23 Days to Say Goodbye

Recently, my aunt passed away after just under a year of the all too familiar “brave battle with cancer.” Even though she was 20 years older than my mom, up to the day she was diagnosed (and even here and there afterward), our family was convinced she would outlive us all. Certainly, she would at least make it to 100. She was sharp, active, and extremely health-conscious. She played tennis, for pete’s sake! It made no sense when she, a non-smoker, suddenly had Stage 4 lung cancer. The denial and bargaining started immediately. There must be a mistake. Maybe there is a cure. If nothing else, a miracle will happen, surely.

My aunt was one of very few Midwestern women I knew who made it through her adulthood without getting married or having children. As a child, I didn’t know what to make of that, but as a married adult with two daughters, I feel so grateful to have had her example in my life. I’m thankful my girls have someone they can point to and say, “Look! She did not need a partner in her life to feel whole.”

My aunt was independent, capable, financially secure, and completely confident in who she was. She sought comfort in nature, in a loyal pet, in traveling and gathering experiences, and most certainly, in connecting with her family, particularly my mom.

Throughout 2018, she had good days and bad days, but by the beginning of 2019, the good days became fewer and farther between. When my mom went to visit her in Arizona in February, everything was different. My mom called and said, “If you want to come, I think you should come now.”

My husband and I decided the best thing would be for me to take our eldest down for a long weekend. It was the right choice. At almost 8 years old, she was old enough to handle the trip, but still young enough to ignore a lot of what was happening.

We told her my aunt was dying, and she understood, but she also just wanted to go swimming and horseback riding and push my aunt’s little poodle around in a stroller. So we did. She made us laugh and gave us excuses to do things that were fun and pointless. She asked hard questions that made us think about our beliefs about death and Heaven and about what to teach kids and when. She broke our hearts open when she cried, and she let us be strong for her when we couldn’t be strong for ourselves. She was our saving grace on that trip, and she didn’t even know it.

We returned to Sioux Falls, unsure if we had just said goodbye to my aunt for the last time. As it turned out, she would fly back to Sioux Falls less than a week later. 10 days after her arrival, it became apparent she needed professional care around the clock. She entered the hospice house on a Friday and passed away less than two weeks later, 23 days after she returned to Sioux Falls. Sounds fast, right? It feels fast now. At the time, it was anything but.

I want so much to forget those 23 days in favor of happier ones, but I know those are the days that need parsing. Those are the days other people need to know about. During those days, I was looking for help, for support, for understanding, for a glimpse of wisdom from someone else who had been through 23 days of their own.

Search as I might, I didn’t find anything. There were no “how to” articles, no advice columns, no checklists for saying goodbye. How was I supposed to know how to act or what to say? How could I be sure I was doing everything I should be doing? We were all so lost.

Waiting for someone you love to die seems like God’s gift and cruel joke all at the same time. I wanted every second with her and wanted it to be over all at the same time. I wanted to press pause. I wanted to move forward. I wanted to take a leave of absence from work so I could be there, and I wanted to never have to go into that hospice house again. I wanted to have a really heartfelt goodbye, exchange the perfect knowing look, and tie everything up with a bow like in the movies. I wanted a do-over everyday. Every morning, I wanted the relief that she was still alive. Every morning, I wanted the relief that she had let go and was no longer suffering.

I wanted her to say something really profound to me that I could carry forever. I wanted to say something to her that would mean more than everything I had already said. I wanted her to tell me a secret she had never shared with anyone. I wanted to be content to know everything had been said. I wanted her to fight. I wanted her to feel the peace that surpasses understanding. I wanted to be there and hold her hand through her last breath. I wanted to be at home, and hold my husband’s hand when someone called to tell me she had passed.

Most of all, I wanted a miracle. She was actively dying, but I suppose once in a while, someone stops dying and gets better, right? It has happened before, I’m sure. It could happen now. People have been miraculously cured. Why not her?

But then, I’d pray for peace. Well, God, if you won’t give us a miracle, then give us peace, I guess.

When someone is dying, acceptance just feels like resignation. Giving up. How can you accept something devastating that hasn’t actually happened yet? And yet, is it healthier to come to terms with it before it happens? Did she?

She seemed so removed from the physical world. She didn’t care much about what was happening around her. She didn’t want to talk. She didn’t want to watch TV. No music. No nature. What was she thinking? Were there things she wanted to say? Was she afraid? Did she understand what was happening?

