To Live with Intention

How much better would life be for everyone if we held ourselves accountable for our actions, yet weren’t so quick to judge others? What if everyone talked about their problems; solved them – stood up for themselves, stood up for their children, stood up for others (and others’ children). Why are we so quick to blame others for our own issues? Why are we so quick to put someone else down to make ourselves look better? If you hold yourself accountable for your actions, you may save someone else from suffering, from severe anguish. Why are we intentionally hurting other people?

I recently had a situation where I felt it necessary to speak up for one of my children. I despise confrontation and literally avoid it when possible. This has often been misconstrued as a weakness, but I feel like I’m trying to be the bigger person by not arguing when not essential. I was shaking; I was anxious. I presented my situation respectfully while the other person became overly defensive. The whole time I wondered if I was out of line and I realized later that no, I was not. I’m allowed to speak up for myself (or in this particular case, my child). I’m allowed to be upset. I’m allowed to initiate conversation (respectfully). Would it have avoided an argument had I remained silent? Of course. But should I be able to express when I’m upset with someone (or about a situation) without judgement or confrontation? Yes. Yes, I should (and so should you).

I am an adult. There are so many qualities you develop as an adult; as you’re learning and growing; adapting and changing over the years. I thank some really amazing professors for encouraging my analytical thinking skills, but regardless, we {pretty much} all have an ability to analytically think about situations. One of my worst personal characteristics has always been that I often over-analyze which gives me severe anxiety. “Did that text come out right?,“ Did my comment get taken out of context?,” “Did I do that wrong?,” etc. I will be thinking of something long after someone else has forgotten about it. My dad calls it “dwelling.” I don’t dwell intentionally, it’s just part of my personality.

Accountability. Another thing we {should} develop as we age. I’m the first to say “I messed up, I’m sorry.” I don’t blame others for my own shortcomings, I own up to them. If I hurt your feelings, I’m CERTAIN it was unintentional and I probably missed the cue while I was overanalyzing something else I {or someone else} did. But, if you are willing to call me out on it, I’m willing to talk about it. Let’s fix this.

I’m a fixer. I want to “fix” everyone that hurts, every broken situation. Again, a quality that has its downsides. Maybe you posted on social media about your bad day. You go to bed and while you’re sleeping, I am probably laying in bed thinking about how I can help you. While helping others is a positive quality, it also causes me anxiety (I worry way too much).

Unfortunately, these qualities make for some confidence and self-esteem issues. I’ve struggled with these issues for years (and years). When I do something wrong, I forget all of the times I did something right. Dwelling. I am my own worst critic.

Being a parent changes these characteristics slightly. I speak up for my children {when I often don’t speak up for myself}. I know they need an advocate – I have even been known to speak up for your children (you might not ever even know about it). I teach my children to stand up for themselves (and others when necessary), but if they feel like they can’t, they know their mom or dad will help them. That’s our biggest job, afterall. Making sure they have what they need to grow – emotionally, physically and even spiritually.

None of this means that I’m discounting that other people try their hardest to be their best selves. Some people just fall short and that may not even be their fault (or intentional). But in our minds (and in our hearts), we KNOW when we are lying, judging, and/or being hateful – so why is it happening, and with such frequency? It is not at all difficult to say, “I was wrong” or “you are right!” – three little words, that’s all.

I just keep thinking how much easier life would be if we could coexist with intention; live life with intention. How many broken hearts we could avoid breaking in the first place, or help those whose hearts are broken already. Stand up when we know something is wrong, yet not be afraid to admit when we are wrong. We are all guilty of making mistakes, it’s how we respond to those mistakes that defines our character.

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Happy Birthday, Maxwell Kent

Written almost three years ago, but still an appropriate homage to Max, a very special boy {excuse me, young man – 15 already?!} in my life!

I went to bed last Tuesday night, expecting the following day to go one way, only to wake up to a completely readjusted schedule. I had planned to take a loved one for a surgical procedure in the morning and then attend the semester’s first night of on-campus class that evening. Due to the snow, both events were canceled. Sometimes, life just has that remarkable way of working out. This change in schedule allowed for playing in the snow with the girls during the day, followed by the opportunity to be at home in the evening when Max arrived, to celebrate his twelfth birthday.

