Clare, Author at Stratejoy
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A year ago, I propped my journal on my swollen belly and put all my hopes and fears to paper. I wrote that I was certain that after unbuckling the exhaustion and worry and anxiety, we’d be in a world of our own, our little family, and everything would work out.

That was during the day time.

After the sun went down and I hauled my clumsy body into bed, I fell to pieces. I was terrified of raising a child only to inevitably teach them the same bad habits that led to my many mistakes. I was terrified of being a bad mother.

When my water broke at 9:30pm on a Thursday night, my heart stopped.

A second pink line can be terrifying (even if you’re expecting it), but it doesn’t quite yet equate to “baby.” An ultrasound of a five week old fetus with a beating heart is incredible and tear-wrenching, but is still quite unbelievable. A swollen, stretched belly, aching ligaments, half-hourly trips to pee, and tiny feet karate-chopping your ribs are very real, but still, the idea of holding a baby is so abstract.

At 10:03pm on Good Friday, as my belly deflated, my heart swelled with unimaginable love. Here was a real, live baby, and I was a real, live mother, and here was our real, live family.

I wrote in my first Stratejoy post five months ago that to be the person someone else needs you to be, you have to become the person you need you to be first. I still believe that more than ever, but it’s something I have to remind myself everyday.

Both your body and mind will always, always be stronger and more capable than you can ever begin to imagine. Pregnancy, labor and delivery provided me with that realization, which is why I started and ended my Stratejoy journey with that story.

To make that realization put my life in an entirely new perspective. It gave me faith in my abilities to be a good mother, a good wife, a good friend, and good person in general. It gave me hope for the future and motivation for any other goal I ever have.

I was hesitant in applying to be a Stratejoy blogger. It was such an incredible opportunity, but I wasn’t sure if I had much to say or if anyone was even interested in hearing it. And did I really have the guts to get completely honest and vulnerable about aspects of my life – the good, the bad, and the ugly?

What I’ve learned is that we all have stories; we are all intricately connected and interwoven. Because we’re human. Because our lives are rarely as messed up as we believed them to be. And because we’re never the only ones feeling that way. For me, having the courage to put it all out there gave me the ability to leave the bad behind me, learn the lessons, and move forward once and for all.

To Molly, Katie, Mary, Hillary, Amanda, Nicole, and Erin: You girls have all been an integral part of this interconnected web of stories for the past 5 months, and I couldn’t thank you more for being who you are. As I think we’ve all mentioned this week, each of our lives are at different points, but we all have threads of stories that allow us to relate to each other. I hope you, the Stratejoy Tribe at large, have found similar threads to relate to also. We’re in this together, and I know we’ll all keep pushing through it.

Thanks for following along with my story.

*Hugs*

Clare

(@clare_says_hi)

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A note from Katie: Miss Clare, you’re just…amazing. Really. I always enjoyed your blog posts on a Sunday morning (or, you know, whenever!) and always adored your insight and honesty. And also? – “your body and mind will always, always be stronger and more capable than you can ever begin to imagine.” – YES! This rings true so loudly for not only your situation, but across the board. Even when we think “NO WAY I CAN”T EVER DO THIS!” – We can. We really can. And on the other side, there is love for yourself and all of your “people.” It’s been an honor seeing you grow in your very own way, and cannot wait to see what you learn in another 5 months. 5 years. 50 years, AND BEYOND. xo!

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I can’t believe there’s only one Stratejoy blog post left after this! I’ve loved every second of this past season, and I know I’ve gained a lot of perspective I didn’t have before. That said, here are my answers to the seasonal interview!

Where do you see your self (or hope to be) 6 months from now? A year from now?

In 6 months, I see myself healthier, happier, and excited about various endeavors I’m working on. A year from now, I’m thinking *maybe* I’ll be pregnant again?!?!

What’s the best book you read this year?

I have to pick just one? Hmm… The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht was something I bought randomly on the spur of the moment, and I ended up loving it. It’s so well written and a beautiful story. And I still can’t believe the author is only in her 20’s. I highly recommend it.

