Celebrating Family

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This past weekend was bittersweet for me as I arrived in Texas for a family reunion with my dad’s side of the family, but then wound up having to say a final good-bye to my mom’s last living uncle who happened to live in the same town.

It was a blessing to see my uncle one last time. To give him a hug, smooth back his hair as he lay in his hospital bed, look in his gentle eyes and say a prayer with him.

It’s been a blessing catching up with cousins I haven’t seen in years. Talking about our kids and our lives. Sharing laughs about old times and making new memories.
girl cousins framed pic 1
cousin love

This weekend has been a true picture of what family is all about. Helping each other through difficult times. Celebrating good times. Advice and guidance when faced with troubles. Support through good and bad. There have been ups and downs, squabbles and tears. But more importantly, there’s been love. Lots and lots of love.

So today, as I move from my aunt’s house to the RWA National Conference hotel, I leave with the certainty that I’m writing for the perfect genre. Romance novels are about love and healthy relationships conquering conflict and doubt and the ugliness of the world.

Our novels celebrate what we want for our kids: happiness, strength, peace and love. Lots and lots of love.
family love

hearts of  love
Today, I say: Go hug your kids, call your mom or dad or aunt or cousin, send a simple “I Love You” text to someone you haven’t in a while. Celebrate your family. Life is short. Your list of loved ones doesn’t have to be. :-)

RIP My beloved Tio Pablo, te quiero mucho!
Tio Pablo

Five tips for raising adventurous eaters

I know this is a hot button issue for some people–much like attachment parenting is for some people and cry-it-out method is for others. So let me start by saying I have no intention of food shaming anyone. I’m not going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. As long as your kids aren’t starving to death, you’re doing just fine.

However, having said that, I happen to have been blessed with very adventurous eaters. I use the term “blessed” because I’m well aware that some of it is pure luck. My husband and I are adventurous eaters, so you could make the argument that we must have genes for very forgiving taste buds and we passed those genes on to our kids and were therefore blessed with adventurous eaters. This is at least partly true. (Did you know there’s a specific gene for super bitter tasters? So some people don’t like broccoli because it actually tastes different to them.) But, baring any weird gene or sensory issues, your kid may have it in them to be an adventurous eater too and you just don’t know it yet. Because The Geek and I do work at getting our kids to eat well. Sometimes we work very hard at it. The reward is kids who can eat almost anything and almost anywhere, kids who eat lots of veggies and love them, kids who make good eating choices more often than not.  Personally, I think all the hard work is worth it. (Plus, I’m too damn lazy to cook multiple meals. I’m not a short order cook, people!)

So here are my five tips for raising adventurous eaters:

1. They have to try at least one bite of everything on their plate, even if they tried it two days ago and hated it then.  Kids taste buds change all the time. Ours do too! And if a kid doesn’t like something on Tuesday night, that doesn’t mean that they won’t grow to enjoy it by the following Monday.

2. They can’t complain about the food someone else has prepared for them. This one is huge for me, probably because I am almost always the “someone else.” I’ve told my kids over and over that they don’t get to complain about my cooking until they’re food critiques for the Times.

3. They don’t have to finish everything on their plate, but if they don’t, they don’t get to eat again until breakfast. Trust me, nothing puts food in a kid’s mouth faster than the threat of watching the whole family eat ice cream without them.

4. You can’t flinch. That’s right, if you want your kids to try everything, then you have to be willing to do it too! I don’t like sushi, but when my kids want to try, I paste on a smile and pretend it’s great. Just tonight we ate at a traditional ramen noodle place and there was this weird egg looking thing in my bowl. I dug right in, ignoring the weird texture. I had to eat it with a smile because my daughter was giving hers the stink eye. Just remember they will model your behavior!

5. And, finally, if all else fails, google the nutritional info about the food. Any time the kids do start looking sideways at a particular dish, I pop open the computer. Many a kale salad has been eaten in my house because I regaled my kids with assurances that Kale has oodles of vitamin K, which will make their bones strong, and tons of vitamin A, which will protect their eyes. Knowing why it’s a good idea to eat something is a big step to enjoying it. Plus, it’s important that kids know that food isn’t just about the pleasure of eating. It’s about feeding our bodies.

So those are my tips for getting kids to eat almost anything. Now what are yours?

