Freedom, fireworks & fashion

One of the genes passed down from my beautiful momma is a love for all things navy. Fortunately, the trait comes in handy this time of year because I’m never short on patriotic pairings.

At first glance, this tunic looks red, white and blue, right? It’s not, but with a few accessories and a dose of American pride, the eye will see what it wants. The red lining is actually a bright fuchsia! It was just $29.99 at T.J. Maxx. The necklace was on clearance from Charming Charlie’s and the earrings came from Wal-mart at a cost of $3. The cream-colored bag is the most expensive item at $34, but I couldn’t resist when it came to my doorstep via StitchFix!

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Another outfit brought to you by T.J. Maxx. This anchor and lobster tank was under $20 and the linen shorts were just about $30. The shoes are by far the best part – red Cole Haan boat shoes for $29 at Costco and retailing at upwards of $50! The cooler was a clearance rack Marshalls find at the price of $12.

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I repurposed the festive shawl from Memorial Day, this time pairing it with red instead of blue. The nail polish was Sally Hansen’s Miracle Gel and if you’ve ever tried it, you know how the name came about.

Hope y’all had a happy holiday with your favorite people!

xoxo

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Gift Giving: The Magic of Memories

Though a gift granted to us, life is not a thing we should take for granted.  The older I become, the more I understand how precious a gift this life really is.  Another year passed, another group of people that will only live on in memories, hearts and photos.  Be it friends, family, or family of friends, each time I hear of another life taken away, it’s another reminder that there is no guarantee of tomorrow.  That’s why it’s so important that we soak up all the time we do have with those we care for most.  Chances are when you lose someone, you don’t look back and remember the things they bought you.  You remember the things they taught you, the special moments you shared.  Things don’t matter, but people do.

A few years back, my mom got very sick before Thanksgiving and although one to never miss a Black Friday sunrise, reality set in and my priorities shifted.  That particular season was about catering to her, helping her recover, and not about finding the best deals and boxes to stack around the Christmas tree.  There was nothing my mother needed nor wanted more than to feel better and I realize nothing I put under the tree would make that happen.  I decided that instead of buying more “things” for my parents for Christmas, I would invest in memories.

As they get older, I’m not oblivious to the fact that there will come a day, eventually, when we can’t take trips together, when we can’t embark on adventures.  With that in mind, the only gift they received that year was a piece of paper – one that detailed the trip we would take together that spring to Savannah, GA.  From pictures of our accommodations to an agenda tailored to each of them, though not something they could physically use that Christmas morning, it gave them something to look forward to at a time when my mom would be able to enjoy it.  That April we took our trip (yes, ours, because of course I imposed on them).  We got to experience a play at one of the oldest theaters in America, rest our heads at Savannah Bed & Breakfast, tour the town on a sightseeing bus, shop the streets while sipping Mojitos and indulge in the most amazing meal at the Olde Pink House.  My dad and I even rode in a hearse for a nighttime ghost tour and still to this day laugh hysterically about a woman who chased it down.  Those are memories that will last well beyond the time all of us have together.

Following in tradition, this year’s adventure took us to back down I-95 to Charleston, South Carolina.  Again we caught a play at the local theater, took a private horse-drawn carriage around town, ate until we were stuffed and walked around a plantation (and the Swamp where Shrek is from)!

While I’ll still get a few small items for under the tree, I see far greater value in spending money on memorable moments.  If you’re still trying to find the perfect gift for someone you love, give this approach a try.  Don’t buy things just to buy things.  Clothes become dated, children grow out of toys, but memories will always remain.

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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The Nearly-Wed for Fifty Years Game

One of my favorite bridal games is the take on “Newly Weds,” where a couple is asked a set of questions about themselves/their partners and then that expert knowledge is put to the test.  We played it recently at my best friend’s bridal shower and after nearly 10 years, it turns out the bride-to-be and her future husband know each other pretty well!

