not only results on the scale. Although I haven’t weighed myself, I know things are changing for the better. My clothes fit better after only three weeks. I don’t feel bloated as often and the mirror is starting to reflect my hard work. My endurance is up, I am able to run further and take less breaks.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot of work to do but I genuinely feel good after just 21 days.

So to dive into week 4, I am going to share some of my favorite fitness thingamajigs with you!

My Garmin Forerunner 225 Sport Watch

My (super wonderful) boyfriend bought me this watch about 4 years ago for my birthday and I have gone through phases of wearing it constantly to not seeing it for months however for the Tone It Up program, I couldn’t live without it. It comes with a heart rate monitor so you can truly see which type of workouts work for you as far as getting your heart rate up and burning calories. I burn the most calories doing spin and get excited after each workout to see how much I put out in the gym. It is also great for runners as its GPS feature tracks your run and tells you how far you’ve gone, how fast your miles are, etc. Plus it is comfortable and super easy to use. Mine is so old they don’t sell it anymore but this one looks similar, if I ever upgrade mine I am going right for the purple one!

Frank Body Coffee Scrub

I love Frank Body and have officially justified my purchasing of excessive coffee scrubs because K & K told me too. Coffee scrubs smooth out your skin, help with cellulite and are a great way to relax after a week of busting your ass. I like to take a bubble bath, relax, read and do one of these amazing scrubs before getting out. My personal favorite is the Peppermint Coffee Scrub.

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This Nasty Ass Sweat Wrap

This thing is gross in the best way possible. Wear it around your waist during you cardio routine and you’ll sweat actual bullets. I love to sweat during a workout and so this wrap, weirdly named sweet sweat, is my new bestie.

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This Pep-Start Morning Eye Cream

This list is getting strange, you probably thought I was going to recommend some cool running shoes and here I am talking about beauty products. I can’t help it. These 4:30am workouts occasionally (read- always) have me looking a little haggard and exhausted. This eye cream is my saving grace before work. It hydrates, replenishes, tightens and gets rid of dark circles. Try it, come back and thank me.

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These DELISH Sweet Tater Chips

Sometimes ya girl just needs a damn chip and I am pretty sure (I might be making this up) I read on one of the 5,000 TIU document pages that if you must eat a chip, make it a sweet potato chip. Did anyone else read that? Well, I only eat half the little bag, before 3 pm and the ingredients are: Sweet Potatoes, Sea Salt, and Sunflower Seed Oil. That is it! I buy these at Starbucks every once in a while and they are strange when eaten while drinking iced coffee, just FYI.

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Ok those are my current obsessions, what are yours!?

Week Two Recap: Tone It Up Bikini Series

Two weeks down in the 8-week Tone It Up Bikini Series!

This week was pretty uneventful. I am happy to report my pants all made it through my workouts, crotches intact!

Here are my week two thoughts-

Food

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I have really been off the exact meal plan because I am a creature of habit. I only eat TIU approved ingredients and portion sizes, I just make the same things a lot.

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Here is my typical day food-wise: for breakfast I have the egg white muffins loaded with veggies and a side of fruit or a protein pancake which I have officially mastered making. For my first snack I have celery with almond butter or a PB protein ball (crack balls) with a small piece of fruit. For lunch I have leftovers from whatever I made for dinner which might be a little bit of quinoa topped with chicken or shrimp, veggies and hot sauce. Or I will make a salad although I really tried to love kale but simply hate it (has anyone tried baby kale? Looks like spinach but tastes like shit- wtf). For my after lunch snack (or M4 as the TIU community calls it) I always have olive hummus and cucumber, my favorite. For dinner, I stick to lean protein and veggies. After dinner I have a cup of coffee and sometimes dark chocolate or another approved desert.

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Side thought-

I have read time and time again in the program that this is all to serve as a guide so I am tweaking it to fit me. Sometimes I feel like that means I am not totally in but most times I feel like I am creating a lifestyle I enjoy and know will last beyond the 8-weeks.

Workouts

I flew solo most of the week because my TIU bud was sick! Shana spent the beginning of the week on the couch, covered in snot, while describing her phlegm situation to me in way too much detail. By the end of the week she was back in the gym with me kicking ass.

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On Thursday, after getting to work I was sitting at my desk doing not a damn thing and felt a sharp pain in my back. Apparently (according to my chiropractor) I pulled a muscle in my upper back so that caused me to take my work out on Friday easy. By Saturday I was back to normal although it was a rough 24 hours for my body. PLUS Shana attempted to share her sickness with me but my immune system told it to kick rocks so I only battled a sore throat for a few days at the end of the week.

I have a love hate relationship with the videos. I have to watch them the night before or else it just becomes too frustrating to follow along at the gym. I did achieve my goal of getting to the gym earlier this week.

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Misc-

The TIU community is all over insta and I have become slightly addicted to posting pictures of our food/workouts and general shenanigans on IG (Come visit! IG Name- TIU_VB_BikiniBabes). K & K pick a few accounts each week to win prizes and I am determined to WIN.

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The War Within Words

Words are everything in my world.

They comprise the books I love reading after a draining day at work. They fill pages after pages of stories that take me from where I am and launch me into another world, someone else’s world. They stand as an open door luring me into an unknown escape. They don’t rush me or hurry me along, they wait patiently on me to crack the spine of the weathered book they lie dormant in and come alive until my eyes are heavy and I am lulled into sleep.

They are my own personal solace for when I am feeling happy, sad, overwhelmed, indifferent, angry, and all emotions in-between. They willingly fly from my fingertips onto a page. Relief crashing over me like the feeling of finding someone I thought was lost. They bring me peace and comfort. When my emotions overcome me I run to my computer or my journal. I blindly write until that need, that nagging itch, is satisfied.

They shine light into the closed off room of my heart, they explain what I sometimes can’t when talking. They make me bare, translucent almost. They pull venerability from my heart and they make me brave and confident. They help others to understand me and they oftentimes help me to understand myself.

They help people from different ends of the world come together in similar thoughts, feelings and situations. The unite us all. They sometimes hit us just right and the feeling of being alone fades away as we find there is someone else that understands us.

And some sad times, hopefully seldom times, they crush me. They hurt me. They are cruel and mean and they fire out from the mouth of someone who doesn’t cherish words the way I do. They rip me to shreds, these words. Horrible words that come from the beautiful language I cherish so dearly. The fact they can go from everything I enjoy about my small little world to the weapon that breaks my heart, ultimately does just that, it breaks me.

Then I do the unthinkable. I use them to hurt others as well. I lash out, I think of the meanest words possible and sometimes I say them. Other times I beg the person I am screaming with not to say them, always aware of the power they hold.

What’s worse is that they stay with you. Loving words flee quickly, easily taken for granted, but the ugly ones always stay. They permanently do, even when I think I’ve let them float away. These words are ones I can’t stand. They stick all over my body like leeches. I try to rip them off, I try to move on but I can’t. They suffocate me and they suck the love right from me. They vibrate through my mind for weeks after. I feel their weight on me. I feel other people’s eyes on them covering me. I hate these words.

And yet, I love them, they are magical in all their power. I have always loved them and will always love them and part of that means willingly taking the bad words with the good. The kind words with the cruel and the loving words with the hateful ones. I am reminded to pick my own words more carefully, for I can create love with words, or hate.

 

Week One Recap: Tone It Up Bikini Series

Well, one week down in the Tone It Up Bikini Series program.

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Overall, the food prep is down right tiring. Initially, I was trying to follow the meal plan exactly as laid out. If the plan said protein pancakes, I made pancakes, if it said egg frittatas, I was making them. I won’t be doing that from now on. I am a creature of habit and sometimes I like variety but mostly, I like what I like. For instance, I am not a fan of eating slices of avocado. One morning the breakfast was two egg muffins (this is not their TIU name but what I have come to call them. I don’t plan to type out Springtime Egg Frittatas every time I mention them), sliced avocado, and a slice of dry Ezekiel bread. Instead, I smashed up the avocado, spread it on bread, topped it with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, chia seeds and one small over medium egg. Another example, I don’t like smoothies unless someone else is making them. I hate washing a blender and I love coffee so it becomes strange to me when I am drinking a breakfast smoothie and drinking a coffee (am I alone in this?). No breakfast smoothies for me.

Now that I understand all the food the program pushes, I am kind of doing my own thing with the ingredients while also trying out all the new recipes that I know I will enjoy. I eat 5 times a day, I eat the right portions, I am getting used to wrapping everything in a raw collard green and I am having vino withdraws so I think I am doing everything right. Despite that, the foods K&K push in this program do one very important thing. They give you energy, make you feel good and since committing to them, I feel better in just one week.

I have been healthy my whole life. My dad was a body builder and still is crazy when it comes to health and wellness. Ice cream, cookies, sugary cereal and all that good stuff was not food you would find in my home growing up. I know how to eat healthy and I often do because I have low energy and need nutrient rich food to get me through my day. If I went out to lunch and ate mashed potatoes and chicken fingers I would literally slump over asleep at my desk an hour later.

Lately though, I have been slacking. I eat good 80% of the time but give in 20% of the time to my boyfriend who eats stuffed french toast, an entire container of Oreos and popeyes fried chicken every time his heart desires, which is often. And of course, he has like 10% body fat, a rock hard bod and zero problem areas (why God, why?).

Sticking with this meal plan and way of eating is keeping me honest. I am motivated by the fact that Shana is doing it alongside me and helping me cook and try new recipes. My boyfriend is also on board, waiting until I fall asleep to eat all the chocolate mini doughnuts and cheering me on constantly.