The hospice nurses and their brochures said “dying is a process.” And just like any other process, there were stages. But just like everything else in the human experience, it is a little different for everyone. It was really difficult to think of it as a process. This is the last thing she will ever go through, the end of her existence on earth, and we are using a sterile word like process? It just didn’t fit. And it certainly wasn’t comforting.

Then one morning my mom called me. “They say she is unresponsive now.” I met her at the hospice house later that day.

Each time she took a breath, I thought it might be her last. Part of me hoped it was. Being present for her last breath seemed like such an enduring act of love, one last way I could be there for her. But then again, I didn’t want to carry that memory with me. She had gone through everything in her life independently – wouldn’t it be more fitting for her to do this alone as well? She was never afraid of being by herself.

In the end, she passed in the early morning hours on a Thursday. Peacefully, we were told.

As we planned the memorial service, I counted and re-counted the amount of times I went to visit her in hospice. Did I do enough? Did she know how much she meant to me? Should I have poured my heart out? I still don’t know those answers. I guess I never will.

Now, 6 months later, I am once again watching a loved one die slowly. This time, a dog. Our 8 year old black lab has a large tumor on his liver that is eating up all his calories. We are trying our best to stay ahead of the tumor’s appetite, but Murphy’s ribs show a little more every day. The vet says he probably has a month or two.

He’s still happy as hell. He wants to play tug of war, chase the squirrels, have his tummy rubbed. But I know that will change soon, and I don’t want to go through it. I don’t want my husband and kids to go through it. But once again, I’m helpless.

I wanted to write this to help people going through this odd purgatory with someone they love, but I guess I don’t have advice, and I haven’t found a “how to” guide.

The best I can do is take a few pages from AA. Take it “one day at a time,” ask God to grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. I think that’s all we can do.

Each day, I see Murphy’s wagging tail and giant pink tongue, and I think to myself: Not today. Let tomorrow worry about itself, right? All we ever really have is today anyway.

Ride the Coaster

Like a lot of adults over 30, I did not get to choose how I spent my birthday this year. So, there I was, celebrating at Valleyfair in Shakopee, Minnesota, home of Wild Thing, a rollercoaster that goes as high in the air as it can without interfering with incoming aircraft, reaching speeds higher than most states allow on any interstate freeway.

I am not even remotely an adrenaline junkie. In fact, my idea of a rush is not wearing my life jacket on a pontoon ride. But instead of fighting against the tide of my family’s excitement, I tried to make the best of it while setting very clear boundaries.

More than once, I declared, “It’s my birthday, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I don’t want to do.”

A strong backbone only goes so far in the face of a begging 8 year old, so luckily, I had an even better excuse to refuse to ride – my 5 year old. She is the perfect size for the Planet Snoopy rides but just a couple inches shy of the minimum for the more intense rides.

“You guys go,” I said to my husband and oldest daughter. “I’ll stay with her.”

It made me feel like a good mom. The little one was happy I was with her. Dad and big sister got to ride all the rides they wanted. I didn’t have to do anything that scared me. It was a win-win-win-win. Or so I thought.

Every so often, they circled back with us, eyes lit up like matching blue fireworks, smiles plastered across their faces.

“Steel Venom is the best!”

“That’s my favorite so far too! Should we do the Rip Cord?”

“Yeah! But let’s not do the Starship again. That was boring.”

“We should definitely go on Delirious though, and the Corkscrew again for sure.”

The two of them were speaking a language I didn’t understand. I started to feel like I was missing out as they took off for more adventures.

I waved to the little one as she rode up and down on the Kite-Eating Tree, but my eyes kept wandering over to the coasters.

I used to like this stuff. Maybe I should just do it.

My heart fluttered. Butterflies started dancing in my stomach. I could hear my heartbeat as my breath quickened ever so slightly.

Nah, forget it.

How often do we as moms do this? We “opt out” to watch the little ones. We use our motherly duties as an excuse to not take risks, or do scary things, or get out of our comfort zones. And, many times, we do so happily, convinced we are doing what is right, what is expected, and something no one can argue with.

I’m calling B.S.

Not on sitting out at Valleyfair – on sitting out at life. We have to stop using our kids as scape-goats.