Do you feel like blogging about your life made you look at it differently?

I feel like this is weird, but putting it all out for anyone and everyone to read gave me a strange sort of closure to a lot of things I felt weighed me down over the years. It allowed me to sort out what my big picture is and how to keep moving forward with that in mind.

Which current living celebrity do you think you’d be best friends with in real life?

Umm, I kind of suck at knowing or remembering any celebrities… However, I think Jennifer Lawrence would be an awesome, hilarious friend.

In the movie of your life, which actress/celeb would play you?

Yeah, again, I suck at knowing or remembering celebrities/actresses… But I’m gonna say Jenna Fischer. Love her.

Did anything happen during the season that surprised you?

I was surprised by the realization that everything I want in my life is totally achievable if I just approach it in the right way. I’ve spend so much time in recent years worried or anxious about everything, that I think I thought a lot of big things I wanted were out of my reach. But taking an honest look at everything, I know I am capable of pushing myself further.

What quote best summarizes what you’ve learned during the season?

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“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” -Albus Dumbledore

What is your guilty pleasure? What is it that totally lights you up that you’re afraid to admit to?

Babies! Oh my God, I can’t get enough of looking at baby and pregnancy pictures right now. It’s terrible, really. I’m probably driving my friends nuts with how many photos of Nicholas I post on Facebook, and I’m constantly, secretly seeking out baby and pregnancy pics on Pinterest. Why? I don’t know. But I love it.

What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since we started blogging for Stratejoy?

Since beginning to blog here, I now practice a little daily gratitude, making sure I find something every single day to be thankful for. Plus, I feel like I’m also much more conscious of my happiness/joy level, and no matter how tough some days get, I consciously try to inject a little joy into it.

How did you fit blogging into your life? – Did you have a routine? Did it add joy or stress? Did you think about it over the week or just sit down and write? Etc

Umm, I’m one of those deadlines people, and even though I lived up to writing a couple weeks in advance in the beginning, I soon found myself working up until the last minute, and even missing a couple of deadlines. Oops! Having said that, I spend the whole week “writing” my next post in my head, then spending a lunch hour [almost] every Thursday or Friday typing it up. Since I’m pretty used to journaling anyway, it wasn’t stressful; it was just a well-needed moment to reflect.

How did people you know react? – did you share it openly, were family and friends supportive, did you censor yourself, etc

People seemed pretty supportive every time I shared my posts on Facebook, so that was great, because it was surprisingly intimidating and scary to see my own writing pop up in my Google Reader each week. I tried to be open and honest as possible, and given the topics I was writing about, I don’t think I really censored myself much at all.

Did you dig as deep as you could and open up as much as you could?

Yes, I think I dug as deep as I could; I definitely opened up more than I ever thought I could. Of course, I think most people have a private side of their life which very few – like less than a handful – of people are privy to. There’s a great quote I vaguely remember from The Tiger’s Wife, when the grandfather talks about moments you keep to yourself; moments that belong to you that deserve only to be heard by a select few. And I like that.

When you’re curled up on the couch reading with a mug of something warm, what’s the book and what’s in the mug?

Currently I’m alternating between reading Les Misérables and Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. In my mug would be green tea, or, on the rare occasion, a chai tea latté.

What’s on your bedside table?

My phone. A photo frame/jewelry box that was a gift from my lovely in-laws and hides everything I don’t want my cats to destroy/steal. Currently 2 baby bottles that I really should just take down to the kitchen already. One of the two books I’m reading. And a glass of dusty water, also which I need to take down to the kitchen already.

What were you like in high school?  What parts of you have remained the same?

In high school I was desperately self-conscious, and so I was heavily involved in theatre and speech team, where I could hide in the wings or pretend I was someone else. I was also in a relationship for most of my high school career, and although he was a nice guy, it really stopped me from figuring out who I was independently of anyone else. Additionally, I hated running the dreaded mile, and probably ate about a quart of ice-cream a week. I’m pretty much the opposite of all of that now, and I’m liking it.

