Why You Don’t Need a Ring on it For Christmas

FB EngagementsSo last night and this morning, I was scrolling through Facebook, and I saw the beaming faces of multiple, old classmates announcing their Christmas engagements. While it’s a somewhat predictable time of year to propose–and where’s the fun surprise in that–I was genuinely happy for these women who are well deserving of lifelong love. But I must be completely honest with you—I was surprised by the twinge of envy I also felt. While I don’t consider myself a romantic traditionalist in general, a part of me couldn’t help wondering when—if—I will reach that exciting milestone in my own relationship.

There are a few things I share in common with my newly affianced friends. We’re no spring chickens. I’m the youngest, having just turned 37 two weeks ago. While we’ve never been married, all of us have been in more than enough relationships to genuinely recognize authentic, enduring love when it is staring us in the face. Our relationships aren’t new. Loved ones have long inquired when to expect the big day and babies. Friendships and families have blended. Lives and residences have been entwined.

In my case, I’ve been with Warrior Poet for more than two-and-half years now, and we’ve been living together for a year-and-a-half. He’s been by my side through the best and the worst of times. We’ve been each others cheerleader, champion and best friend. We have three families and a supportive circle of friends with whom to share special events together throughout the year. And in a couple weeks, we’ll be taking a trip of a lifetime together to one of the world’s most romantic cities and then to one of the most magical countries. Thinking about this, I was immediately chastened by how greedy and selfish it was to wish for more right now.

Christmas Love BouquetIn one of my FB groups, a woman posted about her disappointment that, after four-and-a-half years of a relationship, she wasn’t proposed to over Christmas. She said the only thing she wanted for the holiday was a commitment. People quickly responded to remind her that there is not time clock on commitment and that everything happens in its own, right time. While one couple got married after seven months together (15 years ago, btw), it took 16 years for another couple to get engaged. Yet the most sobering response was from a woman who said that while she understand the disappointment of the girl with no Christmas ring, there were many who wished that they had even a taste of what she already has—someone in her corner, someone by her side when the going gets tough.

It reminded me how important it is to recognize and express gratitude for the blessings we do have now. As single people, we can be grateful for the opportunity to really get to know ourselves, for the time to become our best selves, and for the experience of growing more complete and content on our own. If we’re in relationships, we can be grateful to have someone who sees, accepts and loves us for who we really are and has faith in who we can become. We can cherish the nurturing and support we receive. We can marvel in the process of getting to know each other even more with each passing day and the experience of our shared journey together. We can celebrate the continued acts of loving and the commitment it takes to show up for each other day in and day out, whether we’re wearing a ring or not.

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Upon Turning 35, a Final Look Back

IMG_1866When I first began my pity party path to recognizing and acknowledging the blessings of turning 35, I wasn’t sure how the experience would play out. I couldn’t predict what it would feel like having to come up with 35 truly positive things about my life as it is now, without only citing banal, yet genuine daily items of gratitude that might put you to sleep. To be honest, some days were harder than others—not because I didn’t feel truly grateful for things in my life, but rather I didn’t know exactly how to express feelings into words on a screen.

Yet here on this final day—the day of turning 35—I can honestly say I have earned every single virtual candle on that birthday cake. I cherish all the experiences I’ve had in my life—both amazing and not so great, the ordinary day-to-day and the life-changing moments, as well as the expected and the surprises. They have helped shape and mold me into the person I am today. While flawed, still constantly growing and learning, I happen to appreciate and like the person whom I’ve become.

Upon turning 35, today I am grateful for…

1.I am grateful for having made it through to the other side of some very dark days. I’ve lived through some pretty rough experiences, both physically and emotionally, and I’m proud to be able to say I truly am a stronger and better person for it. Instead of staying in a wallowing, poor-me state that would’ve been so easy to do, I kept pushing ahead, learning from my challenges, and grown to further understand the human spirit. My compassion and empathy for others, while always rather keen, has expanded so much more and is very much broader in scope.

2. I am so grateful to have found a career where I can use those difficult experiences I’ve been through to help counsel and educate others. I eventually discovered and built my own virtual support groups many years ago. Yet it would have helped me even more to have a personal mentor who was both knowledgeable about what I was going through and who could also help show me how I could improve my health without simply telling me which medications to take and to go get treatments that would just keep me stuck at a plateau. I envisioned this career for so many years without knowing exactly how I would get here, so when it did finally show up, I just about cried. This is what it was for.