As far as working out, my only complaint is that the workouts are often in the form of a video and it is just weird to watch a video through my cellphone while at the gym. I can’t hear anything or see really when I am standing up and I find it frustrating. This week, I plan to solve that problem by watching the videos the night before and writing the routine down. Another thing I personally have an issue with is feeling guilty that I only have 45 minutes in the morning instead of one hour. My goal for next week is to be at the gym at 5am instead of 5:15 so I can get the full hour before 6am. This means moving my wakeup time from 4:45am to 4:30am and my little yorkie Max, who hates waking up in the morning, is not going to be happy.

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Just to wrap this post up I have to tell you all this surreal and embarrassing moment I had this week at the gym, so we can end on a laugh together, at my expense. Shana and I were doing the HIIT cardio video which includes jumping squats, burpees and all things hellish. At the end of the workout I was stretching and mid butterfly stretch I looked down and realized the entire crotch of my pants had ripped, and not recently, most likely at the beginning of my workout. I am assuming the material just blew out from the friction of my thighs rubbing while I was kicking some serious ass haha. What is really horrifying is that I don’t usually wear underwear when working out (TMI?) because it is just too many layers and there’s no point. So I am basically doing the butterfly stretch naked at this point, in a public gym. DEAD. Luckily, I don’t think anyone saw but that was a very interesting way to begin my Thursday.

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On Saturday I went out and bought new, heavy duty, workout pants.

Check back in with me next week for my week two update!

 

Getting Started- Tone It Up Bikini Series with K&K

Confession #1- I am very far from my goal of total health and wellness, please add me to the list of hundreds of thousands of other women who are in the same boat (sigh).

Confession #2- Body image is my least favorite thing to write about. I despise it so much that I have only ever written about it once and in that essay, I was able to steer mostly clear of my own opinion of my body.

I am prepared to just be honest about it. I am in this weird grey area of feeling unhappy with certain features of my body but, overall, the drive to love myself in my own skin and appreciate all my body does for me keeps me from speaking negatively about myself. Unless you are my boyfriend or my best friend, then you’d hear it all.

I feel this way because I hear and read so much body negativity from women about themselves. Conversations with the women in my life and within the honest articles I read are consumed with comments about poor body image. Maybe I hate how much I can relate to these comments and articles.

First off, I am extremely healthy. If you know me personally, you are probably annoyed by the ultra-healthy way I order a cheeseburger at a restaurant. “No bun please, no cheese also, can you wrap it in lettuce?” “Does that sauce have any dairy in it? Can I get broccoli instead of fries? Can you make sure there isn’t butter on the broccoli?” I am that customer.

I also workout often, between 3-4 times a week at 5am. I walk my dogs most evenings, I love learning about nutrition, I love buying fresh, local fruits and veggies, I love to cook healthy and I genuinely prefer a salad over fried chicken, much to my boyfriend’s horror.

Yet, I have always been slightly overweight. Not enough for the doctor to say something or for my pant size to increase over the years but enough for me to honestly feel uncomfortable most days.

This uncomfortable feeling has driven me to spend thousands over the years on personal trainers, nutritionists and gym memberships. I have cried countless tears of frustration and sincerely attempted to push myself to see past 10 extra pounds to the land of unconditional love for my body.

Long story short, nothing helps. I am one of those women who work out like crazy and eat well only to maintain weight, rarely shedding even one or two pounds. Some days I am sad over this, others I embrace a little extra curve and then some days I say what the hell and have tacos and wine.

Lately though, I have been having more bad days than good when it comes to my body image.  I am at the point where something has to change. I need to stop focusing on the negative and I need to be stronger, mentally and physically.

My goals aren’t to be a size zero or not have a roll when I bend over to put my shoes on. My goal is simple, I just want to feel good in my skin.

So, I am focusing on having fun and feeling great. I am not one for workout videos or beach bod programs but I decided to join my best friend and try one this spring, which is what I wrote this article to tell you.

I am following along with the Tone It Up girls, Karena and Katrina on their 8-week bikini program and it started Monday. I have always been skeptical of programs like this, feeling as though they are ineffective and expensive. I want to bring you along through this experience, because you might be like me, always curious to if these programs work and how realistic they are.

Here is the quick and dirty of the program so far-

I spent $192 for the program. This got me a little gift bag of random things (Shana is particularly excited about this part of the deal haha), hundreds and hundreds of pages of recipes, workouts, workout videos, tips, tricks and an 8-week specific meal plan and workout plan.

Meal prep was supposed to be done Sunday but I was very sick and unable to go shopping or cook so I started a day behind. I cooked a lot on Monday (I had a mental health holiday) and it was exhausting as hell. Egg white muffins, protein pancakes, quinoa up the ass, $150 bucks on veggies and fruits (did you know pine nuts are like 5 bucks a handful!?) and three grocery stores later, I was falling out.

But I did it, Tuesday night Shana helped chop everything in our fridge and we have been up at 5am working out. It has only been a few days of all this so I am going to check back in with you next week but so far, I am actually having fun. Mainly because Shana and I are in it together, I am not going to hate myself if it doesn’t drastically change me and I am comforted by my simple goal of feeling good in my skin.

So follow along with me! 8 full weeks of working out in some way every single day and eating food that is good for your mind and body.  Are you doing the program too? Tell me everything, keep me honest and help me stay sane with only 1-2 glasses of wine twice a week!

4 Books To Read On These Pretty Spring Days

Happy spring! When I think of spring I think of warm weather, sunny days, driving with the windows down and having a few weeks to take my dogs to the beach before tourist season starts. Oh, and I think of books, duh. All this perfect weather pulls me outside to curl up on a chair on the deck and read. If you’re looking for a good book that will give you all the feels and transport you to another time and place, pick up one of these great books.

The Kitchen House

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Y’all. This book. I am so in love with it I can barely explain. I actually listened to this book via audible. I have about a 30 minute commute to work and recently discovered the only way to stay sane during the inevitable traffic (for no reason! #roadrage) is to listen to a book. I downloaded The Kitchen House, honestly, because it was $14. Most audio books are so expensive and I had seen the title at Barnes and Noble recently so I figured I would buy it. The story takes place in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s and focuses around a plantation in VA. The plot is a tangled web of relationships between the white upper-class homeowners, their slaves and a young Irish indentured servant girl.

Just to reiterate how hard I fell for this book, I would actually be driving home, to my man, a warm meal, my PJ’s and my dogs (basically all the things I love) and would cheer when red lights would stop me because that was an extra minute I got to listen to The Kitchen House. I would actually get home and sit in my drive way, not going inside, to listen a few minutes longer while my dogs looked at my car from the doorway in complete confusion.

When a book captivates you so much that you get excited by traffic, you know it is good. And to make it even better, there is a sequel being released next week!

P.S.- Just a little thanks to my boyfriend who actually let me drone on and on about this book for weeks, explaining the plot to him, the characters, the drama and the love. You know I am weird, you picked me, thank you for always letting me explain the best books to you, play by play.

Me before you

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Watch this trailer. Try not to cry from it alone. (Books are always better than the movie, read the book first!)

This book was a charming and unique love story and it was funny. I love when books give you so many emotions. This is a perfect beach read and the main character, Lou, will charm you more and more with each turn of the page.

Girl at War

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Hi, I am Rachel and my favorite genre of books is historical fiction. This book follows Ana through being a child during war into college in the States. The book is compelling, interesting and, the best part? It was written by a 26 year old. #goals

Firefly Lane

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I love Kristen Hannah, she is one of my favorite authors. I didn’t know much about this book before driving in but it started like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and ended like Beaches so it was a full blown roller coaster. The story follows two best friends from highschool into their 50’s. Any girl who has a best friend that they’ve screamed Taylor Swift lyrics with and used to sneak PBR with will feel like this book is a warm hug from a close friend.

What are you reading?!

A Meaningless Moment

Bright, blinding white walls with florescent light bouncing off them surround me like a cold chill. I feel the only way a 17 year old girl possibly can during an impromptu visit to a sterile and agonizingly slow doctor’s office. Bored out of my mind.

I ponder the irritating truth of doctor office visits in my mind as the clock tic tocs pass my imaginary appointment time.

“Why does the staff trick you into thinking that because you’re being called back into this room, out of the waiting room, that you’re going to be seen on time?” I mutter to my dad, the center of my teen angst and mastermind behind this inconvenient appointment.

“I planned to go to the beach today Dad, you totally destroyed my plans,” I state.

“Are you even listening to me?!” I add, my voice rising as my very short tolerance is peaked.

My dad ignores me. He isn’t listening. He is a precautious man and he currently can’t be pulled from the hamster wheel of worry going on in his mind about his one and only child.

My dad sits quietly in the corner of the patient room with his brow furrowed and his head in his hands. His dark hair is disheveled and his pants are dirty from a morning of working outside. He remains silent but lets out an exhausted sigh as if to push the concern out physically from within him.

He looks small to me in this moment. A typically domineering man at six foot two, he seems to have shrunk under the weight of his thoughts. I don’t ask him what is wrong. He is annoying me today, like most other days before this particular one. From my spot on the tissue paper lined examination bed, I dramatically roll my eyes at him and go back to picking at the blue nail polish coming off my thumb nail.

We are at the doctors on this particular day because last week we were on a glamourous cruise ship, floating in the sun across the Atlantic Ocean when my dad noticed a small black mole on my left forearm during breakfast. His worrisome mind kicked into high gear as he aggressively asked me when this mole popped up. I didn’t have an exact answer for him, although I did remember noticing its very inky black color a few months earlier.

