Creating a Checklist of Thanks

In the days to come, many of us will be spending time with friends and family and eating far more than our bellies can handle.thankful

By definition, the impending holiday is a time to reflect on the things in life we value the most.  But how many of us actually sit down and think, I mean really think, about what we’re most thankful for during this time of year?  The hustle and bustle of the season can often cause a distraction and lead us astray from focusing on what Thanksgiving is all about.

Even if you do have enough internal discipline to keep your mind focused on the most precious points of gratitude, do you take any action to express your appreciation?  Do you simply think, or do you “do?”

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to take the extra step.  Instead of just acknowledging what you’re thankful for, turn those feelings into action by giving back in a way related to whatever it is you hold dear.  Begin by jotting down your List of Thanks.  Similar to prepping for exams back in the college days, transferring these pieces of gratitude from your mind to the paper will force you to dig deep and put genuine thought behind your selections, rather than just rattling off generic terms about the dinner table.  Then, think about how you can physically show your appreciation for each item on the list.

Here are some ideas to help get you started:

If you’re thankful for your friends and family:

Hug them.  Tell them.  Make sure they know how much they’re loved.  Capture the moment in a photo.  Any day could be our last, or the last time we ever see the ones we love, so don’t take any moment for granted.

If you’re thankful for your health and the health of your loved ones:

Remember those that aren’t so lucky.  Choose a health-related non-profit, such as Susan G. Komen or ALS Association, and make a donation.  Alternatively, make a commitment to participate in an organized walk or run during the next year.  Volunteer at a children’s hospital (check the website of your local hospital).

If you’re thankful for those who keep our country safe:

The sad reality is that many of the men and women who defend our country won’t get to spend the holidays with their families.  Explore ways to give back to them this holiday season, demonstrating your gratitude for the sacrifices they make.  Though it won’t make up for not being home to open presents or experience the joy of watching their loved ones doing the same, even the slightest bit of joy could help morale.  There are several organizations that send Christmas cards to the troops or stores that allow you to purchase candy bars for them at the register.

If you’re thankful for the feast you’re about to devour:

Be sure to think about those that don’t know where their next meal will come from.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen.   Deliver meals to the poor or elderly.  Participate in a food drive.

If you’re thankful for your pets:

First, give them a little love.  Then, look for ways to help out the animals that aren’t fortunate enough to have a loving home.  Volunteer at a dog shelter or make a donation to your local SPCA.  Think about adoption.  Or, for something more temporary, check our Dogs on Deployment, an organization that places dogs in foster homes while their owners are serving our country.

If you’re thankful for your job:

Pay gratitude to the people that helped to get you there.  Send your first hiring (or favorite) manager or mentor a note thanking them for the early lessons they taught you.  Repay the help you received by offering advice to college students or young professionals.  Become a mentor.  Tutor students from a local high school.

If you’re thankful for being free from financial burden:

Share what you have with those who don’t have as much.  Adopt an angel through Project Angel Tree where you buy gifts for children in poverty or with parents in prison.  Collect items for Toys for Tots.  Reach out to a local retirement home and ask if they’re accepting donations for residents.  Consider giving items or a monetary donation to victims of the South Carolina floods; last week we met with the LISC who said many families are just getting back into their homes finally learning what they lost after the flood devastation.  Donations are still desperately needed.

If you’re thankful for your children:

Remember the children that don’t have loving, safe homes like yours.  Volunteer at your local children’s home.  Give donations to a women’s shelter – often the only safe haven for women and children in dangerous situations.  Seek out organizations that provide support for foster children like Mercy for America’s Children, a North-Carolina based non-profit organization advocating on behalf of children awaiting adoption in the US Foster Care System.

Unmasking Depression: Looking Behind the Smiles to See the Truth

For the first time in two years, my mom is back.  She didn’t take a long vacation to bask in the rays of retirement.  She didn’t leave our family to find herself.  Physically, she’s been here all along.  But, she hasn’t really been with us.

