My mom is an angel. Harp included.

mom harp angel

She doesn’t go floating around in a white robe proclaiming that virgins are going to have babies or anything, but she does play the harp.

My mom spends her time making prayer quilts for people who are sick, and baby blankets for practically all of our childhood friends who have had a kid. She volunteers at the library. She’s a nurse. And she’s probably an organ donor. So, she’s pretty close to angel status.

And she had enough love and forgiveness in her heart to write a letter to my friend who is in prison, which somehow gave me permission to finally write my own letter — at least two years after I saw on the news that my old friend had been arrested. Longer than I should have taken to reach out, even if I will never be able to wrap my head around what happened. I’m grateful for my mom’s example of compassion.

I went to see her play harp at her church Sunday for their Christmas service. It is the only kind of church service I can stomach because there is no preaching, only music.

And I was moved by the experience. Hearing all of the voices harmonizing and the orchestra with the Timpani and  the horns and violins all coming together brought a tear to my eye (not actually too difficult a task). I don’t particularly believe in the story they were singing about but it was clear that they did, they were feeling it.

I had a moment where I was able to get outside of myself and acknowledge that it was real for them, and that their belief resulted in them making something beautiful — no matter my opinion of the subject matter. How nice to be able to just accept and appreciate something for a minute, without having to judge it.

How much lighter would I feel if I allowed myself more of those moments of non-judgement? How much looser would my shoulders feel if I could just relax and take stuff in without having to classify it as “right” or “that sh*t ain’t right”, according to me?

You see what happened here, right? I accidentally had a spiritual experience…in CHURCH! Ohhh, the irony. ;-)

Thank you, Mom, for being a bad-ass harp-playing angel.

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Random Act of Kindness #2

Random acts of kindness

This week’s RAOK was sponsored by my boyfriend, sweet Dave McKinlay. When I told him about my holiday RAOK intentions for Callie he got really excited and immediately gave me money for the cause.

It turns out that he and his mom already have a long-standing RAOK tradition of their own. He told me that the only gift his mom asks for at Christmas is for him to do something nice for someone else.

So, his doing something nice got multiplied this year since he shared his gift to his mom with me, Callie, and the two migrant families that Callie’s class is buying presents for this year. Each family had 3 kids and we were able to buy a gift for each of them.

And the added, legitimately random, part of the shopping trip occurred when I attempted to use a $10-off coupon. The cashier had a difficult time with it for some reason, took several minutes trying to get it to work, and finally had to switch on the blinking lane light of shame to call the manager over for an override and a small helping of public chastisement.

My face was burning at this point because I felt bad for the people who had the misfortune to get stuck in line behind the lady with the coupon issue. I’m so not a coupon person and this is why, it’s a pain in the ass. But it turned out great because when the cashier finally handed me a ten-dollar bill I just passed it on to the woman behind me in line and said, “Merry Christmas, sorry for your extra wait.”  It was never my ten dollars anyway. :-)

Thank you to Dave and Dave’s mom for the help with this one!

random act of kindness #2

LOVE my new job

I just wanted to write a quick post about how much I love my new job. I’ve been there for a little over 60 days and I want to stay there for the rest of my working days. 

I work for a weight loss company, a good one, founded and run by physicians. It’s Genetix Program if you feel like checking it out. But this is not an advertisement for the program.

I love what I do so much, it doesn’t even feel like working! I’ve had jobs that I liked before but this is the first one that I feel like I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do. It is incredibly nice to feel like I’m working for a good cause that makes a positive difference in people’s lives.

Callie asked me what I do at work and I told her, “Well, I make pictures (graphic design), I write stories (blogs), and I chat with people on the internet (social media).” That’s not work to me!

And my bosses really appreciate me and they let me know it. I was promoted to Vice President of Digital Marketing shortly after I started because I did more than they originally expected me to be able to do. How nice is that?

I love everyone I work with, there is not one bad apple. A totally rare situation. We are a smaller company right now, gearing up for some rapid growth with the Affordable Care Act coming into effect, which will require companies with over 50 employees to provide Corporate Wellness. We hope to provide that solution for a lot of companies. Sorry, that’s sounding a bit like an advertisement again.

What I was trying to say is that I love getting to be here at the “start” of things. I’m excited to watch it explode and I look forward to some day reminiscing about the good ol’ days when we were all squeezed into 2 offices.

I’m so grateful that the universe bumped me around in just the right way to get me to this position.

Random Act of Kindness #1

Random acts of kindness

Random acts of kindnessThis year, for the first time, I’ve decided that my daughter and I are going to do a “Random Act of Kindness” once a week (at least) from Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas. I want her to absorb the idea that Christmas should be more than just getting presents, plus I’ve just always wanted to do something like this.

I discussed it with her this morning and gave the example of putting money in strangers’ parking meters. (Except those seem to all be credit card kiosks now, which kind of takes the magic out of it.) She was immediately on board with the idea.