My dad’s mind instantly jumped to skin cancer, a faraway island that my own young, careless and carefree mind couldn’t wash ashore on. A few years earlier my mother, then 40, found out she had skin cancer and my dad had since paid very close attention to the size and shape of moles he saw on us. He didn’t like what he was seeing. The day after we returned home, he strong armed us into the doctors, refusing to let a booked schedule stop him.

Twenty minutes after our appointment time, the Doctor lightly knocked and slowly opened the door. He timidly smiled in the way that people do when they know they’ve kept you waiting. “Finally,” I thought, picturing myself actually leaving this dreaded appointment and running off to the beach, like I had planned, with my friends on this sunny and unusually warm, late April day.

“I don’t think we need to remove this,” the doctor’s voice boomed, cracking through my salty daydream.

I was instantly brought back into reality as I watched the exchange between my father and the now, suddenly confident, doctor.

My dad looked at him firmly, ready to do battle on my behalf, “you will remove this,” he said, as if it was a real and true fact.

A few stern exchanges later, my dad informed the Doctor he was not willingly leaving the office until this mole was removed from my arm and the Doctor exhaustedly conceded. 5 minutes later he mole was removed. 15 minutes later I was driving away, windows down, already calling my best friend to hurriedly get my afternoon started.

Ten years later, the feeling that overcomes me when I think about that appointment is ultimately that I felt nothing. The innocence of my own mind wasn’t able to probe into the chance that this one, hour long, inconvenient and chilly doctor’s appointment would change my life forever. Yet, ultimately, it did just that.

Two days later I got the call that I needed to go back immediately to the doctor. The results of my biopsy came back. “Melanoma,” the doctor whispered through the phone.

Thoughts On Doing Lent Backwards

This year, I am doing Lent backwards.

Lent, the Christian period preceding Easter that is associated with fasting, abstinence and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness, begins Wednesday, on Ash Wednesday.

This will be my second year participating in Lent. Last year I decided give up alcohol for the duration of Lent, which is about 6 weeks long. My life was changed during that challenging and gorgeous period. While I don’t drink every night, it was a sacrifice to abstain from wine on the weekends or a beer during social settings. I realized that social drinking had become a constant in my life during my 20’s and not a constant that I was very fond of.

During Lent last year a number of amazing things happened. It was a true period of self-examination. During social gatherings I didn’t have the comfort of a smooth glass of smoky wine to push me, a naturally introverted person, into the outgoing, entertaining and witty woman that most of my friends know me as. I felt a little bare in social settings, having to expose myself and discuss why giving up alcohol was important me and then awkwardly attempt to be gregarious and fun.

Surprisingly, during Lent my life became more vibrant. My weekends were relaxing and productive and my agenda wasn’t focused around ensuring my friends and I all got together for happy hour on Friday nights. The lack of wine in my life made room for other components of me to thrive, therefore I stuck to it. I leaned in toward God and I embraced the changes that came from Lent.

On the last day of Lent my life changed. My inner self was already full of magic from a stronger relationship with God and a clear mind during those 6 weeks but on that last day, two other things happened that changed my life in an amazing and positive way. I got a call from a wonderful company asking me to come in for an interview (which went tremendous and lead to my current job) and I got an email from the editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine asking me to write a story about love. Coincidence? I wouldn’t say so.

Thus, here we are a year later and Lent starts once more in a few days. I thought about saying goodbye to my beloved wine yet again but God is calling me to do something new this year. I know that Lent is about sacrifice but I know already that I can go without wine and I don’t plan to give up something that I find meaningless like social media or candy (although not having dark chocolate every day would be painful).

For these reasons, I decided to do Lent a little backwards this year. The goal is always to become closer to God and I want to consciously do something every day that will bring me closer to Him. Something I have wanted to do since diving into my faith is spend a dedicated amount of time with God every single day. Don’t get me wrong, I thank God for various things all day long and I pray regularly but I have always wanted to spend a few minutes a day reading the bible or a Christian based book. I have wanted to develop a habit and I have started numerous times, always failing.

I know what you’re thinking. This seems extremely easy and how hard is it to set aside 10 minutes a day to read the bible. Well, it isn’t easy. I wake up at 5am to work out, I get ready for work and I spend 10 hours a day driving to work, working and driving home. I get home, show my family attention, do chores, make dinner, do more chores, maybe watch one TV show, head to bed, attempt to read or write but usually I just fall asleep before I even get a page down. (I can never have kids, there is no time!)

Life is like this and I know those reading this article deal with similar hectic and busy lifestyles. And frankly, I am not strong enough to ensure I sit down at my kitchen table for 10 minutes every morning and read the bible (Read: I suck at holding myself accountable to myself). But, the good news is I am not alone, God is with me and He expects more of me.

And that is why, this year, I am doing Lent a little backwards. Plus, in an interesting twist of events, my boyfriend has decided to do this every day alongside me. In some way, I feel that is God telling me I am doing the right thing because my partner has decided to lean in with me. Already, Lent is bringing God not just into my soul more, but into my relationship, a place He should be at the center of but oftentimes is not.

If you’re thinking about participating in Lent this year, I highly recommend it, no matter your denomination or upbringing. If you love God and crave a closer relationship with Him, embrace Lent. Ponder on the ways in which you can change some small and challenging component of your life to better enhance your relationship with God. I promise you won’t regret it.

A List Of Thank-you’s To My Best Friend On Her 28th Birthday

Thank you for finding something to laugh about with me every time I see you. We laugh at you, we laugh at me, we laugh at life, we laugh at nothing and we laugh at everything. We always laugh together and I love that about us.

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Thank you for ten years of friendship and never once walking away from me. Not during those young adult years when everything had such feeling. Not during the times I was being impossible, self-centered, bossy or dramatic. Not during the bad relationship choices or moving to Richmond for college. NeverShana 10

Thank you for letting me be the planner in this relationship. Oh GOD, could you imagine if I was trying to plan our events and you were too? We would both be knee deep in planners, details and anxiety. Thanks for always letting me plan our life, meeting times, adventures and just saying “yes.”

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Thank you for welcoming me into your beautiful, blended family. I know your family never minds if your “boyfriend” comes to dinner, bowling or a brewery. I know I could count on them if I needed a couch to sleep on or a warm meal to eat. Thank you for sharing them with me all these years.

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Thank you for sharing your love of music with me and being the DJ of my life. Your love of music and my love of words have made for the very best memories I have with you. From melodies that bring back moments, to lyrics that bring instant tears and laughter. I know if I am with you and there is a way to play music, it will be played and it will be the songs from the soundtrack of our lives together. “We’ll laugh away the sunburn as we laughed away the day, what we lost means nothing for the memories will stay.”

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Thank you for living with me. We were always terrified and excited to live together. Worried we might hate each other, excited to always be together. Yet, it never really worked out until this past year at an age where we both never expected to be husband-less, childless and living together! But, what an awesome time it has been. I love having you around; I love our breakfasts, dinners, workouts, wine time and everything in between.

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Thank you for being just as excited as I am that we have the same zodiac sign. The zodiac powers have split Aquarius’s into two categories- the Rachel’s and the Shana’s of the world. Somehow we found each other and it is our innate differences and similarities that make our friendship so cosmic. (See what I did there? #SoCosmic)

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Thank you for spoiling that one season of One Tree Hill by telling me before I watched the season that Nathan was paralyzed. NOT. How could you do that? I will never forgive you.

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Thank you for letting me fall in love (during which I did not give our friendship attention it has always deserved). When I met Tim I basically crawled into his apartment and died. For years before him, I never understood how women could get sucked into this tornado of love and connection with a guy and mute the rest of their lives and then it happened to me. You could have walked away from me during that time and hated me for falling off the face of the earth when you needed me to be there for you, but you didn’t. Thank you so much for forgiving me for that period in my life.

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Thank you for refusing to go to the movies with me on a sunny day. You never let me be a hermit when I am with you unless it is dark outside or the booze got the best of us the night before. You really live in a world that so many other people just exist in. You breathe the fresh air, you go to the beach, you love fires and activities and you hate being inside on a gorgeous day. I love that about you.

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Thank you for crying in front of me and letting me comfort you. It is the greatest gift of friendship to be there for someone on all the different days of their lives: the happy, sad, boring, angry and in between. You never tell me to leave you alone or not to call when shit has hit the fan. You let me be your friend through it all and I am so glad to be by your side, always.

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Thank you for being the most down girl I have ever met. You are literally down for anything and everything. I could ask you to go to a mitten knitting contest and your ass would be down. You are so open-minded and you get excited about everything. Some of the best memories I have with you are from the most random things that you’ve been down to come with me to.

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Thank you for just last weekend ruining the entire 3rd season of Game of Thrones for me by informing me of…well, you know. NOT (again!). Why do you keep doing this!? You are like a walking spoiler alert.

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Thank you for always celebrating me. In the ten years I have known you; you have always gotten excited about my successes with me. You’ve never put me down or made me feel as though something I have accomplished is insignificant. You’ve never made me feel bad about being excited or happy for moments in my life. You’ve always believed in me and you’ve always gotten excited about my life with me, thank you.