Two years ago, we almost lost her.  It was a cold, but sunny Sunday afternoon and I was on my way to watch the Vikings-Packers game with some friends.  I called my mom before the games as I always do but on this particular day, my dad answered and I knew instantly something wasn’t right.  He said he was on the way up to the hospital in Richmond; my mom had been transported to VCU.  The only thing he could tell me was that something went wrong that morning during church with her kidneys.

I lived only a few minutes up the road from the hospital and was the first one to arrive in the ER.  I found myself standing in front of a faded, nearly motionless version of my vibrant mother.  Soon, I was joined by my father and our family minster and together, we learned that my mother had a tumor burst within her kidney and lost an excessive amount of blood.  Shortly after, we were awaiting an update from the doctor who performed her emergency surgery.  Over the next few days, each up seemed to be followed by another down.  She was diagnosed with something called Angiomyolipoma, essentially non-cancerous, blood-filled, fatty tumors within the kidney (the non-cancerous point was a huge blessing, and sigh of relief).  Between multiple blood transfusions, endless dialogues with the urologists and seeing the brightest of personalities not even flicker, that week will be forever marked as one of the toughest in my life.  Little did we know that while the bleed stopped, and eventually the physical pain ceased, she would develop a lingering, hidden pain.

I’m not being biased when I say my mom is one of the sweetest, happiest most genuine people in the world.  A serial smiler, she has never met a stranger.  She was always the first to strike up a conversation with a random person in the store, only to leave with their contact information and the beginning of a new friendship.  Whether with children, the elderly, or a sick friend, my mom was there offering a helping hand and making them smile, no matter the circumstance.  One of her biggest talents is making people laugh; those that saw her in one of her many costumes like Lucy Ball, Dennis Rodman or Dolly Parton surely understand this statement.

For the first few post-trauma months, she was timid, quiet, but after what she went through, anyone would understand.  Only as spring turned to summer and so on, nothing really changed.  We’d see glimpses of her old spunky-self, but then they would disappear as quickly as her smile.  She didn’t want to leave the house and would sleep constantly even though she wasn’t doing activities to exert energy.  She’d feel paranoid, nervous, and anxious; a far cry from the woman who was always up for an impromptu adventure.  It was though a piece of her, the most influential of pieces, was gone.  Not until this summer did we truly understand why.

In August, my mom was diagnosed with depression; sparked by the trauma she experienced on and during the days, weeks, months and years following that cold November day.  Depression is a silent killer.  It’s not a disease characterized by external features or malformities.  It’s not something that will show up in a culture sample.  It’s internal, and in many cases, those suffering have the innate ability to shelter others from the reality they are living in.  Much like Robin Williams, my mom always had the ability to bring joy and laughter to others, only she lost the ability to latch onto those positive emotions to the benefit of herself.

After three months on medication, my mom is finally back.  Hearing her laughter and trying to keep up with the massive amount of energy she possess are two seemingly simple, but truly incredible, gifts.  I thank the Lord that we did not lose her two years ago, but for the past two years, we didn’t have her wholly.  Now we do and my heart cannot contain all of the gratitude I have.

While this has been a difficult story to share, it’s necessary.  None of us know what is going on behind the scenes, or within the minds, of those we know and love.  Don’t take a smile for granted; there could be much deeper and darker thoughts behind the upward curvature on a person’s face.  Depression is an illness that has no outward characteristics, that holds no prejudice.  As a society, we need to eliminate the stigma attached to depression.  We need to actively support those that may be going through difficult times.  We need to seek help if we’re experiencing internal struggles or turmoil.  There is NOTHING wrong with offering or seeking help; the only wrong we can do is to stand by in silence.

During this month of gratitude, I have so much to be thankful for but everything else pales in comparison to having a permanent ray of light back in this life of mine. I selected the pictures below because each one was taken during her battle with depression, but one would never know by the smile and antics. While the medication has had a noticeable, positive impact on her well-being, it is by no means the end-all be-all.  Depression is an uphill battle; one that can only be managed with proper care and support.  If you know someone suffering from this disease, the best thing you can do is to be empathic and understanding of the struggling they are going through.  Lend a hand, an ear, a cup of sugar or whatever it is that person needs.  Be there for them when they’re struggling to be there for themselves.

