I only met him about 4 1/2 years ago; he is married to my biological Aunt Amy. When my sister and I found our birth mom, we were introduced to her entire family including Seth and Amy and their adorable kids.
Seth was diagnosed 8 years ago (in 2010) with ALS , which is a degenerative disease that affects the muscular and nervous system.
He jumped to action, and co-founded ALS Crowd Division of the CrowdCare Foundation. ALS Crowd helps aggregate and share the latest research and allows patients to connect with one another; it also offers information about treatment options and supports research and development of new ALS clinical trials.
Beyond being one of the funniest, wittiest, most poetic, and kindest people in my life, he is also one of the bravest. And I find so much strength and inspiration through him and his family members more than I think they will ever know.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go meet up with them in Portugal, along with my biological grandparents and my other biological Aunt Debbie, as they embarked on an international adventure to further their reach with ALS Crowd collaborating with Project MinE. I jumped on the chance to spend time with them there.
Following all the blondies through Silves, Portugal
Seth, Jayne, and Ellie leading the way into the castle
Devon, Dianne, Jayne, me, Ellie, Jake, and Debbie
Grandma wanted a serious pic. We had other plans
Even the crab is smiling!
Poppa strolling on the beach in Portimao
The whole crazy crew except Dianne
The lemons the security guard let us pick off the tree inside the castle in Silves
Being around them, and feeling their positive energy and light, and seeing the good work and progress they are making in the medical world with ALS research truly is remarkable. It makes me want to do more and help them with their cause!
If you are wanting to know more about ALS Crowd or Project MinE click on either linked site to check out their initiatives and to see how you can help!
To Seth, Amy, Sam, Ellie, Jayne, and Jake: Thank you all for being the incredible humans that you are. Your light, your love, and your courageous hearts inspire me (and I know so many, many others!) to do more, to be more, to make this world a better place by any means possible. I am proud to know you, I am proud to call you family.
I recently went on a trip back home – to the Philadelphia suburbs where I grew up!
I haven’t been able to go back for almost 3 years, and I have been aching for it so much.
So, when I managed to find a $250 RT ticket from Salt Lake (absolutely unheard of!) I jumped on it and was on my way!
Her Heart Is In Our Hearts
I spent my first night back in Wallingford, PA with my mom’s best friend and her husband. We spent hours catching up, and reminiscing about my mom and all of our memories from when we all lived down the street from one another. We laughed a lot, and we cried a lot too.
I needed that, I desperately needed to spend that time with her and feel as if my mom were in the room with us too, laughing at the old stories and remembering all the good times. Being around her, I feel so close to my mom because she carries a huge piece of my mom inside her heart and I needed to be close to that for even just a few hours; it was so healing and so vital.
My heart felt a little less heavy from sorrow and a little more full of joy after I spent that time with them.
Holidays are the Hardest
After Thanksgiving, my heart has been holding this heavy sadness for my mom – I mean, I miss her all the time but the holiday season is always just a little bit harder. After dinner was done and all of my siblings and I left my Dad’s house, I went home alone. But, instead of going straight home and putting on some holiday movie by myself, I decided to take a detour and go visit my mom in the cemetery.
I brought her a Diet Coke like I always do, because it was her drink of choice. It was freezing, about 29 degrees and it was very dark except for the few grave-sites that had lighted fixtures on them around me on the hill.
There in the darkness I cried – and not just some tears, I full on ugly cried. I felt pathetic, but I think I needed to let it out and feel my grief in that moment. Sometimes I try to hold it all in and just deal with it, when in reality I need to own my pain and my sadness and feel it – really feel it. Because the reason it hurts so damn much is because I loved her, so damn much. And that love will never change.
The next day before meeting up with a friend, I had to go see my childhood house. I can’t go to the place I grew up and NOT go see my house!
I drove down the familiar roads, not even needing GPS even though I haven’t lived there for 15 years; it is all just so deeply ingrained and I remember it all!
Finally pulling up to my house, I pulled the car over across the street and just stared at it. I wanted to go knock on the door and ask if I could go see the inside of it, but I didn’t want the people who live there (in MY house) to think I was some kind of crazy person.
So, instead, I sat across the street and admired it, remembering so many memories as they all rushed over me. I lived there from 18 months to 18 years old, so almost half of my life! Remembering the girl who lived in that front window, she seemed like such a ghost compared to the girl sitting in the car now.
Feeling so sentimental, and still missing my mom and my family being all together for so many years in that place, I was suddenly crying there on the side of the road. And I’m sure anyone driving by must have thought something was wrong; but I mean, wasn’t there?
And one man actually was worried, and he stopped his car next to mine and waved me to roll my window down. He was a gray haired older man with an incredibly kind smile, although his eye full of concern.
“Are you ok sweetheart?” he asked in his thick Delco accent.
“Oh… yep! I’m Okay, thank you!” I responded, feeling stupid for crying on the side of the road trying my best to wipe my face.
“Are you lost? Can I help you with directions somewhere?” He offered.
I wanted to respond no, because I knew where I was and where I needed to go, but in the moment I responded, “You know, I am a little lost. But I think I can find my way.”
“We all get lost from time to time, but remember there is always someone around that can help you find where you need to go!”
After profusely convincing him I was ok, he drove off, but his words stayed with me.
Lost But Not Forever
I stayed there in front of my old house for awhile, just thinking about life.
That man’s kindness and his words meant more to me that I think he could have known in those moments we spoke.
The truth is, we are all lost sometimes – but not forever. And we even lose pieces of ourselves too – but they aren’t lost forever either; not always.
And just like that kind man said, there is always someone around who can help us find where we need to go.
Finding My Way Back
This trip home for me, I hoped would help me recover pieces of myself that I have lost. This town, and area, was where I was raised, where I figured out the beginnings of who I was and what I wanted.
Important steps and parts of myself were created and developed here; some of my most painful memories also culminated there. But you need the hard times to help you see your own strength and resilience, and to appreciate the good times more.
Going back to your home – to your roots wherever they may be – is important. It is an necessary place to return to occasionally, to feel that part of yourself again. If it’s been lost, you can try to replace it where it all started.
Or if there are painful things associated with your home, you can also go to face those old demons and finally let them go. This is also an important step on the road to self-discovery.