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Thank you for loving my parents. You never say “no” to a Francis family outing or to Rita’s need to buy you gifts whenever she wants, we love that about you. Thanks for staying awake with me and my dad on that one trip from the Grand Canyon to Vegas while my mother drugged herself and slept in the trunk the entire 6 hours. That moment would have been MUCH less hysterical if you weren’t part of it. #shaqtus

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Thank you for never letting any argument we have last more than a few minutes. Can you even believe that we used to go days without speaking? Nothing is ever worth it to us now and I love that. We work it out within minutes and move on. You never hold a grudge or bring up stuff from the past (because you can’t remember anything LOL) and for that reason we have never lost days or weeks over disagreements.

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Thank you for seeing the changes I try to make as a person and reminding me of them when I don’t love myself. No explanation necessary.

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Thank you for finding God with me. This has been the most amazing part of us. I have loved growing my faith with you, talking about our questions, singing out “Oh, my soul” together and everything in between.

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Thank you for letting me be the most overbearing friend in the universe. I am your real soulmate in this world, thanks for never asking me to back off. You know I am not capable of anything less than full takeover. You won’t go a day without talking to me; you won’t go a week without seeing me. This is who I am, thanks for letting me be this type of friend.

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Thank you for loving olives, pizza, cheese, wings, potatoes and fries. Could you imagine if you were vegan? I would kill you.

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Thank you for reading to this point. You know how I like to write…I tried to only write one sentence for each thank-you but that didn’t work out, clearly.

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Thanks for always sending me stuff you know I need to hear. Quotes, song lyrics, faraway places and jokes. They make my day, always.

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Thanks for being my best friend. My life is colorful because you’re in it. Love you! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!

(p.s.- Thanks for always making sure I am wearing sunscreen)

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The Beauty Of Broken Plans

Today is my 27th birthday. I was writing in my journal recently about what a strange feeling it is to not be where I thought I would be by 27 but to also be in so many wonderful and amazing places I never dreamed I would ever be. Does that make sense? We all have had that conversation with ourselves at some point: the 10-year plan, the life goals or the “timeline.”  We will graduate college at 22, run up the professional ladder by 25, marry at 26 and have kids at 28. You know, the “plan.”

Well I am 27, and I am not there. And, a lot of women I know are saddened by the fact that they are also not there, wherever their “there” is, by a certain age. Sometimes, I am sad too. I wonder why my professional life has always been so perfect and my personal life has carried the burden of so many complications. Why didn’t God get the memo of my plan?!

And then one cold and cozy morning last week, with my sleeping dogs, my steaming coffee, my quiet house and my journal, it all made sense to me. The reason certain things have not happened yet is because other wonderful and life changing things have happened.

My “plan” didn’t account for the addiction I developed toward professional success and goals. Where I envisioned purpose coming from a family, I got it from landing jobs, interviewing well and being the youngest and sometimes only woman in a meeting full of men over 40.

One of the hardest things to manage for a woman is a career and a family. If you are a woman in your late twenties and you’ve focused on your career, don’t beat yourself up. You are no less of a woman than your friends that were mothers of 2 by 25. Your time isn’t up and you’ve created a strong and stable foundation to provide for your family. The “plan” doesn’t take into account drive, motivation and how good accomplishing professional goals feels.

Despite planning for marriage and children one day, I never really accounted for falling in love. Falling in love with my boyfriend was like lighting a bomb on my life’s timeline. Before him, I had never really been in love. I didn’t realize the time it would take to work out the complicated nature of our relationship. I didn’t realize the sacrifices we would both make or the way time actually flew by us. One second we were defending each other to our families and the next we were celebrating our 6th Christmas together.

The timeline of my life never accounted for my passions, my hobbies and my need to make them significant and all-consuming. Throughout my early 20’s my life found purpose in a way I never envisioned. I found God, where was he in my timeline?! He should have been the center of it but I had no idea who He was or the beauty that comes from spending time investing in Him.

I became independent, purchasing my home at 23. I started writing publically instead of privately and I invested my energy into pitching and sharpening this craft. I found my way to the homeless shelter and the ALZ association. I grew my passion for outreach into a commitment to make my community better, to be an advocate for Alzheimer’s.

I say all of this to end with one thought. You are where you are supposed to be. The most visible way to see that is to think of all the stunning things that you’ve experienced that derailed the “plan.” Whenever you might doubt that, or feel sad you’re not at a place in life that others are, think about all the things that your timeline didn’t account for. Think about those trips you took or that interview you rocked. Think about the surprising things that have happened that you never expected would. In that thought, you see the real purpose of your life. It isn’t to have what everyone else does; it’s to see beauty in broken plans. The purpose of life is to embrace the unexpected side trips and to know your journey is far from over.

Life Update

Hi readers & friends-

I wanted to write a short post giving a little personal update on my life since I haven’t posted any of my writing lately. This is my first post that feels a little “Dear Diary” but I felt it was important to just check in, say hello and let you know where I have been.

The short and sweet of it all is simple: my POS chromebook is broken and I cannot write anything decent while I am at work because my job offers little downtime and during lunch I am the loser type that reads her book while eating. So, until I get my computer working again or get a new computer (read: please let the computer God’s align so I can get a new baby) my words have all been handwritten in my sacred little journal.

I am writing and reading constantly so once the computer issue is resolved, I will be publishing tons of content on a number of different topics. I am also taking some writing classes this spring and I am going to some really fun workshops centered around writing and creativity. I am really excited to see the words that 2016 holds.

Other things you might like to know-

The one great love of my life and I have rekindled our romance and decided to stop over complicating life and just love each other instead. Which means, after 3 months of being apart, miserable, sad, heartbroken (hello, just read anything I have written in the past 3 months) and unhappy, we gave up trying to figure it all out and gave in to our type of perfection: being together. Sometimes things have to shatter so they can be rebuilt better and stronger and I think that is what happened with us. We needed to be shaken up a little, we needed to be uncomfortable and we needed to come together on things we both didn’t think we could come together on. Love is strange and complicated and has its own magical method for finding its way with two people and that is what happened with Tim and I. We found our way back to each other and for once, in a really long time, we are on the exact same page heading in the exact same direction.

With that, a small little note to my wonderful friends who loved me through the end of last year. I know I was an emotional roller coaster, I know you wanted to hug me and punch me in the face simultaneously. I know that I was a little crazy and sad. Thank you for loving me through it.

I cut my hair short for the first time since, oh, 8 and I am in love with it. It makes me sassier so if see me you better watch out. #TwoSnaps

I am turning 27 next week and I can’t deal.

My dogs still drive me insane every day. Nothing has changed there.

At the end of this month I am taking a trip to Richmond with the ALZ Association to speak to my district delegate about ALZ reform and bills currently going through congress. This is going to be the coolest moment of my life so please pray that I remember how to form words during this very important meeting.

Oh, and I am going to my first ever winery/wine tasting this weekend with Tim. He planned it, he set it up, I am just along for the ride and I am so pumped. I love wine almost (read: as much) as him.

And with that I will stop this very weird, overshare of a post. Please come check back in with me in a week or so when I get my computer up and running. I love to write and I have felt such a hole in my life lately not being able to share my words with those who enjoy them.

XOXO- R

The Reality Of Starting Over

Starting over is life’s kick in the ass. It is practically always ugly, unexpected and devastating. It doesn’t make sense, the timing is awful and we (those broken by the process) are almost never ready.

So many things happen on our journey that isn’t part of the “plan.” We get cheated on by our soul mate or fired from our dream job. We run out of money or energy. We get sick or divorced. All of us, at some point, get broken from the inside out. Our hearts shatter by the complicated and unanticipated nature of life and we are forced, unwillingly, to begin again with nothing.

When life breaks us down, we live in denial for a while; we look with teary eyes to the past, to before. We get angry at the universe for dealing us such a hard hand. Our hearts fill with hate like a tall glass of water and we’re so tired each and every day of going to bed not feeling any different than the day before. Time, the healer of all things, isn’t healing us. Nothing is healing us.

We reach a breaking point within our anger that pushes us toward starting over. We make a decision to reinvent ourselves. We get a little wild and reckless, drink too much and stay out too late. In the next moment we get stable and responsible, spending time with our families or our God. We remain constantly inconsistent.  We ask for help or we continue to refuse it but whatever we do, we try in varying fashion to embrace the new life we were dealt.

Step one requires we start with the outer walls. We reach out to old friends, we text everyone, we say “yes” to so many things that before we know it, our every second is filled with an appointment or friend. We find this empty and tiring but we know staying home drenched in sadness isn’t going to heal us.

We cut our hair so the reflection in the mirror hides the past. We buy new clothes in an attempt to hide behind style or compliments. We buy gorgeous furniture so that when we are home we are not reminded by things of a time when our hearts were whole. We hope that changing the outside will somehow change the inside.

Step two requires socializing. We workout, we learn to cook, we join groups and take music lessons. We just say yes, over and over, hoping that by building friendships and hobbies, we might find something that feels right. Anymore, we long to just feel something right.

Sometimes we jump back a step or two. We get burned out so we retract. We cancel plans and ditch friends; we become angry and irritable with everyone we love. We cry at the most unfortunate times and our emotions are one big, long roller coaster. One minute we scream then we sleep and we always think. God, we pray to just stop thinking.

We know that whatever happened to us was sad and unfortunate but we also know that it is time to move on. We know that we have to let go but the past, the certainty that we would never have to start over again, reaches out and grabs us like a dark hand in the night. We struggle with ourselves. We want so desperately to start over at this point but we want so desperately to not let go of what once was.

Step three requires we start rebuilding the inside. We sit quietly. We listen to our thoughts; we respect our sadness and our shock. We try to silence our fears with the voice of our blessings.  We become gracious. We know that sadness comes and it goes but we recognize there are so many things to be happy about that we push through, we fight to be happy.