Of course, there are legitimate times we need to tag out. Nobody wants to see you run a marathon with a newborn strapped to your chest. But if you are beyond that mentally and physically consuming stage of motherhood, step back and ask yourself if you are using your kids as an excuse not to try.

Being a mom takes a ton of time and energy, but it also builds invaluable skills that are needed in every aspect of our world. If you are a mom, you are a peacemaker, a rule-maker, an educator, a caretaker, a quick-thinking problem solver, and a hell of a strategist. If you weren’t, there is no way you could hold your head up long enough to read this. We need moms – like you and me – to be out there following our callings, building bridges, uniting communities.

If we “opt out” and use motherhood as an excuse, what is that saying to our kids, especially our daughters? Be a mom OR… something else. You can’t do both. I don’t know about you, but this is not the message I want my daughters to receive.

I want my daughters to know you can be an awesome mom AND…

…have a career.

…compete in sports.

…volunteer in your community.

….advocate for something you believe in.

…do something for no other reason than you love it and it’s fun.

So how do you ensure they are receiving the right message? It’s not by reigning them in and never letting them leave your sight. It’s by doing. By setting an example. By showing them that you can be a mom, this magical person who cures all ills, AND.

We cannot afford to have moms sitting on the sidelines. We have to play the game. We have to ride the Wild Thing.

And I did, literally. I screamed…a lot. I giggled…a lot. I thought I was going to throw up for a few seconds. But I know I made my daughter proud, and that was worth every terrifying second.

The Lazy Composter

Do you ever put something off because you think it is going to be really hard, but then when you finally do it, it was actually not that bad? Maybe it’s working out, finishing a work project, giving birth (okay, that really is THAT BAD). Recently for me, it was composting.

I love the Earth. I know, we all do, right? But I’ve really been making an effort to be more green in lots of small ways. I try not to use one-time use plastic. I’ve quit buying disposable water bottles. I’m trying to push a green agenda at the office. And for several years now, I’ve wanted to start composting. We eat fresh fruits and vegetables like they are going out of style. Throwing away all those carrot peels and apple cores makes me feel sick. All that biodegradable stuff is just stuck in a plastic bag to go fill up the landfills.

So this year for Mother’s Day, my gift was a composter! I was so excited to have the whole family on board, especially my husband because (let’s be real) a lot of the work was going to fall on him. I’m the house spouse. He’s the yard spouse. It works for us.

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We ended up ordering this bad boy from Costco online. If you get this one, be sure to summon all your patience before putting it together. It’s a bit of a bugger at first. It’s 100% recycled plastic with two different bins so you can let one pile do its thing and still have a place to put your stuff. It spins, so there is no need to stir the compost once you put it in the bin. It looks like it would smell bad, but it really doesn’t. I mean, I didn’t stick my head in there or anything, but when you open up a bin of hot garbage, you would expect an odor. But, nope! It’s not bad at all.

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This one comes with two separate sides, so you can add to one side and leave the other side to “brew.”

For the house, we got this cute one gallon pail with a charcoal filter. Looks cute, works well, and most importantly – no smell and hence, no fruit flies. The inner black bucket comes out, so it’s easy to carry it out to the composter (or that’s what the hubby tells me). I’m kind of kidding. I have taken the bucket out there myself several times, and I certainly could do it every time. It’s just that he always seems to be going out there to do something anyway, so it just makes sense, right?

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The gallon size is big, but I find it the right size for us with all the veggie prep we do.

So, what do we put in it? Coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels and cores, egg shells, grass clippings (some), and sawdust. No meat, no dairy, no salad dressing, no fats like oil and butter. That stuff makes the bin smell bad and attracts critters. Our bin came with a really handy yes/no sheet, which we looked at 5,000 times the first day and not even once since then.

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Smell has not been a factor, but I also think coffee grounds help with that.

 

We decided to get a compost starter to get things moving a little faster. We just added a couple tablespoons of the microbes to the bin and gave it a few spins.

Composting is so much easier than I ever thought it would be. I am sad I waited so long to start, but I’m really glad I finally jumped in and did it. You could do it too!

Go To Nashville

Y’all, go to Nashville. Seriously.

I’m from the Midwest and probably have no right to use the term y’all, but I’m going to because y’all need to go there. Even if you don’t like bbq. Even if you think Jason Aldean is a hack. Even if you have never seen one episode of the extremely popular hit series by the same name.

