Six Things I Learned From Da’ Hood

Betcha weren’t expecting a title like that for my latest blog, were you??

Admit it….you totally clicked on here just to see if I was just being crazy or I indeed converted to the thug life just for thrills.

Relax, I’m not that ghetto, although I can rap a 90’s Vanilla Ice song like nobody’s business — granted it’s in the most awkward and southwest Missouri hick twang ever as I’m driving down the road by myself. No, my booty still ain’t “bootylicious”. And my dance moves are still as basic white girl status as they’ve ever been, so don’t worry. I’m still me. #KeepinItReal

I chose this title partly because I couldn’t really think of anything else clever, but mostly because five weeks ago I officially entered the Mom Club, which I refer to as Da’ Hood — that is, motherhood. (Not really sure where I got this from, but hey…we’ll go with it.)

And no, to my amazement they didn’t give me a cool T-shirt or gold chain or stunner shades or a fancy VIP card or anything like that. They just slapped a precious 7 pound 10 ounce baby girl on my chest and sent us out the doors with a newborn in our backseat two days later and that was that.

No instruction manual. No “in case of emergency, push” button. No test or extensive interrogations to make sure we weren’t psychos and were indeed qualified to be parents. We were just homebound with a tiny human we were now solely responsible for and literally had NO CLUE what we were doing or what to expect next.

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Zaylee Grace Brown, born May 16, 2018 @ 11:20 AM 7 lb 10 oz, 21 in.

Those first few days that soon rolled into weeks that quickly turned into a month already gone by have been quite the adventure, to say the least! I have learned. I have loved. I have laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed.

And I have loved every second of it, even when it’s sometimes really hard to.

Throughout my entire pregnancy and now postpartum experience, there are many realizations I have come to know that either mothers I highly respect and look up to have passed down to me or that I have had to figure out for myself (or yes, I’ll confess…look up on Google and WhatToExpect.com in the wee hours of the night when I’m absolutely positive something is wrong with my child or I’m not “momming” good enough.)

One of the most beautiful things, in my opinion, about becoming a mom is realizing you’re now a part of a tribe of amazing, creative, and strong women out there who have been where you are and can lift you up when it gets overwhelming and celebrate alongside you when it’s exciting. To offer tips and tricks to help you transition and get through the hard times. To pop a top and enjoy a glass of wine with from time to time and blow off some steam, so you are more refreshed and energized when you return to your babies. How sad and lonely and overwhelming would it be if we kept all our tricks up our sleeves to ourselves and didn’t share with other mommas out there who are joining our club for the very first time, completely clueless and scared and excited to the newness of it all? Afterall, they say sharing is caring!

So here it is! A compilation of the greatest advice I was ever given as a first time mommy-to-be, that I can now pay forward to someone else about to experience this crazy and beautiful journey through Da’ Hood!
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#1 – Your experience is YOURS.

I listed this first…because I think of all the realizations I’ve had so far as a mom, this one really hits the nail on the head. Verbatum.

Here’s the deal.

Some mothers have a healthy, energetic, and altogether glowing pregnancy. Others can outsleep a cat, look like they just crawled out of a dumpster half the time, and may not be able to get more than a five foot radius away from the toilet until about Week 22 (**ehemmm….me!!!). Some maybe not even then! Some will gain 40-50 pounds, while others will look only five months along the day they are considered full term. Some mothers opt for in home or even all natural births, while some DEMAND that epidural or choose a cesarean. Many moms may not even get a choice at all. You’ll hear about moms who had a quick, easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy labor, and you’ll hear about those who endured 36 or more hours of the worst pain imaginable until their little ones finally came into this world. Some exceed their due dates by a week or more, and some live in the NICU for several weeks until they get to finally come home. Some will breastfeed, make their own baby food, and use cloth diapers. Others prop a bottle, buy Gerber’s lil’ snackies, and think Luvs or Huggies will suffice. Gender reveals and maternity sessions may be the greatest thing since the invention of the Tupperware to some moms, while others may not really see the point. And let’s uneven the playing field a little more about whether some moms find it necessary to broadcast weekly baby bump pictures on Facebook or to have a birth photographer bedside to document the Big Day.

The point is…I have never heard two moms have the exact same experience about pregnancy, birthing, or parenting in general. So don’t believe for a second that your story will be written like someone else’s. You just do YOU and always trust that this is the way things are meant to be and you are doing what is best for you and your baby.

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#2 – Be thankful.

Week 5….the week I will never forget.

I was driving in my car alone in Springfield when I felt it. A sudden warm gush. I looked down and tried to feel what was going on.

Blood.

I was frantic. For days I hadn’t really felt well and had some spotting off and on, but never this heavy. Something was definitely not right. I immediately pulled into the nearest gas station and raced to the bathroom, tears already streaming down my face. This couldn’t be happening. Not to me. Not to us.

I freaked out even more when I felt a sharp pain and passed what I just knew was our baby. Our little precious miracle we prayed for. Right there in a lonely bathroom stall at the Kum and Go on Sunshine street. I called my husband who was over an hour away – completely hysterical – telling him I was going to the ER and he needed to leave right now and come get me, because I didn’t think I could face what would happen next on my own. He dropped everything and flew there as fast as he could.

It felt like eternity – the time it took me to drag myself out of my car and walk across the parking lot through those sliding doors to await my fate. Every step grew heavier and the lump in my chest grew larger the closer I got to the check-in desk. “Please, God.” I begged over and over as they took my insurance information and escorted me to be admitted.

Everything else from there was a blur, but a very long one. The nurse’s questions were just muffled mumbles I couldn’t understand as she checked my vitals, put my wristband on, and ushered me to the waiting room until Kurtis arrived. Nearly two hours passed before they finally called us back for even more hours of blood work, urine tests, IV fluids that ended up busting my veins, and the most painful internal ultrasound I have ever had to date. When the moment of truth finally came, the ultrasound tech told us over and over as she was getting ready to examine me that we should definitely prepare ourselves, but also that other mothers have had similar symptoms and things surprisingly turned out to be okay.

I held my breath and almost couldn’t look at the screen when she finally pointed and said “right there.”

The whole world stopped. A teeny spec. Our miracle baby. Right there on the screen, when I was CERTAIN I had already lost it. While there was definitely a newfound sense of hope that I at least still had a baby inside, there was still this deep unsettling fear that there was no movement – no little heart “flutter” – to confirm whether or not our little one was actually alive. We were sent home and told we wouldn’t have answers for at least three more days until they could recheck my blood levels, as I was not yet far enough along to detect a heartbeat on the ultrasound.

Let me tell you. That afternoon was definitely long, but it didn’t hold a candle to the next three days I was on bed rest before my follow-up appointment, praying and pleading that we would get the news we longed for more than anything else.

Fast forward three LONNNNGGGGGG days later, and I got the phone call from my doctor that my blood levels were stable and increasing! A week later they were able to actually detect a heartbeat on the ultrasound, and I never cried so hard in my life seeing that flutter on the screen and hearing that little throbbing noise coming through the speakers. We were congratulated, comforted, and reassured that I indeed had a perfectly healthy, viable fetus growing strong inside.

I still thank God every day for that very moment.

As for what caused all those crazy symptoms and the scariest moment of my life so far? We may never know. Some told us it was just implantation pain and bleeding. Some told us we very easily could have miscarried a twin. We don’t waste time wondering what might have been. All I know is I am forever GRATEFUL for this chance I have now, to embrace a beautiful, healthy baby in my arms that God didn’t have to spare us that day. I am THANKFUL, because many of my loved ones and friends have suffered infertility. True miscarriage. Sudden loss of a child. I am BLESSED that our story had a happy ending, when that is not the case for so many others out there.

So I will take the morning sickness, excessive tiredness, stretch marks, swelling, contractions, nipple chafing, and fussy sleepless nights any day over the outcome that was almost our worst reality.

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#3 – Most people mean well…..Most.

You guys.

People can be cruel.

Like, REALLY cruel.

When you are a new momma, it often seems like everyone and their other brother wants to give you their unsolicited “advice” about how you should grow your tiny human, bring it into the world, and especially raise it. I’ve been scoffed at for ordering a small Starbucks drink at the mall or getting a 32-ounce cherry coke at the gas station. I’ve had my hands slapped for trying to lift a medium sized box that I could seriously lift with my pinky. I’ve been reprimanded for ordering a subway sandwich by a random stranger, who didn’t realize that I literally had been vomiting everything else and a ham sandwich was literally all that sounded good to me that day and at least I was feeding myself SOMETHING. I’ve been told that I wasn’t a “real woman” if I opted for an epidural. I’ve frantically checked over my shoulder at get-togethers to see if anyone noticed me licking the spoon after mixing cookie dough or sneaking an teeny-tiny sip of red wine. People have literally FLIPPED OUT on me when I posted any photos of our home renovation progress and I had a paintbrush in my hand, was on my hands and knees helping lay flooring, or was standing anywhere remotely close to a ladder. (As if taking on a DIY on top of working very demanding full time jobs, skimping on a tight budget, and trying to get it all done in time before I pop isn’t stressful enough as is…) And let’s not forget to mention the hateful remarks about either being a stay at home or working mom or debating whether or not breastfeeding or exclusively pumping or bottle feeding is what is most practical for our busy lifestyle.

Then they look at you like you’re more irrational than the number pi and want to blame it on your raging hormones when you finally have heard enough of it all and snap and put them in their place.

You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, am I right???

The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is sometimes you just have to take it all with a grain of salt and assume everyone’s best intentions, even if it is super annoying or hurtful. Even if its your best friend or a family member degrading your choices because “that’s not how they did it”. Even if you’ve SERIOUSLY heard it all a million and three times before. Because, yes, it’s true. Some people really are just jerks and don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. But most people are just concerned and want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Trust me…you’ll go absolutely bonkers if you don’t occasionally bite your tongue, take a deep breath, laugh it off, and just let it roll.

#4 – Let people help.

There’s nothing I hate more than admitting I can’t keep it all together on my own.

Afterall, I am Woman, right?? Aren’t I supposed to be able to save the world and wear a superhero cape?? I mean, back in the old days mothers were birthing new babies with a toddler on their hip and had five other little ones running around while simultaneously milking cows and planting gardens in the 90 degree summer heat and putting dinner on the table by 5pm sharp every night. They survived motherhood like a champ — without all the fancy rock n’ plays and bottle warmers and Freemie cups for hands-free pumping and probably not Moscato wine, either. It’s 2018. I live in modern-day America, y’all, where we have crock pots and robot vacuums and Google and Amazon Prime 2-day shipping. I have perfectly functioning central heat and air, all the bells and whistles in terms of baby gear and equipment, no other children running around at my heels, and am pretty sure I can’t tell you the last time I ever had to pull a weed or pick a tomato. So why is my sink always overflowing with dishes and I never have clean underwear because I can’t keep up with the laundry like I used to? I can’t even tell you the last time I seriously dusted or scrubbed the shower. We desperately need groceries and I haven’t shaved my legs in going on two weeks. There’s bills and mail piled up under the TV stand that I haven’t sorted through yet and boxes and boxes to unpack. And how many more times can we possibly eat frozen pizza or hamburger helper because I am too exhausted to prepare a meal that requires more than ten minutes of prep work on my end?

Mommy and wife guilt is a very real and serious thing, my friends. During my entire pregnancy, our life was the absolute CRAZIEST and busiest it had ever been, and I rarely ever cut myself some slack when I fell short. When I wanted to have a pity party and beat myself down over and over for all the things I didn’t accomplish for the day, I had to always stop and remind myself that I was leading a very busy lifestyle that required a lot of my time and energy, so it was perfectly acceptable that I came home completely and utterly EXHAUSTED each night and passed out on the couch, pretty much up until the day I gave birth.

Not to mention that we were also in the middle of a major home renovation that we came home to every night to work on ourselves any chance we could so we could be moved in before Baby Brown’s arrival. Every weekend it seemed we were tied down with another birthday party, graduation, family get-together, church dinner, baby shower, or last-minute late night trip to Lowes. When we didn’t have anything going on, we were so wiped that we literally lounged all day.  My husband also works a full-time engineering job and comes home to a 280 acre farm with over 60 head of cattle, where there’s always feeding to do, fences to fix, tractors to repair, and new baby calves hitting the ground that need tended to. At the time, I was wrangling middle schoolers for 8 hours a day then had lessons to plan and papers to grade as soon as I got home before I could play Housewife. Then we woke up to do it all again the next day.