So, in honor of my parents’ upcoming anniversary this month, I thought it would be fun to see if they’ve learned a thing of two about each other after nearly half a century.

What’s the first thing you noticed about mom?

Dad: She was sitting at the bar, enjoying a drink (note: my mom didn’t drink).  And, she was cute.  I knew I had a shot because I had on a nice coat and my fancy pipe.  Her first words were I’d never go out with you.

What’s the first thing dad said he noticed about you?

Mom: That I was cute.  The first thing I noticed about him was his stupid fancy pipe sticking out of his jacket.  He thought he was something else but I showed him, told him I’d never go out with him! (46 years later…she sure showed him).

***

If you had a super power, what would it be?

Dad: I may be a superhero.  I could actually be Superman and no one could disprove me because they’ve never seen us in the same place at the same time.

Me: The question was super power, not super hero.

Dad: Then I’d be a Viking warrior.  Tap into my heritage (clearly, we were not understanding the question so it was time to move on).

If dad had a super power, what would it be?

Mom: He already has one…bullsh*t.  It’s his hidden talent.

***

If you were stranded on an island, what’s the one thing you’d bring?

Dad: A boat.

If dad were stranded on an island, what’s the one thing he’d bring?

Mom: Rum and cigarettes.

***

If you were to cook one meal for mom, what would she want it to be?

Dad: Steak on the grill.

If dad were to cook you one meal, what would you want it to be?

Mom: Steak on the grill.  Anything else would be my last meal on earth.

***

If you were a dog, which breed would you be? 

Dad: I’d be a German Shepard; they’re smart, loyal, and tough.  Your mom would be a Cocker Spaniel because everyone loves Cocker Spaniels.

If dad were a dog, which breed would he say he was? 

Mom: Oh, he would definitely say he was a German Shepard because he thinks he’s smart, rough and tough and strong and that people are afraid of him.

***

Who wears the pants in the relationship?

Dad: I do.  But your mom will tell you differently.

Mom: Your dad.  I wear skirts and dresses.  Except one time he accidently wore MY pants to the gym so I don’t know what that says about him.  Dad (who pipes in from down the hall): Yeah, but they fit me so I don’t know what that says about you!

***

What would mom say is your most annoying habit?  What’s hers?

Dad: She’d say smoking.  For her it’s talking.

Mom: Smoking.  He’d say mine is griping about his smoking.

***

If mom could get rid of one thing of yours, what would it be?  What item that belongs to her would you want to get rid of?

Dad:  She would say my trains.  And for her, I’d want to eliminate her phone.

Me: But the phone is yours, too.

Dad:  No it’s not.  You think I ever get to use it living with her?

If you could get rid of one thing of dad’s, what would it be?  What item that belongs to you would he want to get rid of?

Mom: I would toss out his accordion!  He certainly would not say to get rid of “my boat,” the one he “bought for me” that I never use and he uses all the time.

***

Which one of you takes the longest to get ready?

Dad: Do I ever need to answer that?

Mom: Oh, that’s me.  He does not care if he has stripes, circles, polka dots, checks, plaids, stains or nothing!

***

Describe grandma and grandpa’s (mom’s parents) first impression of your using one of these cereal brands: a) Lucky Charms b) Wheaties c) Fruit Loop

Dad: It would be Cheerios.

Me: That’s not an option.

Dad: Oh.  Well it works best because I can sometimes be cheery.  But if I’m limited, I’ll have to go with Lucky Charms.

Describe grandma and grandpa’s first impression of dad using one of these cereal brands: a) Lucky Charms b) Wheaties c) Fruit Loop

Mom: It was definitely NOT Lucky Charms.

***

What is your favorite thing about mom after all these years?

Dad: I’d have to say her personality.

What would dad say his favorite thing about you is after all these years?

Mom: Probably that I keep his clothes clean.

Me: But earlier you said he doesn’t care if he has stains on his shirt.

Mom:  Ah, you’re right.  Then it’s because I give him food to eat.