By the way, I know it would be better if I didn’t broadcast this and just did it anonymously with her, but writing about my life is kind of my thing, and this looks to be a fun endeavor already, so please forgive me. I’m not bragging/showing off/shaming/looking for approval—just sharing my excitement about getting to do this with Callie.

Today we did our first random act of kindness (RAOK). After visiting the Children’s Museum, we walked to lunch downtown at the Taco Bus. On our way there we passed a group of homeless men. She whispered to me, “I just want to give them stuff.”

So, while we ate we decided that we would buy lunch for them and deliver it on the way back to our car. And we did. And the men were polite and thankful and it felt good.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the immediate change in Callie’s perspective. When we left the Kid’s Museum she had been pouting because I wouldn’t let her have gelato before lunch. (I know, I’m a monster. Go ahead and call child services on me.)

But after we bought lunch for those guys she said in the car on the way home, several times, “I had so much fun today. That was fun giving them lunch!”

I felt the same way, it totally made my day.

For our next RAOK, we’re going to make holiday ornaments for our neighbors and anonymously (except for me writing about it here) hang them on their doorknobs.

I’d like to do more of these for people who have less. I don’t have a ton of money to spend though, so we’re brainstorming more ideas that don’t cost a lot. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

It’s Thanksgiving. I’ll bring the pea casserole (that no one likes)

pea casserole

Happy Thanksgiving!

I never get asked to do the turkey for Thanksgiving. I don’t know why…maybe it’s because the one year that I did cook the turkey, I baked it with an unintentional “stuffing” of the plastic bag full of organ meats that comes inserted in the bird. That was a fun surprise at the dinner table!

So, now I usually stick to the simpler items that have less cavities where plastic items could be hiding. The  dish that I’ve been relegated to is the infamous pea casserole.

I think it’s safe to say that this dish, with it’s canned cream of mushroom soup, canned peas, and golden-baked top crust of…Cheez-Its—nope, not a single fresh ingredient—has never graced the front cover of Southern Living.

Here’s the text conversation I had about it with my sister this week.

pea casserole
Continue reading

Come. Laugh at my half-baked, botched hair experiment

Steph, medusa

My hair feels like it is made of hay and I currently have no working shower to wash/condition it with. Bad decision after bad decision got me to this place.

Not fully thinking things through before I act. I do that now-and-again.

You know how when you are going to dye your hair at home and the box cautions you to do a strand test on a tiny, hidden piece of hair so that if it comes out some ungodly color you can start over without anyone being the wiser.?

Well…I’ve never been a “strand test” kind of girl.

Continue reading

You can tandem kayak without any drama!

Same Life paddling kayaks

Alicia and I proved it last weekend when we took our nine-year-old girls on an hour-and-45-minute kayak trip in New Port Richey. No problems at all.

By the way, who knew New Port Richey was on the water?

I mean, I should have known since I have lived in Florida for my entire life and have had access to maps the whole time…and I guess the word “Port” in the name could have clued me in if I was paying attention…

But I never spent any time up there until Alicia moved from Ohio. And any time I’ve visited her there I’ve had nary a glimpse of the shore. I assumed we were inland, halfway to Georgia. I’ve seen lots of cows up there, not boats.

However, much to my geographically challenged delight, there is plenty of water fun to be had in New Port Richey. It’s actually right on the Gulf of Mexico, which makes it pretty convenient for kayaking.

The place we rented them from was like a food truck for kayaks on US 19. It is located on a canal that leads out to the Gulf. The canal is in a cute residential neighborhood, with calm water and plenty to look at as you paddle.

I have always loved getting to see houses from the water. It’s a different, slightly voyeuristic perspective. And, usually, the water side of the house has more personality than the front. The age-old adage, “Business in front, party in back” is alive and well in New Port Richey’s waterfront homes.

There were tiki huts and colorful adirondack chairs, decorative fishing nets, even three barrels of Captain Morgan rum tied together on one dock. Almost every house had a boat named something like “Copacetic” or “Therapy”, or at least a nameless Jet Ski.

What I really liked was that the houses, for the most part, were modest, one-story homes that looked like a regular person actually stood a chance of being able to afford one and enjoy living on the water. That’s not something you see anymore where I live. The houses did get progessively bigger as we paddled closer to the Gulf though, one of the finger canals we paddled down even had a seaplane docked out back.

Paddling girls

I have heard tandem kayaks referred to as “divorce-makers”, and have actually been on a canoe trip where a husband and wife had to be separated into 2 different boats. So I had anticipated less helpful participation and more complaining from the girls, but they both paddled like champs. Apparently the tandem-kayaking strife only affects couples, not mothers and daughters…at least when the daughters haven’t reached their teenage years yet.

So thank god for that! And for the balmy kind of day that makes you say “This is why we live in Florida.” One of those where the air is cool enough that you don’t sweat but you can still wear a tank top and flip-flops—Florida perfection.

callie steph kayak

Blue October’s music still makes me happy and sad at the same time.

blueoctober_pink_jannuslanding_090713
blueoctober_pink_jannuslanding_090713

Justin Furstenfeld, lead singer of Blue October. Jannus Landing, 09-07-13

There’s a word for it. Bittersweet. Their music has that quality in and of itself, and personally that’s how I relate to it. My good friend Leslie played one of their songs for me in 2007 and I was hooked right way. I was in the midst of my awful, guilt-inducing, mistake-ridden, alcohol-soaked divorce and their somewhat tortured, heavy, yet beautiful and somehow hopeful lyrics spoke to me in just the right way that helped me wallow in my misery and lifted me up at the same time.

