November 20, 2014

Peace vs. Chaos: Which Do You Choose?

For the past four or five weeks, I've been taking a yoga class at my gym. Ew, I just threw up in my mouth a little at that me I'm not a health nut or very fit so please don't feel put off. There was a time when I'd have quickly closed the browser window instead of reading much of anything relating to health & all just seemed so intimidating and unattainable to me.

In fact, I've been on health & fitness roller coaster the last several years. First I adopted a vegan diet and lost a significant amount of weight. Then I switched to being vegetarian and slowly stopped making as many healthy choices and gained some of the weight back. Now I just want to feel healthier and not worry so much about what the scale says.

So, a few months ago (thanks to the encouragement of my beau), I joined a gym and started working with a trainer. And in addition to the training and use of the facility, my gym also offers lots of different classes, including yoga, which I've been attending.

The yoga class meets for about an hour and honestly, it's become one of my very favorite hours of the entire week.

In the past I would have been one of those people who thought yoga was weird and a waste of time so I'm kind of proud of myself for embracing it. Each class includes some stretching and poses, nothing too hard since the participants are mainly beginners.

My very favorite part of the class (no joke) comes toward the end when we're winding down and usually lying on our backs with eyes closed. The teacher says "Now, give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing." I wait all week for this moment and when it finally arrives, I relish it.

If you have an abundance of free time on your hands, you might not appreciate this the same way I do. But for me, it's one small opportunity to do nothing. And these days, those don't come around very much. We're so ultra-connected all the time. Even when we're supposedly doing nothing, we're always doing something...checking email on our phone, texting, making grocery lists in our heads, or whatever.

Do you ever give yourself permission to do nothing?

I mentioned to my yoga teacher how much I enjoyed this part of class and she made a comment that really stuck with me. She said: Pretty much everything we do in life is either moving us toward peace or toward chaos.

My hour of yoga definitely moves my week in a more peaceful direction. But I'm sure there are plenty of other things I do that move me toward chaos.

Saying yes to things I should politely decline. Beginning a conversation with the intent of showing someone why I'm right and they're wrong. Spending time with certain people. I'm guilty of moving toward chaos for sure.

But I like looking at it as a spectrum we are constantly moving back and forth on, never completely one or the other. Life's never 100 percent peaceful or 100 percent chaotic...instead it's always a big old mix of everything in between. But when I look at each moment as an opportunity to move a little closer to peace, that encourages me.

What are some other ways you can choose to move toward peace in your life? I dare you to try one of them today. Even if it's hard. You won't regret it.

November 11, 2014

Somebody's Got You

The other day I said to my southern beau, "if we end up having a child, would it be okay if we named it Leon?" In case you weren't aware, Leon is my dog...a 9 year old rescued boxer mix who captured my heart from the first moment I saw his bright shining face in a photo on the website of our local animal shelter.

Leon chilling in bed - He has his own Facebook page by the way!
Since bringing him into my home, my heart has opened up in places I didn't even know existed...places that are now filled to the brim with love for his smelly 70-something pound self.

We may or may not name our future child Leon, but that's beside the point. Earlier this year, Leon started walking funny. We first noticed it when visiting my parents. He was dragging his back feet and happened to walk across their jute rug, leaving the tops of his paws raw and bleeding. Then we noticed that he had trouble using the bathroom because his back legs didn't want to support him when he tried to squat.

After some tests and Internet research, we figured out that he probably has a degenerative disorder, much like multiple sclerosis in humans, causing nerve damage in his hind quarters. It creates loss of sensation in his feet which is why he drags them and often walks on his back knuckles.

It's pretty hard to watch your sweet able-bodied pup go from leaping up multiple steps in a single bound to needing to be carried just to get out of a doorway. But his spirit is still just as sweet and so far it doesn't phase him too much.

Leon and I lived alone together for nine years and nearly every night we've slept side by side, first in a queen and now in a roomy king sized bed. Since his condition has gotten worse, he really can't get up into the bed by himself so I find myself hoisting him up several times a day.

He has a $40 dog bed located in my bedroom, and he enjoys sprawling on it, but sometimes he just wants to come up on the big bed. Usually all it takes is a little whine but sometimes he rests his face on the edge of my bed and looks at me with those big ol' eyes. It doesn't matter what I'm doing or how comfortable I am, I always get up and haul him up here.

I gotta say it's not a graceful act. He's wiggly and wobbly and I have to reach under his stinky little dog armpits and sling him up about three feet in the air, all the while trying to lift with my legs and not my back. But every time I do it, I always say the same thing. "Momma's got you."

Sometimes he cries from the floor in the middle of the night and I go through this dog-lifting routine while half asleep. When I wake up with him next to me, I often can't remember how he got there except I know he didn't do it by himself.

