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.

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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

Dear 2016: These Are My Vows To You

Let’s face it, Jan 1st is the day we make a commitment to the following 364 days. We make promises and goals because the first of the year symbolizes a union. Similar to unification with a partner, we make promises to the approaching days to grow, change for the better and live each day with love and kindness. We know the coming 364 days will not all be sunny, we accept that some days we won’t live up to the promises we make and we pledge to take this New Year one day at a time.

We make vows to ourselves, to the universe and to the New Year. We stand at the alter of a new beginning, hand in hand, with a clean page, full of blank space. We decide what our commitments will be and with that, we set out a path for the new year. With 2016, these are meaningful vows I pledge to the days ahead:

I vow to accept less bullshit. Kindness isn’t hard and it doesn’t take any effort. If you’re not a kind person then I won’t invest my love and time in you.

I vow to see fewer sunrises and sunsets from my bed and more surrounded by fresh air with no barriers between my eyes and the skyline.

I vow to touch those I love more. More hugs, more kisses, more intertwined fingers. I don’t know how much of my life I have to touch those I love so I won’t waste one day taking their embrace for granted.

I vow to be weaker. I want to be weak to my emotions, I want to feel every moment and throw away the notion that varying reactions are weak or unstable. Feeling deeply is a blessing that I want to welcome with open arms.

I vow to spend less time getting ready. Doing makeup takes away time from doing life. I want a makeup free face whenever possible; I want to embrace my natural self like I plan to embrace my inner self.

I vow to document my life. Not just a caption on a picture but with long descriptive sentences of my thoughts, my memories and my moments on paper, written by hand.

I vow to talk to myself more as a friend and less as an enemy. I have spent decades yelling at myself in my mind. I will start forgiving myself for shortcomings. I will start treating myself with the kindness I expect others to treat me with.

I vow to give generously to those in need. I have been given so much, it is only right to give to others. Coats, shoes, time, donations, kind words, prayers and smiles, I am giving it all.

I vow to put my phone down and not be distracted. When I am with those I love, I will be with them entirely, not staring at other people’s lives, writing emails or answering texts. I will look away from the screen and into their eyes.

I vow to laugh every day, multiple times. Wherever I am and whomever I am with, I will seek laughter, real deep-in-the-belly laughter.

I vow to be with my family more than anyone else. Biological family or chosen family. I want to spend fewer moments with superficial friends or people that I don’t have an intense connection with, family over everything.

I vow to accept the apologies I deserve but haven’t received. People are cruel and mean; I will forgive them and pray for them anyways because I am neither cruel nor mean.

I vow to take better care of my body. I’ll eat more green foods and less white foods. I will eat foods that give me energy and clear my mind, not weigh me down. I will live by the motto that fighting cancer is hard, eating good is not.

I vow to not drink fewer than two glasses of deep burgundy wine each week that tastes of berries and a hint of smoke. Life is crazy and chaotic, drink the wine.

I will spend more time with my pets. Their small hearts are enormous and their lives are short, they deserve more kisses, long walks and excited conversations.

I vow to accept my mistakes in 2015. I will not carry them over the threshold. I will not relish in self-doubt or regret. I will accept 2016 as a fresh start and a clean page.

Lastly, I vow to make more vows, more declarations of self-love and more goals for myself each month. I vow to always be better, to be forever changing and growing and always mindful of my heart and soul.

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.