Oh, yeah. And I was growing a human on top of it all, too. So there’s that…

And now that our sweet baby is here? Pshhh. I like maybe get one box unpacked from our move and one picture frame hung on the wall a month. Maybe every two weeks if I’m real ambitious. There are days I literally never leave my bed because she is super fussy and wants cuddled or I’m just too exhausted to function. Anndddd my legs are still hairy, the shower still needs a good scrubbing, and we still have DiGiorno’s pizza once or twice weekly. And somehow, it’s okay!

I’ll never forget the best advice I ever got as an expecting mother.

Ask. For. Help.

Seriously. Do ittttt.

Don’t ever shame yourself for feeling tired and overwhelmed all the time, whether pregnant or postpartum or ten years down the road with three kids and a dog. Busy is the new norm for all of us mommas, and we all need a little leg up sometimes to get us through. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to pick up the phone and ask my mother in-law to ride with me to get groceries, text my sister in-laws for mommy advice to calm my nerves, recruit my best friends to help me paint kitchen cabinets in the new house, and let my mom provide dinner for us so I didn’t have to cook. Find yourself a good support system, whether it be your mom, mother in-law, a sister, your spouse, best friends, or whoever you have in your life. Ask them to fold a basket of laundry, run the vacuum, or to grab a few things you need at Wally World. Book a babysitter so you can enjoy a bubble bath or a date night or just a short un-interrupted nap for once. Let the ladies from church bring you a casserole when you first get home from the hospital.

And don’t feel guilty about it for a second! Most of them are seriously more than happy to help because they have been where you are and they want to feel needed and appreciated. Let them, so you can breathe a little!

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#5 – Less is really more.

I can laugh about it now, but I remember having a mental breakdown one night after going through all the things we received from one of our baby showers. While I was completely grateful and overwhelmed with love at all the wonderful gifts our friends and family provided us, I was also in complete shock at how expensive everything was and how many things one tiny person needed to survive. I was seriously hyperventilating when I realized we still had a lot of major things we hadn’t purchased yet — like a changing table and a crib and bottles and a car seat and ALL the clothes, as we didn’t find out the gender of our little one until the big day — and my due date was only a few weeks away.

How were we possibly going to afford it all or get all we needed in time? The mountains of diapers and wipes we received were no doubt a godsend, but I knew we would blow through them extremely fast. Not to mention all the hospital expenses we were about to get slapped in the face with. (We joked that I was either gonna have to hook it or donate a kidney to keep up with it all!)

And when it came time to pack my hospital bag, I swore I needed this and that and everything under the sun to bring my precious baby into the world the right way. He or she had to have the most perfect coming home outfit and I needed my entire makeup drawer and straightener and the comfiest birthing gowns and cutest slippers ever for myself.

Guess what?

My sweet baby came along just fine, not caring whether or not I looked “photo worthy” or if I had everything I thought I needed. And half the crap I stressed so much about having when we got home I didn’t even use or need right away — like a high chair. I’m serious! I was so bent out of shape that I didn’t have something my kid wouldn’t even use until about 4 months old.

What I really learned is that less is truly more. When it finally comes down to Show Time and you’re in hardcore labor, you won’t want to lug your entire house up to the 4th floor of the hospital, and neither will your partner. You most likely won’t need a gigantic camera with five different lenses and attachments to document each moment, because it all happens so fast and it’s so much more practical to snap a photo on a cell phone. Or hire a birth photographer to do all the dirty work for you, if that floats your boat. You will be lucky if you get to “fix yourself” up with anything more than a fresh hospital gown, some dry shampoo, and a stick of gum to brush your teeth before visitors are barging through the door to ooooooh and awwww at your precious little bundle. Trust me, — and I am a relatively vain person by nature who hardly leaves the house without eyeliner and a little concealer — no one cares about your zits showing, the bags under your eyes, and the fact that you haven’t showered in two days when they hold that sweet baby. The focus will not even be on you at all, so leave the salon at home!

You also won’t use hardly anything in a diaper bag you bring from home, because the hospital gives you diapers, formula, and basically anything else you could possibly need during your stay — and often times you get loaded with a goodie bag to take home to get you and your little one by your first few weeks! (And God bless Dermoplast numbing spray, oversized pads, mesh undies, and that nifty little squirt bottle they give you to “service” yourself!!!) I also learned my baby could care less if she was wearing the cutest outfit ever I found on Etsy, a plain white onesie from the clearance aisle at Walmart, or just chilling half naked in diaper and a swaddle blanket.

Moral of the story? As cool as diaper genies, wipe warmers, and battery operated aspirators are, you really just need the basics starting out! As long as your baby is well fed, clean, warm, healthy, and has a safe place to sleep and be transported from here to there, you are set up for success!

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#6 – You really CAN do it.

There seriously was a moment when it was finally go time and I was pushing and bringing our daughter into this world after nine LONGGGG but amazing months of varying emotions, horomones, morning sickness, Braxton Hicks, stretch marks, and emergency late night Taco Bell runs where I panicked and thought to myself, there’s no freaking way. I can’t do this!!!! Shove it back up there and I’ll cross my legs real tight! This can’t happen! Not today, Jose’!

There was also a moment where my doctor reminded me she was already halfway out, and I literally didn’t have a choice, so I knew I had to just buck up buttercup and give it my all until it was done.

Y’all, the woman body is INCREDIBLE and should definitely be dignified more for all the things it can endure and bounce back from. I’m serious. They don’t prepare you for what happens after the pain meds wear off or your adrenaline slows down and they take your catheter out and you have to pee on your own and you take a first glimpse “down there” after birth and scream Oh, my God! It’s wrecked forever!!! I have a freaking UDDER!!!

Then you get home and literally EVERYTHING is so sore and you walk funny and have to sit sideways on an ice pack like a hen on eggs for three weeks straight until you finally recover while being the most sleep deprived and exhausted you’ve ever been in your entire life, but you know you will probably never “sleep” again because you still have to take care of your precious little one (hey, at least she’s adorable!!!) and life still goes on anyway, when you swear you could fall over dead at any second.

If there’s one thing motherhood has taught me about myself, it would be that I’m fairly certain there is nothing I can’t handle or make it through now. Even when the nights are long and she’s screaming her head off for no apparent reason for a solid two hours straight and I’m so overwhelmed and exhausted and I feel like I am going to explode, I survive and live long enough to blog about it! Mommas, we are TOUGH. God made us to handle the unimaginable and multitask on a level unlike any other, because He knew we were capable of just throwing our hair up in a messy bun, chugging an oversized mug of coffee, cranking some gangster rap from time to time, and just handling it! (You’re welcome, by the way, for getting Ice Ice Baby stuck in your head!)

Just when you think you’re at your wits end, you find a way to hold and feed your baby with one hand while pumping, folding a basket of laundry, and crying to your momma on the phone for advice with the other. Somehow, we make it! Even those of us who, while all of this chaos is going on, are also sitting helplessly on the couch watching their toddlers and other kids throw fits, terrorize each other, and tear up the house faster than a tornado in upstate Kansas. (Haven’t ventured into that journey myself quite yet since I have one child, but I can only imagine it’s stressful for those of you who live this out every day! I pray for patience and strength and good wine for you!)

It absolutely gets really hard sometimes, especially when the baby blues and for some, postpartum depression sets in after the newness and excitement of a newborn wears off and no one comes to visit or help you anymore and you’re stuck in an empty and messy house until your loved one gets home or someone comes over to relieve you for half an hour so you can at least take a shower long enough where you don’t have to make the impulse decision of whether or not you’re going to finish shampooing your hair or shave your legs because the baby is screaming and all Hell is breaking loose on the other side of that shower curtain.

Hard times are inevitable. But friends, in these times let’s give ourselves some grace, realize that the hard days might be LONGGGG but the years are oh so short with our sweet babies, embrace the good moments for all they’re worth, and just breathe until we find a way to ride out the storm until it passes.

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To say that motherhood has been a whirlwind so far is definitely an understatement! I can honestly say that in my 24 years of life, nothing has ever wore me out more yet made me happier and so full of overwhelming love. As I sit here watching our sweet baby girl sleep and am reminiscing about the past five weeks since we brought her home, I cannot believe literally how fast the times are already flying and all the fun memories we’ve had so far.

My friends, we are so incredibly blessed with this gift of motherhood, every single one of us.

I know that these tidbits of wisdom someone shared with me that I am now passing on to you  (that literally took me every bit of the past five weeks to blog in between naps and feedings and pumping sessions, of course) will be closely tucked away in my Mommy Toolbox whenever I need them to remind me to simply soak it all in and ENJOY it.

Every single exhausting and stressful and scary and fun and altogether amazing bit of it.

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Simplify.

To Be More….With Less.

It’s no secret, you guys.

I’m kind of a perfectionist.

The longer I trek through my twenty-somethings I am becoming well aware of how this has impacted all areas of my life — some in good ways and some, well…let’s just say it’s not pretty.

It seems like every time January 1st rolls around each year, I go to Walmart or Mardel’s and get this fancy journal with an inspirational Bible verse on the front cover and matching gel pens and I make this long, ridiculous, detailed, color-coded, alphabetized and highlighted list with cute-sy swirls and hearts and what-have-you’s about things I am going to do to “make myself a better person”. (See? Told ya I was a perfectionist!)

I start out jotting down one or two fairly simple and realistic goals but the problem is a new one pops in my head and I get on such a roll that I literally just. Can’t. Stopppp.

I’m going to make my bed every day. Do 100 sit-ups and go for a mile walk every day, rain or shine. Learn to highlight and contour my face and do more with my hair than just throwing it in a boring braid or messy bun and rolling out the door. Make a Dave Ramsey budget spreadsheet on Microsoft Excel and religiously document every single penny we spend. Clean out the closet and thoroughly clean at least once every new season. Alphabetize the DVD’s in the TV stand. Make five new friends. Create a scrapbook of our wedding photos from four years ago that I STILL have never printed off. Practice piano for twenty minutes a day. Get all the dishes and laundry done and house picked before I go to bed. Have the most stellar and detailed lesson plans known to man-kind and teacherhood. Make 2-3 crock pot meals on average per week. Quit drinking soda and eating junk food cold turkey. Read the entire Bible in a year (but secretly betting myself I can do it in about two or three months if I read several chapters a day!!!! Pin a rose on my nose!)

And on and on and on…..

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I get all hyped up about it and am real committed….for about the first week. I cross off Goal #1 almost immediately. #2 and #3 are usually quick to follow. By about Goal #4 the Momentum Train is starting to slow down, but hey! At least it’s still a rollin’!!

But then…I slowly crawl to Goal #5. I look down at the list I scribbled — or more like calligraphed –in my fancy notebook with an inspirational Bible verse on the front cover with my matching gel pens and all the cute-sy swirls and hearts and what-have-you’s and realized I’ve filled about FIFTY lines and several pages out of endless to-do’s that are staring back at me, burning into the inner depths of my soul. (**Insert heart palpitations and cold sweats here**)

Then I look at my calendar and realize it’s only January 7 and I am literally already so EXHAUSTED with Project Get My Life Together: 2017 Editionand I’m not even maybe a sixteenth of the way through my goals. I also realize I forgot to wash a plate from last night’s dinner and oh, yeah! Guess who didn’t make her bed this morning??? I mean, no one else knows or cares I already broke the rules, but I know. I TOTALLY KNOW. Then I get overwhelmed and ugly cry in the shower because I realize maybe I am NOT really a better person after all and have severe commitment issues.

Then I have to console myself with a cookie…which, by the way, totally breaks Goal #23.

And I do this to myself.

Every. Stinking. Year.

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Needless to say…you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to calculate how THAT one has worked out for me…

So, this year is going to be different. No seriously, I mean it this time. Because I am going to take the same concept of bettering myself a little each day but apply it in a much more realistic approach with a support system who is doing the same thing alongside me. I choose to believe that life doesn’t have to be SO. HARD. anymore.