He doesn't have to worry about how he's going to get up on the bed, he just knows that I'm going to take care of it for him. In so many ways this is a picture of what love looks like. Messy, awkward, uncoordinated efforts that result in somebody feeling safe and cared for.

Lots of people in my life have been there for me like that...way more times than I deserve. It doesn't always play out exactly the might be something as simple as an encouraging text or Facebook message from a friend. But even these seemingly little things remind me that there are people in my corner, people who've got me.

Sometimes I feel guilty thinking about all the people who've never felt loved or cared for like that. Even still, I know this is how God feels about all of us. But I guess if somebody who was supposed to love you treated you mean, it's hard to believe in God.

The best way I can even begin to remedy it is to add a little more love to the world. We all can.
It only takes noticing people. Well, not just noticing but also really seeing them. And looking past their "I'm fine" to see what hurts lurk below. It might be awkward or wobbly. And we might end up wondering how we got there. But let's do it anyway.

November 4, 2014

Big Sexy Hair & Marlboro Reds

This past weekend, I went to the most memorable 50th birthday party. It was unique, lively and one-of-a-kind...perfect for its guest of honor. When I first heard this party was in the works, I wasn't sure I could get on board with the theme.

"Big Sexy Hair & Marlboro Reds." 

A 50th birthday is definitely something to be celebrated but you might be wondering just what is so special about hair spray and cigarettes.

Let me back up a little. The party was for my Aunt Bo. Her real name is Karen, but as the first niece on that side of the family, I gave her the name Bo. 

I have racked my brain trying to remember what inspired me to start using this moniker, but I honestly cannot remember. Just all my life she's been Bo to me (and every other subsequent child in our family). 

My Aunt Bo is one-of-a-kind. One quality that comes to mind when I think of her is how fiercely loyal she is. As my brother likes to say "Bo would kill someone for you" (and he's only half joking). 

When I was a baby, my Bo was still in high school and all my life I've heard stories about how she'd skip class to drive to Knoxville with my grandparents to visit me and my mom. 

After my parents divorced and we moved back to the town my mom was from, I spent a lot more time with my aunt. As a kid, I vividly remember her taking me to Hardee's in the morning. She'd get a steak biscuit (with mustard) and a huge Mountain Dew while I'd have a two-pack of cinnamon raisin biscuits with orange juice. On my birthday, she'd always take me shopping for a new outfit at Goody's. 

It was also my aunt who let me drive a car for the first time...on a country back road through "the swamp" near our family farm. I was 11 years old and the car was some gray behemoth, probably an 80-something model Oldsmobile. I had no idea what I was doing and I floored the gas pedal, causing us to lurch forward. It would be several years before I finally learned to drive for real, but this early lesson gave me a feeling of accomplishment. 

Something else I'll always appreciate my aunt for is trying to help me straighten my hair. It was 1995 and Jennifer Aniston's "Rachel" hairdo was all the rage. My mom was at a loss for what to do with my frizzy locks, but my aunt would sit for hours, sectioning my hair off in small pieces, using a giant barrel curling iron to try and smooth it for me. I thought I was so beautiful with my bouncy straight mane...little did I know that it looked more like a lampshade. 

I can never chronicle all the things my Aunt Bo has done for me or all the wonderful memories we have together. Life has for sure had its ups and downs, but she is a strong person and she never stops doing good for the people she loves. 

My Aunt Bo and Me 

When her group of girlfriends decided to throw her a surprise 50th birthday party, they wanted it to be something she'd really enjoy. 

My aunt is quite frugal. She shops at Goodwill and buys off-brand items regularly. But apparently she has said before that no matter how poor she might find herself, there are two things she will never skimp on. You guessed it...Big Sexy Hairspray and Marlboro Reds. In honor of her dedication to these products, her friends centered her party around them. 

It was actually very lovely, even with the packs of cigarettes in the centerpieces. Only in the south, right? 

The southern aunt is something of an institution. I can think of so many people who had/have a special aunt with whom they made all sorts of wonderful childhood memories. Then you grow up and your special aunt becomes this awesome cheerleader of sorts, celebrating your triumphs and being mad with you when things don't go your way. It's like the next closest thing to your mom, but without all the bad memories of hating her when you were a teenager. 

My dad's special aunt was the first person to serve him Mexican food, specifically tacos, when he was a kid. He still tells this story and recounts his awe at this exotic dish. 

My beau has a special aunt too, like a second mom really, who is a very important part of his life.

I have other special aunts who've also impacted my life in different ways. I am so fortunate to have these folks in my corner and I'm glad I could help celebrate my Aunt Bo's big birthday! Here are some photos of her brunch party...

Me, my grandma & my mom before my aunt arrived 

My mom and her dear friend, who is also sort of like an aunt to me

the lovely brunch spread, complete with the most delicious cinnamon toast I've ever eaten 
Do you have a special aunt who means the world to you? Don't wait til a milestone birthday to tell her!