I have known Max for the majority of his life. I was present for his very first birthday, and have now spent the last six birthdays celebrating both the little boy he once was, and the young man he has more recently become.

Max has always been a very handsome boy, but his tender and loving heart is what sets him apart from the rest. I will never forget the first time I fell asleep with him cuddled up in my arms or how special I felt the first time he told me he loved me, giving me a beautiful hand drawn picture that I still have.

I imagine it must be difficult to have divorced parents. I know I have not always been the best at my step-mom role, but I have always tried hard and had the best intentions in mind. I’m thankful to both of Max’s parents for my opportunity to love, learn from, and grow with, their son. I remember my mom telling me on several occasions that there is not a manual that comes with new parents, teaching them how to successfully raise that particular child. Unfortunately, there is not a manual for step-parents, either (although there are a million people with a variety of opinions). Generally, you just do the best you can and hope that is good enough.

I have always been lucky to have Max, and his sister, Maci, in my life. We have done some incredible things together, making memories that I hope they will take with them into their adult lives.

We were all laughing the other day about our Wisconsin ski trip about six years ago. It was a complete disaster, from Max with an unstoppable nosebleed in the middle of the bunny hill to Maci flying down the same hill, somehow stopping gracefully at the bottom to catch herself on a picnic table that we were sure she was going to crash into.

More recently, we flew to Fort Myers Beach, Florida. We stayed right on the beach, went parasailing, and caught hundreds of live sand dollars. To highlight a few of my other favorite trips: We have canoed down Sugar Creek in Indiana, camped at Indiana beach, and stayed in St. Louis to watch the Cardinals play baseball. We have gone to concerts, taken the train to Chicago to the Shedd Aquarium – stopping to watch Frozen on Ice, and we spent a weekend for my last birthday in a cabin near Starved Rock. Closer to home, we have spent numerous times playing at Weldon Springs catching wooly worms, paddle-boating, going fishing, having cookouts, finding four-leaf clovers and watching the hummingbirds.

As a family, we have also stayed home and enjoyed the pleasure of each other’s company, spending quality time together doing nothing but just that. Our memories together are countless, and I know they will not remember them all, but I hope that at least one sticks out to each of them and they will forever hold it in a special place in their hearts.

So, to Max on his twelfth birthday:

Happy birthday, buddy. It has been a remarkable journey together so far. I have enjoyed watching you grow each year. I apologize for my shortcomings, but I have never had anything but love for you. I don’t say it enough, but I am very proud of you. You are the best big (and little) brother, you are a dedicated friend and athlete, you are an outstanding student and a loving son (and step-son). I hope this year brings you many new memories and experiences, but allows you to remember the old. Thank you for sharing your life with me, the good and the bad.

“I didn’t give you the gift of life, life gave me the gift of you.” – anonymous

Friendships are Priceless

My mom always told me to surround myself with interesting people. People who could talk about “things” and not others. Quoting from a letter to me titled, “Advice to my Daughter,” my mother wrote: “In your entire life, the number of people you can trust with your heart and your deepest secrets can be counted on your fingers. No one person can satisfy all of your needs. Make lots of friends – different friends for different purposes.”

I do happen to have friends of all ages, from many walks of life. For example, I have my best girl friends, the girls I can call for anything and everything. I call each one for different reasons. Whether it be to share grief and/or happiness; to get or give an encouraging word or endless support; for help from them or help for them; pedicures, shopping and lunch – I can always count on the same group of girls repeatedly without fail.

I have guy friends, some of which have been my friends for over half of my life – our friendships have continuously evolved through each stage of our lives. I have a few I talk to regularly, and a few that I may not talk to often, but we always pick up right where we last left off. Of course, I cannot exclude my dad, fiancé, or my children from my closet circle of friends. Every one of my relationships are special and different.

Thinking of my friendships, I compiled – what I believe to be – a comprehensive list of what makes lasting friendships.