One day, we accept that this is what starting over looks like. It looks like laugher and sadness. It looks like cries of pain and cries of joy. It looks vibrant one day and grey the next.  It looks a lot like a hurricane and a sunrise. It looks like us, you and me, waking up another day.  
Day in and day out, we find some small peace in all that was and all that will be. We become less afraid of starting over. We know this wasn’t our first time and we know it won’t be our last and we stop trying to figure out every dip and turn in our lives. We look back, always with a small bit of sadness, but now also with a bit of respect. For where we were, who we were and where we have come.

What’s In A Name?

About a year ago I went on a two week long trip around Europe. The first week focused on the historical and gorgeous corners of Italy and the second week was split up between Switzerland, Paris and London. Italy had special meaning to me, I am Italian and my grandmother emigrated from Sicily with her family when she was young. I have always wanted to see her country and soak myself in my heritage and the experience was more wonderful than I imagined.

As crazy as this sounds, I felt a connection to Italy (Hi, my name is Rachel and I feel connections to countries). I sensed that I fit well there, like a puzzle piece finding its place. The people, the sun, the music, the pace, the foods, the wine and the lifestyle were all inherently me. Then throw in the history, the bricks, the architecture and the streets and it was my dream.

One place in particular in Italy, called Siena, was my favorite. I was only there for a few hours but that was all it took for me to fall in love.  Roger Allam wrote in Players of Shakespeare 2: Further Essays in Shakespearean Performance by Players with the Royal Shakespeare Company, “I took many trips to Siena, and was struck by its beauty, but also by the beauty of the Siennese themselves. They are dark, fierce, and aristocratic, very different to the much paler Venetians or Florentines. They have always looked like this, as the paintings of their ancestors testify. I observed the groups of young people, the lounging grace with which they wore their clothes, their sense of always being on show. I walked the streets, they paraded them. It did not matter that I do not speak a word of Italian; I made up stories about them, and took surreptitious photographs.” This quote captures the creativity that is ignited within you when you walk around this gorgeous town. Whether you like pictures, writing, reading, music or film, Siena  pulls the arts right out of your fingertips.

That is how Siena made me feel. It made me want to feel. It ignited creativity and passion; it draws you into one of its outdoor tables. It romances you with food and wine and encourages you to read and write. It sings you songs with the afternoon air and stirs up your soul. When I think of words, of beauty, of culture and stories, I think of being somewhere in Siena.

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Read With Me- Fall Edition

Fall means coffee, cozy socks, warm blankets and BOOKS. Hundreds of pages filled with gorgeous descriptions of love, passion, food, nature and dynamic relationships. If you know me personally, or not at all, you can probably guess that I love to read. In addition to reading, I love to buy books. I have books coming out of every nook and cranny of my home. They can be found in my laundry room, tucked under my bed, decorating my tables and shelves, in my car and in all of my purses and bags.  So when chilly fall rolls around, I look forward to dark, cozy nights finally getting a chance to curl up and read all the books I have prepared for my hibernation. In the coming months, I plan to read the books below. If you are looking for a good book, read one with me! Or, if you have read one already, let me know how it is!

Liar’s Bench

By: Kim Michele Richardson

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“In 1972, on Mudas Summers’ seventeenth birthday, her beloved Mama, Ella, is found hanging from the rafters of their home. Most people in Peckinpaw, Kentucky, assume that Ella’s no-good husband did the deed. Others think Ella grew tired of his abuse and did it herself. Muddy is determined to find out for sure either way, especially once she finds strange papers hidden amongst her mama’s possessions. But Peckinpaw keeps its secrets buried deep. Muddy’s almost-more-than-friend, Bobby Marshall, knows that better than most. Though he passes for white, one of his ancestors was Frannie Crow, a slave hanged a century ago on nearby Hark Hill Plantation. Adorning the town square is a seat built from Frannie’s gallows. A tribute, a relic–and a caution–it’s known as Liar’s Bench. Now, the answers Muddy seeks soon lead back to Hark Hill, to hatred and corruption that have echoed through the years–and lies she must be brave enough to confront at last.”

Ten Thousand Saints

By: Eleanor Henderson

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“A sweeping, multigenerational drama, set against the backdrop of the raw, roaring New York City during the late 1980s, Ten Thousand Saints triumphantly heralds the arrival a remarkable new writer. Eleanor Henderson  makes a truly stunning debut with a novel that is part coming of age, part coming to terms, immediately joining the ranks of The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud and Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude. Adoption, teen pregnancy, drugs, hardcore punk rock, the unbridled optimism and reckless stupidity of the young—and old—are all major elements in this heart-aching tale of the son of diehard hippies and his strange odyssey through the extremes of late 20th century youth culture.”

Brooklyn

By: Colm Tobin

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“Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America, she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.”

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

By: Katherine Boo

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“Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.”

Rising Strong

By: Berne Brown

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“It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people—from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents—shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.   Walking into our stories of hurt can feel dangerous. But the process of regaining our footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Our stories of struggle can be big ones, like the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, or smaller ones, like a conflict with a friend or colleague. Regardless of magnitude or circumstance, the rising strong process is the same: We reckon with our emotions and get curious about what we’re feeling; we rumble with our stories until we get to a place of truth; and we live this process, every day, until it becomes a practice and creates nothing short of a revolution in our lives. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness. It’s the process, Brown writes, that teaches us the most about who we are.”

Bel Canto

By: Ann Pratchett

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“Ann Pratchett’s award winning, New York Times bestselling Bel Canto balances themes of love and crisis as disparate characters learn that music is their only common language. As in Patchett’s other novels, including Truth & Beauty and The Magician’s Assistant, the author’s lyrical prose and lucid imagination make Bel Canto a captivating story of strength and frailty, love and imprisonment, and an inspiring tale of transcendent romance.”

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

By: Ransome Riggs

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“A mysterious island.

   An abandoned orphanage.

   A strange collection of very curious photographs.

   It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. 

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.”

The Life We Bury

By: Allen Eskens

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“College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe’s life is ever the same.

Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran–and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl’s life, especially Carl’s valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory.

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?”

An Ode To The Heart

In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens wrote, “Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” My heart has been on my mind nonstop in the past few months and this statement about an evolving heart speaks to my soul because it is filled with hope. It insinuates that the suffering we all experience in life is like rough sandpaper smoothing wood into something warm and soft. The suffering hurt us, yes, but for a reason, so we can be shaped and made better.

I think it is of universal consensus that the heart is fueled by love, which both keeps us together and tears us apart at the seams. The heart beats wildly and free to the tune of our passions. The mind counter balances this because the things we love are not always the best things for us. When you think about it, the way the mind and the heart work is always tragic for the heart. The mind has the ability to understand that while something fulfills the heart, it might need to be let go. The heart just feels the pain, regardless of how good or bad something may be for it. If it loves it, it aches in the absence of whatever it feels strongly for.

Women and men go back time and time again to toxic relationships because of the irrational desires of the heart. People fall in love with ideas and dreams and when they don’t come to fruition, their dedicated hearts shatter. When a loved one is lost, each beat of the heart is with such heavy and terrible pain that you begin to think if it stopped beating altogether it would be a gift.

It is in this realization that I have formed an appreciation for my own heart and its ability love again and again despite pain, grief and brokenness. Thinking back on my life reveals so many highs followed by deep and dark lows and yet, the heart prevails each time.

When I was young, my heart was playful and kind. Like most little girls, I idolized my mom and loved animals. I was innocent to the ways of the world, the pain and sorrow that come with age and grief. My heart was fragile and sensitive. Kids can be cruel and with each pebble thrown at my heart, it became more understanding of the need to be strong.

As a teenager, my heart felt every single moment. The highs and lows had my heart on a never ending self-centered roller coaster. The lows were the end of the world and the highs were in the clouds but my heart was selfish. I loved my family and my friends but I was careless with the love others gave me. I never cherished another person’s heart the way I cherished my own wants and desires.

At 17, my heart was shattered for the first time. My world crumbled in a tornado made of bad skin cells known as Melanoma. My body betrayed me and my heart and mind couldn’t wrap itself around the reality of the situation. In the following years, my heart was dark and hateful. It became sad and numb, nothing excited it and nothing hurt it.

At 21, my heart was given an electrical shock when I actually fell in love. The kind of love that is blind and all consuming, the kind where you realize that all the turns of life were planned to bring you to that very person. The type of love where you think even if this doesn’t last forever, the fact that it happened at all is the greatest gift of life. My heart actually exploded during these years.  My heart was winning. My mind told me to be careful, to be realistic, and to even run at times, but my heart was positive that it was going to stay.

My heart broke and healed in the years following, it grew strong, and it loved fiercely and passionately. It fell in love with God, with helping others, with becoming a better person today than yesterday. My heart grew into something good and big. It feels compassion for those in pain and it gets excited for those in joy. It feels everything so deeply that it is easily bruised but never truly broken. It holds other hearts within its walls and it respects that and protects them.

Recently though, my heart has been in a state of constant ache and worry. It runs in circles and never ending bipolar moments. It feels comforted in the company of others, yet uncomfortable. It aches for the past yet yearns for the future. It swells with the constant kindness of others yet is easily upset and irritated. It searches for an antidote yet shuns anything that numbs the pain. But most of all, it survives. Each day, it survives to see the next, to grow stronger and more loving. It never gives up and it never grows cold and for once in my life I don’t find a loving and sensitive heart a weakness. I find it my best strength.