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One of the missions some of my sideline sisters in my Arbonne business and I have recently challenged each other to do this year as part of our personal growth and development is to each pick and commit to just one word — yes, ONE word….not 50 bullet points in a journal — that we are going to focus all our energy and attention towards every day in 2018 until it becomes a habit. The idea is that every day you reflect on your word and what you are personally going to do during that day to put it into action. Once we spend 365 days mastering this word by applying small things to our daily lives, they eventually grow to yield big results. Then, we will pick a new word and move on to the next year. Simply wash, rinse, and repeat!

And you guys….it’s totally MANAGEABLE. We just write our word down on something as simple as a sticky note where we can look at it every day and remind ourselves how we are going to make it happen.

A sticky note??? Are you kidding me?? This is GOLD! I mean, I didn’t even have to buy a fancy journal or a single gel pen or anything! This, my friends, is what you call do-able.

Disclaimer** This obviously is definitely not our own original idea, but we are borrowing it from this increasingly popular social experiment that’s been going around called My One Word. If you have never heard of it, you should definitely check it out here! It’s good stuff! http://myoneword.org/

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The really amazing thing that I’ve loved about this challenge so far is that we all have chosen different words that serve us, and it is so inspiring to hear everyone’s journeys and what they are doing to live out their words daily. We are all on the same ultimate mission — not necessarily to Be The Best, but to simply Do Our Best — however we all have our own spiritual and personal journeys we are taking until we get there. I don’t know that anyone ever necessarily “arrives” at their final destination of being the very best that they can be, because after all isn’t the idea that you always have something else you can do more effectively or intentionally? I know I certainly haven’t arrived. But in all honestly…I really don’t ever want to arrive.

Because that ultimately means I have stopped learning and growing and my journey is over. And I can’t settle with that.

If there’s one thing I have really come to know about myself, it is that I am one that seems to be always seeking something. It may seem obsessive, but I don’t ever want my wanderlust thirst to become more than I am right now to ever be fully quenched! I WANT to be inspired. I LONG to feel accomplished. I DESIRE to leave my fingerprints on this world long after I’m gone. However, unlike in years past, I realize that what I NEED is to make goal setting more realistic and less stressful if I want anything good to come out of it.

So the word I have chosen for 2018 is simplify. (And no, it’s not because I teach middle school math, although that ironically does relate…)

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It’s because it’s time to learn how to be content. To be intentional. To be happier. To give more of myself to the Lord, my students, my clients, my friends, and my family. To actually have a nice “flow” to my life — rather than constantly flying by the seat of my pants.

To be more…with less.

So essentially I start out my mornings asking myself what I am going to do to “simplify” my life today. Then I do it because I say I’ll do it. And life is slowly improving all the way around already.

For example, yesterday to make my day go smoother I decided to get up half an hour early. I hit my Bible and got my daily devotion and prayer in first thing before my feet hit the floor. I ate a good breakfast, packed my lunch, and got to work earlier. I greeted my students with a smile at the door and spent the first part of each hour letting them each have their time to share what the highlights of their Christmas Break were before jumping into what I needed them to do right away — which made them more efficient and me less grumpy! I had some unexpected extra plan time that allowed me to get ahead on lesson plans and grading so now I won’t be behind for next week. When I got home I put away two baskets of laundry as soon as they came out of the dryer instead of letting it set until the weekend when I would have three more on top of that to deal with. I devoted an entire hour towards solely working my Arbonne business instead of waiting until month-end closing week to finally “get with it”. I got my clothes set out for school the next day so I wouldn’t be so rushed getting ready the next morning. I enjoyed some meaningful pillow talk with my husband before kissing him goodnight and got some quality reading time in after he fell asleep instead of scrolling through my Facebook news feed until the wee hours of the morning.

And it was a great day!

Now, granted I didn’t get my bed made and the dishes are definitely NOT done but it didn’t ruin my entire day or make me feel like a failure like it would have last year! And the even better news? Because I managed my time better yesterday, today went smoother and I actually have more time and energy to take care of other things now!

Like doing those dishes and writing this blog… =)

And tomorrow will be even easier because of what I did to “simplify” my life today. I can only imagine what my life will look and feel like after 365 days of this!

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And yeah, yeah, yeah…..I realize it’s literally only the fourth day of the new year and I’m normally a creature of habit that gives it up after the newness wears off and reality sets in, but I can feel a totally different shift with this particular challenge than any of the New Year challenges I had ever set before. I can tell that this is a plan I CAN stick to. It works because it’s simple! No cold sweats and heart palpitations for this girl!!! #WinWin

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So as we have officially launched into 2018, I want to challenge my readers to also pick One Word to focus on. Write it down on a sticky note, old receipt in your wallet, napkin in your glove box, your bathroom mirror, or whatever you have available. Commit to doing small tasks every day that lead you to master and live out that word. Remember that what you didn’t have time to get to today is merely a great starting point for a task to conquer tomorrow, so there is no need to stress about it. Have a friend or co-worker or loved one do this challenge with you, too!

Then sit back and watch the beauty of it all unfold. #2018vibes #itsagoodyeartohaveagoodyear

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Becoming More.

So this past weekend I attended the trip of a lifetime.

And mind you, I get around. (Hey now! Shame on you…I was talking about traveling!)

I’ve watched the sun set over the Rocky Mountains and have stood in awe on the edge of the Grand Canyon just trying to take it all in. I have hiked the Great Wall of China and have scaled a waterfall by a hot air balloon in upstate New York. I’ve white water rafted in the Smoky Mountains and have touched the Florida sky from the comfort of a fairly tattered parasail harness.

While these adventures have undeniably engraved their way into my fondest memories of my life so far, there was just something so different about this trip that set it apart from all the others.

It was here — at a simple two day leadership training retreat in small town Oklahoma amidst 45 other powerful women in a perfect stranger’s living room (who were all hyped up on gluten-free oreo truffles and chocolate covered strawberries and maybe a little tipsy on champagne) — that I learned to become more.

I will be completely transparent here. When I first learned I had earned this trip along with some of my dearest friends for our success in our recent small business through an amazing health and wellness company called Arbonne, I was ecstatic of course because I had heard other consultants raving about how life-changing this weekend would be, but I was also a wee bit nervous. To be enclosed in a small space with 45 women who I didn’t know very well all talking about our feelings and struggles we have faced in not only our businesses but also our personal lives??

Holy toledo. That’s A LOTTTTTTT of estrogen. I mean, are there even enough Kleenexes in the world for this?

I knew I was definitely packing a bag and jumping in the car and going, but I really didn’t know what to expect beyond that.

When we first arrived after a long 3 ½ hour commute, I opened the door to National Vice President Miranda Burcham’s house and my jaw immediately hit the floor. Aside from the fact that her home looked worthy enough to be showcased in some HGTV magazine and that I was pretty certain my little house could fit in her dining room alone, all I could really focus on is that there were people EVERYWHERE, which made my anxiety plummet through her vaulted ceiling roof.

How nice. I don’t know anyone here…and I’m definitely underdressed…

Oh look! Someone I recognize! I’ve seen her at trainings before….her name is, wait…is it Karen? Beth? Louise? Crap!…she’s walking over to me and I can’t remember her name…

Okay, so we established two things in the entire five seconds I’ve been here….her name is definitely Pam and I’m an idiot…

Okay, so now I find my name tag and put it on? I don’t see my name…did they forget about me? I did earn this trip, right? What if I’m not supposed to be here? Oh God, did I accidentally crash a high class retreat?

Whew! There’s my name tag. I’m not crazy. Now to find a seat because we’re starting in five minutes…except there are no more seats. It’s fine, I will sit on the floor.

In front of everyone which is sort of awkward…

Wait….icebreakers? Go around the room and introduce yourself and tell something interesting??? These people are talking about being arrested for something hilarious and how they have fed the homeless in Haiti and all I can think about is that I have a one-eared cat named Albert…which is super weird. I can’t do this…

Ooohhh…I spy a platter of chocolate covered strawberries…now, I can definitely do THAT…

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So to summarize here, I’m basically a professional when it comes to anxiety and social awkwardness. But once the first session started, I immediately started to feel a shift I had never felt before.

Now, please note that if I were to write about every little thing I experienced in those two days, you would not be reading a simple little blog in the spare five or ten minutes you have set aside right now. Truthfully, I would have to write a book for you to read — no, more like a series of novels — to get it all out.

And let’s be real. Neither one of us probably have the time for that.

But what I will do is share some of my biggest takeaways that went from being simple tips and tricks to kickstart my Arbonne business to evolving into much deeper life lessons and convictions.

I’m no psychic, but my guess is like me some of you probably struggle with similar battles in your careers, relationships, friendships, spiritual life, or maybe even in your heart and mind and could also use these tidbits of wisdom to help you overcome them.

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1 – There is power in the comeback.

I can’t even begin to explain the impact of all the stories that were shared, right there in Miranda’s living room. Stories about unimaginable loss of loved ones. Stories about promoting to a certain level in the company and then losing it all and having to restart from square one. Stories about people who have been hurt by the people who should have cared for them the most. Stories about spouses leaving spouses to be single parents in the worst possible time when everything else came crashing down.

Stories about comebacks.

Listening to these women pour their hearts out to a complete stranger like me about how they were forced to rise above when life got hard was such a wake up call that reminded me of my own story, and I began to think about it even deeper.

So many people know that I have just recently launched my Arbonne business on the side of teaching and photography. They know that I LOVE LOVE LOVE every second of it and probably even think I’ve gone a little crazy with it, because I literally live and breathe it in my everyday life and it’s become almost all I talk about anymore. But what most people don’t know is why I started this business in the first place.

 

About four months ago I was the lowest of lows I had ever been and was seriously ready to end it all. I felt like crap all the time. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating…and when I did it was the worst possible food that obviously wasn’t serving my body the way I needed it to in order to survive a busy hectic day. I was solely running on strong coffee and gas station energy drinks. I couldn’t even wrap my head around having kids because I was so overstimulated with everything else around me going on. I wasn’t happy in my career. I was a grouch to my students then came home even more unpleasant. I shut people out…especially my husband who was my biggest supporter through it all. I was bitter towards the people who hurt me severely in my past and let it over-consume me. And I felt guilty about all of it. I remember laying in bed at night praying to God for some opportunity to come my way that would help me understand my purpose in this world. “God, what am I supposed to do? I am NOT happy and there has to be more than being a punching bag to my own life. What do YOU want from me?”

Two days later my friend Erika messaged me about Arbonne, explaining how she had a life changing opportunity she wanted to share with me because she knew I would be amazing at it.

And I am thoroughly convinced if she never did, I don’t know that I would be writing these words you’re reading right now.

Erika had NO idea how desperate I was for any opportunity at all to get out of the rut I felt I was sinking in. She had no idea I desperately needed this business — not for the delicious protein shakes or the amazing mascara — but for survival.

I came face to face with the reality that if I wanted something in my life to change, I would have to be the one to move and change it myself. Even if it wasn’t easy. Even if I had always had bad experiences with direct sales and vowed I would never become one of those people. I was definitely scared to try it, but was even more terrified of what would happen if I never even took the chance. So, with every fear and hesitation and millionth excuse anyone could possibly think of for reasons NOT TO DO the business, I chose to TO DO it for one reason.

I had to make a comeback.

So here I am, four months later, re-writing my story through an incredible business that I almost said no to. And boy, am I so glad I put faith over fear! Believe me when I say my life is changing because of the positive people I am constantly surrounded by, the focus I have to set and conquer goals, and the vision I now have to do more and trust God’s calling on my life. I am not 100% out of the darkness and there are days when the devil tries to sneak in and claim victory over my weakness. But I am on the right path to a new, better me inside and out and know where I am going.

And that, my friends, is liberating.

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2 – Are you playing to win, or playing not to lose?

If you ever want someone to call you out on your crap, tell you there are no excuses, and order you put your big girl panties on and basically “suck it up buttercup”, I highly recommend listening to Linda Parker who is an executive national vice president in the company. (Which, by the way, you can access her calls on YouTube or soundcloud!)

Whoa, buddy….talk about a powerhouse leader!

I sat at her feet for two straight hours just taking everything she said in and didn’t even care that my buttcheeks were so numb and I had to pee half an hour ago…because she was just THAT. GOOD.