There is truly something for everyone in this city. Want a laid back lounge? Hit Skull’s Rainbow Room. Want a rockin’ honkey tonk? Check out every corner of Broadway. Just want to eat some great food? Go anywhere in the Gulch, especially for brunch. Want a history lesson? Take a plantation tour, or go through any of the various music museums.

Where to stay and where to go:

We stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in the Gulch, which is about a mile off of Broadway (Nashville’s version of “the strip”). As our Lyft driver put it, “Five years ago, no one went to the Gulch without a gun.” Today, it’s a revitalized hipster haven with tons of restaurants/bars/venues within walking distance. The streets are not nearly as crowded as Broadway, and there are no souvenir shops (I looked). I would highly recommend staying in the Gulch. That way, you can take on the chaos of Broadway only after you’ve had your coffee, a nice brunch, and about 10 mimosas.

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My crew was ready for the bright lights of Broadway!

Broadway has all the action. There is a party every 10 feet, so if you don’t like one vibe, you can move on to the next. For instance, Acme Feed & Seed has 4 levels, each with its own theme. The main floor has more of a diner feel with a full band every night of the weekend. The second floor is a dance club/lounge. The third is a mystery to me, as it was closed for a private party, but on the 4th level, the rooftop view is breathtaking and worth the climb. We  also loved Benchmark Nashville because of the quality of live music and the relatively laid back atmosphere. It’s basically like anyone’s hometown bar, but there’s a man/woman duo who plays there, and their talent is captivating.

 

Printer’s Alley is an easy walk just a few blocks off Broadway with a completely different vibe. I was taken by the concept of this area because it started as a place for newspaper printers, then turned into a series of speakeasies during Prohibition. When you enter Skull’s Rainbow Room, you jump right back in time. The peephole on the door, the low ceilings, the cozy booths. Next time I go to Nashville, I will make a reservation at this place. As it was, we could only stand around like morons while the people smart enough to think ahead sat and enjoyed what looked to be amazing food.

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Skull’s Rainbow Room @ Printer’s Alley  –                                                                                             Doesn’t look like much from this angle, but you get the speakeasy vibe.

The food:

I went to Nashville with one food goal in mind – hot chicken. And I never had it! I have no regrets. The restaurants were all top notch. Our first night, we indulged and spent more on one meal at The Chef & I than we normally spend on a month’s worth of groceries. Was it good? Yep. Would I do that again? Nope. I’m glad I did it once though. We ordered the chef’s tasting menu, which was 7 courses of Heaven including pork belly, Lobster Wellington, octopus, and seared Ahi tuna. Our greatest takeaway from that was the concept of avocado rice. I think that was worth the entire bill since we’ve started to make it at home now. (Look for a recipe soon!)

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Skil fish in a coconut curry sauce

The food at The Southern Steak & Oyster (just off Broadway) was just as good. The espresso martini was the perfect start, and the fried green tomatoes and cheese grits were the best appetizer I’ve ever had, hands down.

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The beautiful Nikki with her creamy espresso martini at The Southern.

Sambuca was another sweet spot in the Gulch. We went there too late (closes at 11), but I would go early and spend a whole night there next time. The Chris Weaver Band played fun dance covers with more energy than my daughter’s preschool class. Check him out when you get a chance. I would have never guessed that voice came out of that cowboy.

The two hottest brunch spots in Nashville are both in the Gulch. Milk & Honey has a total Joanna Gaines vibe and is just around the corner from the famed Nashville graffiti wings. The two hour wait gave us plenty of time to walk over to Music Row and drink a bucket (yes, a BUCKET) of mimosas at Frisky Frog’s. Happy Anniversary to us!

 

I don’t know if this is nostalgia talking since it was our last meal in Nashville, but I think my favorite dish of the whole trip was at Biscuit Love…Bonuts. These magical creatures are some sort of mix between a biscuit and a donut, laid upon a bed of blueberry compote and topped with a lemon mascarpone. I literally licked the plate.