 

 

Meaningful Things

I grew up as an Army Brat, moving every 3 to 4 years. My husband grew up like this as well. Our paths almost crossed in Fort Clayton, Panama once, with him living at the bottom of a big sweeping hill, one that was lined with wild, thickly growing birds of paradise on the edge of a beautiful jungle. He and his family moved out of their military housing and flew to Japan for his dad’s next assignment, just two months before mine moved in, just up that hill, onto Smith Street, a very bland name for a place that remains so beautiful and vivid in my mind—both for the tropical, concrete housing we lived in, three stories tall, with tile roofs, and gardens full of hibiscus and bananas, and also the towering trees filled with trumpet flowers where you could often see iguanas, sloths and toucans looking down.

Leaving there was one of life’s biggest heartbreaks for me. I still remember sitting on the plane, looking out the window, completely bereft over leaving and trying my hardest not to cry—because I was a teenager, and that would be the worst, to draw the attention of a bunch of strangers. Yes, I was upset to leave my friends, but most of them would be leaving soon as well, because we were all military kids, and that’s what happened. We all came and went, and then moved on to a different home eventually. No, it was really the place, Panama I didn’t want to leave.

Moving so often, we were limited with how much we could accumulate and take with us. Our mothers were experts at paring things down to just what we needed to set up a house in a new location, and have it still feel like home.

As I said, my husband is also an Army brat. While we aren’t in the service, we still seem to do this instinctively, purge out the unnecessary clutter of belongings we don’t need and just keep that which is useful and meaningful to us. Sometimes this can cause a little conflict between us, because I can be very sentimental about old things that belonged to people that I love, while he finds value more in…you know, machinery and tools and stuff. This means we often enter into negotiations about what stays and what goes. Most often, the negotiations are about the things I want to keep! Like that 40+ volume set of Readers Digest Condensed Novels that I had stored in boxes in the upstairs bedroom. I kept them because they came from my grandparents’ lake house, and that’s how I spent a couple of my teenage summers. My grandparents didn’t allow us to watch more than an hour of TV a day, so I read all those books, and I loved them. After my grandfather passed, and my grandmother was moving to a residential retirement home, the books were put out on the roadside for the trash truck to haul away, and I couldn’t let that happen. But yes…years later, I pulled out about eight of my favorites and donated the rest.

But there are some things I’ll never part with. I have them out where I see them every day, and they make home feel like home.
My great great grandmother’s ink well, still stained with ink. She’d probably be appalled that I write romance novels (or maybe not!), but isn’t this cool? I keep it on my kitchen windowsill, next to my collection of glass bluebirds (of happiness). Once, one of my kids actually perched an avocado on it, and I nearly had a heart attack that they were going to break it. But I don’t want to hide it away.

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And of all things, my great great grandmother’s napkin holder. When I was little I remember this on my grandmother’s table at lunchtime, holding the napkins. Look at that funny rooster, and that bright paint. It makes me smile every time I see it. Also, in some way, it makes me feel connected to my family—those I know, and got to meet in my lifetime, and even those who passed on before I was born.

Rooster

Oh, I’ve got a lot more! But what about you? If you had to pick up and move, and just take a few meaningful things with you to make the next place feel like home, what would you take with you? (Not including your favorite people!)

Oh, the Things You Can Do

“Hi, this is Danger*. He has autism.”

This is becoming a common introduction in my day. And while ago it’s one I couldn’t have managed to make so easily. But as time and acceptance have gone on its become easier to simply say the words that will help other people relate to my son.

When I think back on the journey I can see how far I’ve come. How far we have all come. For some reason I was always afraid I would have a child with autism. It was the thing I didn’t want to deal with. The thing I prayed I would be spared. I don’t know why, I only know that the idea of it terrified me. That the thought of raising a child with those particular special needs seemed bleak.

The diagnosis came slowly, starting with an evaluation when he was not quite two that left us with the evaluator saying: he shows characteristics in keeping with other children who have mild to moderate autism.

I remember sitting on the floor and holding him, crying. Because I knew then. I knew that this was the path we would walk no matter how much it scared me. No matter how much I had hoped, even before having children, that this would not be my life.