The biggest statement I remember most from her coaching was “Are you playing to win, or playing not to lose?”

Holy crap, Batman. That’s deep.

How many of us play it safe in our life because it’s easier? How many of us talk ourselves out of overachieving just to do the bare minimum because, well, that’s good enough? How many of us whine and rant to our friends and family and make excuses for when something is too hard instead of taking a step back, figuring out what going wrong, and finding a solution? How many of us get to a certain goal and then decide we’ve gone as far as we can, so we stop setting bigger, more complex goals that really require us to get out of our comfort zone?

Well, I’ll raise my hand if no one else will….

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What a call to action to knock it off, pick ourselves up when we stumble, and press on to greater heights! The truth is this world can’t afford for us to play small. To put this into personal perspective, if Erika had never reached out to me — basically a stranger she knew very little about — who knows where would be?

Or if I would even still be here at all.

Dramatic? Maybe. But true? Absolutely. So how dare I sit on the side lines and play small when there are so many more people out there who need this incredible opportunity that I have at my fingertips, just like I so desperately needed it four months ago without even realizing it.

It’s time to stop making excuses and start making an impact.

3 – Make up a story that serves YOU.

One of the exercises we were coached to do is write down three facts or things that have happened in our lives. We then had to write down the stories that we have told ourselves based on those facts.

It wasn’t pretty.

For example:

Fact – My real dad left me when I was 3 years old.

Story – There must be something wrong with me. I’m wasn’t good enough to make him stay.

 

Fact – I didn’t make the varsity volleyball team in high school.

Story – I suck at sports.I should have never tried out. What a humiliation!

 

Fact – I didn’t reach the goals I had set last month in my business.

Story – I’m bad at being a consultant and don’t know if I have what it takes to do this.

Whoa. Talk about Negative Nancy, right???

Funny how after you write the things you constantly think about and tell yourself down on paper and read them aloud how they make you stop and think about how personal you’ve been taking everything your whole life. I realized how I have been playing the victim instead of the victor all along in every situation where life threw me a curveball. No wonder I am generally not a confident person! How can I be when all I tell myself is how much I’m unworthy?

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So after this epiphany, we then had a major heart to heart about how these stories were obviously not fixing anything and not serving us the way that they should. Bad things happen. Annoying things happen. That’s life. We can’t change that.

But what we can change is the stories we come up with when these things do happen.

Sooo….time for a divine intervention! We then took our old stories and rewrote them into positive stories that actually served us. The results were crazy eye opening!

Fact – My real dad left me when I was 3 years old.

NEW Story – I will be a better parent because of this. I can also be a testimony to my students who have had a parent who walked out in their life. I could even open my heart and home to adoption or fostering someday and be the loving, involved parent that my real dad never was to a child in need.

 

Fact – I didn’t make the varsity volleyball team in high school.

Story – Sports may not be my thing, but at least I can say I tried! Time to find something else I’m good at.

 

Fact – I didn’t reach the goals I had set last month in my business.

Story – Every business builder has struggles, and I’m not the only one! November is a new month. I know what didn’t work last month and how I can fix it to be more successful this month. Time to get to work!

Better, right? What an easy way to change your perspective. ** See ya, Negative Nancy!

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4 – Don’t be a dreamer, be a vision caster.

One of the things my team’s national vice president Lisa Dooley challenged us to do in our businesses and lives is to not just have a dream for what could happen, but cast a vision of exactly what that moment would look like when we reach the goals we have set our hearts on.

Because if you really think about it, a dream is just a wish or fantasy, but a vision is more of a reality.

I got to thinking how this applies to my business. One of my biggest goals is to become a regional vice president by the time I am 25 years old. Before last weekend, this was really only a figment of my imagination. I could only dream of getting a paycheck that would not only replace my income but also my husband’s income and allow us more choice to start blessing others in bigger ways we can’t do with our current paychecks — but I wasn’t actually envisioning it getting deposited into our checking account. I could only dream of driving that white Mercedes Benz that the company rewards you with when you promote to a vice president — but I wasn’t actually “smelling the leather”. I could only dream about having the finances, time freedom, and conviction to travel the world and sponsor missions trips or build homes in third world countries — but I wasn’t actually visualizing myself standing on the beaches of Haiti with a team of soul-on-fire consultants working alongside me because I led them there.

I always thought it would be freaking awesome, but in my heart it didn’t really seem like a possibility because I was only thinking about these things occasionally when I would drift off into La La Land. I wasn’t actually painting the picture of what that moment would look like. Feel like. Smell like. Even taste like. And if I wasn’t painting the picture, I definitely wasn’t painting myself in it. No wonder it seemed so surreal and not possible!

So again, my goal is to become a regional vice president. But it’s no longer just a dream. It’s a vision. My vision.

It is October 1, 2018 and I am a REGIONAL vice president!! Life is good today. It smells and tastes like pancakes and bacon, because I am actually HOME with my family making breakfast before Kurtis goes off to work. We have just finished remodeling our dream home and I just unpacked the LAST box — and there a white Mercedes parked in the garage. Over breakfast, we are talking about our new goals and are even considering sponsoring money to our church for a missions trip to Australia. My birthday is in 18 more days and I will be blowing out my candles in Jamaica with my husband and our 5 month old baby with other families in the business on the Arbonne Incentive Trip. I have also recently promoted 4 new district managers and 2 new area managers. One is in qualification for region! Next comes nation!

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So, yeah. Wasn’t kidding when I said last weekend was the trip of a lifetime!

It’s so crazy to think of how much my perspectives have changed since joining this business and how it’s impacting so many other areas in my life. I mean, I almost have to laugh.

I used to think direct sales people were annoying. Thank goodness not all of them are like that and some actually have a vision to change their lives….and then this world.

I used to think that to be successful in this business you had to know a lot of people and be a good talker. Thank goodness you just have to be is passionate about helping others and willing to build new relationships!

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I used to think you had to win every challenge, incentive trip, and promotion out there to make it to the top. Thank goodness all you have to do is have grit and determination to stick around when it gets hard!

I used to think you had to know everything about everything in order to have credibility. Thank goodness all you have to know is how to ask or where to go for help until you figure it out!

I used to think that stress was just a normal part of being an adult and that would never really change. Thank goodness it doesn’t have to be that way, if you are willing to get up and change it yourself!

And to think all this came from a simple two day conference in Oklahoma with 45 women I didn’t know, which really all stemmed from a decision four months ago to take a chance on something I was completely terrified to do.

I will tell you all a million times over that the reason I do this business is not about being part of some pyramid get-rich-quick scheme and conning others into jumping on my bandwagon. It’s not about having my skin looking flawless and my nutrition on point. It’s not about my stats on my dashboard website or the number of sign-ups I got last month. It’s not about making bookoos of money and having my name and face in the latest Arbonne catalog. It’s honestly not even really about me at all.

It’s about paying it forward and becoming more for this world that is desperately waiting for me to change it.

And I can’t wait to see who all will rise up to the challenge and join me in this life-changing endeavor.

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What I Never Knew I Always Wanted

There they were, clear as day. Two pink lines.


There I sat – propped up on the bathroom vanity amidst all the makeup brushes and nail polish and bobby pins and my curling iron all strewn across the counter – staring at a little plastic stick that in that very moment sealed my fate, answered my deepest prayers, and forever changed my life.

Sweet Jesus, this was really happening.

We were officially going to be parents.

I can’t really describe that feeling in simple terms, because if I’m being completely transparent here, it was anything and everything but simple. It was a multitude of thoughts and emotions that came flooding in. First I felt complete and utter shock and couldn’t breathe– like when you free fall off that first big drop on a roller coaster and you swear that your stomach is going to wiggle its way right up your throat and lunge out of your mouth. Or when you suddenly wake up and realize you overslept thirty minutes past your alarm and blast off like a rocket out of bed without hardly letting your feet hit the ground.

Or when you discover that yes, indeed, you have been walking around for a solid fifteen minutes with the back of your dress tucked in to your leggings after using the restroom on your plan hour…until a 7th grader kindly points it out to you in front of the entire class.

Yeah, thanks for the letdown, LuLaRoe….

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Next came the “warm fuzzies.” The tingling in my chest. The tears in my eyes. The butterflies in my tummy. The warmth of God’s touch on my face, as this sudden fullness and contentment in my life was something I had long prayed for. The ridiculous sort-of-hipster-sort-of-disco happy dance I did right there in the bathroom before realizing I still had to break the news to Kurtis. The way I completely melted when I ran outside to the shop to tell him and saw that shocked yet  priceless look on his face when he realized he was going to be a daddy for the first time.

But it was also bittersweet too. For the first time in our nearly ten year relationship together, it was no longer going to be about us. Our life of being spontaneous and taking off for a random weekend trip cross-country or running to town for a late night Dairy Queen ice cream run would soon be changing to sleepless nights of diaper changes, warm bottles, and lullabies. I won’t lie, that scared me a little. How much was this going to change our married life? Would we still be us? Would I still be…. me? Would I still get to do the things I’ve always dreamed of doing – like skydiving and traveling the world? Would I miss out on some much needed girl’s nights with my best friends since I was now officially the only married momma in the group?

Would I seriously have to say goodbye to those favorite pair of maroon skinny jeans from Charlotte Russe? (I mean, I am basically a Kardashian in those suckers…and you’re talking about a girl who generally speaking has “pancakes” flapping around back there, no how many squats or wall sits or Pinterest Booty Blaster workouts she does…)

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Also came sorrow for wanting to share our exciting news with our loved ones, but knowing so many people in our life are struggling and desperately yearning for the blessing we were so graciously given without having to deal with infertility treatments or adoption complications or even loss of a child.

And when we did have a miscarriage scare at 5 weeks that to our surprise turned out to be okay, there came extreme relief yet slight guilt of being one of the lucky ones who God spared while so many other deserving couples on the sidelines were not so lucky and had to hear the heart shattering words “I’m so sorry for your loss” in the coldness and emptiness of a doctor’s office.

I definitely can’t leave out the feelings of fear and anger that overcame me nearly every time I turned the TV or radio on and learned of another protest, homicide, mass shooting, drug bust, inappropriate student/teacher contact, terrorist threat, and natural disaster that raged on all around the world, realizing I can’t protect this precious God-given gift from it all no matter how bad I want to.

And of course, eventually came the insatiable need to binge eat an entire sleeve of Oreos or a jar of Vlasic pickles in one sitting. Laughing hysterically at memes on Google images — and then literally sobbing two seconds later because I just realized the chinese place in Buffalo closed an hour ago and all I wanted out of life was some damn cashew chicken. Then the food aversions. Oh, the food aversions! I went from eating everything in sight to only eating saltine crackers and applesauce and, well basically being a vegetarian (and I am married to a beef farmer, mind you…) And we can’t forget the sudden talent of being able to sleep anywhere — literally, ANYWHERE — to the point I swear I’m metamorphasizing into a cat or soreness so intolerable that someone could literally bring me to my knees if they accidentally bumped me in the boobs even slightly. Oh yeah. There is definitely no “glow.” And can I just say that I never knew a human could PEE. SO. MUCH.

And as for clinging to the toilet like a starstruck tween girl on Nick Jonas to projectile vomit because I caught a whiff of the husband frying sausage and eggs for breakfast??

Well, I’ll just let you envision that one for yourselves…

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So, yeah. Quite the wild journey it has been so far for only ten weeks in! I would say that to my surprise I have had the GREATEST sleep of my life but I don’t currently have a piece of wood to knock on and I definitely don’t want to jinx myself, so I think I’ll just quit while I’m ahead…  

Because let’s be real. That perk is gonna go away realllllll fast when I swell up like a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade and become an internal punching bag at 2 AM for this kid.