Who are the top 5 people on your “list”?  (You know, the list…  Those 5 people you could sleep with if you magically met them and your partner would have to be okay with it, because damn! You just slept with Johnny Depp!)

Ummm, yeah, not to be a total cop-out, but I really, honestly don’t have a top 5 list. True story. Don’t hate me!

If you could give yourself 5 months ago one piece of advice, what would it be? How about you 5 months from now?

Five months ago… Quit worrying about everything! Everything always works out, just have a little faith.

Five months from now… Be proud of everything you’ve accomplished and use those accomplishments to fuel yourself on the tough days. There is *so* much to look forward to!

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There’s a part of me that innately strives to justify everything I am and everything I’ve done. Like I need an excuse for living.

And in that vein of thinking, I spent many of my early Stratejoy posts doing just that. I blogged my excuses for my personality, for any lack of authenticity, for decisions I’d made, and for my goals and desires.

Why did I spend so much time venting and excusing and justifying? Why did I feel like I had something to prove, both to myself and to everyone else? Why did I feel this intense longing to be good enough, in comparison to every other blogger, writer, mother, wife, friend?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to these questions. I do know, however, that getting it all off my shoulders has been the first step in letting it go and moving forward unhindered.

And so, that said, my theme for 2013 is:

Be Light

Be light in body, mind, soul, and environment.

Body: This includes being kind and nurturing towards my body; being proactively healthy and thankful for every breathe; feeding it well, moving it lots, and being grateful for my health on a daily basis. Being unhealthy has weighed me down so much in the past, both physically and emotionally. And so I’m focused on being light. Plus, somewhere down the line, I’d like to make my little munchkin a big brother, and I want to make the physical weight of pregnancy as “light” as possible.

Mind: I want to rediscover my love of learning. I want to move through this world through the eyes of my son as he takes in every new thing. I want to read, read, read. Devour old classics and discover new and brilliant writers. I want to delve back into Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein. I want to taste unfamiliar foods and explore new places that have always been within my reach. I want to shine a light on all I’ve missed and been blind to.

Soul: Love and Gratuity. These are nourishment for my soul, and without them I feel overwhelmed by a heavy sadness and anxiety. I need to nurture my relationships with family and friends, focus more on my marriage, and be conscious of the growing love for my son. And alongside that, I need to practice daily gratuity. Right now, I’ve simply been asking that question of myself and Chris at the end of every day, but my plan is to create a chalkboard gratuity board to write on daily.

Environment: To say clutter weighs me down is an understatement. I hate clutter and love a comfortable level of minimalism. And yet my house would suggest the opposite. Even when it looks clean and tidy, every drawer and closet threatens to explode at the slightest touch. I desperately need to de-clutter, minimalize and let more light into my home.

So there you have it. Thank you so much for putting up with post upon post of venting and excusing and justifying. I have every intention of moving forward with a spring in my step and light in my heart.

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p.s.  The 3rd Stratejoy Essay Contest is open for entries!  Ready to win the $500?  Be featured here at Stratejoy?  Yes!  The theme: “How has a transition revealed a more authentic you?”

p.p.s.  The next Book Club/Tribe Chat Fest is going to be about marriage and partners.  Juicy, juicy. We’re reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Love Story and will be jamming about it on February 13.

 

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I was so ready to start 2013.

Don’t get me wrong, 2012 had some incredible moments. But like I’ve mentioned before, it’s had its share of anxiety and apprehension that I was all too ready to leave behind. And I was beyond excited about that.

Until the fever hit. Literally. A 103F burning fever snaked its way through my limbs, sweating out my pores, while deep inside my bones I shook with cold and fought back icy chills. For 3 days I sweated and shivered and my throat swelled and swelled, until finally, on New Year’s Eve, I was diagnosed with strep throat. Lovely.

And so I entered the New Year drugged up on antibiotics and ibuprofen, snuggled up with Chris and Heidi, our dog, on the floor bed we constructed out of comforters and blankets (flashback to sick days as a kid!), watching hours of old movies until we fell asleep.