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InVESTED in Fall Fashion

This is quite possibly my favorite fall outfit.  I have a weird (and expensive) habit of not liking to wear things more than once in a season but for this one, I’ll make an exception.

The plaid button up and navy vest both came from Marshall’s.  The button up was $19 and the vest just $24.  At full retail, we’d be looking at a combined retail over $80.  The boots were another awesome steal I found at Belk two years ago.  If you want a new pair of boots but don’t necessarily NEED them, then wait until the day after Christmas to make the purchase.  The longer you can hold out, the better the deal.  I purchased these at the end of January for about $20.

As you may have realized, I’m not one to pay full retail and am always searching out the best deals.  But sometimes, like allowing yourself to re-wear a season staple, you’ve got to bend the rules.  These DL 1961 jeans came from StitchFix and ran around $100 but were well worth it.  The fit and feel are perfect.

Thank goodness the shopping deals are more reliable than this truck!

Happiness is a choice

Happiness is a choice.  Not for all, but for those of us who are fortunate enough to be in full control of our emotional well-being, it is a choice that we make the moment we open our eyes each morning.  For the most part, I’ve always considered myself a persistently positive person but as of late, I’m feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and realize the strength to lift it cannot be found through toying with dumbbells or equipment at the gym.  The power to break through comes from within.  It often requires taking a difficult and critical look at yourself and opening your eyes to the toxins that have the ability to bring you down.

I realize that I am incredibly blessed with abundant love and opportunity, but yet sometimes, I let life’s stressors get in the way of recognizing those blessings.  Strangely enough it was my dermatologist, who typically rambles on and on about nothing of importance, that made me stop and think about the changes I needed to make in life.  Without any prompting, he went into a lecture on how we are the only ones to blame if we’re unhappy.  If someone constantly gets under your skin, you’re the one that keeps interacting with them and giving them the power to do so.  If work is wearing on you, you’re the one preventing yourself from finding new opportunities.  If someone cuts you off on the road, it’s up to you to decide if it’s necessary to blare your horn at them in range or to just keep on driving along with a smile on your face.  He explained that we are the only ones that can control whether the little things, or actions of others, get to us.

That conversation is the only one I’ve had with the wacky doctor that ever made any sense at all, but it was a message than dug far deeper than the skin he specializes in.  In a month where we celebrate the things we’re grateful for, I’m taking a new approach to recognizing and realizing those gifts.

I’m in no way shape or form a morning person (or a night person, really), but I’m forcing myself out of bed an hour early each morning for a period of reflection.  With a cup of coffee in hand, I’ll begin each day reading devotion from Joel Osteen’s Every Day a Friday, along with the associated Bible scripture.  Then, I’ll take a moment to think about something that took place on the previous day for which I’m thankful.  While we can’t let the little things the kooky doctor described get to us, we mustn’t also forget about the positive little things because sometimes, they can have the biggest impact on our happiness.

The holidays are a perfect reminder of the things that propel us forward in life.  If you’ve been feeling down or disconnected, I encourage you to make time to rediscover the things that make you whole.  Feel free to come along with me on this journey and share your experience!

30 is the same 30

I am currently rolling down the backside of 29 and despite any efforts to hit the brakes, I will propel through the last six months of my twenties and crash into my third decade here on earth at full speed.  They say thirty is the new twenty, but it’s not.  No colloquial phrase (or Jay Z lyric) will ease the notion of turning 30 or the effects of aging.  It’s just a statement intended to help those nearing the milestone feel better about the transition.  Here’s how I know:

While once viewed as somewhat acceptable, it’s now selfish to be selfish.