But then I realized that he was still the same child I had held in my arms only two hours before. Before those words were spoken. Before any diagnosis was made. A lot of the fear that I had felt, a lot of the crushing worry over the realization that I did have a child with autism was eased. Because I knew this child. And I already loved him.

I think it’s easy to look around at the hardships other people face and think that we could never endure that. That they must be particularly strong, or brave. But I think what it comes down to is that those of us who can face our fears and come out the other side not only surviving, but thriving do so because of love.

I think of myself as a normal parent. I am a normal parent. A normal person.

I’m stumbling through the same as anyone else, making mistakes, sometimes feeling sorry for myself, readjusting my expectations, readjusting my perspective.

But we aren’t just surviving, we are thriving. Autism isn’t something I have to endure. It isn’t something that has come into my life to steal the joy, as I imagined it would be. I didn’t think I would be up to this challenge, but my perspective on it was all wrong. Like all parenting, like all of life, it is a daily challenge. Sometimes we get knocked down by it, but then we get back up and keep going because it’s all anyone can do.

I look back on the frightened mother that I was, holding her child, feeling like the weight of all her deepest fears was resting on her and I can only be happy that I was wrong about my future. Because it was not something to be endured, but something to be embraced.

I’ve learned that when love crashes into a challenge, that challenge doesn’t stand a chance. Love makes so many hard things easy. It makes walking into the frightening things possible. I suppose this is why the greatest is love.

You all know from previous blog posts that this isn’t always easy, but nothing is. We all have challenges whether they’re small ones on any given day, or marathon challenges the stretch on for months, years. But it is amazing what we can do. It is amazing what we can do with a smile on our faces.

I know I’m amazed at how something that terrified me so much, something I was afraid would destroy everything I had, has become a part of our lives in such a way that I can’t even imagine it lifting out. It’s a part of what makes the shape of our family. A family that is imperfect, but held together by love.

Life presents us with so many unexpected challenges, and it’s tempting to sit down sometimes and cry. That’s what I did. But in the end I got back up. And that’s the important part.

Whatever your challenges, keep moving. Keep going. Keep loving. You are stronger than you think you are.

*the names of the Dangerous have been changed

Coming soon to a TV near you

The year was 1991. It was the year I got engaged…and the year I fell in love with a six-foot-something red headed Scottish virgin. (But no, the engagement was not to the redhead) I remember both very distinctly. In fact, those two events are about all I remember from that year. The engagement happened in April. The whole redhead thing happened that fall, at my soon-to-be in-laws house, when I settled in with a book I’d picked up prior to the trip.

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You know how it is when you’re still the newcomer…the outsider (or, ahem, the Outlander!)  You’re still trying to fit in and impress. That was totally my intent. But…then I opened that book, and all bets were off. I don’t know what I was expecting–I mean, I love time travel and romance and adventure–but honestly, I don’t think I was expecting much, certainly not to be utterly, completely ABSORBED by a book I’d never heard of before. But I was. I read. And read. And read some more. I read every second I could break away and not be too rude. I read at night. I read long after everyone else went to bed, deep into the wee hours of the morning, and then I read some more. I read until I finished–over 900 pages–and then all I could think about was how quickly I could get my hands on the sequel. (And for what it’s worth, the following year after I did read the sequel, not only did I cry harder than I have for any other book, but I made my sister promise not to read the second book until the third was out, because I didn’t want her to suffer the way I was :)

The book was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, the Scotsman, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, aka Jamie. 

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In the ensuing years I consumed each book in the series as soon as it was published, gushing as I did and in the process drawing countless friends and acquaintances into the series. The story grew in ways I never expected. Some installments didn’t thrill me as much as others. But my love affair with the story of Jamie and Claire never wavered…and now, FINALLY, it’s coming to the small screen.

jamie and claire

STARZ has adopted Outlander into a new miniseries, launching NEXT MONTH. August 9th, to be exact!  And I…cannot…WAIT!

So what’s it about? I actually got into an intense discussion with the author once about just that. She insists the series is not a romance, and maybe that’s not the right term. But it’s definitely a sweeping love story. Love between man and woman. Love of family. Love of country. Love of honor and duty…  Truly, it’s all there in a complex, complicated, sweeping, absorbing, engaging story. There’s also mystery and mysticism and history. How’s that for a combination?