People ask me all the time if pregnancy is everything I imagined it would be, I never really know what to tell them because to be honest,  it’s something completely unimaginable until you experience it firsthand. I mean, sure. I always pictured what I would look like with a baby bump in the mirror and have most definitely designed the most immaculate dream preggo wardrobe board on Pinterest. I always dreamed of how many kids we would have running around in the front yard (yes, I’ll admit I’ve done the pencil test or M.A.S.H game from time to time back in my day…) and have even occasionally scribbled a cute baby name I heard while out and about on a napkin in my glovebox so I wouldn’t forget it later on. But now that it’s actually a reality, it’s a completely different shift. Like when I saw that flutter on the screen at my first ultrasound and heard that tiny heartbeat after two LONG days of bed rest waiting to either confirm or deny whether or not we lost our baby. When I realized that I will get to celebrate the next Mother’s Day for the very first time and see Christmas morning through different eyes in a couple years. Or how much fun it will be to pick out the most adorable teeny outfits and nursery paint colors and completely buy out Carter’s and Babies’R’Us just because I just can’t contain myself.  Or what it will feel like to see my husband – my very best friend of ten years who I have been through everything with – holding our baby for the very first time in his arms. To love him on a level unlike any other, not just as my husband but as a father to the greatest thing in our life. To see that look on his face when he stares into the eyes of something so perfect and little, vowing to love and protect him/her until his last breath. To feel the butterflies from within as this bump beneath my T-shirt grows more and more each day — even though I may have to sacrifice my bootylicious jeans and gain a few stretch marks in the process. To feel that first kick or hear that first cry after a long, painful labor I thought I’d never survive. To wonder if he or she will have my nose and daddy’s eyes and who they will grow up to be someday. To come home from the hospital with a newborn in the backseat — and literally have NO CLUE what to do next.

Also, I kind of can’t wait to watch Kurtis gag at his first dirty diaper change. That really gets my soul singing.

It truly is an experience like none other. From going from someone’s daughter, granddaughter, wife, aunt, sister, friend, and teacher to someone’s mom is a feeling that there are simply not enough words to blog about. And If I really want to open up here, I will confess that I am becoming a newer, stronger version of myself and slowly climbing up out of the ruts that years of struggling with depression had left engraved on my heart, because I am finally realizing that being a mother is what I never knew I always wanted and needed all along. Those scars and voids are being mended the more this bump grows because I know this blessing came just at the right time, when God knew I needed it most to make sense out of this crazy, beautiful life.

This is my purpose. This is my WHY. And it feels so good to finally know what that is.

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Oh, how different our little world is going to be here just in seven short months! Sure, there are lots of “unpleasant” truths about pregnancy I could complain about. I mean, I won’t lie. I have so many fears about this whole process ranging anywhere from being a good enough mom to taking someone else’s unwanted parenting “advice” calmly to how my body can possibly take all that stretching and trauma to accidentally defecating on the delivery table.

Yeah, buddy. I lose sleep over that one…

And I have since learned NOT to Google pregnancy/birthing stories because, well, that one never turns out pleasant.

But to be honest most days I can’t really focus on the negative because there are just too many things about it all to celebrate.

So I choose to focus on the celebrating part.

And also on thanking God daily for blessing me with exactly what I needed at this stage in my life.


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Closing Time

Because moving on is part of moving forward.

Today was quite the day, you guys.


It was my last official day as an agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor for Niangua R-V High School. {And before you say anything like “shouldn’t you already be off for the summer and toes-deep in the sand on some beach somewhere sippin’ a pina colada?” please note that ag teachers are on a 12 month contract from July to June, which basically means we are running on auto-pilot 24/7, 365 days a year. We also drink our coffee very very very very black, eat drive-thru’s on the daily, and have mastered the art of sleeping with our eyes open. True story. }

So June is already here and gone. This morning I took my last hour-long drive through all those hills, curves, and miles of countryside that I’ve come to know by heart – as they have carried me in their arms this entire year, pumping me up for my mornings and winding me down at the end of another long day. I threw away the last poster from my wall, peeled sticky tack off my bulletin boards, and cleaned the rest of my highlighters and sticky notes and bobby pins and scented Germ-X out of my desk. I loaded boxes and boxes of all my lesson plans, family pictures, Hobby Lobby decorations, plaques, and my old FFA jacket in the back of my car. I unplugged my coffee pot and emptied the mini fridge that hid my jug of sweet tea when I needed an afternoon caffeine boost and all my chocolate for when I needed that little sugar rush while staying late grading papers. I hugged some co-workers goodbye…and may have also left sappy notes in their mailboxes.

{ Yeah buddy, I’m THAT girl. }

I watered the greenhouse and swept my shop floor one final time. I turned in my keys for the new teacher coming along and took my name tag off my door. And I sat one more time in my squeaky chair and stared at all those empty desks that not too long ago were full of the students that became “my kids” this past year.

Right here in this little room that was home for so many of us who desperately needed it.

We did a lot of learning and growing in this tiny classroom. We lived, we loved, and we laughed.

Also, we killed LOTSSSS of spiders.

We had heart-to-hearts before the morning tardy bell sounded and deep life discussions before the last bell of the day rang. A lot of “your mom” jokes were fired {okay, so I’m not the most “politically correct” teacher there ever was…} and many General’s Orders for saying cuss words out loud were written. In this room I prayed in desperation, cursed in frustration, cried in defeat, smiled in proudness, and celebrated in triumph. In this room I sat in this very chair one year ago as a first year teacher – so fragile, like a paper airplane in a hurricane – thinking there was no way I’d survive it all.

But, here I am, still soaring.

Last year’s beginning is already today’s end…and I really can’t believe it.

And I won’t lie…I’m a little unsteady about what’s coming next for me as my identity will soon completely change from a high school ag teacher to a middle school math and science teacher.

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However, as this bittersweet conclusion to a beautiful journey I’ve experienced this past year has officially drawn to an end, I know it’s now the start of a new and exciting chapter in my life story. And for that, I am happy.

I am really, genuinely happy.

In a month I will hang different posters in my new classroom and decorate new bulletin boards. My pictures and plaques and little personal touches will be unboxed again, a million new nail holes will plaster the walls, and new students will soon come rushing through my door. My Pinterest Lesson Plan board will slowly evolve from “parts of a cow” and “welding tips” to all things osmosis, phases of the moon, solving inequalities, and the Pythagorean Theorem. I will exchange all those red staff polos and Cardinal’s T-Shirts in the back of my closet with purple and gold ones that say “Hermitage Hornets” on them. I will make new memories, befriend new co-workers, experience new challenges, and achieve new and greater heights.

And above all I will keep learning and growing and loving all those kiddos on my new class roster, even if I do roast them with a “your mom” joke from time to time.

{Don’t worry, I DO know when there’s a time and place for it…** insert eye roll here**}

I know good things are ahead for this girl, although some amazing memories and that old weathered “Welcome to Niangua” sign will soon be in my rear-view for good. 

It’s hard, but it’s time.

It’s time to roll the windows down, crank those speakers, and let my hair fly in the breeze as I press on down this new road, because after all; moving on is part of moving forward.

And what a coincidence that the song jamming on my playlist this very moment by one of my all-time favorite 90’s bands just happens to be the perfect summary for it all.

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So, what more is there really left to say?

Except…

On to the next adventure.

 

Oh yeah, and I also need gas…

 

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Fess Up, Get Up.


So it’s time I fess up.


I’ve not been {completely} honest with you all.

You read my blogs. You compliment my latest engagement or wedding session on my photography page. You see my pictures on Instagram and follow my life on Facebook nearly every day from the other side of the computer screen. You shake my hand at church every Sunday morning and sing along as I play the piano for the congregation. You laugh at all my stupid jokes when we go out for dinner and drinks on a girls night out. You hear me reply “I’m good” when I check out at your register at Wal-Mart and you ask me about my day. You see me smile back at you in the McDonald’s drive thru when I stop for my morning coffee. You heard my valedictorian speech when I graduated high school and watched me walk stage when I earned that four-year degree. You pass me the salt and pepper at family dinners from across the table and ask about my future plans – and you think I have it all figured out. You see the smiles, sunshine, accomplishments, and happiness that I choose to show the world. That’s how you see me because that’s all I’ve ever let you know about me.

But what you don’t know is there’s more…so much more.

What you don’t know is that this morning I was late to work because it was such a chore to get out of bed and face another hard day.

What you don’t know is on my days off I am really spending about 13-15 hours a day in bed in my dark room alone while my husband is out making a living for us and being The Responsible One…until finally I scramble to get a load of laundry folded, wash the dishes from last night’s dinner, and grab a quick shower before he comes home so he doesn’t have to see me this way yet again.

What you don’t know is that while to you I often look like a chicken running around with my head cut off doing anything for everyone and trying to keep up with my busy schedule, I like it that way because it distracts me from feeling worthless.

What you don’t know is I love teaching because it gives me purpose.

What you don’t know is I love photography for the sole reason that it lets me capture the very small things in life that are rare and beautiful and often unnoticed and forces me to reflect on these tidbits of joy when I am at my weakest.


What you don’t know is the reason I have to constantly have music blaring no matter what I’m doing is because it helps drown out the silence and loneliness I often feel. And I don’t really care that it annoys you when you’re around me, because sometimes it’s all I have to get me through.

What you don’t know is that every time you stop and ask me how long I’ve been married and inform me that it’s about time to start cranking out kids because my biological clock is ticking I cringe and want to cry…because this darkness I am struggling through is completely diminishing the beautiful and exciting and fun image I once had of motherhood.

What you don’t know is that before I sat down to write these words you’re reading right now I called my doctor to schedule another appointment and renew another prescription. I’m not sure if it’s going to work, but I did it anyways.

What you don’t know is several weeks ago I had to gather any ounce of hope and strength I had left to really talk myself into choosing to live when I was at the end of my rope and suddenly didn’t want to anymore. 

And I did this alone, because you didn’t know. Because I didn’t tell you.

I never told you that I struggle with this battle.

Every. Single. Day.

I’m guessing if you’ve made it this far it’s safe to say this is definitely not what you were expecting to read from the girl who always seems to have something positive to say or a story to laugh about. You came here for inspiration or a good chuckle, not a re-enactment of a Cymbalta commercial, right?

But…as uncomfortable as it may be to read these words…it’s the truth – my truth. And the truth isn’t always pretty or easy to confess, which is why you’ve never heard any of this until now. I just wasn’t ready. And quite honestly I didn’t think you cared, because afterall my problems probably don’t hold a candle to what some of you face daily.

But they say the first step to a better tomorrow is recognizing you have a problem and asking for help today.

So, here I am.

Besides. I figure it’s much better for you all to read this than my obituary, right?

I will say that I do have strong moments, which I try to share with you all any chance I get. There are good days where I manage to find joy in the little things and genuinely feel happy…for example, yesterday, when my parents came over with my sisters and I was babysitting my niece. Dad cooked dinner for us on the grill and we spent the entire evening riding around the farm on four-wheelers, watching the cows graze and swim in the pond, chasing lightning bugs beneath the June sunset, and just, well, being together.


Yesterday was such a good day…then today was hard again for no reason at all. It ebbs and flows, I guess. And I swear if one more person tells me that “happiness is a choice” and that I should “count my blessings”, I am going to smack them in the face with my journal and chuck my pills at them.

Because if they knew anything at all about depression they would understand that nothing about it is a choice. I don’t recall pulling a twenty out of my wallet and saying “Sure! I’ll take it!” when the Devil came knocking on my door soliciting this emptiness and darkness that has been overtaking me for several years now. 

I don’t get it. I can’t really tell you when it all began and how it got to this point so fast. I mean, sure I’ve had my fair share of heartbreaks. I’ve lost ones I loved so soon and so tragically. I’ve experienced family drama and have lived through the destruction of divorce. Twice. I’ve dealt with the aftermath of my biological father abandoning me at four years old. Some of my closest friends have come and gone forever. I’ve been rejected and told no from some amazing opportunities I thought I had in the bag. I’ve came in second place against some people who wrongfully took first. I’ve had to say goodbye to my comfort zone and jump head first into major life changes I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve watched horrible people get away with horrible, unspeakable things and have let all the wrong people push me around in all the wrong ways. Nothing I’ve went through is too traumatic compared to what others have to go through every day, but it still all adds up, ya know?