Okay, so maybe selfishness was never encouraged, but there was a little more leeway back in the day.  Throughout our teens and early twenties, it was expected that we’d do or try things that required putting ourselves first.  These were the formative years; times when we needed to follow our own instincts and explore opportunities that would lead us to discover who we really were.  Things like spending all our money on trips with friends or taking a few years off of school to get down to the bottom of what we really wanted to do with our lives. scared timon

While we must never lose sight of doing what is best for ourselves, these days, many of us have others to look out for – whether that be children, significant others, friends or society.  We’re no longer at the age where living solely with a “me mentality” is acceptable nor excusable.

With all the miles packed on over the years, your body now requires a little more TLC to keep moving forward.

Contrary to what our bodies had us believing back in college, living off a liquid + Ramen diet is a not sustainable approach to survival.  If we’re not careful, age will offer an assist in turning us into lightweights at dinner and heavyweights on the scale.  Time will never slow down, but our metabolism will, so we must take it upon ourselves to learn about our bodies’ needs and meet its demands.  Educate yourself on the necessary nutrients and vitamins to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

The second part of the equation is exercise.  You can eat all the natural, organic, Whole Foods items you want, but without keeping your body calibrated, you’ll end up in the shop much like the way your first car from high school always was.  If you work a desk job like me and sit for 8-10 hours a day, even exercise won’t be enough.  You’ve got to get up and move, every hour on the hour, so your body doesn’t get tricked into thinking it’s destined to stay put.

Life past 11 p.m. is nearly non-existent.

Back in college, I’d be getting ready to go out at 9, pre-gaming by 10 and rolling deep with my girls downtown by 11.  These days, I’m getting ready for bed at 9, PJ’ing by 10, and rolling the in Zzz’s by 11.  When I do somehow muster up the energy to make it out to a bar, I’m quickly left wondering what’s driving me to leave faster, the obnoxious, boisterous crowd or the warmth of my covers back home.  The past few years have taught me that fun is found in many forms and doesn’t always require an elaborate plan or celebration.  These days, the best nights are the ones followed by a manageable early morning.

You’re already halfway to retirement.

Split your age in half, and you’re back in the halls of high school without a worry in the world.  Although those days seem long ago, chances are many memories are still so fresh and emotions still so vivid.  Now, double your age, and you’re almost 60.  Will you be able to look back on your 30’s with memories still so clear?

You’re one day closer today to retirement than you were yesterday, and while the picture of freedom may seem enticing, it won’t be so pleasant if you don’t have the money to fulfill your post-career aspirations.  Start saving now, don’t wait until your next big birthday milestone!

Despite the early emergence of wrinkles and the occasional white hair, loss of eyesight, rough mornings and seemingly endless responsibilities associated with thirty, turns out, the transition may not be that bad after all.  You’ve finally reached a point where all your hard work has paid off and you’ve set the foundation for yourself, your family, or your future family.  You have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the people that helped you to where you are today.  You have the ability to make your own choices and create your own destiny.  Sure, there are a lot of tough changes that go along with aging, but each birthday we celebrate is another opportunity to change the world, or at least our own.  Bring it on, thirty.

Heavy Metal

Today is one of those weird, warm fall days where you’re not quite sure whether to wear a dress or bundle up in a cozy sweater.  The Wear What Where October Style Challenge was enough to convince me to go with the latter.  The theme is Metallic Miss and I had the perfect necklace for the occasion.

Starting with this statement necklace as the focal point (as pretty as it is, I swear it adds 10 lbs.), I built out an outfit that accents the shimmery hues.  I purchased the necklace at Nordstrom Rack for $19.99, which is a steal for something so intricate in design.

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I found this sweater last fall at T.J. Maxx and it is easily one of my favorites, minus the itchy wool.  It was around $30, which is honestly more than I would normally spend on a sweater but also a fraction of what it would have cost in a department store.  The jeans were only $10 during T.J. Maxx’s end of season markdowns last year. Shopping hack: T.J. Maxx is offering free shipping right now if you sign up for their newsletter.

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The booties are beauties.  Retailed at $129, I picked up these Jessica Simpson taupe fringe booties at Marshalls for just $49.