Here’s a peek:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YA0aaz8EXRI

If you’re already familiar with Outlander, you know why I’m so excited. If you’re not, trust me on this one. You can thank me later :)

(Incidentally, all these years later, the series is STILL GOING…and I’m still dying to see how it all wraps up. You see, there’s a mystery right in the beginning of the very first book..a GHOST to be exact…and I can’t wait to see how and why he’s doing what he’s doing!)

 

 

The love I wasn’t expecting

10447061_469921366444635_6776470002636467206_nLong before I became a mother, before I got married, before we started trying and then doing fertility treatments, before the failed adoption and then ultimately he successful one…I know that I would have no problem loving kiddos. No matter how they fell into my life, I knew that I had a heart for kids. I’ve always been that girl, you probably went to school with someone like me, or maybe you were the one like me, the one who loved children and who mothered all her friends.

Then the girls came, dropped into our lives like tiny explosions, and I loved them immediately. Or perhaps I merely felt protective of them. Even when it was so hard and The Professor and I would cry and wonder what we had done to our lives, I knew no matter how hard it was, we would be their constant. They’d already had so much, too much, in their little lives. We would be the ones who never left, no matter what. Just as we had made a commitment to each other on our wedding day, the day we accepted those girls into our house, we made a commitment to them.

And just as any family, we’ve had highs and lows, challenges and successes (yeah, Babybee is finally potty trained!!!). And I love them. Oh, how I love them with a fierceness that takes my breath away. It doesn’t surprise me, that love, even the depth of it. Sometimes I think I always loved them, the love was there just waiting for them to absorb it. But there is something that surprises me and that is the fierceness at how they love me.

Perhaps that’s silly, or perhaps you too have been surprised by the love of your own children. Sometimes Babybee will hug me so tightly, squeezing my neck with her little arms and she’ll whisper in my ear, “Mommy, I love you so much.” Then Busybee with give me one of her brilliant smiles and giggle and tell me we’re having so much fun & she loves me to the moon. I can say without a shred of arrogance that I am the center of their universe (The Professor too, but this is my blog…) As unconditionally as I love them, they love me in return and for whatever reason, I never once considered this when I thought about becoming a mother. And frankly it thrills me and terrifies me (it’s a lot of pressure to live up to the way they see me) and it takes my breath away.

Of Dogs and Frogs

I used to teach middle school in Houston’s inner city. It was a completely different world from where I’d grown up and the home I went back to every night. The kids were rough until I learned how to deal with them. It took me pretty much my whole first year to learn. During that time I was locked out of my room several times, had pretty much everything but my teacher’s desk stolen, had to file sexual harassment charges against one kid, and cried more times than I could count. Never in front of the kids, though!

By year 2, not much could faze me. I shut down problems before they became problems, and I wasn’t locked out of my room even once. That second year I was finally able to look at my surroundings objectively. Yes, my students were gang members, predominantly members of the MS-13. They called themselves the Southwest Cholos, and their colors were black and white. Some of the students were from a rival gang, and one time my first year I accidentally wore a black and white bandana as a headband and it was ON. I had no idea what I’d considered a hair accessory was  a gang symbol. But the gangs and gang loyalty were very real to these kids. Over that first summer, one of my former students was shot to death, one was deported because he was an illegal and arrested, and another was shot and paralyzed for the rest of his life. These kids were tough.

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I often wondered where their parents were. The teacher who taught Science spoke Spanish, and occasionally he could convince the parent of a troublesome kid to come for a parent conference. Usually, it was the mom. Most of these kids were being raised by single moms. The moms of these 14-year-olds were 27 or 28, and they had several other kids, three jobs, and their own problems with the kids we were calling about. Usually the mom ended up telling us how the son or daughter pulled a knife on her and wanted to know what she should do. She needed our help more than we needed hers.

But the point of this blog was to talk about respect for animals. I didn’t see much of it when I finally got my bearings. I taught in temporary buildings outside the school building. The whole 8th grade was in this T-shack village. Quite often, stray dogs would follow a child to school and end up running around the T-buildings. The kids’ reaction to seeing a stray dog was almost universal–they would kick it or throw rocks at it. These poor dogs were just looking for some kindness and maybe some food, but these kids didn’t know anything about dogs. They imitated what they saw their parents do, and most of the parents had grown up in Mexico and learned to shoo stray dogs away. The first time I saw kids kicking a stray dog, I lost my temper. The kids never saw me lose my temper. I have a very calm demeanor. They were shocked. I gave them the lecture of all lectures and then gathered up that bruised and bleeding dog, took her in my classroom, and did my best to help her. I saw this behavior so often that I decided to teach a unit on humane treatment toward animals. Since I was teaching SOMETHING, the administration didn’t care what I did.