1. Give support freely. You don’t always have to support the situation, but you can alway support the person.

2. Make time for friends. Setting aside time for each other will only help to nurture a friendship.

3. Be honest, trustworthy and loyal. Don’t spread rumors and don’t let others talk about your friends, either.

4. Be respectful and always show appreciation.

5. Show up, keep promises, be dependable. Friends can always count on each other.

6. Apologize after a mistake and forgive. Don’t hold grudges.

7. Be selfless. Do favors, go above and beyond – even small gestures make a big difference. Be genuinely happy for your friends through their triumphs.

8. Listen. Actually listen and remember that you don’t always need to give advice. When you must give advice, it should be thoughtful.

9. Help friends through struggles and crises.

“Try to improve their life through your friendship” – Barry Cassidy

Friendship is a give and take. Good friendships take a lot of time and investment from both sides. “They” say good friends are hard to come by, I disagree. I think you have to be a good friend to have good friends – I aspire to be as good to my friends as they are to my family and me.

Anything Helps, Even a Smile

We had just left Dairy Queen. I was feeling incredibly guilty because drive thru meals have increased as we have found ourselves always on the go. Coincidentally enough, my weight has also increased significantly – I am certain that the two are correlated. Regardless, we left the drive thru and pulled up to the lights to head South on the highway, me with a mouthful of BBQ Snack Melt, when I saw a man standing there with a cardboard sign. The sign read, “Anything helps, even a smile.”

It had been one of those incredibly windy days and the man was clearly doing everything he could just to hold on to his sign. I couldn’t help but think about how cold this man had to be, and before I knew it, we had changed course and headed back toward McDonalds to get the man with the sign something warm to eat.

Collins slept through this whole adventure, but Kendall was fully alert, curious as to why were at McDonalds when we had been on our way home just a couple of minutes before. I explained to her that we were taking the “man with a sign” something to eat, further explaining that he quite possibly hadn’t had anything to eat all day. She was very upset at the idea that his “tummy was rumbly,” and thought fondly of our mission to alleviate that issue for him.

I have to figure that if someone is asking for help, then they really need it. I would’ve came home and worried about this man all night had I not done at least something for him. To be honest, I’ve worried about that poor man since the second I saw him and his wellbeing has consumed my thoughts.

We took the “man with a sign” his two cheeseburger meal and some extra cash. As I handed it out the window to him, he nearly cried (and so did I). He said, “oh, bless you, bless you!”, before taking off across the street to his bike. It made me wonder how long that man had stood there hoping for something warm to eat. How many cars drove by him, a block away from a drive thru, ignoring his pleas for help. How many people went home and regretted not helping, and how many never gave it a second thought?

The entire drive home, Kendall was full of questions.
“Who was that man?” “Does he know how to eat?” “Why is he hungry?” “How did you know he was hungry?” “Where does he live?” But after I answered all of her questions, her wheels started turning from why we helped this man, to what else we could do. “We could invite him to our house?” “I could give him my candy!” “Can we buy him a bed?” “We could visit him so he has friends!”

We continued our discussion and I told her that sometimes in life, we experience hardships and although I’m not certain, the “man with a sign” may not have had anything other than the clothes on his back and his bicycle. I asked her how she would feel if all she had was a coat and a bicycle. She replied, “well mommy, that would make me sad!”

I hope Kendall can always look back on this day, and without using any judgement at all, follow her big heart to find a way to help others. I also hope that the “man with a sign” can look back on today and know that even though hundreds of people went on by, there will always be that one person who will help him when he needs it. Maybe someday he will be able to return the favor, I will bet that if he can – he will. Until then, we should all learn a very valuable lesson from this man and remember that anything helps, even a smile!

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
⁃ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today is the youngest you will ever be

“Well, I can cross THAT off my bucket list!” – 4-year-old Kendall as she finished her cherry Popsicle

You may already be familiar with bucket lists, and might even have one. For those of you who are not, a bucket list is a comprehensive collection of activities and/or achievements you would like to accomplish in your lifetime.