This blushing bride of 46 years doesn’t even know how much her husband still adores her after all this time.  While it may not be apparent to some, the love is in the answers above.  Theirs is not a relationship that’s served as an inspiration to a Nicholas Sparks novel, but it is built upon mutual respect, admiration, protectiveness and most importantly, laughter.

Happy anniversary guys, I love you!

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They’re officially ours, and he’s officially old – celebrating a birthday & adoption

Yesterday was a very special day for our family – we got to celebrate the adoption finalization of my brother’s two children and my dad’s 75th birthday (still convinced I was a mistake).

Though he’s got a knack for being the center of attention, my dad absolutely hates surprises.  But for a birthday as big as three quarters, we had to celebrate in style! My mom and I have been planning a surprise for months – one where we gather just immediate family and the closest of family friends – to celebrate the milestone occasion.  The secret was kept until I accidentally blurted it out over the Fourth of July holiday in front of him, quickly covering my tracks when I saw my mom jumping up and down, whaling her arms to get me to stop talking.  I recovered from “…dad’s party…” to “…”you know, the one he is throwing for the kids’ adoption!”

To give you some background here, my brother and sister-in-law, after trying for several years to have children of their own, recognized their calling to become foster parents with the goal of eventually adopting.  Early last year, they received word that their family would soon grow and in the summer, we welcomed two beautiful children into our family.  While a joyous year, the months have been filled with ups and downs for the new parents. But, the moment we have been waiting for for what seems like an eternity, finally came and now the kiddos officially share our name and have to put up with us for good!

So back to yesterday.  We were doing great – were able to keep my dad occupied outside while decorations chronologizing his life were set up.  The guy had no idea; or so we thought.  We get inside, tell him “You think everyone is here today to celebrate the children but actually, we’re here to celebrate YOU! Surprise!”  Just then, he hands my mom a folded up piece of paper: “Hey Carol, thanks for the surprise party” (only he types in ALL CAPS, ALWAYS).  He had known for the ENTIRE week!  When asked how, he quietly points to me.  Before my mom could say anything to me, he jumped in with “she could have played it off if I didn’t feel the wind of you jumping around and waving your arms behind me to get her to stop talking!” Team effort, momma!

Here’s a peek into the elements that made this celebration one to remember (unless you’re 75, then you have an excuse not to remember.mom
There he is, with proof that nothing slips by this old guy!

dad2My dad grew up in Minnesota, lived in California (among other places), settled down in New York, retired in Virginia and sends his heart to Columbia, SC each Saturday during football season.  That being said, he’s got friends in low, and high, and medium places.  My brother and I reached out to friends and family across the country – those he knows now and those that he hasn’t seen in years – and asked them to send in a happy birthday video message for the special day.  The end result? An amazing video compilation of so many that were a part of his life on this 75-year journey.

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We adorned the windows and fireplace with pictures of his past and even put together a video montage to capture his first year as “Grandpy.” Note: The video pic is intentionally cut off; we don’t share pictures of the kids for their safety.

dad5We lined the table with newspaper clippings touting some of my dad’s lifetime accomplishments.

75 signInspired by Pinterest, I created this chalkboard to highlight the differences between today and the day he was born, 75 years ago.  A lot has happened during the 27,375 days he’s been around but what will never change is how much we love that man.

dadkidI’m sure one of things that makes him more proud than anything is the ability to pass his family name down to these two amazing kids.

dad and iI cannot even begin to express how thankful I am to have this man in my life.  I thank my lucky stars every night that I have had him by my side during my 29 years on this earth and recognize how fortunate I am that I can say that.  I’ll never stop learning and laughing around him, and being the best woman I can be because of him.  I love you, Keithypoo!  Happy 75th!

P.S. because fashion is one of the primary purposes of this blog: I have been dying to wear this Taylor dress for weeks.  Retailing at $158, I picked up this gem at Ross for just $29.99!  Clearly, I did not get my fashion sense from my father;)