Home Is In My Heart
I ended that portion of my trip to the east coast with a dinner in Media with 3 of my closest girlfriends from high school.
We laughed, reminisced, and caught up with each other. I hardly ever get to see them, and every time I do it is magical and so healing to my heart. I am continually grateful that we are all still friends and keep in touch, even though we live so far apart.
That night as I lay in bed I thought of that old saying:
Home Is Where Your Heart Is
And as sappy as I always used to think it is, it is so valid and so true; especially now that I live so far from the place I consider home.
My home is inside my heart, I carry it with me everywhere. My friends, my family, the places I hold such fond memories of, the ones I’ve loved and the ones I’ve lost too; they’re all in there in my heart.
So maybe in a way I’m not really lost, I think those pieces of myself are still in there inside me, they’ve just become buried under everything else that I’ve been facing and dealing with.
But my home, the place where the real “me” resides, is always with me in my heart.
Looking back on our incredible trip to Rwanda, it sometimes feels like a dream that we even went and experienced what we did!
My heart is so full and grateful for what we saw there – and I am forever changed because of it too. Not to sound too cheesy, but this was a place and an experience that changed my life for the better.
June 9, 2018
Heather and I decided to drive ourselves to the airport, since all the Uber drivers close by were charging a ridiculous $75 rate. With that type of payment, we decided we might as well park at the airport ourselves since it would cost us about the same in the end.
We met up with our biological grandfather Devon, or Poppa as we call him, and met our fellow travelers – Steve and SueAnne Alder (very close and dear friends of Poppa and our grandma Dianne) and their daughter Anne.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the Alder’s would become some of my favorite people on the planet, and I think some lifelong adventure friends!
We boarded our flight which was departing at 10:45 pm. I was feeling a little nervous since Heather and I were not able to sit by each other on this leg to JFK, and it didn’t make me feel any better when we took off and flew through some of the worst turbulence I’ve experienced on a flight! The poor Japanese couple sitting next to me probably heard about 20 straight minutes of unadulterated swearing that would make even the most weathered sailor blush.
Needless to say, we made it in one piece. We landed at JfK at 6 am, had a 3 hour layover, and then boarded our next flight on Qatar Airlines. The flight was 12 hours to Qatar, but it was one of the nicest planes I’ve been on! Even in coach the seats were large, had spacious leg room, nice tv’s with thousands of things to watch or listen to, and more food than I could eat.
I did sleep for most of the flight, thanks to my Xanax. But somewhere along the way my eyes swelled horribly from my eyelash extensions I had done the day before. I seriously looked like an alien, and I frightened the flight attendant to the point where she brought me bags of ice constantly to bring down the swelling.
We landed in Doha, Qatar in one the most luxurious airports ever! Apparently it’s the 5th largest in the world! We had a brief 1 hour layover, and then re-boarded and landed 5 hours later in Entebbe, Uganda. We were almost there!
Customs was a breeze, and the visas were cheaper than we had originally thought ($30 instead of $50.)
We hailed 2 taxi vans, and headed to our first hotel in the city. Our drive through the streets was so eye opening! I loved the energy of the people, the modernness of the buildings against deep rooted culture; there were amazing people everywhere in bright African patterned clothing carrying enormous items on their heads, lots of traffic of cars and Moto taxis, and sweet babies wrapped in cloth on their mother’s backs! It was wonderful, I couldn’t wait to see more.
We arrived at Flame Tree, and were pleasantly surprised with how nice it was! I honestly had no idea what to expect with anywhere we stayed, but the entire hotel grounds was beautifully decorated and landscaped, and each room was a private town home with 2 floors, a full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, and wonderful AC (it was so humid!).
Heather and I took a brief nap, then showered off from all the traveling. It was one of the those showers that just rejuvenates you (even though Heather’s shower was ice cold!)
We met up with the group for dinner in the dining hall. I ordered vegetable soup and some bread because I was worried about trying anything too risky just yet. It ended up looking like pureed baby food, but honestly was so delicious! Poppa ordered pizza and I also stole a small slice.
And the bread… can we talk about the bread in Rwanda?! It is to diiiiieeee for! The Belgians colonized Rwanda in the 20’s and they must have shared their bread making skills with the Rwandan people or something!
We went to bed around 9 PM. And when I say went to bed, I literally think I passed out as soon as I laid down!
June 12, 2018
The Drive to Butare
We woke up early the next morning around 7 to eat and then meet up with our tour guide for the trip Mr. Kirenga, who would be driving us that day to Butare. I highly enjoyed my oatmeal with cane sugar, as well as some deliciously smooth hot chocolate.
Mr. Kirenga has known my grandparents for several years, since they used to live in Rwanda and went on many expeditions through his tourist and birding company. He seemed like a very nice man, and we packed all of us and our bags into his giant 8-person Land Rover safari jeep, which he had rebuilt from the 1970’s.
We were so excited to start our journey!
The drive south to Butare took about 3 1/2 hours, and took us through some beautiful country roads and villages. Rwanda is called the land of 1000 hills, and I could definitely see why with all of the rolling green hills.
Seeing first-hand how these people live in pretty poor conditions was a bit disheartening, yet they were some of the kindest and happiest people! We felt like celebrities, because we stuck out like sore thumbs there and everyone would smile and wave at us as we drove past.
The children started shouting, “Mizungu” at us. We asked Mr. Kirenga what it meant, and he said it means “white person.”
The King’s Palace
Poppa insisted we make a brief stop on the way to Butare, at The King’s Palace. We walked through the reproductions of what these incredible huts used to look like, finding the customs very fascinating. They were also incredibly smart about the way they built and designed the huts!
While the King’s Palace was cool, I was way more excited to see the King’s cows!
Their horns are MASSIVE!! I wondered how in the world they held their heads up! But they were such sweet docile creatures, and they have the cutest faces! The handler walked around with this sage smudge stick to ward off the pesky flies from their faces. He also sang to them, which whenever he would sing they would all stop what they were doing and walk towards him. It was so cool!
We arrived in Butare, which is one of the largest cities in Rwanda with the largest University. It was very busy!