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I found materials from the Humane Society and the SPCA and even had a guest speaker from the SPCA come and talk about how to take care of animals. I wanted these kids to know that cruelty and abuse of animals is wrong. No one had ever told most of them that. Our society was failing them. Did you know that most serial killers get their start by abusing animals?

Recently a friend of mine told me about an incident where an acquaintance of her daughter played too rough with a frog and killed it. I felt horrible for that poor frog, but I also wondered about the child who did that. It’s a flashing warning sign that there’s a problem with that kid. And why didn’t the parent know what was happening? Apparently, one of the children tried to tell her, but she was too busy talking to listen. We can’t be too busy to listen or teach the lessons about kindness. It may not be in our curriculum or part of our plan for the holiday weekend, but it’s absolutely vital.

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Young at Heart

trampoline time

Having and raising kids can give you gray hair, make you gain weight, and lose a ton of sleep. On the flip side, having kids has also kept me young at heart—which, in my humble opinion, overshadows or outshines all the aforementioned negatives.

Even though my girls are in college and post-college adult life, I’m blessed with a 10-year old niece and a 12-year old nephew who spend the summer with my parents and me. This means my summer is filled with dolls, video games, Disney Channel, bike rides, kid movies at the theater and—for the first time in my life—a trampoline park.

If you follow me on Instagram or twitter you probably already saw the pics of my niece, nephew, close friend and me at a Skyzone trampoline park this past weekend. I’m a big Groupon and Living Social shopper and when I saw a deal for 90 minutes of trampoline time a couple of weeks ago, my first thought was, “Oh, my kids will love this!” Quickly followed by, “Wait, I’ll love this!” ☺

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Let me tell you, 90 minutes is a looooong time. Especially when you’re using muscles you normally don’t. And even more so when you forget your age ‘cuz you’re feeling like a kid again—bouncing off side walls, leap frogging across 8 trampolines, pushing yourself higher ‘cuz you think you can actually do a flip in the air. Talk about a new way to get some exercise!

We all jumped like silly fools. The kids played trampoline dodgeball. No, I didn’t go for that, I was too busy acting like Spiderman throwing myself against the trampoline wall trying to stick for a second or two before careening back toward the trampoline floor.

Needless to say, we were all hot, sweaty messes by the end of our allotted time. But we were hot, sweaty, giggly, happy messes. Fun was had by all!

For a brief time I forgot my real age and enjoyed being a kid again. All thanks to my desire to help my own kids have fun.

Of course, when I woke up the next morning with sore calves and an achy lower back, my age caught up with me. I moaned for a second, then laughed when I found out my nephew was sore, too. ☺

Another happy memory created together—stretching out our soreness from our time jumping through the air, laughing at our silliness.

So sure, I’ll take the occasional gray hair and sleepless night because I’m a worrier. But I’ll treasure the moments when my kids allow me to act their age rather than my own. ☺

What about you? Have you tried anything new lately that made you feel young again—wild and crazy and like you could take on the world? If not, I suggest you see if there’s a Skyzone or something similar near you!

young at heart

Happy Fourth of July

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The Fourth of July, aka Independence Day here in the U.S., is almost here and it’s one of the great family holidays. As a kid I watched the neighborhood parade, swam at the neighborhood pool, and waved sparklers around before the big fireworks show.

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How do you celebrate the holiday with your family?

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14 Things I Wish I’d Known at 21

Last week we were at the beach, and as I was slathering on the sunscreen and shielding myself under this wonderful big umbrella, I couldn’t help but notice all these young women (and quite a few who weren’t so young), applying oil rather than sunscreen, then stretching themselves out to broil under the full blaze of the sun. I remember those days. The oil. The sun. The fabulous tan. (And the blistering sunburns!) Last week, however, I found myself watching those young women and thinking…someday you’re probably going to regret that. That got me thinking about the gift of hindsight, and all those other things I wish I’d figured out way before my fourth or fifth decade of life.