3. I am grateful for all the people who have touched my life over the years. My brothers who were my second set of parents, making sure I never got into too much trouble, who kept me humble, kept me in giggles and made sure I felt loved. The teachers who recognized and encouraged my skills and talents, who made sure I had the support to blossom academically. Different friends I’ve made along the way—people to talk, laugh, cry, and share endless memories with. Acquaintances who have crossed my path—casual compliments that meant more to me than I could thank them for. Strangers who have gone out of their way to help me up a mountain or make sure I navigated through a foreign city. Old classmates or family friends who remember something I did or said to them, what feels like a lifetime ago, that made a huge impact on them. The romantic partners who’ve taught me so much about loving and relating, while learning about what makes them tick, shapes who they are and how they love, and revealing so much of the same in myself through my experiences with them. My fellow health coaches who inspire me every single day, and who have been so amazingly warm, uplifting and supportive—you are all beautiful, loving superstars! I could go on and on, but thank you, thank you, thank you.

4. I am thankful for the white hairs. I am thankful for snow fingers and shoulders. I am thankful for the stiff joints in the morning. I am thankful for the reminders of the joy of sports played hard, of a life well lived and a life lived to its fullest. And I know this sounds incredibly strange, but I am thankful for the health issues that have taught me so much about the mind-body connection, about listening to and honoring my body and the importance of self care, a lesson that had to be beaten into me. I am listening. I know. I am ready to move into my next phase of living.

5. I am thankful for yet another year to experience awe. To live life to the fullest. To laugh. To love. To cry. To sing from my heart. To embrace my inner child. To savor what I’ve got. To dream. To go after those dreams and make them my reality. To give thanks for another year, another month, another day, this breath…

My One Week Countdown to 35: To Love and Creativity

To Love and Creativity!

DSC00444Day 5 is Dedicated to My Love

1. I am grateful to My Love for showing me real, unconditional love from a romantic partner. Loving me as exactly, completely me. Loving with kindness, compassion and patience. Love without judgment. Love without co-dependency. Love without jealousy.

2. I am grateful to My Love for being so open, honest and true. For baring everything and letting me in. For letting down any walls that would be so easy to have built up over these years. For giving me the chance to finally feel free to let myself dive in deeply to genuinely feel and give unconditional love.

3. I am grateful to My Love for listening to my dreams, encouraging my dreams and sharing my dreams. He’s even reawakened me to even more dreams, ideas, and visions for the future, as well as outlooks on life, the universe, and the human spirit.

4. I am grateful to My Love for knowing all my secrets, while believing I’m wonderful anyway. J I get misty-eyed knowing the admiration and respect he holds for me, without putting me on a pedestal, and for realizing my imperfections make me perfectly me.

5. I am grateful for My Love for welcoming me into his family of relatives and friends as openly and warmly as he has. I am also very thankful that he has equally wanted to know my own family of relatives and friends.

IMG_1673Day 6: Creativity

1. I am grateful for having never fully given up the inner child’s openness to inspiration and freedom of expression. Whether it’s been through creative writing, music, photography or art, I feel I have always had a toe dipped into that beautiful, blessed well that always feeds my spirit and positively infects the spirits of others.

2. As much as I complained about how my little fingers hurt, I am eternally grateful to my father for teaching my brothers and I the fundamentals of beginner’s blues guitar. “Betty And Dupree,” “Frankie and Johnny” and “Step it Up and Go” will be forever burned in my memory. But even more, the joy of hearing sounds come through my fingers and out of my voice birthed a lifetime love affair I will forever nurture.

3. I am extraordinary grateful for my opportunity to have (very independently, ha) record an album in my youth…actually, with my big brother, there are two albums floating around, aren’t there? And I’m extremely grateful for all the ways I’ve performed, from open mics to shows. I’ve made great friends and fans. Thanks to those who continue to encourage me to keep getting back out there.