 

 

Other Stuff To Do:

The Opry – Go to the Grand Ole Opry. It’s so cool. There’s so much history, the building is gorgeous, the seats are comfy, and you get to see 12 different artists perform. Our lineup was amazing, but even if you don’t know a single soul on the stage, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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Darius Rucker at the Opry

The Johnny Cash Museum – I love Johnny Cash, and now that I’ve been to his museum, I love him even more. There’s no tour guide or anything, so you can just walk through at your own pace. If you have some time, there are a lot of fun listening stations. I was especially impressed with Snoop Dogg’s cover of I Walk the Line.

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Belle Meade Plantation – The only sunny day we had was our last day, so we didn’t get to spend nearly enough time at Belle Meade. The 8 miles between Nashville and the plantation are so different from the city with sprawling lawns, colonial houses, and hundreds of towering Magnolia trees. The plantation itself is several acres, but the family used to own the entire area where the town is now. The family’s mansion still stands, along with several outbuildings, including slave quarters and a distillery. I would have loved to take the “African American Experience” tour, but that was full, so we toured the mansion instead. The tour guides dress in costume, and they’re extremely knowledgeable about the time period and the family. It truly makes history come to life.

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Formerly a slave, the horse trainer lived here with his family.

Scooters – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the scooters in Nashville. Although our traveling was done by foot or by Lyft, we saw these scooters everywhere! Various kinds from various companies, as well as various levels of sobriety in the riders. (P.S. I’ve heard the locals hate them.)

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I’ll say it again – y’all, go to Nashville! The music, the food, the atmosphere, the history. There is something for everyone! Well… except the kids. Leave the kids at home for this one.

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5 Things that Surprised Me About Getting Hearing Aids

Aaahhh!!!!! What the hell is in my ear????

Oh yeah, I have hearing aids now. No big deal. Or is it?

I certainly did not think hearing aids would be a thing in the early second half of my thirties (NOT late thirties, mind you). But what do you know, they are. The first two weeks, I thought about them constantly. Will they ever feel comfortable? Are they working? What’s that noise? Can people see them? And if I stopped thinking about them for one second, I would start swatting and say,

“What the hell is in my ear????!!!!”

Oh yeah. I have hearing aids now. And the cycle would continue.

Here are 5 things that surprised me about getting hearing aids:

  1. I didn’t realize how much I needed them until I had them.

My hearing loss started over 8 years ago when I was in my twenties and pregnant with my first child. My ears started ringing constantly, but my OB told me it would likely go away once I had the baby. (Something about increased blood flow during pregnancy. I don’t know. I couldn’t hear half of what she said. HA!) When it didn’t subside, I headed to an ENT. I had a terrible head cold that day and convinced myself that was what caused the hearing test to show I had mild hearing loss. Frankly, I was just there to rule out a brain tumor, so once I did, I stopped listening. I learned to live with the ringing in my ears (tinnitus), using white noise to mask it when it got bad.

Then, a few months ago, I started hearing my heart beat in my ears. I found it pretty hard to ignore, and when I discovered that a friend from college had opened an audiology clinic across the street from my office, it felt like a sign. After running the gamut of tests and making me laugh away my anxiety, Melissa told me my hearing loss had gotten worse, and she would recommend hearing aids in both ears.

Uh, what?

I was shocked at first because I really didn’t feel like I had that much trouble hearing, but over the following weeks, it started to dawn on me – my husband’s annoyance with having to repeat himself, my preference for taking phone calls on speakerphone (or not at all), awkwardly smiling and nodding after missing half the conversation in a crowded restaurant, looking the wrong way when there was a noise in the distance. It all added up. I did struggle with hearing. I had just thought it was normal.

  1. Hearing aids are not covered by insurance.

The next shock was sticker shock. Hearing aids are not cheap, especially the most current technology. On top of that, the insurance industry views hearing aids as “nice to have” not “need to have,” which really fired me up. I was insulted by the idea that hearing is viewed as a luxury. Untreated hearing loss is linked to social isolation, depression, lower wages, and above all else, DEMENTIA.  Hearing stimulates specific paths in your brain that will shut down if they aren’t used, which can cause the loss of gray matter. People with untreated hearing loss are 2-3 times more likely to develop dementia! So, we’re not talking about my ears – we’re talking about my brain. I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly protective over my brain, so to me, hearing aids were 100% necessary. Despite what insurance companies think, untreated hearing loss doesn’t come without consequences.