Who I Am

For the past few years of my life, certain characteristics have defined me. For a long while, my relationship defined me. Although I don’t mind being defined by my many loves, I have always rebelled against being defined by another person. I was, and might always be in some minds, “the girl that dated _______.” For others, I might be defined by my passions. I am the girl who works with the homeless, the girl who raises money and awareness for Alzheimer’s. For some, I might be defined by my jobs. I am a writer, the safety girl, an environmentalist.

But who am I really? Underneath my hobbies, my interests and the things I love, who am I? Who are you? Are you defined by your role at home? A wife, a mother, a father, a caregiver or a brother? When you’re introduced, are you someone’s “creative friend “or “the musician.” Have you ever taken the time to think about the labels you’re given? The labels you give yourself?

I have been ripping off labels surrounding me and really getting to the heart of the matter lately. When I am not drenched in love and a relationship, who am I alone? When I am not achieving a personal or professional goal, what is left? When I am not taking care of someone or spending my time giving back to my community, what am I doing?

I am giving because I am a giver. I find immense joy in giving to others. Giving time to organizations that need help, giving money to the sad, lonely looking man on the street corner. Giving a listening ear to a friend wading through pain and joy. I am a giver of gifts, I love to put thought into people and really give a good gift. I am a giver of food. Come to my warm home and sit around my chaotic table. Let me feed you meals made with love and a little too much pepper. I am a giver of hugs. I know that some people are weird about being touched and those people should probably stay away from me. I want to hug you, to hold your hand, to lay my head on your shoulder. I am a giver of prayers. Let me pray for you, even if you have no God. I want to sit quietly for a few moments and pray for you, for your happiness and for your health, to my God.

I am a lover. I am a giver because I am a compassionate lover. I love my family, my friends and even my enemies. I never run out of love or take my love from you, although I am sure, sometimes, it feels like I do. If I love you, I will until I die, in whatever form or fashion I can. Even if I never talk to you again, for whatever reason, know that I still love you. My heart has been touched by so many amazing people and I carry those moments, that love, along forever.

I am a daughter to two beautiful and generous parents. I am their friend, their companion and their family. I would do anything at all for them and I prefer time with them over time with anyone else. I feel blessed that one day, I will be able to take care of them the way they have always taken care of me. I am often seen as their light when in reality, they are mine.

I love to write although I would not call myself a writer. I love to read although I never feel I reach the quota of books necessary to be considered a reader. I like to run but I am definitely not a runner. Two small and furry lives depend solely on me, but I am not a mother. I love God, I go to church, I try to live my life the way He intends, but I am not a great Christian. I love being in a relationship, I love being the woman on the arm of a good and honest man, but I am not a girlfriend.

Sometimes, I don’t know who I am. I know things I love and things I don’t. I know what makes me feel happy and what makes me feel sad. I know that I will chose red wine over white 95% of the time, that I rarely leave my house without lipstick on, that I never think buying a book is a bad decision, that I can listen to Billy Joel sing for hours, that I have literally no idea if I am on the right path or if the things I want in life will ever happen. But each day I become someone new. I try something new and I have a new thought. I realize that yesterday might not have been what I wanted and I change today. I may never be sure who I am exactly. Maybe we never should be so sure of who we are. Maybe we should never stop seeking new corners of our being. Maybe each year we should let new things define us. New people and places, new convictions and passions.

I am not sure but I do know I love who I am. All the many versions and pockets that make me, me. My hobbies change, my job changes, people fall in love with me and out of love with me but I always love me for who I am.

 

Gone

I haven’t been able to write lately. Not because of writer’s block or a lack of something to say, but because I won’t allow myself to sit down and open the gates, letting the words pour out like water crashing down over the sharp edge of a waterfall. I can’t stomach the notion that these emotions that are drowning me every waking moment will be littered on the blankness of this page. I can’t stomach much these days. My stomach is an endless ball of tangled knots that tighten with each breath.

It could be denial. Maybe by doing the one true and comforting act of giving words to my feelings, they become concrete. Currently, these feelings are living only in my own body, in my bones and my far away eyes, in my coarse hair and nervous hands. Now, they will live infinitely on paper. They will live in other hearts as someone else’s eyes dance over them. Their realness is not escapable once this happens. I will be trapped in the here and now.

I can’t go on trudging through the box of memories in my mind and recreating moments where things fell apart. I have learned through this agony that there were so many tiny small moments that I now miss. Like grains of sand they slipped through the hourglass until our time was up, until we were left hollow and empty. Writing will require me to live in that emptiness. To reside in that space where nothing feels quite right. You laugh, you work, you make plans, you sleep and wake up, yet each day you crawl out of your skin. Your heart beats, yes, but no longer to the same rhythm.

This will also serve as a time machine, forever bringing me back to this moment. I look forward to the day I am out of this but these words on this page will always send me shooting back, like a bullet released from a pistol. I have ran to this page many times for comfort and ran away each time because of fear. I long to find that security I once felt from letting my fingers race along the keys. I long to feel anything real or familiar.

I know that familiar isn’t where I should be. The strange thing about all of this is that moving forward seems terrifying but moving backwards does too. The future is too far ahead and the past is forever gone and changed. I live in grey, between these two worlds. I hate the grey. I feel like a tree without any roots. I am in a car but not driving, I have no control or sense of what will be. That is the grey. It is the middle land, the space after an era ends. The space after a loved one is lost. The space where you want to sleep but your bed isn’t comfortable and you want to be around friends but once you’re there you can’t wait to be home.

I think the important thing about sadness is to respect it and feel its sharp corners. Let it rock you like a wave and wash over you. I don’t try to avoid any feelings, because without darkness the light isn’t as bright. Each day I pass through anger, sadness, confusion, laughter, numbness and happiness. I accept this. I don’t want to sleep away emotions or drown them in wine or crowds. I like to sit quietly with each of them, allowing them to shape me and push me forward.

I know this will not last forever. One day I will feel comfortable again. My heart will surface and the unknown won’t be as daunting. Writing will be my kind, old friend again. My computer will come out from where I have hid it and my smile will become genuine again. Until then though, I will continue waking up, breathing and thinking about the day when  it all feels good again.

How I Got In Cosmopolitan Magazine

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A little over 7 months ago, on a Sunday afternoon, I was reading an article in Cosmopolitan magazine. By some twist of fate, I had begun getting the magazine every month in the mail. I had never paid for a subscription or signed up for one, but a few months earlier they just started coming. When I was younger, an issue of Cosmo was like rebellion gold. Racy articles and male models had my friends and I sneaking them to sleepovers each month, gasping and giggling with each page turn. Like most women, as I got older, they lost their glamour a bit. Once you read one “Best Sex Ever” article, you’ve read them all. At 26, I was reading Cosmo for the true life stories, book recommendations and letter from the editor, then passing them on to a friend.

On this particular Sunday, I read an article about a woman in a relationship and once I was done with the article I thought to myself, “I seriously could have written that.” My next thought was, ” Why don’t I try to write something like that?” The wheels of my mind started turning , my confidence was high and the idea of being shot down or ignored didn’t bother me. If there is one thing I do, it is put myself out there without hesitation. Nothing amazing happens to a woman who is too scared to come out of the shadows and I am living this life with the goal of enjoying many amazing moments.

I flipped to the front of the magazine and saw that at the end of the letter from the editor in each edition, there is an email address for Joanna Coles, Cosmo’s Editor in Chief. I figured this was not her actual email (I was right) but thought someone might monitor it regardless so I wrote her an email. I told her my name, I pitched my article idea, told her why it would be something readers would enjoy, linked some of my work and sent it off into the world.

Then I forgot about it.

Three weeks later on the very last day of Lent, April 2nd, I received two emails. This part of my story is the most important because every opportunity I have been given has been given to me by God. It is by His grace that my life unfolds the way it does, He opens the doors and I run through them with my hair on fire, trusting fully in Him. On the last day of Lent, after spending the previous 6 weeks sacrificing in a way that was both beautiful and challenging for me personally, I got an email from a job application I filled out a month earlier and I got an email from Cosmo. It was a surreal moment and it was not a coincidence. I got the job and I got the article, (turns out Joanna Coles herself loved the pitch!) God is amazing my friends.

I am sure some readers or some of my friends out there probably think it is ridiculous that I would say faith opened a door to a crazy, over the top, magazine like cosmo but through this experienced I have realized that my own opinion of the magazine has changed drastically. Yes, the magazine has some raunchy articles and yes they wrote a couple sentences around the text of my piece that I would never write myself, but through this process I realized that comso’s main goal is women empowerment. They want women to build up other women, embrace their fellow sisters and rally around each other. They strive for real articles that break down traditional judgments in an attempt to show that behind our differences, we are the same. We all just want to be accepted and loved for who we are and the editors at cosmo want articles that evoke that in the reader. I love that and I am part of that movement and I am proud to be part of this crazy, racy, empowering, uplifting, motivating magazine.

Over the next 4 months I worked with the editors of Cosmo. I was initially extremely nervous about writing for them. My style of writing is honest but conservative. I wanted to do my article justice without compromising my integrity. I went into an initial agreement of 600 words and I started writing. 1,000 words later, I couldn’t cut my word count down anymore. I sent it to my editor and to my surprise, she asked for more. More examples, more details, more words. We worked through edits and examples and a few laughs. She changed some words for effect and she pushed me slightly out of my conservative comfort zone. Eventually, I accepted the small changes she wanted to make and stopped worrying. Those mentioned in my article had to agree that I represented their feelings and reactions accurately and in the end, 900 of my very own words were published in one of the nations largest women magazines in August, 2015.