My mom always kept her bucket list current, constantly crossing off completed items and replacing them with new ones. One day, she handed me a canary yellow legal pad and pencil, and said “write your bucket list.” Put on the spot like that, I couldn’t come up with a full list on my own. She, Andrew and Maci helped me complete an entire page in a matter of minutes.

I found that list recently and really thought extensively about the irony of an unfinished bucket list. In fact, there was nothing on that particular list that I could cross off. I in no way feel like I’m not “living” and accomplishing things, but I want to make more of an effort to do some of the things specifically on my list.

This past weekend, we were able to cross off “Take the girls to Disney.” It was not a fully magical experience the entire time as there is a lot of waiting, walking and people; however, there were a lot of really happy and exciting moments and we created many memories we can always cherish. Ideally, we will go again when they are both older and spend more time than a long weekend, but if we never make it again – we have been there, we have done it, and we were together.

One of my favorite parts of trips like this one, is the unexpected. I may have been able to cross something off of my bucket list, but while constructing the list there is no way to prepare for the unknown. For example, Collins is very shy around strangers and sometimes even people she knows well. I did not expect her to get too excited about meeting princesses and riding rides. She really opened up on this trip. Ariel is her favorite Disney Princess and you could literally see the excitement in her eyes when she first saw her. She hugged Ariel three times, and later even sat on Merida’s lap! She was still a little shy at the end of the trip when she and Kendall met Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) in the airport, but she got close enough for a picture with him, too (I had to throw that in there, I was more excited for them than they were – meeting Ariel trumped meeting Shaq in their eyes, of course).

I was inspired by our trip to update my bucket list and found some interesting resources to do so. I still have my paper copy, right on top of my legal pad, but technology offers some interesting options for creating bucket lists as well. I created a “Bucket List” board on Pinterest, allowing me to add ideas as I come across them (especially since I rarely carry my legal pad with me).

Additionally, there are already prepared bucket lists available online. If you’re not really sure where to start in creating one, or you want to add to an existing one, this could be a helpful tool. I like the prepared lists for a more short-term approach. I searched for “Winter Bucket List” online, and found an abundance of fun, new ideas to do with our family.

Whether or not you actually have a bucket list written down, there are always goals you’re working towards and things you would like to do. Life is short (relatively speaking) and time is valuable. Now is as good a time as any, start crossing off your bucket list!

“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” – Diane Ackerman

Summer days

It’s 85 degrees today (which doesn’t sound too bad), but it’s a hot and humid Midwest heat so it feels like a solid 200 degrees. I get off of work early throughout the week now so that I can spend more time with my kiddos for the summer. Owning my own business has its perks; I can take the girls with me to work and I can customize my hours.

I never went to daycare when I was younger, and none of our children ever have either. My mom stayed at home with me and I feel like spending my days with her exclusively, benefitted me in countless ways. I was able to read and write by the age of four; I had plenty of one-on-one time with the smartest, most beautiful woman I knew (my biggest supporter – my greatest fan); and always had a best friend.

Having one income, my mom always did an amazing job of budgeting for special outings, but most of the time, she was creative and modest with our activities. I feel like a lot of that is lost in families today – it is no longer difficult to drive to a local pool or water park, museum or trampoline park. We don’t have to be creative as parents, someone else has already taken care of that for us.

I asked the girls (before we even left for work this morning), what should we do this afternoon? My youngest said “the museum,” my oldest said “the pool,” I said “fishing.” In the last couple of weeks, we have done the splash park twice; the local movie theater for a free morning showing of “Despicable Me 3,” our local library for Summer Reading Club and a mini-horse presentation; Lunchables and popsicles atop a blanket on the beach at a nearby lake; several special swimming days with my step-daughter, step-son and their mom; and an evening movie date to see “The Incredibles 2.” Yesterday, we played at the park located near our home. I realized, today, that we needed to be more creative with our afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, we have had an amazing couple of weeks, but we all needed something “different” today.