Vision used to have the same problem. In fact, vision insurance didn’t exist until 1955 when a group of optometrists got together to form a non-profit vision benefit company. Now that we understand more about the effects of hearing loss, I predict the same for hearing coverage in the semi-near future.

  1. Having hearing aids doesn’t make me feel old.

It might make some people feel old, especially if the hearing loss is age-related, but my hearing loss started in my 20’s (where I still mentally live), so it didn’t make me feel old at all. Actually, with the blue-tooth technology my hearing aids have, they kind of make me feel cool. It’s like having invisible air pods in all the time.

  1. It’s emotional.

Even though no one can really see them and they don’t make me feel old, getting hearing aids was an emotional experience for me. The idea of needing “equipment” to go through my everyday life was disconcerting. It seemed like news I had to break to people. Sometimes, I was met with an overwhelming amount of sympathy.

Person: Oh my God, I am so sorry! Are you okay?

Me: Oh yeah, no big deal. Like 7 million Americans have them, so it’s super common.

Other times, I was met with a shrug.

Person: Oh, cool. I know 14 other people who have hearing aids.

Me: But this is a HUGE deal! Feel sorry for me and give me all your attention!

In short, it was a rollercoaster, and I really didn’t know how to feel about it.

  1. It quickly becomes normal.

I’ve never had to wear glasses, but that’s kind of how I view my hearing aids now. Every morning, I put them in. Every night, I take them out. I’ve gotten more familiar with the app that lets me adjust them for any given environment, and it can be fun to play around with it.

The good part about experiencing something like this is being able to guide other people through it. It can be scary and isolating and just plain confusing, but you’re not alone. Does the physical pain/discomfort go away? Yes. Does your brain adjust to all the new sounds you’re hearing? Yes. Will you still mistakenly think there is a bug in your ear once in a while? Yes. Or maybe that’s just me.

The Tightrope of Parenting

I participate in a group at church in which parents get together to discuss random life challenges while our kids attend Sunday School. Even though I can’t tell you the names of half the people in the group (and it’s like 5 people), I truly look forward to the conversations each week. I always end up learning something.

One week, a mom relayed a story about her preteen son getting into a fight. Or, rather, getting punched. Her reaction was very different from that of her husband. She was horrified by the fact that this happened at all and wanted to talk it out with the aggressor’s family. Her husband thought their son needed to stand up for himself and was disappointed he didn’t return the punch. As a group, none of us knew which one was right, and the mom herself had mixed feelings. Initially, I chalked this up as one more reason I’m happy I have two girls – less likelihood for physical confrontation. But that’s a stereotype, and even if it’s statistically true, having daughters does not make me immune from being faced with tough parenting choices.

Parenting is like walking a tightrope without a net. It’s a constant balance between being a confidant and a disciplinarian. The one who calms fears and the one who commands respect. The arms that hold you and the arms that push you forward. Should we shelter them from the storm or push them out into the rain? My philosophy sounds something like this – let them watch the rain from indoors while you teach them to build their own umbrella.

We can’t stop the rain from falling or the punches from being thrown. All we can do is build up our children so they are able to decide for themselves how to handle it when it happens. We may or may not agree with how it turns out, but at least the situation was theirs to own. They’ll never learn from our mistakes the way they will learn from their own. Our job is to help them process it all. Teach them to breathe. Help them discover who they are.

Kids are not a demonstration of our successful parenting techniques. They are people with personalities, tendencies, and genetic intricacies we will never fully understand. To think we can form them like balls of clay is absurd, and if you try, you will be constantly frustrated. Instead, let us treat them like the individuals they are, leading them down the wide path of human decency, making room for the millions of ways there are to walk it.

Easier said than done, I know…

I’m Done with Perfection-Induced Hatred

Hello there, mom with a baby on your hip, hair cut stylishly to your chin with bangs sweeping gently across your perfectly threaded eyebrows. You patiently smile at your toddler, crawling around your platform booties, reaching up toward your new Kate Spade bag. The wide windows of your recently built home backlight your silhouette, curved in every spot it should be and nowhere that it shouldn’t.

Today, I make you this promise. I will not hate you for being perfect. I will not tear you down for waking up early to go out for a run or to make a green smoothie. I will not judge you for paying attention to fashion trends or question you for being able to live on less sleep than a giraffe. I will not envy you for being able to work full-time or stay home more than full-time with the grace of Dutchess Kate. And I will not resent you for being better at social media photography than I will ever be.