We ate at the famous ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ that Poppa loved when he and Dianne lived there. They lived in Butare in 2014-2015. Our eyes were larger than our stomachs, and we ended up ordering most of the items on the menu! It was delicious but we couldn’t finish it all.
Heather had the great idea that we box up the leftovers and she gave them to a woman who was begging by the gates of the restaurant with a small child on her back. She didn’t speak any English, but we could understand her gratitude as she kept patting her hand over her heart and had tears in her eyes.
As we walked towards the local market, there was another woman who was literally crawling on her hands and knees because her feet were crippled and she could not walk on them. The image of her crawling through the crowds will forever break my heart.
The market was insane! And clearly they were not used to having Mizungus there! Also, I had shorts on (almost to my knees) and apparently they are not used to seeing that much skin either because everyone stared blatantly at my bare legs!
People sold everything there; utensils, fabric, food, furniture, toilets, clothes, and jewelry. One merchant pulled Poppa aside and said, “Hey Poppa! I have something for you!” and pointed to some extravagantly designed boxer briefs. We had a good laugh about it.
The Drive to Nyungwe Forest
Light was fading, so we needed to head towards Nyungwe Forest where we would stay the next 2 nights.
This drive was one of the worst of our trip. It was 4 1/2 hours through windy jungle roads, most of them unpaved or riddled with giant gaping holes. There was also construction halfway up the canyon that caused so much chaos.
One section in particular has very uneven, dusty, and crowded with villagers. A gigantic dump truck that was filled beyond capacity with what looked like mattresses, drove by us and nearly tipped over on top of us!
The windy roads made us all a quite car sick.
Finally, we made it to our hotel called The Top View Hotel. We were relieved to be out of the car, and at such a nice 5 star resort again!
Heather and I headed to our room, which again was a separate town home. We were in #1, Volcano. Ours was all the way at the end of the walkway, on the edge overlooking a valley down below. It was night time, so we were excited to see it in the morning.
Our large king size bed was covered with a mosquito net, we had a good sized bedroom, and a door that opened onto a deck overlooking another side of the canyon.
As we laid in bed we heard wild African dogs howling all night in the jungles surrounding us, but we quickly fell asleep again; and an especially nice surprise? The hot water bottles placed at the feet of our bed under the covers to keep our feet warm and toasty!
June 13, 2018
Waking up the next morning at 6 am to see the sunrise was the best decision we could have made. The light coming up over those jungle hills, the sky water colored with red and orange hues; it was absolute magic. I stood there and almost became emotional, wondering how I was so lucky to be in such a beautiful place as that.
In the daylight we could finally see the grounds of the resort too, which were equally beautiful.
We had a luxurious breakfast on the veranda of the main building; more hot chocolate, some African spice tea, toast and jam, and cheese omelettes.
We drove back into the jungle, to head to track the Colubus Monkeys. At the Nyungwe Forest Visitor’s Center we met up with our guide, Christof. He was a handsome young man from Rwanda who received his education in France and returned back to work.
Back into the truck and towards the large tea fields we went, and turned off onto a small dirt road heading directly towards the jungle. We got out and walked towards the tree line and were very lucky because the family of Colubus Monkeys was right there!
These black and white monkeys are so cute! It was a good sized family, with 2 adorable little babies!
It was apparently time to eat, because they were climbing and jumping around the trees, stuffing as many of the tree fruits into their mouths as they could! It was pretty funny to watch them. The babies were entertaining as well, jumping and wrestling with one another all over the trees. Their tiny squeaks they would make sounded like a dog squeaky toy!
Christof told us that they whole family helps to raise and take care of the babies. But, whenever a male would grab them and try to hold them they would squeak out loudly and wriggle free from them. I asked him if they were hurting them, and he said “No, the males just do not know how to hold the babies and they don’t like it.”
Sounds… pretty accurate!
After watching them to our hearts’ content, we headed back to the hotel for a lunch of sweet corn soup and rolls with goat meat. I of course, declined to try the goat meat.
Heather and I took a 2 hour nap, and then met up again with everyone to go do a jungle canopy walk. Driving an hour further into the jungle we pulled off to the canopy headquarters.
Here we were placed in a hiking group with a cute couple from Denmark, a strange girl from the Netherlands that currently lived in Jamaica, and our creeptastic tour guide named Dauph who would NOT stop licking his lips and staring only at me when he talked to the group. (Like STOPPPPP though!)
The hike was completely downhill to get there, so I knew heading back would be challenging for Poppa and SueAnne and Steve.
Making it to the canopy walk, I felt like we were staring at a bridge that had been constructed in the 1920’s; it looked old and I wondered if we would be the last people to ever walk across it!
But, our group motto had become “YOLO”, as I had taught everyone the night before. So, we yolo-d our way across. (Or as SueAnne said it, “Yellow!”)
The first section of the canopy walk was shorted and not as high off the ground, so we made it to the first tower no problem. The second section across was incredibly shaky, and about 300 feet off the ground!
It also didn’t help that Poppa was shaking the bridge on purpose (trouble maker!)
My hands shook and I definitely got a little light headed, but it was really exhilarating to walk across there, and to look down into the jungle!
Dauph told us we could keep going the way we were to get back to the hiking trail, or we could go back across the bridge. We hesitated for a moment and Poppa decided to tell us that “No one I’ve ever brought here has ever taken the sissy way back… but if you guys really want to we can.”
So of course we turned around and went right back over the bridge! We refused to be the sissies!
The hike back up was quite strenuous, and Poppa took it slow and steady.
Then on the way back to our hotel, Mr. Kirenga’s truck broke down. Anne, Heather, Steve, and myself got out and push started it for him then walked the 5 minutes to the hotel. We worried the truck would not be able to drive us the next morning to go see the chimpanzees.
We had another delicious dinner, and then all went to go get some sleep. While Heather and I walked to our room a GIANT moth flew in front of us and I screamed and ran like a crazy person because I was convinced it was a bat! Ain’t nobody got time for rabies y’all!
June 14, 2018
Tracking the Chimpanzees
Waking up the next morning at 5 am was rough. We met in the lodge sleepy eyed, enjoying some hot chocolate, African spice tea, and some butter cookies.