4. I am grateful for Mrs. Jan Augusta for being the first teacher to tell me that I could write. I’ll never forget that story about “Magic Shoes” that inspired a lifetime of living in my imagination, and spending hours upon hours trying to translate it to paper (or computer). I’m grateful for my mother for reading to me all those years, for teaching me to read at such a young age, and for giving me a love of libraries. I’m grateful for those who’ve fed my adult literary adventures. From my parents to one of my oldest friends Jenn who once threatened me “Finish this story, or I will kill you!” From my writing critique partners, especially Laura Tien, to the different writing groups/classes with such amazing writers as fellow classmates. To that boyfriend who read every. Single. Story. I’d. Ever. Written. Trust me—even at 18, it was a LOT to the one who read my most recent novel, whose judgment I trust with my life.

5. I am grateful that my life continues to my lead me to a career that embraces my use of my creativity more and more, whether I am teaching old fogey music to hip, young kids, writing articles about inspiring people who touch people’s hearts, taking images that capture awe or sharing my story so that others can relate. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

My One Week Countown to 35: Dedicated to the Ones I Love

living-with-parentsDay 3 is Dedicated to My Parents

1. I am grateful to my parents for taking me back into their home when my health got too bad for me to live on my own (with or without a partner). And for the times when live-in relationships deteriorated… 😉

2. I am grateful to my parents for the sacrifices they have made occupationally (my mom transitioned to telecommuting full-time to keep an eye on me when my seizure-like episodes were at their worst, happening a dozen times a day), financially (when money was tight for me, they made sure I had my medication, gluten-free and dairy-free foods and the most important bills—when they discovered they were delinquent—paid) and with their time (healing from a seizure-like disorder, I am unable to drive until I have six consecutive months without an episode, so my folks have been driving me to doctors’ appointments, to run errands, to see boyfriends and friends and for social and work events—when I was editor/reporter for my town, my dad drove me everywhere in my town to cover news almost every day of the work week.)

3. I am grateful to my parents for making me feel safe and supported during the scariest point of my illnesses. If I fell, they were there to catch me. If I needed someone to help me care for myself in day-to-day living, my mom fed, bathed and clothed me. If I needed to vent my frustration, they were there to give me a shoulder to cry on, arms to fall into.

4. I am grateful for my dad’s unflappable belief that I would get better. While fear caused temporary blindness at times, he always had faith that I would keep getting stronger and find myself back on my feet again. He was right. He encouraged me to keep fighting, to keep looking for answers, to never, ever give up. Both my parents have always believed in me and been my biggest cheerleaders, and I credit much of my successes to the faith they’ve had in my talents and abilities.

5. I am grateful that my mother has not only been a parent to me, but also one of my best friends. I go to her for advice, for cheering up, for reassurance and unconditional love. I love that I can also be an ear for her, that she trusts me enough to share what she’s feeling when she is comfortable doing so. I am so thankful that our together time is as important to her as it is to me, whether I am 3000 miles away or a hallway down from her.

IMG_0535Day 4 is Dedicated to My Friend Carly

1. I am grateful to Carly for becoming that friend I can talk to every day, beginning at a time when I felt very alone with the challenges I was dealing with. I believe we’ve helped each other a great deal to get through our health battles.

2. I am grateful that Carly is the kind of person who will pop up and surprise me at a doctor’s office because it’s been too long since we last got to see each other. She had recommended I see this highly regarded specialist, who is located closer to Carly’s home than mine, and she wanted to make sure that everything went well. Seeing her face touched me more than words can say.

3. I am grateful for the way that Carly always tells me exactly what she thinks and feels about something. Even when it’s about my behavior, and it’s not always something I want to hear, it’s usually something I need to hear. That honesty is absolutely refreshing and invaluable in a friend.

4. I am grateful that Carly always calls to check up on me after a big event, whether it’s a first date or a chemo appointment. She remembers when my niece was born, the significant relationships I’ve had since and before we’ve known each other and she always asks after my parents. I don’t ever have to guess whether she cares or wonder if she knows what’s going on in my life.

5. I am grateful that Carly puts up with my moodiness and occasional reclusiveness. I know it can be very tough for her as it’s very important that there is daily connection with her closest friends. I appreciate her giving and forgiving heart.