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Though the temperature is supposed to rise throughout the day, it started off chilly, giving me an opportunity to break out this stunning new wool coat.  Another T.J. Maxx find, the coat was purchased for just $49 (retailed at $72).  I saw a woman trying it on and basically stalked her until she bought it down.  Have y’all ever done that before?!  It might have been slightly creepy but well worth it: )

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Return of the shoulda been returned

While I feel most in my element when wearing a sundress, I have to admit I’m glad to welcome back the season of leggings.  They are just so comfortable and with the right pairing, can be appropriate for both work and play.

For today’s ensemble I mixed a little old with a little new.  The Cynthia Rowley top was found at Marshall’s (priced at $19, retailed at $29).  The print has the slightest blend of blush and tan, lined with black.

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I bought the jacket at the beginning of last spring and after bringing it home, decided I just wasn’t in love with it.  I threw it in my trunk to return on my next trip to T.J. Maxx.  But, I am the absolute worst at returning things.  The intention is always there, but the memory is not.  So, needless to say I was a bit surprised to find the jacket when cleaning out my trunk and more surprised to find that I actually love it now.  Guess it was just meant to be! It’s a Max Jeans jacket, priced at $49 and retailed at $120.

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The leggings are Lauren Conrad for Kohls.  I’ve had them for two seasons now and even after much overuse, they’ve stood the test of time and are still in perfect condition.  I’d highly recommend her leggings but don’t jump to make the purchase; they often drop down to 50% off retail and then you can use a site like Retail Me Not to get an additional percentage off (card holders get even steeper discounts).  I bought the booties last year at Ross for just $19.99 and have seen them there on this shelves again this season!  The hat and necklace are both from H&M.

Do you have any pieces like the jacket that are a dual-threat, suitable for both spring and fall?

Grey Street

I instantly felt a twinge of regret for wishing away the summer heat over the weekend after the nighttime temperatures dipped into the 40’s. But, as someone who dresses for the season instead of the weather, at least my wardrobe is finally temperature appropriate.

I usually shy away from scarves because I find the accessory to be unflattering for my body type.  However, with cold days upon us and blanket scarves abound in the stores, this is one occasion when it’s acceptable to choose brains over beauty.

Most blanket scarves I’ve seen range from $24 and up.  This gem was just $12 at Ross and there was a huge assortment of colors to choose from.  I paired it with this cozy long-sleeve shirt from T.J. Maxx – just $16.99 (retails for $36).  The jeans (which are a little too baggy this season thanks to the intense Kayla Itsines workout regime) were only $20 last season at Target. That’s a great spot to find basic comfy denim.  The boots were only $24 at Marshall’s, in comparison to the full retail price of $50.

I’ll admit I was at a loss on how to style a blanket scarf because they are HUGE! When in doubt, I turn to YouTube and found the blog Extra Petite to be a helpful how-to resource.

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My coat could only come off for a few minutes in this frigid air, just long enough to snap the shot. Despite living in the South, winter coats are my downfall. At last count, I had 80 jackets but it’s so easy to forget about them when they’re packed away so I keep adding to the collection. The newest addition is this light gray Jessica Simpson coat. It was only $69 at T.J. Maxx (retails for $140).

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The sleeves are the best part. The coat has slots for your thumbs to keep hands warm, especially during the early part of the cold season when you’re not quite ready to break out the gloves.

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The color of the scarf pairs well with the coat but there’s also a hood in case things get really chilly.

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Can’t wait to share more fall fashion finds with you all soon!

Friendships: the ones that last a lifetime, are the rare kind.

I remember spending hours perusing quotes as a teenager, hoping to find one that I spoke to me on some deep level that I could add to the then modern day version of a blog, my AIM profile.  Quotes about life, love and everything in between filled the small one-pager, amidst a multitude of random colors, font combos, squiggly asterisks and numerical word substitutions (insert:~*babii CC: 2 cute 2 be 4got10*~).

Back then, one of those quotes, “It’s not where you are but who you’re with that matters,” would have been followed up by initials of my closest friends, some of whom I am still fortunate enough to have in my life.  Unbeknownst to my teenaged, pimple-faced self, those words would still hold true, all these years later.