I’m done with perfection-induced hatred. It’s hurtful for you and me personally, and for women in general. Henceforth, I shall respect the game you bring to Insta, learn from the organic treats you provide at Girl Scouts, and engage with you like the human being you are. I will not measure myself against you anymore. This world needs us both.

Get a Massage – 3 Things You Should Know

I am an expert at receiving massages. My qualifications include receiving many massages, talking about receiving massages, and now, writing about receiving massages. Recently, I was directed my a medical professional to get a massage every other week. It was by and large the most welcomed medical advice I have ever received.

Assuming you are not one of those people who doesn’t like to get massages (Note: the only reason I know these unicorns exist is because I’m related to one  – not by blood though, and I think that matters), receiving a professional massage is something you MUST do. If you have never had a professional massage, there are three things you should know.

  1. You will be almost completely naked with a stranger.

Don’t worry! You get undressed by yourself (most people keep their undies on) and you are under the warm sheets before the massage therapist comes back into the room. The sheet will cover your entire body except for the part that is currently being massaged. Most massage therapists are really great about maintaining your modesty and even look the other way when you roll over onto your stomach, which they typically direct you to do halfway through. And don’t worry about being cold, the table warmer is delightful.

  1. There will be good ones and bad ones.

Take recommendations from people you trust to find a good one. You will have your fair share of bad massages. They typically involve chasing some sort of groupon deal and ending up at an abandoned strip mall in a room where the music cuts in and out, the sheets are scratchy, and flannel blankets are nailed over the windows as curtains. You will be fairly certain you entered a serial killer’s den and instead of relaxing, you will spend the entire massage gauging exactly how loud you would have to scream for anyone to hear you. It’s not just the atmosphere though. The massage therapist is a heavy nose breather. It will be like his nostrils are too small, but he doesn’t want to breath through his mouth, so the velocity and overall force of the nose-breathing is out of control. *Shudder* This is the last time you buy a groupon massage.

You will likely also run into the Feather Duster, the Punisher, the Yogi, and the Jabberbox. You can tell the Feather Duster you like deep pressure, but she’ll never touch your knots. You might as well have your six year old niece give you a massage. It’s cheaper. The Punisher does the opposite. She will take out all of her aggression on you, tempting your reflex to punch her in the gut, but if you breathe through it, you will feel so good afterwards.

The Yogi spends more time stretching your limbs than massaging them, which can be nice, but maybe not what you paid for, and the Jabberbox is, well, chatty. The good thing about the Jabberbox is that you can usually shut that down pretty easily by just not responding or politely saying, “this feels so good, I just can’t even talk.” (Only 1 out of 10 times will that backfire and cause him to quit doing such a good job in favor of a conversation.)

A lot of massages will be Chicken Salad. Good, but not memorable. The memorable ones will probably be the Free Spirit and the Hobbyist. The Free Spirit believes massage is her calling, and she’ll treat you like the spiritual being you are. Aromatherapy concoctions chosen specifically for your aura, a complementary psychic reading, and she might even walk on your back as she practices the ancient art of ashiatsu massage. Oh, and she’ll think you are weird for leaving your underwear on.

Now, the Hobbyist. Don’t fault the Hobbyists. Being a massage therapist is usually an entrepreneurial situation, and the Hobbyists need to maintain a separate full-time job to pay the bills. The good news is the Hobbyist is usually very talented and passionate about massage. The problem is that she doesn’t have the time to work on the business aspect. So you arrive, maybe at her home massage studio, and she is not there. Your body is now shaking with disappointment, which makes you feel like an indulgent princess, sending you through the McDonald’s drive through for a conciliatory ice cream. Halfway through your McFlurry, she calls, saying she got hung up at her job and could you come back over. You do, of course, and she cuts your massage short since it’s now time to get supper on the table.

  1. It is worth it.

Someday, you will find the Perfect Professional massage therapist. He will talk just enough at the beginning to make you feel comfortable, then shut up. She will make you breathe through deep pressure when it benefits you, but ensure you walk out feeling relaxed instead of beat up. He will use the right amount of oil, leaving you feeling moisturized but not slimy. She will ensure the music is relaxing, continuous, and not interrupted by Pandora commercials. He will focus on your problem areas, but always make time for your feet. She will send you out the door with a bottle of water. Most importantly, you will feel amazing.