Mr. Kirenga’s car was not able to drive, as we feared, so he rented us a car with a driver. Now when I say car, I mean… a tiny awful thing that we all had to cram into.
The back seat needed to fit 3 people when it was very clearly only meant for 2, so it was not a pleasant 2 hour drive east. We were all a bit grouchy to say the least.
My favorite part of driving through the remote village was seeing all the adorable school children in their uniforms on their way to school. They all waved at us! We were once again the stars in the Mizungu parade.
Despite the uncomfortable driving situation, we were going to track chimpanzees so we were still excited. We pulled in front of a mall building which had a small store with souvenirs, and this was where we were to meet our porters. Christof was our guide again, which we were happy about because he was fantastic.
A group of porters stood by with walking sticks, all hoping they would be picked for our chimpanzee trek. It is customary for every woman to use a porter, but of course all of the men in our group got one too so they could pay them.
Anne, Heather, and I joked that we felt like it was The Bachelorette, having to hand our bag to the porter of our choosing and ask, “Will you accept this backpack?” I chose a young man named Varun, and he was very helpful! I tripped quite a lot over the vines and underbrush of the jungle when we trekked through.
And when I say trek, I mean we literally ran at times! The trouble with chimpanzees is they are very wary of people and like to avoid them. So we started out slowly hiking upwards into the jungle to where the trackers were radioing in on the walkie-talkies. The trackers had been following this particular family of chimps since the night before.
They were heading right for us, so we stopped and waited silently for them to pass by us. It was so interesting how quietly they moved through the trees, because we literally did not hear them coming until they were nearly on top of us!They came within about 20 feet, and the male in the lead turned his head and looked right at us! Then they RAN.
So of course, we ran in pursuit! It was quite exciting to run full speed though the jungle after this elusive little family of chimps. (And this is where I tripped a ton!)
We made it back to the main road, and Christof had us stop because he said the family would be crossing the road to get to the other side of the jungle and we would be able to see them very clearly.
2 minutes later they crossed about 10 feet in front of us, and it was breathtaking to see them! They were much larger than I expected, and unlike the chimps you see in movies or at zoos these ones were all black, even their cute little faces. There were 6 adults and one little baby holding onto its’ mama’s back.
The chase was on again, and those chimps are stupidly fast! We were running full speed again trying to keep up with the trackers, Christof, and doing so while trying to not trip and sprawl out into the jungle! It was so exhilarating!
We caught up to one of the males, who had separated from the family and was chilling up in a giant Ficus tree, feasting on the fruits. Apparently they are like oranges, and he was stuffing as many as he could at a time into his mouth.
We sat down and watched him for about 30 minutes, enjoying seeing him in his natural habitat. He put on a show for us, climbing around, hanging by one arm, and even peeing for a steady 2 minutes with an impressive stream off the tree! We were all very impressed.
My favorite part was that Poppa in all of his years spent in Africa had never tracked a chimpanzee before. So seeing his face light up as we watched him in the tree was worth it all for me
We finally left our friend, and made the hike back up to the road. It was very steep going back up, so we sent extra porters to help Poppa.
Heading to Lake Kivu
We packed the newly fixed truck, and said farewell to our resort at the top of the hill.
Steve suggested to Mr. Kirenga that we find a place to eat in a local non-touristy town so we could see some of the culture without tourist traps.
There was definitely something lost in translation between them, because he took us an hour out of our way to eat at what looked like a country club resort in a ton called Cyangugu overlooking the southern tip of Lake Kivu; right next to a big touristy market.
Steve was very grouchy about it, and to be honest we all were because he added extra time onto our trip to our next destination. But, the food was good and the view over the lake was gorgeous!
Across the water we could see the Congo, and it was mind-blowing to see how many houses and buildings were crammed against one another on the hills.
After we finished eating, we started our 4 hour trip to The Cormoran Lodge, our next resort on a northern part of Lake Kivu’s shores.
The drive was much prettier (and much less car-sick inducing) than the trip from Butare to Nyungwe Forest. we started throwing out our empty water bottles to kids on the road because they want them to use for drinking water. It was a fun way to pass the time, and they were always excited to get them!
We finally pulled into our resort after the sun had gone down, and we were each led to our amazing tree house rooms. This resort to me, resembled the Lost Boy’s tree house from the movie Hook. You know what I’m talking about?? It was such a cool place!
We enjoyed some dinner in the restaurant (where Poppa discovered his new favorite Fanta flavor, Fiesta) and then we all headed to bed.
I was so excited to see what more adventures Lake Kivu had in store for us!
Do you ever have those days where there’s a song stuck in your head? And I literally mean days… the same song has been playing in my mind over and over since last Friday.
It’s a song I’m sure you’ve all heard, or at least a version of it anyway (because it’s been covered many times.)
This version in particular I have loved since 2004, the end of my freshman year of college at USU, when the first season of the iconic teenage drama show The OC ended its’ first season. The song , “Hallelujah” plays in the background in the season finale in a really dramatic and emotional ending (… seriously watch it if you haven’t…) recorded by Rufus Wainwright. Or it’s in the movie Shrek, which I’m positive all of you have seen.
It randomly came up on one of my playlists on Friday night, and it’s been stuck in my mind ever since. Especially one line in particular has haunted me ever since:
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
A Mother of a Weekend
I knew Mother’s Day was coming, because for the past 3 years I’ve been counting down the days until it arrived again with growing dread and mounting emotions.
It never gets easier to celebrate a day for mother’s without mine. Memories rise to the surface, good and bad, and drown me again in the familiar deep pool of sorrow.
It’s not that I don’t want to remember her or celebrate her; I love thinking of all the fun memories and how much time we had with her despite her cancer.
The hard part is when so many others get to go see their moms, or call them or FaceTime with them; I’m driving to the cemetery with flowers and a Diet Coke. I wish I could get just one last hug, or one last phone call. Boy would she just get a kick out of all the dating stories and mishaps I’ve had lately! And the advice she could give me, or support through these strange dark days of re-building my life after my divorce… I miss it all and wish I could have that with her.
But, she’s gone. And so after visit her grave, and spending some time with my sister and her kiddos, I went home to be once again alone with my emotions and thoughts.
And right on cue that familiar song of ‘Hallelujah’ played in my head again. Especially that one line.