I listened to their album, Foiled, over and over again by myself on my lonely back porch out at the lake. I drank way, way too much and tried to forgive myself for breaking up my marriage, thereby cutting in half my time with my daughter. Their song Hate Me was kind of a personal anthem at the time. It pretty much encapsulated the self-induced pain I was in during what seemed like an interminable amount of time, but was actually just a blip.

But there were good times listening to Blue October, too. I got to see them play at Lollapalooza and at Jannus Landing with good friends and we had a blast. I have great memories of partying with friends with their music as the soundtrack.

Happy and sad.

blueoctober_red_jannuslanding_090713

Justin Furstenfeld, lead singer of Blue October. Jannus Landing 09-07-2013

Looking back now, 6 years later, 5-and-a-half-years sober, it’s hard to see any of it as bad. It’s just what I had to do to get here. I learned a lot about who I did and did not want to be, how I wanted to live my life.

And time heals. I have a good, friendly working relationship with Callie’s dad, a wonderful, happy relationship with Callie, and a promising, healthy new love in my life.

I got to take that new love to see Blue October last Friday at Jannus Landing. Dave was game for getting up as close to the stage as we could and staying there the whole time. I really like that about him. He’s up for fun and doesn’t complain about anything. What a keeper.

It was my first time seeing them since 2008 and they are in excellent form. Justin is an intense and totally captivating performer. He is definitely doing what he was put on this earth to do and that is a beautiful thing to watch. The rest of the band is amazing, too. There are so many layers to what is going on onstage that it’s hard to take it all in at once. (Especially when you are trying to avoid getting burned with cigarettes and trampled by other enthusiastic audience members–but that’s just the bad that you have to take with the good to have the up-close experience. I’d only do it for them.)

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Justin Furstenfeld, lead singer of Blue October, Jannus Landing, 09-07-13

Their new album, Sway, has some fantastic songs on it. It’s a little more redemption and renewal focused than past albums and fits my current frame of mind perfectly. But it still has that edge that I love, that undercurrent of darkness running through it that reminds me of where I was, and makes me appreciate how far I’ve come.

Fun new toys and family time at the lake house

Poppi hard at work on another project

Paddleboating on the lakeThe lake house is one of my favorite places on earth. My parents bought it many, many years ago. I remember the day when we went to check it out back in the early 80′s. We were all loaded up in mom’s wood-paneled conversion fan with the awesome couch that folded down into a bed and a refrigerator! Man, if vans didn’t have such a child-molestery, gas guzzley vibe these days I could really go for one of those. But I digress (as usual).

We pulled up to the lake house on our recon mission and there was a big fence with a sign that said “Beware of Dog”. The gate was locked so my dad hopped the fence to go check out the property while we watched from the van. I waited in abject fear for my dad to be viciously mauled by a large, rabid dog. Much to my great relief, there was no actual dog, just a warning sign. I probably shouldn’t have watched Cujo at such an impressionable age. Continue reading

Round 2 ear piercing attempt a roaring success!

Freshly pierced ears!

I took Callie for our 2nd try at getting her ears pierced last weekend. I wrote about the first try here. That attempt ended with her tearfully accusing me of lying to her about how much it might hurt and refusing to go through with it, while I went home with a brand new cartilage piercing that I got to show her how easy and pain free it would be. Backfire.

I wasn’t about to bring up the ear piercing subject again any time soon. But last week, with some encouragement from her grandmother, she decided she was ready to try it again. She psyched herself up all week and put her game face on and I prepared myself to somehow be blamed for whatever happened. Not complaining, I’m just discovering that is often the mom role. I can handle it.

One last look at Callie's unpierced ear.

One last look at Callie’s unpierced ear.

Callie and her Granny picked out her starter earrings, Sapphires, her birthstone. She was giddy with nervous excitement. I was cautiously optimistic that some piercing was actually going to go down this time. The piercer (piercist?) gave her a teddy bear to squeeze and Callie kept a brave smile on her face and only squinted her eyes at the pain as both ears were quickly pierced.

It's a well-known fact that holding a teddy bear boosts bravery.

It’s a well-known fact that holding a teddy bear boosts bravery by at least 75%.

When she realized it was already over, tears started streaming out of her eyes and she said, with just the slightest tinge of hysteria, “These are tears of joy!”

Freshly pierced ears!

Freshly pierced ears!

I have to admit, a few “tears of joy” slipped out of my eyes, too. I was so proud of her. Not for getting her ears pierced, I didn’t really care whether she did that or not. But because I was caught off guard by the glimpse of her strength of character. She faced her fear and did it with a smile. I couldn’t ask for anything more.