I recently had the privilege to stand by my best friend’s side as she married the love of her life.  The past two years since their engagement have been leading up to the memorable day but as I boarded that plane for the trip back south, a wave of emotion, twenty years in the making, hit me harder than the open bar.

True friendships, the ones that last a lifetime, are the rare kind.  I am so grateful for the relationships I’ve had since my early days, as well as for the ones built along the way.  Although not one to cry, I absolutely lost it sitting in the airport as I prepared to venture back South of the Dixie.  Spending a series of days with friends, family, and those that feel like family momentarily tricked me into thinking I missed the place I called home for the majority of my life.  The memories and bonds made in that town have always been, and will always be, with me wherever I am.  But while the scenery still looks (somewhat) familiar, and the experiences feel the same, everything is so different.  People have moved away, and lives have moved on, but this one weekend, with everyone back together, reminded me of the life and people that helped turn me into the person I am today.  I don’t miss “home,” I miss the feeling of content felt during the days in that place: the same as I experienced in the days of carefully crafted AIM away messages.

Life changes rapidly and we experience different milestones at varying times.   However, it’s those milestones that always bring us back together with our closest, far away friends.  Though easy to get caught in the tide, trips back to proverbial house that built me have a way of grounding me and reminding me of how fortunate I am – for the friends, family and experiences I’ve had, or maintained, throughout this journey through life.  And for that, I will be forever grateful – for the memories and the moments.  And for those I’m with, physically or in spirt, no matter where they may be.

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Post-grad guidelines: letter to my 22-year-old self

I honestly can’t fathom the fact that it’s been seven years since I walked across that University of South Carolina stage and took hold of my degree.  Time moves so quickly and seems to speed up even faster as each day passes.  This week marks a milestone for me, seven years since starting my career at Wireside (!), and with that, it only seems appropriate to reflect upon the lessons learned in these post-college years.  Looking back, here are some takeaways I have for my 22-year-old self.

Priorities will shift.  Right now, you’re straight out of the college gates, ready to tackle the world.  Slow down.  Focus.  Take time to explore your passions.  Many of the things that motivate you today will be mere memories in the days of tomorrow.  You don’t need to craft a game plan for the rest of your life, but you must make choices now that will keep you on the path you inevitably want to follow.  Connect with mentors that can guide you and watch you grow along the way.

Chances should be taken.  This one is tough for you, a person that feels most at ease in a safety net of the familiar.  But regret is a strong force, one that will serve up a constant reminder of moves you did not make.  Taking a leap of faith, no matter how difficult it may be, can turn out to be the best decision you’ve ever made.  Go against your internal grain and force yourself out of the comfort zone.

You’re unknowingly taking those you love for granted.  Although you’ve lost friends and family members, you still don’t fully grasp the true impact of loss.  As you grow, times will come when those close to you are no longer a part of your life here on earth.  And the stories of lives taken too soon, even those you don’t know personally, will touch you on a deeper level and help you to realize that not a moment in life should be taken for granted.  Every hug, every conversation, could be your last so embrace tightly and connect deeply.

Friendships will fade.  Not all of them.  Some will pass the test of time.  But others, the bonds you thought could never be broken, will prove to have been held together by a Velcro that slowly loses cohesiveness over time.  This will be a harsh realization, but it’s often a shift where no one is at fault.  Life will take you to different places and accelerate at different moments; you may not always be able to keep up with one another.  As you grow, you’ll learn that certain people were a part of your life at a certain time because that’s when you needed them, and they needed you, most.  They played a role in making you into the person you’re becoming and it is okay if they’re not by your side to see the final product.  You’ll carry a piece of them with you, always.  A friendship, even one that once seemed so strong but is now visible only in a stack of old photos, will still be an important friendship when you look back at your journey through life.

You’re in for an amazing adventure filled with limitless opportunities, unwavering love from those around you and unwritten storylines.  Just don’t sit back and enjoy the ride because you’re the one in the driver’s seat.