And isn’t it funny how sometimes when something is happening in our life, a song will pop up that perfectly correlates with what we are thinking or feeling?
The word Hallelujah is a translated from a Hebrew word, which can be an exclamation meaning, “God be praised!”
But in our moments of deepest heart break, pain, and sorrow, is it often our first instinct to still praise God?
Honestly, sometimes its not. It’s those times that we tend to push the heavens away, feeling disconnected and alone, and wanting to blame whatever and whomever we can, especially our heavenly parent.
In our painful times we question everything; the who’s, the why’s, the how’s, and the what’s. It’s part of our nature to do so, and as I have been working through my own grief of losing my mom I have seen a different perspective of this side of it all.
Why, in the moments that we need God the most, do we tend to push Him away and lose our faith? Maybe because it’s easier in the moment, and helps put some sort of bandaid over the giant, gaping, bleeding wounds in our hearts.
The thing I’ve realized so far in my life, is that it’s always easier to trust the process during the sunny great times… but when it comes to trusting in the dark times, that’s when true faith is tested.
Cold & Broken
The night that we lost mom, after we had all driven home from the hospital and I was laying in my bed, feeling completely numb and outside of my own life, I remember fighting the inner thoughts of being angry about it.
Her trial that was placed in her life to have cancer, was a long and painful for her. She was such a warrior, fighting through excruciating pain and constant sickness, not to mention hours upon days spent in hospitals at doctors appointments and undergoing treatments.
It was hard for us too. And many times I felt angry that someone so wonderful, and someone that I loved beyond words, had to go through such agony.
That night, as the realness continued to sink it’s sharp blades deep into my splitting heart, I fought the urge to be angry with God, and instead went in the other direction. Feeling to tired to actually get out of my bed and kneel like I normally do when I pray, I closed my eyes and in my head I prayed:
“I’m sad, and my everything hurts, and I’m too tired to even make sense. Thank you for the time we had with her.”
And that was all that needed to be said. It was my own cold and broken hallelujah. I was incredibly sorrowful, and parts of me were angry and questioning about it all, yet I still reached out what I had left to God and gave him the smallest ounce of praise that I could muster. And it was just enough to bring me some much needed inner peace, that in in that moment seemed impossible to feel.
Faith in the Darkness
The beauty of it all, that I’ve come to discover over these 3 years since losing her, is that if we offer whatever we have to God (even if it feels like nothing) He will fill in the void with His grace. Circling back to my favorite metaphor of Kintsukiroi here, God’s grace will fill in the gaps that we can’t ourselves, to make us whole.
And it’s nice to know during those times we struggle in the darkness, that we are never alone.
I was reading some of my favorite quotes on Sunday from C.S. Lewis, and these few in particular struck harmonizing chords with what I was sorting through internally:
“Always pray to have eyes that see the best in people, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses faith in God.” – C.S. Lewis
“Hard times, bad times, or tough times, I still have faith in God.” – C.S. Lewis
Honestly, I’ve never lost my faith. Sometimes it has definitely been tested to the extremes, but it’s never been lost.
I do have faith in the plan and the process for me. But as a human, an especially inquisitive one in particular, I have the tendency to sometimes question the why’s and the when’s on my path.
And it can start to escalate quickly: through missing my mom, onto being divorced and alone in my thirties, and even the heartache of not being a mom yet (and possibly never being one due to my infertility issues we discovered during my marriage.) You know, the whole “why me” pathetic thing that we all do.
But if you wallow in the negativity, you’ll eventually be drug out to deeper waters by the emotional undercurrents, and you’ll never be able to swim back to shore without drowning.
The funny thing is about these dark trials we go through, is how deceiving they can be. The darkness wants us to stay there, struggling for as long as possible, and to us we may think it is impossible to come out of it because we can’t see the light at the end of it in the distance. When really, if we just reach out we are already to the other side of it and we just haven’t realized it yet.
For example, when I was 7 my family went on a family vacation to The Outer Banks. We were there right before Hurricane Andrew decimated much of the Florida coastline, as well as further north towards the Carolinas, so the waves were larger than usual and the currents were stronger.
I remember playing in the waves with my sister, and I got knocked over and pulled under a wave. The current was strong and I struggled, and I remember panicking thinking I was going to drown. Then I reached my feet down and felt the sand there, and stood up…. in a few inches of water. I was already out of it, and safe.
Although I may never fully be out of the dark trial of losing my mom, I have faith and hope that I will be able to get through any others along the way.
One Last Hallelujah
As I have been playing this song on repeat the past few days, I looked up the original lyrics to it, which was written by Leonard Cohen. There were some secret verses he would sometimes perform at live shows that were not a part of the original score. This was one of them:
I did my best, it wasn’t much I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you And even though it all went wrong I’ll stand before the Lord of Song With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Sometimes that little Hallelujah, all that I can give in that moment, no matter how broken or lonely or cold it is, is all I can give of my faith. And it’s enough. And these hardships and trials I will keep facing are just shaping me and molding me into the person I am meant to become. At the end of it all, I will be a better person for what I’ve gone through; the good and the bad!
And on days where I miss my mom (which is everyday) I’ll just keep holding onto everything I learned from her while she was here, and give thanks for the time that we did have. And I’ll let all of these trails and experiences help me become a woman, maybe even a mother one day, just like her.
“God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” – C.S. Lewis
You might not think that 106 degree weather in the Arizona desert sounds like much of a vacation, right?
Well, for me this past weekend in Scottsdale was just that!
Planning months in advance, our annual girls trip finally happened this weekend and I was so excited to see some of my best and closest girl friends. Some I haven’t been able to see in years!
And the time in the desert was just what my heart needed; 106 degrees and all!
Now, this isn’t any ordinary kind of girls trip. These woman, these 7 incredibly strong, brave, hysterically funny woman; they might never know how much I adore and look up to each of them. They are amazing each in their own way, and have all influenced my life for the better. These girls are essential members of my powerful Pride of Women that I explained in this post.
There’s a saying I heard back in the day that the people you meet in college will be your friends for the rest of your life, and with these women it could not be more accurate. I love these warrior women so much and I was so excited to spend an entire weekend with them!