That said, without further ado…my list of things I wish I’d known at 21.

  1. Sunscreen and lotion are your FRIENDS. Truly, totally. Your skin is your skin, and while it’s beautiful and taut and glowing at 21, that will change as you age. It will. Lines appear. Blotches. Shadows. Moles. Freckles. And the texture…it won’t always be taut. Gravity does what gravity does, and someday everything will start drooping down. It just will. And the better care you take care of it while you’re young, the better care IT will take of you as you age. Don’t want a leathery hide? Start that sunscreen and lotion routine early.
  2. The importance of a good filing system. This is a BIG one. Huge. I hate clutter. LOATHE it. I like to have things put up…but for a long time I didn’t have any system other than stashing paperwork and photos and cards, receipts, documents into the closest drawer or box or cabinet. I’ve long said that when my kids venture out on their own, their primary housewarming gift is going to be setting them up with a functional filing system, a nice sturdy filing cabinet with pre-labeled files included.
  3. Saving for a rainy day is actually something you need to do. It sounds so clichéd doesn’t it? One of those things everyone talks about, but when those paychecks start rolling in, it’s so much fun to actually SPEND them. But life can turn on a dime, and it’s vital that you have an emergency fund put aside. Worst case, you don’t ever need it and can jaunt off to Paris someday. Best case, you never find yourself without the ability to buy groceries.
  4. Those pictures you take, that you think you’ll never forget who’s in them or what you were doing? Wrong. Label them. Organize them. Photo books are awesome, but even a (virtual) shoebox works. Your future self will thank you.
  5. Not everything is about you. Shocking, I know. But that big beautiful world we’re in? It doesn’t revolve around you, and so many times, the way people treat you has absolutely nothing to do with you. Realize that. Take a deep breath and keep an eye on the bigger picture.
  6. Read. If you stopped, start again. If you never stopped, keep going. Find something you like, something that interests you. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read poetry. Read physical books. Read on your device. Just READ.
  7. A closed mind is a closed door. You think you’ve got it all figured out? Well, guess what? You don’t. There’s a whole big world out there full of fascinating people and customs and ideas. Keep your mind open. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but if you don’t listen, explore…you’ll never know for sure.
  8. Learn self defense. This is another biggie. Learn how to protect yourself, take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. You can’t count on a knight in shining armor, but you can learn to count on yourself.
  9. As John Green says in The Fault in Our Stars, the world is not a wish-granting factory. I’m sorry. It’s not.Yeah, I wish it was, too. Sometimes. But the only fairy godmother you’ll ever have is yourself, and if you want your wishes to come true, you’ve got to go out and make it happen.
  10. I love you and I’m sorry might just be the five most important words you’ll ever learn. Sometimes they’re hard to say. I know that. Say them anyway. You’ll be better off for it.
  11. What’s on the outside changes; what’s on the inside rarely does. This one has really fascinated me as I’ve gotten older. Sure, I knew the outside would change, but somehow, it can still come as a shock. But the bigger shock is the inside. You are who you are. Your friends are who they are. Your parents, your siblings, they are who they are. And this doesn’t change as you get older. In fact, in many ways you simply become MORE of who you are. Awesome people stay awesome. Jerks stay jerks.
  12. Storms come, and storms go, but they always pass, and the sun always rises. Sometimes it’s so hard to realize this while you’re in one of those storms and your whole world seems to be crashing down around you. It’s so dark and scary and you just want to curl up in a ball and, and, and…I don’t know. But you feel tiny and cold and hopeless. But I’ve learned that tomorrow comes, and tomorrow after that, and no matter how devastating the storm, the sun will rise again, and with it a new day will begin.
  13. No one gets to write your life, except you. Bad chapters always end, and new ones always begin. This one is powerful, the realization that YOU are in charge of your life, and no one else. Don’t like something? Change it. LOVE something…protect it. There is no puppet master, no one forcing you to be miserable. You get to make those decisions. You get to write those chapters. You. No one else…unless you let them.
  14. There’s no substitute for kindness. Truly and honestly. Money, good looks, great clothes, an awesome car, the dream job….they don’t trump kindness. Surround yourself with kindness, kind friends, kind lovers, and practice it yourself. Be kind. Always.