 

Read These 10 Books in 2019

I have always loved to read. I love the smell of books, and I would have a library in my house if we had the space for it. As it is, I encouraged my husband (i.e. demanded) that we install a “book nook” under the staircase of our basement when we finished it, which we did a few months ago. It is the coziest, most peaceful area of our house now, and I only wish I had a couple free hours to spend in it every day.

As much as I love to read, I’m not in a book club (I like to pick my out my own), and I can’t say I finish 52 books a year like some people I know. I’m also not one of those people who, once I start a book, will finish it no matter what. With so many great books out there, why waste your time reading a book you aren’t getting anything out of? Life’s too short.

Below is a list of books I got a lot out of in 2018. You should read them too.

1. Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

If you are an adult female, chances are you have already read this. Rachel Hollis has gotten a ton of hype in 2018, and I think she deserves every bit of it. She’s authentic and encourages others to be the same. This book is relatable and energizing. I blasted through it on a long weekend vacation and would gladly read it again.

2. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

If you have never read or listened to Brene (rhymes with Renae) Brown before, get ready for your outlook on life to change. As a researcher and storyteller, Brene makes the topics of shame and vulnerability approachable in everyday life. I actually listened to this book rather than read it, and then I listened to everything else in the Brene Brown universe I could get my hands on. Absolutely captivating and insightful. I can’t wait to read her new book, Dare to Lead.

3. Speed of Trust by Stephen R. Covey

I read this one with a group at work over the course of the year. It is an old book, rich with quotes and observations on the power of trust in all types of relationships. It was good fodder for work-related discussions, as it became apparent that any relationship building must start with building and maintaining trust.

4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F$ck

I have found that some books use swear words in their titles or text to draw your attention, and then have nothing real to say. Not so with this one. My husband bought it based on a recommendation, then I stole it and read it before he noticed it was gone. I can’t say I agreed with everything in it, but there were a lot of observations in it that made me pause and think about things a little differently than I would have before.

5. Quiet by Susan Cain

The subtitle of this one is The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, but it is less of a “self help for introverts” and more of a research book told in first person narrative. It’s readable, but it’s dense with research, so I have taken my time with it. Honestly, I’m still reading it, but as an introvert, I have found it so interesting that I thought it was worth putting on the list.

6. Anything by Dr. Seuss

Just take the time to read anything by Dr. Seuss, whether or not you have kids. Read it out loud. It is so much fun and guaranteed to bring you joy.

7. What is the Bible? by Rob Bell

Rob Bell is a pastor with a somewhat unique view of Christianity and the Bible. In this book, he brings together history and Biblical text in an easily understandable, awe-inspiring way. If you want to learn more about the Bible in a non-preachy, contemporary way, check this out.

8. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander

Another religious one, Dr. Alexander, a Neurosurgeon, wrote a book about his near-death experience. He talks about visiting different levels of the spiritual realm and discusses how his experiences changed him from being an atheist to a believer. It will give you weird dreams, but it’s fascinating.

9. I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet

This book, written by an experienced international journalist, is subtitled My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad. It is not a quick read, especially because there are a lot of names to keep straight, but it is worth every minute if you want to understand more about the Middle East and the role of the US there now and in the past. Ms. Mekhennet takes you behind the scenes into dangerous scenarios and shows the guts it takes to be a journalist in today’s world.

10. Becoming by Michelle Obama

I LOVE Michelle Obama, so I was ecstatic when she came out with an autobiography. After an internal debate, I opted to listen to the audiobook rather than read it since she narrates it herself. It is phenomenally well-written, and it’s easy candor makes you forget that knowing this level of detail about a presidential family’s life is unprecedented. Michelle continues to be as authentic and clear-headed as she always seemed in the White House. This book has brought me to tears, made me laugh, and made me realize that Michelle and I would be really great friends, which came as no surprise, of course.

It is strange to me that the only fiction I am recommending is Dr. Seuss. I always say that fiction is my favorite, but the only fiction I seem to read these days is children’s fiction. It’s possible that I am at a point in my life where it feels overly indulgent to slip into a fantasy world when there is so much to learn about the world we all inhabit and about what makes us all tick.

What about you? What kinds of books did you read in 2018? What do you recommend?

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