I decide that we can fill up the blow up kiddie pool on the backyard (man, I miss our full-size pool – algae took over last year while on vacation and we had to throw it away. Sigh.), mommy can get some sun, the girls can stay cool. I get in my swimsuit and head outside to get this pool party started, only to discover a hole in the side (it’s an inflatable pool, approximately 6’ in diameter). I head back inside to find the repair kit I recently tucked away in the junk drawer. I repair said hole. I search, extensively and thoroughly, for that handy air compressor pump my husband just purchased. It’s not in the garage, or the shed, or on the deck, or in the driveway, or under the deck, or in the back of my car. Defeatedly, I determine that the pool is NOT going to happen. What now?

*Cue a flashback to jumping through a sprinkler in my childhood backyard. *

I hook it up, wondering if the girls will even find it exciting in comparison, and watch in amazement as the girls instantly ran through the water, giggling and laughing uncontrollably at themselves and each other. Both of them hugging me with their cold, wet little bodies before running back through the water. I joined in, adding to the endless giggles, all of us running and jumping hand-in-hand across the yard.

These moments are the ones I live for, the ones that make every day worth getting up for. The giggles and the smiles, holding hands and a having a genuinely great time. I often consider how my mom felt staying home with me; I imagine those days were some of the best days of both of our lives’. I’m extremely grateful to spend these summer days with all four of our kiddos as I desperately hold on to the present, fearing the future, and envying the past.

Our love is like…

I saw this long-winded post circulating on Facebook, describing love as “not always being a fairy tale,” how it’s not always “breakfast in bed” – it’s also fighting with each other and excruciatingly difficult at times (and about a half a dozen other negative descriptions ending with some positive attributes as well). I wish I could find it again to quote it directly, however, I instantly dismissed it as I read it (and I read it many times as many people shared it over and over). I guess that’s where I got lucky, my love IS a fairy tale.

My now-husband approached me on a whim, on a hot summer day nine years ago. He told me he was head-over-heels in love with me. I always knew I loved him, too, but I had no idea how much love I could have for another human being. That day could easily be marked as one of the best days of my life – the beginning of adventures, children, marriage and unfaltering love.

Did we fight? Sometimes in the beginning, as we found our balance – but it never defined our relationship. Do we fight now? No. In fact, I cannot even remember the last time we argued about anything at all – it’s certainly been years. I can’t say whether fighting is a healthy part of relationships, maybe in some cases it is. But, I just can’t think of a single thing we would fight about. I despise confrontation, especially with my significant other – why would I want to fight with the person I love the most?

In losing my mother, I realized that the old cliché saying, “life is short,” is a mantra to live by. Why dwell on the petty, mundane day-to-day? I have a life to live, and so does my husband, and so do our children, and fighting with each other is not how I want to spend it – it’s not how I want any of us to remember our time together.

I admire my husband. He still opens doors for me; still tells me I’m beautiful (despite my recent weight gain that often leaves me feeling less-than-desirable); he still kisses me goodbye; he still sends me a daily “good morning” text. I still get butterflies every time I see him; I still think he’s the most handsome man in the world; I still wonder why he chose me, why I’m so lucky and possibly so undeserving of this man and his love for me.

I don’t remember a time we ever had breakfast in bed, but we have had room service bring us creme brûlée and carrot cake (our favorites); he still woos me from time-to-time with a surprise bacon, egg and cheese biscuit; he knows that a fountain Diet Pepsi is sometimes exactly what I need; he takes me to my favorite restaurant for special occasions and often “just because”; we have eaten pastries in Paris before a visit to the Eiffel Tower; we have toasted s’mores over too many fires to count (and he doesn’t even eat them).

The excruciatingly difficult times we have endured were not BECAUSE of each other, but rather standing beside each other, hand-in-hand. There has not been a single time that my husband has not shown love and compassion; held me close, as my protector and my true love; he has never given up on me. I can only hope that he thinks the same way of me, as I do of him – I truly believe us to be soulmates.

So, as we celebrate nine years together, I look back on a million good times – choosing always to focus on them. I cannot say a bad thing about this man, the one that I have chosen, the one that graciously chose me. I know, without a doubt, that I will always see our love as a real-life fairy tale. He will remain my Prince Charming for the rest of our days, and I sure hope there will be thousands more!