My One-Week Countdown to 35: Day 2

Better late than never:

Later this, I will be turning the big 3-5. I know, it’s hard for even me to believe it, but it’s true. While I know it’s not exactly over the hill, as a never-been married woman with no kids, it makes me feel pretty damn old if I think about it too much. So to silence the ridiculous screams of “spinster” and “cat lady” in my subconscious, I’ve decided to count the days until my birthday with 35 reasons why I am filled with gratitude that I am a perfect age.

Each day I will be listing off (at least) five reasons why I’m thankful to be me at this particular point and time in my life. They will be in no particular order. For the last week, I’ve been thinking of 10 things I feel grateful for each day, so I am hoping this will be no sweat. If you feel so inclined, let me know what you think.

1. I am grateful for the kindness of strangers.

The-Kindness-of-Strangers-mdnI am a proud bookworm who frequents our small-town library easily once a week, if not more. I’m a familiar face to all of the librarians, and I became friendly acquaintances with several of them while I was editor/reporter for a town publication, as I covered events at the library frequently. When I grew too sick to continue working that job, the librarians were concerned as I stopped coming in. When my parents would come to collect books for me, the librarians would express their best wishes and hopes for my continued recovery.

Once I was back on my feet, my regular visits to the library resumed and the women working there expressed joy to see me doing better.  One of those women soon became especially friendly. As soon as I walked into the library, she’d walk back to the book holds to get any books borrowed from other libraries that were waiting for me, and she always greeted me with a smile and friendly words.

One day during snowy weather, the library was still open and I got a call that some books were ready for me to pick up. This librarian offered to drop them off at my house, saying she drove by my house on her way home anyway. Surprised and grateful, I watched as she walked quickly through the wet precipitation with books and CDs in a plastic bag to hand off to me. I thanked her warmly for making such a kind gesture.

She just did it again when I had no transportation to get to the library all week. When I saw her, she said, “Any time you don’t get her for a while, I figure I can just bring your items on hold to you. I drive by your house every day to and from work, and bringing my son to school and back. It’s my pleasure.” Someday soon I will have to think of something very thoughtful to do for her.

2. I am grateful for the generosity of friends

It can be difficult to maintain friendships when your health (and sometimes mood) has so many ups and downs. Plans get canceled necessarily at the last minute. Some friends become frightened by what they don’t know—as I’m overcoming a seizure-like disorder, friends have anxiety that they’ll have to deal with an episode and not know what to do—while words like chemo can be triggers for other friends. Add that on top of the already hectic schedules that arise when the majority of your friends are 30 years and above, navigating marriages or long-term relationships, families, either working at home or at an outside office and other societal obligations.

Anyway, there was a local woman in publishing who had been keeping her eye on my work for a couple years. When she started a group for getting alumni together and allowing them to keep in touch and tied to their hometown, I was mildly curious, but I noticed most of the people involved were much older than I. Finally, this year, this woman reached out and encouraged me to come to one of the monthly events, promising that they were young at heart. So I did.

It turns out that this woman is one of the most giving and generous people I know. She’s driven me around when I haven’t had rides, helped to find me a music gig to get me back to performing again, plus she’s constantly going out of her where to do kind things for all the people she cares about in her life. She’s a networker who connects people because she truly enjoys helping people make their dreams come true.

She’s a giver of the greatest kind. A night owl, she’ll get up especially early to drive you to a job interview at 9 a.m. She’ll think of you when she has extra tickets to an artistic event she knows you’d be interested in. She’ll even drive you to the hairdresser just so you can look especially nice for your boyfriend and a large holiday party. I am so grateful to her for generous spirit—not just because of everything she’s done for me, but because she inspires me to keep giving, whatever position I happen to find myself in life.

3. I am grateful for the Soul Beauty challenge.

A fellow health coach and another great inspiration to me, Christy Foster, runs Soul Carrot Health Coaching at http://soulcarrot.com . As part of her own birthday, Christy ran an empowering, uplifting and enlightening program called Soul Beauty, which invited women to dig down deep inside themselves, to address their insecurities and fears, acknowledge what makes them unique and special and to be bold about their own beauty—from the inside out.