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After it came out I went through stages of pride to embarrassment. I was thrilled yet terrified. I was afraid I gave too much of myself and overly exposed my heart. I was comforted, overjoyed and deeply touched by everyone that went out and grabbed a copy and those that shared their thoughts about it with me. Looking back, it was one of the most exciting moments of my life and one I will cherish forever. I hope I am able to write for other publications in the future but for now, I am taking a break from submissions and pitches. I want to spend time writing because it is something I love and something that brings joy to my soul. I want to write whatever I want without fitting into a mold. I want to maintain my honest authenticity and I want to spend my weekends here, on this site, with you.

I wanted to share the details of this experience with you because I want you to chase every last crazy beautiful dream you have. Never be scared of failure and never let rejection slow you down. I am asked often, “How did you get in cosmo?” My answer is always that I just had the balls to put myself out there. There was no magical connection or person I had on the inside. I was just the reader of a magazine who had an idea and tried to make it happen. All I had to do was believe in myself. If a door opens for you, run through it. Don’t be scared, don’t fear judgment or other people’s opinions, just run and enjoy every single amazing minute.

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For A Friend In Pain

Written By: Kara Dailey

It’s the worst kind of pain to fall madly in love with someone who lights a fire in you, only to realize that they are not always the one you will share your life with. It’s an all over body ache kind of pain, like a piece of your heart vanishes into thin air without a trace. It’s been more than two years since I’ve been in that space, but it’s not a feeling you forget.

When I first sat down to write this entry I was planning on writing about what it’s been like to be known as the perpetually single friend. Since most of my friends are in committed relationships I thought it would be funny to write about what my life’s been like since I ended my long-term relationship. I played around with taking time to acknowledge how lonely it feels to process a broken heart, but still including a lot of  ‘I‘m an independent woman, I don’t need no man until he needs me’ type of shit. Then I started thinking about how I’ve changed over the past two years; how I’ve learned so much by living life alone, with myself as my first priority, addressing my personal short comings, and getting my life together. I felt good about the whole idea but when I sat down to put my heartbreak and witty one-liners into words, it hit me. One of my closest friends just chose to end her relationship with a man she truly loves and all of our recent conversations came flooding back. So I thought, instead, maybe I should write her some words of encouragement that all friends need to hear from time to time…

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First of all, I want to tell you how proud I am to be your friend. You inspire me to work harder, laugh longer, and keep my lipstick game strong. I want you to know that I understand how shitty it feels to have an amazing night out with friends and come home only to break down in a full on ugly face cry the minute you’re alone in bed. Why are you crying in the middle of a trashy TLC reality show if you weren’t even thinking about him? Who fucking knows, but it’s terrible – that’s going to happen for a bit, and it’s okay. It’s totally normal to cry as long as you never lose sight of the fact that you are amazing AF. The loneliness lingers but, never doubt, you’re doing what is best for you and that is always the right choice. I must admit that I detest the word lonely. It sounds scary and permanent and gives me that body ache feeling. I promise that being single is not as bad as everyone clinging to his or her significant other makes it seem. Here’s what I wish someone told me when I was riding the newly-single-struggle-bus:

Don’t settle, travel as often as you can because making new memories is so clutch; call any weekend and we can plan day trips and weekend getaways whenever your heart desires. Being the third wheel is actually incredibly entertaining; you suddenly become the relationship councilor and everyone usually buys you drinks when you’re out (are they doing it out of pity? Oh well, DON’T CARE because it’s free). You will have to deal with your friends knowing the PERFECT guy for you that you just HAVE to meet. It’s obnoxious but it’s easy to laugh it off because it won’t take you long to realize that you really are fine by yourself. MOVE ON! That’s right, I said it. I know right now you can’t help but think of your last few days together, how you made this decision so suddenly and how you still ache to be around him constantly, but you have to let go. When your heart tells you that it’s time to move on, listen. Don’t hold yourself back with thoughts of the past. Cherish the time you had together, but put it behind you.

Lastly, I want to remind you how much you’ve accomplished. From landing a kick ass new job, to buying your own house, managing two dogs, and volunteering more than anyone I know, you are truly a force to be reckoned with. Being single pushes you out of every comfort zone, and it’s empowering as hell to love who you are and to take pride in yourself. This is an amazing time in your life, and I can’t wait to see how you grow from this. You already light up every room you enter, you’re graceful, intelligent, and, most importantly, you’re an independent woman, and you don’t need no man until he needs you! You’re doing great things, keep your head up and your heart light.

You are always enough.

I love you bitch, welcome to my life.

DIY: How To Throw A Blessing Bag Party

My friends are great at a lot of things but one thing they are really spectacular at, is throwing a party. I might not be the best party planner but I am really great at giving back to my community and dragging everyone who knows me along. Well we decided to combine our God given talents and the result was the best blessing bag bash you could imagine.

A blessing bag is a ziplock sized bag full of items that the homeless need or use. For some, giving money to the homeless is uncomfortable or conflicts with their moral views. I am sure we have all heard someone say “I am not giving the homeless money, they will just use it to buy booze or drugs.” To the people that say that, you’d be surprised but I respect your hesitation and instead, offer this option. If you see someone in need give them a blessing bag.

The reason to have a blessing bag party is because it is a fun way to get all of your friends together for a good time all while doing something good for those in need. Here is how to plan a blessing bag party:

Step 1

Don’t invite people by word of mouth, this party needs to be organized and planned. I like to send out an email to all of my friends letting them know the date and time of the party along with instructions on what to bring. Every person coming will need to bring one small item that the homeless can use in bulk. You will need to give your invitees examples of what they can bring and you’ll need to track what is being brought to ensure everyone isn’t bringing toothpaste. A few things I like to mention are: travel sized shampoo/conditioner/deodorant, gum, water bottles, crackers, granola bars, tissues, band-aids, soap, wet wipes or hand sanitizer. You also should tell your guests where to buy these items. For example: Target, Dollar Tree, Walmart and Walgreens. People can also go to local hotels and explain what they are doing and see if the hotel would like to donate travel sized items, many places will.

Step 2

It is your job as the host to ensure that you aren’t getting too much of one item and to provide the ziplock bags that the goods will be going in. Your goal is to have each guest leave at the end of the night with 3-5 bags of their own, fully packed. Once you have a head count, you can buy the appropriate amount of bags.

Step 3

Set up assembly areas. The easiest way to do this is to collect all the products when people arrive and start putting them in big bowls or on large trays. Lay the trays out like an assembly line so when you start making bags each guest can start at one end, put each item in their bag and end on the opposite side of the room. Think of a buffet style line. This is a good time for manfriend (or whomever is helping you) to entertain everyone, make cocktails and tell everyone to grab some food.

Step 4

Make the bags. Make as many blessing bags as you can and leave them in one area of the house. Spend the rest of your night eating, drinking and enjoying your company but remind everyone to take a few bags with them to keep in their backseat of their cars until they need them.

OPTIONAL:

Two things I like to do with my blessing bags are pray over them before everyone takes them and put inspirational messages in them. You can set up a station at your house with small pieces of paper and pens so if someone wants to add an encouraging message to their bags they can.

And that is it, that is a great blessing bag party. Enjoy yourself and your friends while doing something great for those in need, doesn’t get much better than that!

My Maid Of Honor Speech

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of being the maid of honor to my crazy, wonderful and oldest best friend. This was my first taste of MOH life and while I was preparing for my speech during the reception, I poked around online for some tips and tricks for writing a great speech.  Most articles I read listed the basics of don’t give your speech wasted and don’t tell any x-rated stories but couldn’t find anyone’s actual speech. Instead of reading pointers and tips, I wanted to read the real words that someone said and get a feel for how one delivers such a special and important message to the new bride and groom. I came up empty handed but figured I would share my own words so if there are any virgin MOH’s out there looking as I did, they can take a look at mine.

Hi everyone. Hope you are enjoying the evening so far, my name is Rachel and I am Christina’s maid of honor. Christina and I have been friends for many, many years. I first met Christina in 7th grade P.E. We both weren’t very girly (and let me just paint this picture for you real quick: Christina had the tightest pony tail in the world that was slicked back, hard as a rock with a pound of hair spray and perfectly circular, round glasses. I was equally gorgeous, I had horribly frizzy hair, it looked like I had been struck by a lightning bolt and had a huge gap in-between my front teeth), we didn’t care about much (clearly) besides being the best basketball duo hickory middle school PE had ever seen (and we were). We were competitive 11 year olds and we connected instantly. We both had (and still do) the same sense of humor and the same zest for life, love and a little bit of rebellion. We went from young girls to women together. We have spent the majority of the last 15 years laughing about absolutely nothing, getting in trouble and finding our way through life.

Now we are here, 26 years old. Christina has left the hair spray and the Harry Potter glasses in the past. I got braces and bought a curling iron, thank God. We have been through ups and downs; we have stayed friends over thousands of miles and many state lines. We have memories piled on memories. We have gone our separate ways in search of who we are when we aren’t a pair and all of those dips and curves have brought us here, together, on this beautiful night, celebrating love, celebrating Christina and Travis.

You know, looking back, Christina has made a lot of wild card decisions in her life. If you would have told a younger version of me that the girl I used to give hack job haircuts to with dollar tree scissors and who allowed me to permanently dye her hair red when I was only 11 would grow into being a great hairstylist and teacher, I would have called you crazy. It is also important to note that Christina’s mom was NOT happy with the red hair, at all. Many times over the past 15 years Christina has told me some plan or thought for her personal life or love life and I have actually told her she might be insane. But, when she told me that she was serious about Travis, when I saw Christina and Travis together, I knew Travis was a really, really good decision.