But on the other hand I have a lot of great people in my life. I am smart, talented, and successful. I have salvation…though I’ve not been the most stellar Christian lately and can’t tell you the last time I knelt in serious prayer. I have a job, even if it isn’t the one I necessarily had in mind. I love my husband and my husband loves me. We have fun together and have a beautiful life. I just can’t seem to fully enjoy it like I want to because the good times seem to only be temporary. I don’t understand this pain and can’t give you a textbook answer for why I have it. All I can tell you is that it’s just here – living in the inner depths of my soul and heart and mind – and I want it to pack its bags and get the heck out so I can enjoy my life again like I used to.


Yeah, I struggle.

But despite how crummy I felt this morning as my familiar friends Stress, Anxiety, Guilt, and Shame came barging in at 7 a.m. to ruin my day, the important lesson I’m taking from today is that eventually I did get up.

I took a shower. Got dressed.  Ate some breakfast – which I never do. I went to work. Texted a good friend to invite her over to see our new house and eat dinner – after she cuts these split-ends off that I’ve been neglecting for a good year and a half now. I made that appointment….and this time I promise I will go and won’t make another excuse or tell myself to suck it up or spend another day like this. I wrote this journal entry and shared it with you just in case you needed to know that you’re not alone and this girl you look at as Little Miss Sunshine has her fair share of cloudy days, too, just like anyone else.

It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone, like I sometimes feel. And if you’ve been where I am or are there now, I hope you realize that, too.

And I know it’s hard. It’s SO. HARD. Getting out of bed and going to work when you’re already physically, emotionally, and mentally drained is hard. Going to therapy is hard. Taking meds is hard. Telling someone you love that you’re struggling is hard. Admitting it to yourself that you have a problem when you know there are so many beautiful blessings surrounding you is hard. And trust me when I say that writing about it and exposing it to the rest of the world full of your friends, family, and complete strangers is even harder – especially when some of them just don’t get it because it’s not a war they’ve ever had to fight.

But, it’s also absolutely necessary if we want to be one of the Lucky Ones. You know, the Survivors. The reality of this horrible illness is not easy to take in. For every person who gets their life back after depression, there are many others on the sidelines who do not. This has to change…starting with me and you.

We’ll get there.

I know I’m nowhere close to where I want to be…but I am making baby steps in the right direction. 

Day by day, right? 


That’s what matters. Not where I came from or even necessarily where I’m at right now, but where I’m going. Just the fact that I am still here today writing this and for once finding beauty in the rain coming down outside is proof that there is still hope out there for me.

The happiness is temporary, but that also means that so is the pain. And today, I’m going to focus my attention on that…and maybe even dance in the rain because right now I feel strong enough to do so…and there’s a damn good John Mellencamp song playing on my iPod.

So if you’re reading this and can relate at all – whether miles apart, down the street,  or in the very next room – please know that although you and I have our separate battles and I don’t have much energy left to get myself through most days, we’re not alone in this. My heart holds your hands through your toughest days and darkest hours.

And I can’t thank you nearly enough for holding mine at such a fragile and vulnerable time in my life as I am striving to get back up from the heavy waves that have held me down long enough.


A Brown Renovation Story

So the Hubby and I recently decided to tackle our first DIY project together in our married life.

 

Don’t worry…we haven’t killed each other and no one has had to attend therapy yet. (Stay tuned, just in case…)

 
Long story short, after some BIG career switches, we are now living on his family farm that has been in the family for nearly 70 years. On this property stand two houses – the main farmhouse that we are going to completely overhaul in about a year after we get our life and finances in a little better order and this little bitty studio home that we have been fixing up and are currently living in for the time being.

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For about the past month we have been {attempting} channeling our inner Chip and Joanna Gaines by trying to flip this place into something we can call home temporarily while we remodel our dream house, so we don’t have to live in the middle of a disaster zone.

 
Because let’s be real…ain’t nobody got time for not being able to use the shower or toilet for a week, scraping popcorn ceilings all over their nice furniture, or wiping sheetrock dust off the kitchen counter just so they can make a flipping peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

 
Although I’m pretty sure we could star in an episode of “Tiny House, Big Living” this place has so far worked out amazing, considering all it really needed was some paint, new flooring and trim, a couple new windows, and some MAJOR cleaning.

 
It has been quite the learning experience thus far, from tearing out linoleum to hanging ceiling fans to trying to find any place at all to put the coffee pot and all the Tupperware. (Never underestimate a woman with decorative baskets and cabinet organizers from Bed Bath and Beyond!) But after several exhausting weeks, we are FINALLY moved in and it’s starting to feel like home sweet home!

 
Now, before I get too far into this, let me just clarify some things so we’re all on the same page here. If you came here for a professional design blog with very detailed DIY instructions of how to flip a shack into an immaculate HGTV worthy mansion by two highly skilled and reno-savvy people, you’re DEFINITELY in the wrong place (although we would feel pretty honored). However, if you came here to watch the hilarious but totally honest journey of two completely inexperienced homeowners with a tight budget who had their fair share of struggles, epic fails, and head scratching moments while taking on this crazy adventure, then welcome aboard the hot mess express! We’re your kind of people!

 
Se here it is, the Reality of Home Renovations, as told by The Browns.

 

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PART 1: The Overhaul, A.K.A Mission Impossible

Someone once told me I could make even a port-a-potty look cute, which I about died laughing because this place was definitely not much of a step above that when we first began. I remember when we first got the idea of fixing this little house to live in for the year until we could remodel the big house…and then basically crying when we walked through the front door.

 
This place sat vacant for years, after my husband’s great aunt passed away. Now please understand that NONE of her clothes, furniture, dishes, or even food in the cabinets had been cleaned out for all this time, not to mention the fact that several windows were busted, screens were torn, mice had defecated all over the kitchen countertops and carpet, and spiders and flies plastered about every square inch of the floors – some dead, some alive.

 
Why smell four years of abandonment when you can practically taste it?


It was rough, yo. I remember standing there thinking, we’re nuts! There’s no freaking way. It was 450 square feet of filth and pure horror. I mean, you practically needed a tetanus shot just to even turn the light switch on! I swore there wasn’t enough bleach, Febreze, Scentsy cubes, or pinesol in the world to fix this mess, let alone make it livable.

 
But my ever-so-calm and always reassuring husband convinced me that we really could do this, with a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of elbow grease.

 
And so, it began!

 
First task was to empty the place one Hefty trash bag and truck load at a time, then tear out the disgusting carpet and linoleum. That alone made the place smell A LOT better – and made for a hellacious bonfire!

Part 2: The Make-Over

Next all the trim and outlet/light switch covers were removed and the walls were scrubbed so we could begin painting! I knew from the get-go that this place was going to be a farmhouse-style cottage when I got done with it, so picking just the right colors for the walls and cabinets that would complement all my furniture and décor and not make this tiny space feel even more closterphobic was critical to the end result.

The cabinets were definitely the most exciting part of the entire project – not to mention WAYYYYY easier than I expected! And trust me when I say that I am definitely no Picasso and have absolutely ZERO experience when it comes to painting and distressing things. I just picked up the paintbrush and taught myself, and it was definitely do-able! I changed my mind a couple times once I actually began painting and didn’t like the color, but in the end decided to paint the bathroom vanity with Indigo chalk paint from Market 116 in Buffalo (really looks more like a charcoal gray, not blue – thank goodness because that’s what I was going for!) This paint is ahhh-mazing! It’s no sanding, no priming, and advertises as only needing one coat, but I did two to be safe! 😉 There are so many colors and they also have tons of cheap sample sizes you can try out before you commit to a full sized can, which costs $35 but is TOTALLY worth it and goes really far!


I let the paint COMPLETELY dry then I brought out the detail and grain with this alsphaltum antiquing gel (SUPER easy to apply and also available from Market 116 in sample and full-can sizes for around the same price as the paint!) Basically you brush it ALL over the paint then use cheese cloth or something that doesn’t shed fibers (like old T-shirt rags or those soft blue shop paper towels) and wipe off what you don’t want to keep to create a distressed look to your liking! The key I learned with distressing with the gel is to move WITH the grain and wipe as straight as possible. What I love is that it is very forgiving in that if you apply to much, you can easily wipe it off or if you want to add more you can easily brush more on until you get the desired results. And if you mess up? Who cares! Just paint over it, let it dry, and start again! 😉

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Originally I had picked out a creamy tan for all of my kitchen cabinets, but I ended up loving the dreamy charcoal look so much on my bathroom vanity that I decided to go two-tones with my kitchen cabinets, using the Indigo chalk paint on the bottom and the Gray Taupe for the uppers. I LOVED the end result and the two colors really matched my ugly laminate countertop and made it look so much better! After distressing everything and adding some new hardware, I had new kitchen cabinets and a bathroom vanity that looked like a million bucks – for less than $150 altogether!!! #BargainStatus

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So basically I am now addicted to chalk paint and have since also redone ALL of our dressers, the bed, and TV stand…and believe me when I say there’s plenty more where that came from!IMG_5202

For the walls, I ended up going with Valspar Blue Twilight for our bedroom and Stone Mason Gray for the rest of the house (From Lowes, which I’m pretty sure we kept in business during this entire adventure!) I was very pleased with the results against the white trim and new cabinets!


Next challenge was the flooring, which we also purchased from Lowes. We ended up going with these vinyl click together planks that look like real barnwood by Shaw – which any farmhouse-look addict can definitely appreciate! We loved that they are durable, waterproof, beautiful, and not to mention – affordable! We did the entire house for about $800. DISCLAIMER** we are definitely NOT pros, and my hubby had to tear it all out a couple times and restart, but he did such a fabulous job! And we are thoroughly convinced that God created knee pads just for this job and trim to hide all the imperfections of accidentally cutting the pieces too short! 😉


Now, let’s backtrack a little so we don’t lose the effect here….
Before……

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And after! What an AMAZING difference paint, floors, trim, and cleaning can make!

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Part 3: The Staging and Decorating

One of my FAVORITE things to do after moving in is finding the perfect places to put all of my flea market finds and Hobby Lobby treasures. It’s so amazing watching a room completely come to life with hanging a picture here, adding some greenery there, and throwing in a fun rug and some accent pillows. In this case, these finishing touches were exactly what we needed to make this tiny place cute, quaint, country, and cozy! **Side note, this is usually a matter of arranging and re-arranging about ten times and adding about a hundred new nail holes until I am completely satisfied!

Part 4: The Deleted Scenes and Bloopers

I saved the best part for last with this blog, lemme tell ya! As with about any catastrophe in life, I always try to find the humor or lesson learned in each situation to make the most of it – because after all there is no such thing as perfect, there’s only reality!! So as for the things HGTV doesn’t show you about the truths of renos….you’re welcome!

 
1- When patching holes that go COMPLETELY through the drywall and even expose to the world outside, duct taping the mesh patch on the wall without correctly puttying and sanding over it is NOT how you do it….

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2- When your husband is laying the floors, do NOT point out that he cut off too much and that even though it is in the back of the closet behind all the shoe racks and hampers and closed doors and no one will ever see it, you will still always know in your heart the flaw is there. Yeah, that one doesn’t end too well!

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3- When touching up paint after the new floors and trim are installed, you might want to check and make sure you are indeed using the correct shade of paint…or your wife will yell for having to redo it herself…and DON’T tell her just to cover it up with a dresser, because she will totally bring up the messed up floor in the closet…

 

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He’s been told he’s color blind, but he doesn’t seem to think he is…
4- Painter’s Tape – the biggest lie ever.

 

 

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NOTHING about this is straight….
5- Understand that clothes WILL get ruined forever and you’ll be scraping paint off your hands in the shower for weeks.

 


6- Cleaning up first requires making even bigger messes.

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7- Never underestimate the power of using a level when hanging things.

 

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Fail.
8- Believe it or not, cabinet and furniture hardware doesn’t always come in standard 3-inch sizes, so measure first.

 

 

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Well, crap….
9- Sometimes your weatherproof tarp sticks out from your siding and you’re too frustrated to fix it. Thus the Lord invented the X-acto knife.

 

 

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I don’t know what’s funnier…the fact that we did this or the fact that we tried to paint over it to hide it better.
10- When installing a stove in a place that is too small, be prepared that your husband will probably just cut the trim off {noticeably too short} to force it to fit…

 

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11- When revamping a dresser into an adorable TV stand with convenient DVD storage because your old entertainment center won’t fit in your new house, you might want to first double check that your TV isn’t too big and will just hang off the edges.