We were lucky enough to have found an incredible deal on newly renovated The Scott Resort (formally known as FireSky) in Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona. Since we were there for their re-opening weekend celebrations, they definitely rolled out the red carpets!
This resort was SO adorable! All of the decors was cute and thoughtful, and had the coolest vibe to it. It was definitely right up my aesthetic alley!
If you ever find yourself in Scottsdale, I highly recommend this place. The service was excellent (not to mention they offer a free shuttle service to and from the resort within a 3 mile radius which saved us TONS on money that we would have had to spend on Ubers!) Plus, the location was perfect for everything Scottsdale had to offer.
We spent our time laying out in the sandy beach at their pool, shopping at Fashion Square Mall right down the street, eating at so many delicious close by restaurants like Postino, and just spending some good quality girl time together.
On our last night, we were all hanging out in one of the many cute cabanas they had on the grounds. We were girl talking and taking turns answering questions to “get to know each other’. Even though we obviously already know one another, it’s a fun way to learn more about one another and get even closer. I laughed so much that my abs were literally sore the next morning!
One of the questions we asked was for each of us to say what we thought people came to us for, and then we would take turns going around the circle saying what we each went to that individual girl for. As we went around the circle, we each expressed the love and adoration we had for one another, telling each other what we needed and came to one another for.
One we go to for wise advice about health, food, deep convos, and funny embarrassing stories. One we go to for plants and crystals, cool vibes, and is beyond thoughtful. One is generally our leader when it comes to organizing plans and trips, gives logical advice, and is makes everything fun. One is the best listener, and has the biggest sweetest heart; not to mention is funny without even trying! Another has the ability to make you feel like the most important person in the world while she talks about you and learns all about you, and has the best sense of humor. One of the strongest-willed women I know, and despite it all continues to work hard and has the ability to always see the good on the horizon. The last is incredibly sweet, kind, and has a feisty hidden personality that we all love!
When it came to me, I was so touched by the heart-felt sentiments they expressed about me too. I honestly teared up!
As a collective whole, we are one amazing and powerful group of women. My heart was replenished, recharged, and is feeling so full after seeing all of them! I am counting down the days to our next girls trip, just like Stanley counts down until the next Pretzel Day at their Scranton Dunder Mifflin office.
Success Supports Success
There’s a quote I read the other day that I loved:
Behind every successful woman
is a tribe of other successful women,
who have her back
I love this, because we as women definitely need to continue to support and raise each other up! Sometimes girls and women can be so catty, negative and cruel to one another it just blows my mind! It’s hard enough being a woman in today’s world, can’t we all just support and love one another??
Going along with that quote, my tribe of women all support each other, and have all helped one another be stronger; whether or not we have even realized it! We are total #bossbabes. Don’t know what that is? Here’s the definition (in my own words):
A successful woman who owns a business, or owns her own life ‘like a boss.’ She isn’t afraid to get what she wants, she is in control of her life and makes no apologies or excuses for who she is.
So, I’ve put together a list of 10 things I believe every #bossbabe woman should be doing in order to be more successful and much happier in every aspect of her life. Each one was inspired from my girl tribe from this weekend!
10 Habits of a #BossBabe
1. Have a Personal Mission Statement
This one may sound a little odd, but if you have your own mission statement, it really does help you be more successful!
Think about it, every company or successful person seems to have one:
Walt Disney – “To make people happy”
Amazon – “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers
can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and
endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”
Google – “To organize the world’s information and make it universally
accessible and useful.”
So, why wouldn’t you, a successful boss babe, have your own equally great mission statement?? Am I right?
The reason having a mission statement helps you, is because it forces you to have a purpose, and to clarify what is important to you. Through it, you express what you value most and what your aspirations are.
Also, seeing and repeating it to yourself everyday helps to drive you towards those goals, and to becoming that boss babe you know you can be!
What’s my mission statement? I’ve been thinking about it ever since I started outlining this post. For now, as it is still a work in progress, I think mine is this:
Redefine Yourself – Recover Your Pieces – Rediscover Your Life
This quote is on my main page of my blog. It sounds more like a mantra, but I think a mantra and a mission statement can be one in the same. I like it, and those are definitely things I want to accomplish in my life, and they are things I value tremendously right now.
What’s your mission statement? Feel free to share it with us in the comments below so we can see it! 🙂
2. Recite Positive Affirmations Daily
I’ve talked about positive affirmations a few times, but it’s because I really believe in them! The mornings that I read them I feel more confident, and feel more ready to take on my day. Sounds cheesy… but it’s true!
Improving your relationship with yourself is a major key when it comes to success, self-confidence, and being happy! And when you literally recite positive things, like affirmations, to yourself, you are making yourself happier by doing so.
According to the CBT (Cognitive Behavior Theory) your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all related. So if you are reciting and implanting those good thoughts and vibes into your mind, you are essentially going to make your behaviors and feelings equally as positive. The result? You are happier!
It’s science people.
What are some of your favorite positive affirmations? Here are some I’ve been reciting lately:
I have the power to create change
I am worth everything
Just be kind and brave. That’s all you ever need
Know some good ones I can add to my list? Leave em in the comments!!
3. Recharge & Refocus
Life is pure chaos sometimes. So often I find myself feeling like I am in this insane wind tunnel, trying to focus on all the things I have to do and I can’t!
The thing that we forget to do is to recharge and refocus ourselves, so that we can have the energy and the dedicated mindset to focus on our tasks. If you are on 3 hours of sleep and needing to write a well punctuated and grammatically correct email for work, is that going to be easy for you? Probs not.
That whole “I can sleep when I’m dead” mentality may have worked when I was 21 in college and pulling all-nighters, but now in my ripe old age of 33 I know I need more sleep. Otherwise I can’t function, and I may as well be dead; but more like the walking dead because I’m a zombie.
It’s not just about sleep either though; recharging and refocusing can also be personal mediation. It’s important to take time for yourself very single day, to do some mediation. And it doesn’t need to be literally sitting cross-legged on a yoga map with your eyes closed chanting things in your head (although sometimes that is definitely needed and so helpful!)
No, you can honestly just take the time for yourself everyday to just stop and slow down, and re-organize yourself. Think of it as a time-out during a crucial final quarter of a football or basketball game. Sometimes it gets a little hectic and they take the time out to regroup the team, and figure out their next plays; as well as going back in the game with a fresh mind-set.