The sense of community that has grown from this program continues long past its official end. I continue to learn and grow from other women’s journeys and by answering some of the questions posed, forcing me to shine a light on my own blocks. Most recently, Christy posed the following question to us: If there was ONE thing you could do without feeling judged, what would it be? I had quite a few things that came to mind, but for the last few months, I’ve been itching to play around with my appearance. Apparently a lot of other women in the group felt similarly. We shared similar concerns—we felt we that we were “too old,” that changing how we looked on the outside too “radically” might not fight into a professional environment, or that dealing with more conservative friends and family who disapproved were a deterrent.

PinkHairA tattoo, something I could hide more easily, is too expensive right now. I am being extremely particular about the design, which will be more of a mosaic of tattoos. So while going to get my hair done on Friday, I got into a conversation with the hairdressing talking about the challenges of doing certain hair procedures on dark, naturally curly hair like mine. That’s when she mentioned an extremely convenient, newer option for bringing new life to my hair, at my own pace, in my own home. It didn’t take much for me to say, “I’m going for it!”

This is what resulted. I got overwhelmingly positive response. And best of all, I feel amazing. And, as Christy said to me, it looks like ME.

4. I am grateful for the unconditional support of friends like @thecrazymagnet.

Though we live 30000 miles away from one another, I feel like he is one of my closest friends, and we can share more intimate details, as well the everyday happenings in our respective lives. Though I know it can be hard for him to give objective advice when I come to him frustrated over different things going on in with me, especially with regard to dating and relationships, he still listens like a trooper, gives me his brutally honest opinion and is there to support if things don’t work out as I had hoped or expected. He’s also been great at keeping me entertained during those days when I couldn’t much more than leave the bed.

5. I am grateful for my improved communication skills in my relationship.

Last week, the boyfriend and I got into a disagreement, mainly because I was feeling taken for granted, mainly neglected, during a time that meant a lot to me to feel connected. I also felt my intelligence and experiences within the same discipline that he also is exploring, albeit in a different direction, were not recognized, honored, and therefore, when he spoke of his study, he spoke down to me as if I couldn’t understand the same underlying process our two passions. My frustration was building up over this and a couple of other things for maybe a week and a half before I had a talk with @thecrazymagnet, and I realized I couldn’t wait until I saw the boyfriend on the weekend to communication.

"ms. understood", conceptual fine art photography ©2006 kelly angard

“ms. understood”, conceptual fine art photography ©2006 kelly angard

Normally in the past, this would be considered as confrontation. I’d be too frightened to talk to my own boyfriend about my wants and needs for that either he didn’t really get it so couldn’t fix it, or that he did get it, but wasn’t really willing and able to do anything to change it—“That’s just how I am.” Unfortunately, we used the workday, which is the worst way to hash out a discussion, especially over IM. After some miscommunications and both of us equally frustrated, I finally took a breath. This is what I mean to say…I felt hurt that you did this because…I worry that you don’t take me as seriously in our conversation topics as you used to…And then I listened. Because the best thing I have learned while being int this conversation, is that when you’re with someone with whom you can so honestly and openly how you feel and what you fear, you are increasing the chances to be understand. Instead of just communicating to be understood, be both strive to really hear and listen so that we can understand. Makes a huge impact on the health of our relationship.

My One-Week Countdown to 35: Day 1

birthday-candlesIn exactly one week, I will be turning the big 3-5. I know, it’s hard for even me to believe it, but it’s true. While I know it’s not exactly over the hill, as a never-been married woman with no kids, it makes me feel pretty damn old if I think about it too much. So to silence the ridiculous screams of “spinster” and “cat lady” in my subconscious, I’ve decided to count the days until my birthday with 35 reasons why I am filled with gratitude that I am a perfect age.

Each day I will be listing off five reasons why I’m thankful to be me at this particular point and time in my life. They will be in no particular order. For the last week, I’ve been thinking of 10 things I feel grateful for each day, so I am hoping this will be no sweat. If you feel so inclined, let me know what you think.

1. I am grateful that I am no longer living my 20s.

Woman Pulling on an EarYou young whippersnappers—don’t laugh. I’m completely serious when I say that I am SO glad that I am well past my 20s. My 20s were full of incredible romantic drama, emotional immaturity in relationships (causing the romantic drama), and at the same time, being forced to grow up far too quickly. While the decade seemed to start off extremely promisingly, my health sank downhill rapidly, where it stayed in a hole for many, frustrating and heartbreaking years.