 

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Just flipping fabulous….looks like we’re buying a mount!
12- Measure twice, cut once. Enough said. 

 

 

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Why use a ruler when you can “eyeball” it….
13- What happens to the stuff that doesn’t fit in your tiny house? It gets crammed in your husband’s shop.

 

 

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Don’t worry, he’ll have this spotless in no time so his truck can fit in here!
14- If you are lazy like us and don’t wash the brushes and rollers out to re-use, you might want to get ahead of the game and buy plenty upfront.

 

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15- No matter how much you beg and bribe your husband to hang up the new ceiling fan, it will probably sit in the shop and collect dust for weeks because he has other “priorities.”

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16- Face it. It’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE {despite your valiant efforts} to cover all the eyesores in your house and land the perfect lighting to capture perfect shots of the finished project that you would feel confident enough submitting in a magazine. So, ya might as well embrace it!

See if you can spot all the eyesores in my little I Spy game here…

 

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For example, toilet paper rolls and toothbrushes…
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Freaking flies…
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Trash cans, air conditioners, outlets/cords, and dirty dishes…
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The unpacked amazon box I tried to hide from the photos, but made it in one anyways…
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Annnndddd of course, the hubby’s hat.
 

 

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So here we are, about two weeks in to living in our new home, which we’ve nicknamed as the Little House on the Prairie. (And our new motto is, as Alan Jackson would say, it’s alright to be little bitty!) While we have to take three minute showers because our hot water heater is small enough to be a footstool and we have to walk up to the main house to do laundry and eat off TV trays because we can’t fit our washer and dryer or kitchen table in here, this place is becoming home sweet home and we are LOVING it!

 
When I reflect back through all these photos it’s almost impossible to believe we can now confidently sleep at night, cut vegetables on the countertops, or even walk around barefoot in here. It’s been a wild ride, but through it all we have definitely changed out outlook on what it means to work hard as a team and have a vision for what could be.

 
Of course, pictures are never the same as the real deal so come on over sometime, have a cup of sweet tea, chat with us about our experience, and see it for yourself! Our door is always open to friends and family! {Except those crazy mother in-laws….kidding!}

 

Chances are I’ll be sitting right here with my feet kicked up watching competitive tennis on my too-big- TV  because we don’t have Dish and our X-Box isn’t hooked up yet to play movies and stream Netflix. It will probably be this way for a while because, you know, my hubby has “other priorities.” 😉

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Tough Decisions

“Dear Mr. Bransfield…”


There I sat, blankly staring at my computer screen in my classroom with sweaty palms, trembling hands, and a heavy heart that felt like it was going to beat itself right out of my chest no matter how hard I desperately tried to hold on and told myself to just breathe.

In a matter of minutes I would be printing that letter and sealing the envelope – no, my fate – to the profession I loved so dearly and worked so hard for since I graduated high school five years ago.

I was about to officially resign my position as the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Niangua High School for the next school year.

And the scarier thing? I didn’t have a clue what my next move was going to be.

For weeks my husband and I talked about this after he received an amazing and unexpected job opportunity for a new line engineering position in his company that would allow us to move back home to our family and the farm over an hour away, which we’ve always wanted from Day One. As new and exciting as we knew this journey would be, it required both of us giving up the current jobs we loved and excelled at to take a new path in a new place that was well out of our comfort zones. For me it was even harder, as no other ag teaching positions were open in the area we were moving to and I didn’t know what I was going to do for income the next year.

Now if you don’t know much about Cross Timbers, Missouri, I will simply tell you this. I absolutely love love love living in this little corner of the world. However, finding good job opportunities here is hard to come by and often times requires about a 45- 60 mile commute no matter which direction you go. Welcome to Small Town, USA! (And don’t even ask what happens when you run out of milk or toilet paper…)

So, yeah. To say I was a bit stressed out is the understatement of the year.

Do I quit? Do I tough it out and stay at Niangua and drive almost an hour and a half every day one-way? Live with my grandparents in the town next to where I worked or buy a small apartment to live in just for the week? Become self-employed and pick up my photography business again? Substitute teach? Go back for my Master’s Degree? Do we start a family and I just stay at home for a while? Can we even afford that right now?

Wait, wait, I’ve got it. I’m going to make my break and audition for The Voice. Problem solved.

Or at least it would be if I could sing.…

Dang. **Back to the drawing board**

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People would stop me out and about and ask me all the time what I was going to do when they heard the news about us leaving and starting this new journey. I would just fake a smile and tell them I wasn’t sure, but was trusting it would all work out. I replied kindly and tried to hold it together, but in all honesty I just wanted to curl up in a ball on the ground and cry…because as much as I knew people meant well by asking me all these daunting questions about my future, their words also felt like daggers ripping through my chest.

Because the truth was I was completely clueless.

For weeks it was endless days and nights of deliberating at the kitchen table over dinner. Weighing pros and cons in the car on our way to the grocery store. Thought-crunching in the shower. Praying and asking God for any ounce of enlightenment while updating my resume and desperately stalking the moteachingjobs website. Dancing around like fools in our living room as we were celebrating the fact that we were packing boxes for the LAST time to move into our forever home. Holding each other and crying together in bed wondering if we made the right decision when the reality of it all finally hit and we both said our goodbyes to the co-workers that became friends and students that became the kids that weren’t ours but we claimed as our own anyways.

Yeah, it was hard, I’ll be completely real with you. And I’m pretty sure we kept the Kleenex company in business during those long weeks as I boxed up my classroom and he cleaned out his work truck and we took this giant leap of faith into The Unknown.

I’m not even sure Siri could define the perfect word for how we were feeling about this situation without having some sort of technical/robotic/psychotic breakdown trying to sort out all our thoughts and feelings.

We were no doubt riding front seat on the emotional roller coaster of Adulting and Life. Hands in the air, screaming at the top of our lungs, full-speed through all the loops and drops and turns that lay outstretched before us.

Which is kind of ridiculous considering that leaving is definitely not out of the ordinary for us. I mean, we have packed up our life and moved for our jobs literally every year since we got married three years ago, so we’re basically experts. Seriously, I should have some sort of professional certificate in cleaning rent houses, painting walls, and patching drywall. (Ugh, WHYYYY do I even bother using a hammer and a nail when we are going to just leave again in nine months and I’ll have to take it all down again…)

And as for packing boxes onto trailers and using ratchet straps? Let’s just say U-Haul ain’t got nothing on this homegirl…

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This is nothing new. We’ll be fine. We’ve quit many jobs before and have moved a million times, and it’s always worked out, we kept telling ourselves. But somehow…it was different this time. We both felt an uneasiness about not knowing what would happen next for me and what that would mean for our upcoming finances with investing in a farm and renovating a new house. But, we tried to write it off as much as possible and just keep riding on faith and gas station energy drinks.

That’s when I got the message.

Remember when I listed off all those things I considered doing with my life this next year? How ironic it is that the one thing I never considered would be the next opportunity to come knocking on my door, or in this case, popping up in my inbox?

A good friend of mine who I’ve always loved and respected as a professional in the education field informed me of an opening at her school district for a middle school math and science position that still remained unfilled for the upcoming school year, which I was very apprehensive about at first. She explained how they needed someone passionate and energetic to step up to the plate and kindly encouraged me that she felt like I would be a great fit for the job, even though it wasn’t a content area I was used to teaching and would require quite a bit of a learning curve on my end.

“Would you have any interest in applying at all? I would love to talk with you about the options!”

I about fell out of my chair.

Options?

Here I was, feeling all bitter and defeated that I was giving up a job that I really enjoyed with students I really loved to just sit at home for a year until another agriculture teaching position came open close to home – whenever and IF ever that may be. Don’t get me wrong, I completely supported my husband and was thrilled for his new adventure, but couldn’t help but feel slightly envious deep down that I didn’t have an exciting opportunity lined up to help fill the void of missing my old job and no longer contributing substantially to our income. I had given up all hope and accepted the reality that I would just have to leave the profession of teaching for a while and make my living by some other means. Then suddenly I have…options??? Options that were only FIFTEEN minutes from my doorstep for that matter???

Could I really do that? Teach something….new? Different? Hmmm…

The next day I received a phone call from another school district with similar news, asking me to consider applying for another possible job opportunity as a high school special education co-teacher.

More options? Sweet Jesus, it’s like Christmas!

So once again, my husband and I found ourselves carefully weighing the pros and cons of each position, just like all those nights before when we deliberated about whether or not he should consider his new job offer. It seemed like yet another impossible decision, as both were such great and unexpected opportunities that each came with their own set of challenges. No matter which way I went, I knew was going to have to face change.

And change is, well, scary.

Needless to say, after two interviews, one LOOOONNNNNGGGGG weekend, many sleepless nights, several phone calls to friends and family, and a rather detailed pros and cons chart later (yeah, yeah…I’m a nerd, don’t laugh…) I decided to trust my gut feeling and accept the middle school science/math position.

Now, I tell you all this not to ramble on for over 2,000 words and waste five minutes of your life reading about two complete strangers and how they’re practically driving the struggle bus off the nearest cliff. (Yes, I’ve been told I’m a bit dramatic…)

I tell it because in the aftermath of it all – through all the tears, heartbreak, excitement, and fear of the great unknown –  there were lessons learned. Lessons worth sharing because my guess is like us, YOU too have experienced your fair share of tough decisions in your own life. And if you haven’t yet? Well saddle up and get ready, because your wild ride is sure to come around someday!

So, basically there are four morals to this story worth talking about. And I’m not the most eloquent or profound writer ever, so I’ll just borrow a few quotes from the pros to summarize my general thoughts.

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#1 ~ There will come a time when you think everything is finished. That will just be the beginning. – Louis L’Amour.

I won’t lie. It got pretty dark for me there for a while after I turned my letter of resignation in. I felt like I had just signed my death sentence. I knew it was all a blessing in disguise and we were making the best decision for our future by making this big change, but I thought it was all over for me because I didn’t have a job lined up at the end of my contract with Niangua. I was really going to miss my students, the community, and all my work friends. More importantly I was going to miss the sense of belonging I had by impacting students lives every day – so much that it broke my heart and I balled like a baby every day on my way to and from work. I felt like I somehow failed when I walked away from it all, even though I obviously couldn’t control the fact that there wasn’t another job opportunity waiting for me when we moved.

But you know what?

Opportunity found its own way to me in God’s perfect timing. And the end of that chapter is just the turning of a new page for what’s coming next in my story.

I can feel it.

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#2 ~ Be willing to be a beginner every single morning. – Meister Eckhart

When my husband and I decided to make the big switch with both of our careers, we realized how overwhelmed and under-qualified we probably were, but we didn’t let that stop us from taking the risk anyway. We knew were both about to become something that we weren’t, something that we never had experience in being, and something that we would both have to work our absolute hardest to become if we were going to do it right.

Now don’t get me wrong, we are both still VERY nervous, but somehow we both know it’s going to be okay. We are willing to learn from mistakes we make today so we can be better tomorrow.

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#3 ~ The weaker we feel, the harder we lean on others. The harder we lean on others, the more we grow. – JJ Packer

Stop it.

Stop thinking that your problems are yours to face alone.

Stop  thinking that you can’t ask for help, because it’s a sign of weakness.

Stop thinking that just because you’re an adult in the real world you have to make all the big decisions yourself, because after all it is YOUR life.

Stop feeling guilty about expressing your fears and worries to others because their problems are way more complicated than your own.

Just stop.

We would have never been able to reach a rational decision that we felt good about if it wasn’t for the outpouring love, support, advice, and prayers from our loved ones and co-workers. We thankfully didn’t have to do it alone – and neither do you!

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#4 ~ The only way to know you’re making the right decision is to trust that you are. (Okay, so I really did come up with that one on my own. Go me!)

The moments leading up to calling both schools to tell them my decision were stressful, I won’t lie. I had spent so much time carefully considering all my options to make the decision that I felt was the best for me. But when I did finally decide? Suddenly I had peace of mind. It was like the fog was lifted, the void in my heart filled, and I learned how to trust fate and be bold again. I made a decision – arguably one of the most difficult ones I’ve ever had to make – and actually felt extremely confident and excited about it afterwards.

Why?