So, take a time-out!
Use time for yourself everyday to refocus your goals and your priorities, and recharge yourself!
4. Invest In Yourself
The most important investment you will ever make is in yourself.
That’s right; you need to invest more into Y-O-U!
For example, think about investing into buying a house. You shopped around and finally bought your dream home! You’ve poured so much money into filling it with beautiful furniture and things, making an necessary repairs or upgrades, and up-keeping it so it stays beautiful and feels like home forever!
Well, you are like that house. Except much… MUCH… more important!
So, to fully utilize your important investment in yourself, you need to take the right steps to keep up the value of said investment. How do you do that? There’s a lot of different things you can do:
Never stop learning! Take education seriously, even if you never go to college or earn a degree, just never stop learning! Because knowledge is powerful! And the more powerful you are and the more things you know, the more confident and successful you will be.
Fill your heart and soul with lovely, positive things. Pray, meditate, recite mantras and affirmations… whatever makes you happy!
Learn how to shake off the shame culture. Forgive yourself more easily, and move on. You’re going to fail and you’re going to mess up; it’s a part of life and it’s not worth holding onto. Let it go!
Take care of yourself on the outside too! Workout, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and sleep!
#treatyoself. That’s right, I said it and I meant it! If you want to treat yourself to hair extensions, lash extensions, or splurging on some expensive clothes or shoes… DO IT! Not all the time, you must have self-control, but sometimes you need to treat yourself! It will make you happier to every so often treat yourself to something nice. Also? Life is short.. so eat the damn donuts.
The bottom line here, is you are an amazing and wonderful investment, but you have to believe it and take care of yourself to continue adding more and more to your already incredible value.
Invest in yourselves boss babes!!
5. Read More – Screens Less!
If you know me, you know I love to read books! I currently have about 5 books on my night stand I’m trying to read simultaneously… because I’m a nerd.
But, reading is important for your sanity and for your success! Here’s a list of 24 books successful people read just for some examples if you’re looking for something to read!
The act of reading, particularly engaged reading, as opposed to the mechanics of reading, is a powerful predictor of life success by any measure. It is the best predictor of who goes to university regardless of socio-economic background. It is the best predictor of life income, career options, even life partner choices. And neuroscience is proving that reading fiction is one of the most powerful means of developing sympathetic individuals, with better social skills and higher levels of self esteem, resulting in increasing self improvement and prosocial behaviours.
My new goal lately has been to read more books and use my screens less – meaning my phone, laptop, and tv. It’s tough sometimes, I’ll admit it! But isn’t it scary to anyone else how reliant we are on just our smart phones alone? It’s like we can’t function as humans without a phone glued to our hands anymore.
So read more and use screens less, and you’ll find more success! It’s honestly that simple!
6. Accept Your Challenges Head On
This weekend my one girlfriend reminded me of one of her most recent Instagram posts about challenges and trials. Here’s the link if you want to see it, or below is part of it quoted:
I am going to take a lesson today from how buffalo and cows handle storms in Colorado.
Only the strongest storms come over the ridge of the giant Rocky Mountains to the east. When a storm comes the cows see it & start to run from it. Seems logical, but the problem is they don’t move fast enough & before long the storm is over them, moving in the same direction as they are maximizing the pain & hurt
Buffalos react much differently. They see the storm, gather together, and turn HEAD ON STRAIGHT into the STORM. Seems illogical at first thought, BUT they go the opposite way the storm is moving & make it out of the storm faster with less harm taking it head on in the long run.
If only we could be brave like the buffalo, and head straight on into our trials instead of trying to outrun them and avoid them for as long as we can.
In the long run, it’s better to face them head on. Sometimes its not easier to do so, but it is better and makes us stronger.
Just like in this post here I quoted, “What challenges you changes you.” At the time it may suck, and it might hurt, but in the end we will become a better and more successful person because of it.
Through challenges we grow, we learn, and we become stronger. So be a buffalo, not a cow, and handle those challenges like a successful #bossbabe.
7. Make Socializing a Priority
I will be the first to admit that I am the worst lately when it comes to being social. In fact, I always warn people about how I’m anti-social and to not take it personally! I’ve talked a lot about how much easier it is sometimes for me to stay home and not go out (with all my PTSD anxiety and such I explained in this post) but I know I need to be more social because it’s for my own good.
Not to mention, the more social you are the more successful you will be in life!
As humans, we need connection, affection, and communication to feel normal and happy. If you tend to be more like me, Ms. Hermit McHermitsen over here, you will feel more detached from the world the more anti-social you are. It’s just not good, you need friends and interactions!
Part of being successful in any aspect of life is having the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, and to make connections with them. Networking is not just some word people throw around for fun, it’s a real thing! And it’s really really important for success.
Apparently your success depends on the people you know, and that could not be more true! The more people you socialize with, the bigger your network reach is, and the bigger your success potential is!
So go socialize already! Make new friends, go outside your comfort zone! Network outside of your own work circle, be spontaneous, and build up your social network! All you’ve got to lose is that dent in the couch you’ve been making thats forming around your body every night you stay in and binge watch shows.
Successful people socialize, and they’re happier too!
8. Focus on One Thing at a Time
Easier said than done these days, right? There’s always so much happening at once.
But, if you can, try to just focus in on one thing at a time.
This weekend in our round-robin of girl talk, we each said one thing we wanted to work on in our lives. I said I wanted to start making smaller goals to accomplish at a time, instead of trying to focus on one huge goal that seemed impossible to ever get to.
I think I nailed it with that, because too often we have our eyes on the big prize at the end, instead of realistically focusing on the smaller prizes that will each act as a stepping stone to get us to the end.
In the wise words of Bob (Bill Murray from the movie What About Bob?), “Baby steps!” Or can we actually change it up? How about “boss-babe steps.” Sounds better 🙂
If we can take the time to re-prioritize our goals into smaller, more realistic and obtainable goals, we can get ourselves to the bigger ones later.
And, don’t forget to celebrate yourself when you hit your goals! Go back to #4 and TREAT YO SELF!