Simply put, they are just a very good team together. I believe the love between them is strong, kind and gangster at the same time. It might be overwhelming one night and quiet the next but it seems to always be steady and constant. They are both funny and thoughtful. They have a foundation of a phenomenal friendship and it shows. You can tell these two are best friends. They truly love each other’s company and while life is full of tough decisions, deciding on each other, on life together was an easy choice for them both.

So, congratulations you two, may the coming years be fun, may you always have each other’s backs, may you forgive quickly and laugh daily. May the ups be higher than the downs are low and may you always turn inward, toward each other in the face of conflict. May the road ahead, however curvy, be long and beautiful. Congratulations and Cheers.

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A Letter To My Past Mistakes

You haunt me like ghosts. With this letter, I hope my soul can be free from your memories. Some of you go back so many years. You’re old and outdated and the details of you have been lost on me but shame in my decisions have somehow muddled on through the years and lived on in my mind. Some of you are more recent and some of you fall in between.

My childhood isn’t overcome with you, mistakes. Not because you weren’t there, but because I was a kid, and for some reason I am able to give myself a pass for this time in my life. I didn’t really know the ways of the world, I didn’t realize the impact that my mistakes made, and at a younger age I was able to forgive myself easier, love myself stronger.

My teen years are riddled with you. You are around every corner and sewn into my memories. I will be driving to work in the morning, drinking coffee and thinking about how grateful I am for the opportunities life has gifted me with and in the same second I am reminded of you. As my mind takes me back to the day and time when I made you, the familiar scene plays out easily, like a movie reel. A mistake I made 10 years ago will pop into my mind and my heart heaves with shame and regret as if it just happened. I feel unworthy of where I am today, considering where I was on that day. Lying, cheating, or hurting others, maybe all three at once. I ponder the same question over and over: Have I paid enough? Have I spent enough hours wallowing in regret and guilt that 10 years later, that mistake can be erased from my mind? The answer is always no.

On one hand I feel as though I have righted enough wrongs that somehow I must have evened the score by now. On the other hand, I feel I should wear my mistakes like ornaments on a tree, nestled right next to my accomplishments. I might not be proud of them, but the same decision making skills that brought me success in life also brought me shame. I have hurt others along the way and I feel I owe these bad decisions the same glory as the good ones. This is why I will probably never let you go.

Even worse, are the mistakes I have made in adulthood. Haven’t I learned by now? Such small decisions with such horrible, awful consequences. This morning while brushing my teeth I was reminded of the worst mistake of my life. At some point, during each day I go back to it. I think about how I could have taken a different path. I think about how easily it would have been to not make this particular mistake. And I cringe. Driving, brushing my teeth, having dinner with friends, at the movies, it doesn’t matter. The shame comes over me and I turn my head at some point each day and just for a moment I cringe with guilt and regret before turning back, unnoticed, and continue my day.

Especially painful are the mistakes I have made that hurt others. Past boyfriends, past and current friends, bosses, coworkers, my family, maybe even strangers– at some point I have made a mistake that has hurt them in one way or another. They forgive me, they have probably long since forgot about whatever I had done, but for me there is no forgetting.

People constantly tell me I am too hard on myself. I agree, but I struggle to stop. I feel the more I remind myself of these times, the less likely I am to mess up in the future. I know I am not rational in this thinking and I guess this is one more attempt to set myself free.

You, mistakes, have lived too long in my heart. You’ve taken too many hours and moments when I could be living my life instead of visiting my regret. I have learned from you and in some sick way, I love you for molding me. For sculpting my life to what it is, for making me strong, compassionate and for giving me the often uncontrollable will to be better. Today I leave you where you belong, in the past. This is your stop, your time to exit, and I am moving on to a new page, a new chapter, a new day without you.

8 Things To Do This Month: September Addition

I love roundups of different things to do that coincide with the month and season. Therefore, the first series of my site is born. September means fall is beginning and I am embracing it with open arms.  So, it is a few days late, but here are 8 things you should look into this month!

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Read: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I can barely put into words how beautiful this book is. From the moment I read the first page I knew that the end would come far too soon. Set in France during WWII, The Nightingale tells the story of two sisters fighting to survive the war in their own ways. Kristin Hannah’s style of writing is descriptive and heart wrenching. This is the perfect book to take to the beach after a long day of work and curl up on the sand with before the weather gets too cold. (Am I the only one who does that? Where are my beach book nerds at?!)

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Listen To Serial: If you haven’t heard about the podcast Serial yet you need to come along and join us in 2015. This podcast was riveting and season 2 is starting soon. Although the exact date is unknown (stated as “sometime this fall”) you should get ready for a guaranteed mind-blowing season by listening to season 1. Each season is different and will follow one true story, week by week, as told by host Sarah Keoing.

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Go To A Beer/Wine Festival: I am not sure where you live but here in Virginia Beach, life revolves around craft beer and nothing says fall quite like the local breweries coming out with rich fall flavored beers. Personally, I am more of a wine-fest-type-gal but luckily, VB doesn’t discriminate.  Grab your friends, a cute pair of sunnies and head to one of September’s beer or wine festivals where you can sample and learn about local beers, wines, breweries and vineyards.

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Buy All The Candles: Maybe you aren’t ready to dive right into pumpkin flavored everything yet (read: you are so ready) and that is OK. Most of us are suffering a small case of the summer blues (read: bye summer, you hot B) and would prefer to ease into fall. Start with the absolutely amazing-smelling candles from Bath & Body Works. Y’all, these candles smell so good you won’t want to burn them for fear they will burn down too quickly. Luckily, they are currently on sale for only $12 and you need them all. Some of my personal favorites are: Leaves (clever name B&BW), Marshmellow Fireside and Pumpkin Pecan Waffles.

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Go See The Visit: This movie looks scary AF. I don’t particularly love scary movies but I am pretty excited about Halloween and with so many horrible scary movies out there, I kind of want to torture myself and see a really good one. This movie is about two sweet kids who travel alone to rural Pennsylvania to meet their creepy ass grandparents for the first time. You can see where this is going. Make sure you don’t see this one alone!

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Try This Bottle Of Chianti: Chianti is my very favorite wine. In Italy, it is their table wine and Italians serve it with each meal. I am in love with it. I picked up this bottle recently and the flavor is fantastic. The taste isn’t too powerful or bold. It has a woodsy-berry taste and pairs perfectly with a nice steak. Most people don’t drink Chianti so try something new this month and have a little taste of my homeland with your next meal.

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Try Bareminerals Moxie Lipstick: PSA: I have a new lipstick line addiction and it is bareMinerals Moxie Lipstick. Cooler temperatures mean drier skin for most of us and matte lipstick on chapped lips is not a pretty sight. I am always on the hunt for a creamy lipstick that won’t dry out my lips but that also doesn’t easily wipe off. This is it. These lipsticks are so pigmented, creamy and moist that I have already bought three. I suggest trying this line out in the perfect berry fall shade and then praising me later for directing you to it.

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Check Out ABC’s New Series- Quantico: Excuse me while I join all the other basic girls in the world and admit to loving crime dramas (Team Olivia Benson forever). I recently saw the trailer for this new series on ABC and it looks fantastic. The show follows a group of FBI recruits through training and the trailer alludes to there being a terrorist within the group, but who is it? Cozy up on the couch on Sunday, September 27th at 10pm and check out the premiere!

There you have it, 8 ideas for September. Do you have anything fun planned already? Comment below with your suggestions for me!

 

 

Welcome

After a couple months of poking around on the internet, looking for a place to write, to work with other writers and to share my love of words, I felt defeated. I had joined a few sites that operate on a “pitch to me” or “write about one of these pitches” basis and I found it discouraging. It seems like anymore, if you’d like to write for a site with a lot of traffic you have to mold your style into another. If I wanted to write about feminism, I should probably pitch a listicle to get it picked up. “5 Feminist Thoughts I Have On the Daily” just doesn’t satisfy me like a personal essay would. On another site that pays per post (yay!) I am given prompts like “I secretly hate my kids” or “Cheating is fun.” I can’t write about these topics and even if I could I wouldn’t.

If I wanted to write about books, I can’t because it is a topic that’s overdone. If I want to write about love, I have to bare intimate details that would make readers gasp or else it’s too vanilla. Anymore, the content doesn’t seem to matter much. Every idea is turned into a list, narratives are passed over and thought provoking essays’ aren’t accepted unless you’re talking about something that will cause controversial comments.

And I have learned that I don’t fit in that box. What good is a platform to write on if you aren’t writing what you feel and instead are tailoring your words to appeal to an editor that is more worried about clicks than content?

So, here we are. Somewhere in Siena was born and the scary and daunting task of starting my own site was thought of and running in the same day. This site will not be a diary, I will not be sharing with you the events of my week or what I thought of last weeks episode of Game of Thrones (well, maybe once in a while). My vision for this site is content rich essays mixed with fashion, travel, books and lipstick. I want to talk about wine with you, traveling with you, reading with you and everything in between.

Who knows where this will go. The end doesn’t interest me much. I care about the journey and I hope there isn’t an end. I would love if this site turned into a place for other writers to come and share their stories, where friends are made and important topics are discussed. But for now, I look forward to writing. Writing for myself, most importantly, for those that enjoy my writing secondly, and for anyone else that stumbles through the interweb and lands somewhere in Siena.

Arrivederci-

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