I was forced to leave sometimes sunny northern California, my super sweet boyfriend and a pretty interesting and challenging job for bitter winters, disability and living with my parents again. I literally had to re-learn how to walk strong on my own two feet again.

To say I got lost a few times during the decade would be playing it off cool. To say I got into some dysfunctional relationships would be an understatement. However, I also learned a tremendous amount about myself and I truly discovered the incredible depth of my own emotional and mental strength and tenacity. I refused to give up—on love or on myself, eventually making it to my 30s, where I really was able to declare with confidence who I was and what I was looking for in life.

2. I have so much gratitude for my current relationship!

"Kissing" By Alex Grey

“Kissing” By Alex Grey

I have talked about it here and over at Singles Warehouse, but I really can’t talk enough about how different my relationship now is from any other I’ve had before. Yes, I’ve had loving boyfriends. Yes, I’ve had giving boyfriends. Yet I’ve never felt free to give so much of myself so honestly, openly and completely before, without being judged, and in fact, being loved even more for being authentically, exactly who I am. I am characteristically the giver, giver, giver in a relationship. It feels amazing to give and receive, to receive and give. I am encouraged to communicate everything on my mind. I am encouraged to show love. I have someone truly proud to be with me, to have me by his side, and to be by my side. It gives me great joy to know with absolute certainty that there is someone who always has my best interests at heart and is rooting for me to succeed and be my best self.

3. I am so grateful for my health.

The last three years have been the strangest of all the years I’ve lived with my gloriously unpredictable health problems. After two of some of the most perplexing and frustrating years, I suddenly found my body fighting back as hard as it’s ever done. I was going on 12-mile bike rides. I was swimming again. And then I found myself being able to do some acrobatic and strength moves with my body to a degree I haven’t seen since I was 20, maybe even longer. While paradoxically, I was still struggling with getting my health stable, my body became my own again. I found a mind-body practice that has transformed me inside and out, and I’ve rediscovered the joy of making my body strong, flexible and as fit as I can be again.

4. Vanity break: I’ve got my body back, baby!

Photo on 7-31-12 at 1.48 PM #2The year 2011 was a nightmare for my body image. A medication known for causing people to balloon finally did just that to me after more than six months on it. I didn’t recognize myself in my own skin. I hated looking at myself in the mirror. I didn’t want anyone taking my picture. I couldn’t fit in any of my clothes. For many months, I really didn’t care much for my body.

Yet somewhere, I had that aha moment when you realize that loving yourself, wherever you happen to be in your journey with size or weight, is the key to getting to where you want to be – or at least, that’s what happened with me. I started treating my body well again. I didn’t resign myself to the medicine and my bloated size; I started working out again, as had always been a part of my routine when I was able. I didn’t diet, but I was conscious of eating things I knew would be good for my bad, not bring harm to it.

And then one day in early 2012, I realized I could fit into my old clothes again. Seriously, one day I just started trying things on and realized pants and skirts could ease over my thighs again. From February, there’s a picture of my in a bikini, with my abs popping, and there’s pride in my face – not ‘cause I thought I was hot stuff again, but because I knew I had made it back to the other side. I was recovering. I was gaining me back again.

5. I am grateful really do feel young at heart.

Yep, a jester's hat

Yep, a jester’s hat

Though today I found out I had reached my goal of returning to my ideal body fat percentage, something I probably hadn’t been since I was 12, that’s not what I mean about feeling young. I feel young at heart when I stay up almost all night, interlaced with my sweetie, talking about anything and everything. I feel young at heart when I’m down on the living room floor, playing Lincoln Logs with my now 5-year-old nephew. I feel young at heart when someone challenges me to sprint down the streets of Boston—and I do it, bringing back that amazing feeling of flying again. I feel young when I sing in the shower or dance like no one’s watching, or grab someone’s hand in public and start skipping. I feel young again when I’m creating a web of dreams. I feel young when I’m weaving melody and harmony into song, while knitting together patches of words that all together that tell a story. I feel young when I remember I still have so much life left to life, memories to make and lessons to learn.