I know what you’re thinking, “Smile? That’s it? That’s so easy!”
Well yes, my friends, it is that easy.
Smiling makes you feel better, and gives you confidence, and it can be shared! Have you ever done the simple test of smiling at everyone you see? Every time I do it, they almost always smile back at me. And you know what? They probably keep smiling at other people too, and so on and so forth… therefore, a smile and create hundreds maybe even thousands of other smiles!
Once you’ve mastered the whole smile thing, then you can go about the rest of your day feeling that boost of confidence. And what do confident people do? They succeed!
10. Have a Big Heart
One thing that I have tried to do ever since I lost my mom 3 years ago, has been to serve others to help my own heart ache to hurt a little less. And, after my own abusive marriage and broken heart, I have reached out even further to try and serve and help others as much as I can.
The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity — Leo Tolstoy
In today’s society I feel like treating each other with kindness and love is quickly becoming an outdated habit. The world can be mean, dark, and selfish. What better way to help bring back that light than to have a big heart towards others?
I also want to continue to serve others and give as much as I can, because so many people in my life have lifted me in my own times and helped me through desperate moments. I feel I must pay it forward and do that to others, to pass it along and help brighten up the world.
Each of those girls in my tribe from my trip this weekend has helped me so many times. They give without thought, they love, they support, and they comfort. It is so inspiring to be around them, and their loving energy. It made me want to come home and do more!
And that is how a true successful boss babe should be; always humble enough to remember that she was once in the shoes of the ones who need the help.
Despite my heart being previously crushed, I will never let my love to serve others be diminished. It’s through that service I can truly heal it back to being whole again.
Total Boss Babe
Really, what it all boils down to, is you are the average of the 5 people closest to you. Looking at that aspect now, how successful, how powerful, how happy are you on average??
This weekend, my cup was running over with a 100% boss babe success average. And in my life I have so many other incredible and powerful women in my pride that fiercely love me, and inspire me to push through anything that comes my way.
With everything and everyone I have in my life, and I have no choice but to keep going towards becoming the total boss babe I know I can. And each of you can too, I believe in you!
The holidays are meant to be a time of joy and love, surrounded by family and friends. Even if you don’t necessarily affiliate yourself with a particular religion, it is still just that time of year when everyone feels that urge to spend time with loved ones, and celebrate the soon coming close of the past 12 months.
However, for anyone else out there that has lost a loved one, the holidays are also a time where we can feel a particular kind of sadness or heaviness.
And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling
You’ll be doin’ all right, with your Christmas of white
But I’ll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas
Growing up, some of my favorite memories were around Christmas. It was a time our whole family was together, when my dad didn’t have to constantly be traveling for work, and we could just enjoy some quality time.
My mom made every holiday special and fun, she just had this amazing gift at creating joy and excitement even out of the smallest and most mundane things.
We had a lot of fun family traditions for the holidays, including family Black Friday shopping (before it’s become the insanely worldly and awful day that it is nowadays), opening one present on Christmas Eve together (which was always pajamas!), and constantly rocking some amazing Christmas tunes like Manheim Steamroller.
There are two traditions, however, that remain my favorites.
The first: Every year in Pennsylvania we would go out that Saturday after Thanksgiving, driving about an hour and a half away, to go cut down a Christmas tree. The tree farm was located out in farm country, and it was so beautiful. We would go with family friends and just make a fun day of it all.
The second: my mom started a fun traditional game when I was in high school, which she named The Candy Sleigh Races. Basically what you do, is you start with a sleigh base of a king-size candy bar of your choice. Some are better for aerodynamics, others are heavier and better for speed. Then you tape on the accessories including candy cane runners, a chocolate Santa rider, and whatever else you want to help your sled win. Using a tilted table as the race course, you do heats of 2 to eventually find your winner.
Ever since my mom passed away, we have continued to do the sleigh races together in her honor, re-naming it “Nana’s Annual Candy Sleigh Races”, and the winner of which takes home the trophy which is a decorated framed photo of her. I’m sure it makes her laugh watching us race in her honor every year, and I know each time she is there cheering each sleigh on.
The best part was always naming my sleighs. Some of my favorite names from the past years:
Fast and the Festivus
See Ya (thanks to Andy and Alex in high school)
Sleigh All Day
Sleigh My Name
Ho Ho H-OK I Win
Waiting Under the Miss-You-Toe
When my mom passed away in February 2015, I remember one night feeling grateful that we had been able to spend just one more Christmas together as a family. What a wonderful blessing and tender mercy to have that with her one last time.
Now whenever the holidays creep up on me, so do those heavy feelings of grief. Despite everyone saying, “things will get easier”, they actually never do. I can go for weeks without feeling weighed down by the grief of missing my mom, and then suddenly something will trigger a memory and I will be pulled right back into those deep, drowning waters.
So I am constantly just waiting under the -miss-you-toe of the holiday season, desperately missing my mom and wishing I could have just one more Christmas with her.
I am actually grateful for the grief though. Maybe that’s a really weird thing to say, but hear me out.
When we miss someone, and grieve their absence in our lives, it means that we truly loved them and had such a deep connection with them that was meaningful and important. And constantly going through the cycle of grief helps us to remember them forever and live our lives everyday with a little piece of them always with us.
So there is such a thing as good grief after all. And every holiday season that rolls around I find myself relishing in those memories of my mom, no matter how many tears I’ll cry or how blue I may feel; because those moments are the ones that I’ll always cherish in my heart and I’m so grateful to always have her close to my heart.
Did any of you know that there is actually a real holiday called Blue Christmas? I had no idea until I was doing some research for this post.
Apparently every December, Blue Christmas is celebrated on the the longest night of the year; the winter solstice which falls on December 21.
On the night of Blue Christmas, it is a night to celebrate and mourn the loss of those we have loved. What a wonderful and reverent concept, to go spend some time reflecting and meditating on whatever loss it is you are grieving.
I for one, will definitely be finding my own way to celebrate Blue Christmas, whether I find a local church doing some sort of service that night, or I may make my own new tradition.
Whatever loss or heart ache you are grieving, especially during the holidays, just remember that you are never alone in your pain. I hope each of you can find some peace this month, and find that good kind of grief that can help heal your heart.