Because deep down I trusted my heart, which is ultimately always the right call.

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So as for an update on our current situation, we are both learning to simply be content right where we are in our life. We are taking this new adventure by the horns, one day at a time. We are accepting the fact that every time God closes one door in our lives, He is showing us the way to a new one that will soon be open for us to walk through. We are both learning and growing in our new professions and are excited to see where they will lead us in all our future endeavors. We realize that more challenges are ahead and more even complicated decisions are inevitably going to come our way.

That’s just life.

But no matter what happens next, we know at the end of every day we are learning and growing – together. For that, we are blessed. For that, we are thankful. For that, we are leaving it all in the hands of the Man Upstairs, because after all He’s never done us wrong before.

And for that, we are sure to conquer all the tough decisions life will throw our way for years to come.

 

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“Thank You, God, For Blessing This Farm.”

So the past two weeks, I’ve cried.

A lottttt.

And I am definitely an ugly crier. Especially when surrounded by the heartbreak of others.

Depressing camera footage televising miles of embers, ashes, and smoke where some of the most beautiful rangelands and pastures once painted the Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado skylines. Gut wrenching photos of dead cattle and horses mangled up in the remnants of barbed wire fences as they tried to flee the flames. Tear jerking interviews and biographies of farmers who have lost it all…some including their lives. The small remainder of a world that literally went black in a matter of seconds and forever changed the lives of everyone who once called it “home.” Inspiring testimonies of the ones watching on the other side of the television screen who immediately jumped up to lend a hand in some way, whether it be through semi-loads of food and clothing, trailers loaded down with hay, gift cards for T-posts and barbed wire, or simply heartfelt thoughts and prayers. And – in the midst of all the disaster – false “animal abuse” bull crap from terrorizing groups like PETA and HSUS who have been sharpening their pitchforks only to stab farmers in the back and kick them some more while they are already down when they have to put down another animal.

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An animal that can’t physically breathe due to excessive smoke inhalation.

An animal that is unrecognizable because its manes, tails, and hides are literally singed to what’s left of their skin.

An animal that can’t see, smell, or hear because its eyes and nose and ears are now part of the ashes scattered on the ground.

An animal that can’t walk because their hooves have completely burned off to nothing but bone.

An animal that lost its mom to the flames just moments after its birth.

An animal that is lying there, suffering in writhing pain and torment, as Hell burns with raging fury all around it.

An animal over which a farmer sinks his head into his palms in tears, despair, and guilt because he could not rescue it in time.

An animal that hasn’t died…yet.

If you are still clueless while reading this, I advise you take some time to research the catastrophic wildfires that have been running rampant out west these past few weeks. I assure you that if you have any sympathy at all, you will not walk away from all of the devastation unchanged – regardless if you farm or even know the difference between a heifer and a steer or not.

Absolutely. Heartbreaking.

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As I sit here watching the news and scrolling through all the Facebook articles about this disaster, I can’t help but think…what if it were us?

The mere thought of this leaves me plastered with goosebumps and tears stinging in my eyes.

My husband and I are both 23. We are just starting out, trying to build a farm from the ground up together as newlyweds in Cross Timbers, Missouri. We have considered this home since we married three years ago. Our operation may not look like much to some (as any farm couple knows how hard it is to get going in the first place let alone keep making a living on it) but we take pride in our rusty tractors, weedy fields, patched up fences, and small herd of non-registered angus crossbreeds. Farming is something that flows through my husband’s veins and stems as the result of a childhood dream to carry on the family tradition of farmers’ tans, sweaty ball caps, stained T-shirts, calloused hands, and manure-caked boots. It’s also something that I have learned to love and value alongside him – oftentimes from the comfort of the back rack of a four-wheeler during a spring rain to tag new calves that have just hit the ground, the fender of a no-cab tractor weaving through the windrows during hay season, or the bouncy buddy seat of a combine during another fescue seed harvest in the June heat.

We love it – all of it.

And if the day were to ever come where all of a sudden all of the dreams we have built together on this land were to suddenly unravel and completely disintegrate before  our eyes…we would both go down in flames with it.

To us, there is no more beautiful place on earth that we could possibly imagine spending the rest of our days together raising kids and chickens, watching sunsets, catching crappie in the pond, hunting trophy bucks off our back porch, and watching new calves frolic in the fields.

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So today I am simply being thankful. For life. For our farm. For happy, healthy cows we get to watch graze out our front window. For green grass in the summer and full hay lots and grain bins in the winter. For old barns that are still intact and that abandoned grain silo covered in vines. For broke-down machinery that can be fixed with a quick jump start, tack weld, or a shot of WD-40. For mended, crooked fences that outline and embrace these fields that we get to call ours. For the old farmhouse we will one day fill with love, laughter,  memories, and all-things Fixer Upper inspired. For blue skies, sunshine, and bright stars that blanket overhead of it all. For another day to watch my husband’s eyes light up as he heads out the door to check on his cows or fix the baler – and one more chance to fall into his arms at the end of the day when he returns, alive and safe.

For this place we call home.

So thank you, God, for blessing this farm. Remind us to never, ever take it for granted. Wrap your arms around all these families who have lost it all – and comfort those dealing with the unimaginable loss of their loved ones who gave it all to fight the flames for their animals.

And guide all of us on the sidelines as we band together and try in every way we can to help them reclaim and rebuild their dreams up out of the ashes, one by one.

 

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“P.S – Don’t Forget to Have Fun.”

So tonight I held the bi-yearly ritual of going through my closet.

 

Cleaning house, as they call it. Getting rid of all those tops that I’ve only worn a handful of times. Old T-shirts with stains and tattered threads that even a Pinterest T-shirt quilt couldn’t breathe new life into. Skirts that no longer fit….and dresses that I no longer wear because it would require tanning, leg lifts and calf raises, and also frequent leg-shaving. Shoes that are wore plum through the soles. (Yeah, I’ve been told I’m an avid pacer….) That cute romper my friends talked me into buying from Forever 21 – that still has the tags on it and has been stashed in the deep abyss of my wardrobe and forgotten since the day I brought it home because I literally have no idea when or where I could possibly ever rock something like that. (Let’s be real…I don’t really “go out” anymore.)

And of course, let’s not forget all those things that almost didn’t make the cut the last time I went through my closet, because I felt like they were staring into my soul and begging for a second chance as I was bagging them up for the next yard sale so I quickly snatched them back, shoved them in my closet, and slammed the doors shut before I could change my mind about it. (Whew, that was a close one…)

Yeah, you guessed it. I STILL haven’t worn them… #Here’sToRoundTwo…OrMaybeFive

As all these things were being stripped off the hanger one by one and chucked left and right all across the bedroom floor, my clumsiness and utter lack of coordination caused me to pull the ENTIRE rod down, letting ALL my clothes tumble to the floor and make an even bigger mess – and also, naturally, whack me on top of the noggin.

Nice one, slick.

Now, please understand something. This is a crisis for the girl whose entire wardrobe is all-things color coordinated and arranged according to sleeve-length.

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Wasn’t kidding…

Which brings me to another valid tangent…why in the world do they call it OCD if the letters aren’t even in alphabetical order? STU-to-the-PID.

But I digress…

So in the midst of all this I stand up to take care of this newfound dilemma and lo and behold there it is, on the overhead shelf, concealed behind stacks of hoodies and blanket scarves – that I should probably also go through.

My high school keepsake box. (Dunnn dunn dunnnnnn….)

Thinking the mess could wait for a little detour trip through memory lane, I reach – no, more like excessively strain on my tippy toes because my 6’2” husband wasn’t home yet – to pull it down from the shelf.

Dust bunnies? Seriously? I mean, I haven’t been out THAT long……have I? How rude.

So I wipe the gray fuzz away with my sleeve and open up this box to find some long-forgotten artifacts of the life I lived before college tuition statements, electric bills, car loans, resumes, cover letters, and W-2 forms.

Amidst all all the hilarious letters my friends and I used to pass in class, yearbooks that conceal some pretty embarrassing junior high headshots, certificates for my nerdy-ness and dedication to FFA and dance team, leftover senior pictures, my valedictorian speech (**Face palm** sweet Jesus, did I really say all of that corny “Don’t forget about me and I won’t forget about you” crap in front of everyone???) and my fifteen-sizes-too-big cap and gown, there was one thing that made me freeze right in my tracks.

A graduation card – written by one of my favorite teachers ever – which was given along with a College Survival Guide that really did offer some comfort during all those late night study sessions, tears, and finals.

While I am undeniably grateful for everyone who watched me walk across that stage with pride to receive my diploma (without tripping, I might add!) and took the time to fill out hundreds of cards full of “Congratulations!” And “You’re going to do amazing things!” this was the one graduation card that I decided to keep out of all the others. It wasn’t the fact that it was Hallmark’s fanciest piece of work. In fact, it was fairly simple cardstock engraved with a plain Jane script.

It was what was hand-written on the inside that convinced me to tuck it away, with the premonition that I would one day need to read it again. And believe me when I say this – I needed to read it then just as much as I needed to read it tonight.

“P.S – Don’t forget to have fun.”

I know. Pretty deep, right?

So here I am, sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor, clothes still strewn out everywhere, with a complimentary goose egg on my head reading these words.

Is it possible to have a mid-life crisis at 23? A mid-mid-life crisis, perhaps?

Kidding…

But there was a slight epiphany or “lightbulb flicker”. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a concussion.

So…yeah. Confession  #4,576. Sometimes I forget to have fun. I get too absorbed in conquering my extensive to-do lists, bottomless schedules, endless bills, and even those stupid dust bunnies on top of my closet shelf that I forget to take in the moments that really do matter and make the most of all the blessings I’ve been given.

I am alive and healthy today. Check.

I have a job. Check.

I have faith. Check.

I have friends, family, and a great husband. Check.

I have a roof over my head and food in my refrigerator. Check.

I have coffee, sweatpants, and Netflix. Check, check, check.

Annnnnddddd I have Best Choice frozen peas to ice this bump on my head. We’ll put a special check mark next to that one.

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When I look back on the past five years of my life since I received that graduation card, there’s nothing that alarms me too much. I mean, I’ve never robbed a bank or anything and I’m pretty sure last time I checked there’s not a warrant out for my arrest, so I must have done at least that much right. There’s been a lot of good times in my life followed by some not-so-good times. I’m definitely no mathematician, but if I were to calculate it all up I would say my laughs to tears ratio is relatively normal for a young becoming-of-age woman.

However…

There have also been numerous times when my stress, fears, and overloaded schedule compromised what could have been some pretty awesome opportunities and memories. Some of which could have probably been added to that keepsake box…or even started a new one by now.

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Seriously. Don’t be Grumpy Cat. Don’t be that guy.

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here and dwell too much on the “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ves” of my past, but I will say that I would have said “yes” a little more. (Relax, I’m not talking about drugs or rides in sketchy vans here…)

I would’ve taken that chance when I was asked if I wanted to join Sigma Alpha in college. Ate out with those girls after late night Friday class instead of going home to an empty apartment because my roommates were already homebound for the weekend. Studied abroad one more time – but this time in Costa Rica. Ripped the tags off that romper for a fun night out with my best friends that I never hardly see anymore – but said I had housework and lesson plans to get caught up on instead. Visited my favorite sunday school teacher in the nursing home I drove past every day on my way to and from work just one more time before she passed away and was gone forever. Sang karaoke at the state fair when invited to the stage by a complete stranger, just because I secretly like to sing. (If you ask my shampoo bottle, I’m not half bad…)

Yeah, buddy. All this from a five year old graduation card in a forgotten, dusty box…

So take it from the girl who is 99.9% pretty sure the Energizer Bunny is her spirit animal. When life gets a little crazy? Slowwwww. Dowwwnnnnn. Learn to let it go and let it be. Make time, even when there’s not much left at the end of a long, hard day or week. Go out with your friends. Wear that romper. Try out for that part in that play. Get that edgy haircut. Jump out of that plane (with a fully-functioning parachute, of course…) Turn off the T.V and break out that Monopoly board with your family. Date your husband or wife. Let your hair down. Take a drive. Take a vacation. Do anything you gotta do to smell the roses, or whatever.

Oh, yeah. One more thing…have a little fun, will ya?

 

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