Instead of jumping into the new year, champagne in hand, itching to get started on new plans and goals and intentions, I was forced to rest. To lay in bed half the day, and breathe, and read, and not feel guilty about it.

And, surprisingly, it was an important lesson: Slow down.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve tried to jump into every goal and plan at once, only to be burned out within a week or two, and forget any of my efforts ever happened. And that’s probably exactly what would have happened again. Despite all my careful planning and motivation, I would have taken on too much at once and stood there miserably as it all crashed down around me.

So sometimes sickness is healing. It’s a reminder to pace myself. It’s also an excellent reminder to be grateful for my body every day that it’s not ravaged by fever and illness (and even the days that it is).

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My little munchkin has recently figured out the concept that things still exist even when he can’t see them. Which is awesome, except it makes an otherwise easy, happy baby crabby when I take things away that shouldn’t be in his mouth, and makes bedtime near impossible because, you know, I might never come back…

But the other thing this milestone of object permanence has done is lead me to an important realization. Nicholas, an almost 9 month old baby, knows people and things still exist out of his sight and is super aware of them. But I, an almost 26 year old adult, too often forget about the existence of people and things that are out of my sight. And even those people and things right in front of my face often become so commonplace that I take them for granted.

In essence, it’s a twisted opposite to object permanence, and it’s all to easy to fall victim to. When we lose sight of people and things in our lives, we also forget to be grateful for them. Even the words “thank you” have become so common and second nature, that we’re often barely aware we’re saying them, let alone of the sentiment behind them. In fact, we’re often only really aware of the things we should be saying thank you for once they no longer exist at all.

So with that said, while I’m not big into new year’s resolutions in the traditional sense, I do intend on being more consciously grateful for the people and things in my life, on a daily basis. Here’s a snapshot of those things:

1. Family & Friends – When my life gets hectic, I tend to get a little too self-focused, and everyone else simply becomes part of my routine without a second thought. And yet, if they weren’t there, I’d be entirely lost. I am beyond grateful for their love and support.

2. My Body & Health – For a long time I treated my body like shit, pumping it full of insane amounts of sugar, junk, and alcohol. But then I pushed my body through running a half marathon and through natural childbirth, and the strength it takes for a body to do those things is incredible. I’m insanely grateful for my health, and every breath I take.

3. The Little Things in Life – Yes, that’s vague, but there are so many small moments I pass over in the blink of an eye: A green light when I’m late for work, a dollar bill on the sidewalk, the first leaves of spring, a stranger holding a door open for me, the smell of a summer storm, the brand of brand new socks, and so, so much more.

And, even though bedtime for baby is a challenge and a half, I am so grateful it exists at all.

Happy New Year!

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To get a firm hold of the second trapeze, you have to first let go of the first trapeze. This of course means that for a split second, all you have to hold onto is faith and momentum. And that feeling, if truly embraced, is exhilarating.

When I started blogging for Stratejoy, I was buried in a mountain of emotions that ranged from doubt to anxiety to apprehension. Not to mention the mess of postpartum hormones ravaging my mind and body. Sure, I was completely in love with my new little family, but I also felt totally lost. I was struggling with who I was, what I was meant to do, and how to balance it all with being a new mom.

Several months later, and I have a crawling, giggling, teething eight month old baby boy, and the answers to those questions are no longer haunting me.

Maybe it’s been this weekly commitment to blogging. Maybe it was the wonderful Holiday Council. Or perhaps it’s my conscious letting go of anxiety or the natural settling into mamahood. Or, of course, it’s a culmination of everything. Either way, I am feeling so much more secure in myself.

I am sparkling with Christmas spirit and I’m so ready for the New Year. I’m leaving anxiety and apprehension behind me. Letting go and entering the new year with a blissfully light feeling (i.e. joy). I’m embracing gratitude and contentedness and healthiness and simplicity.

Do I have big, long term goals and dreams? Yes. There are some big, big things I want to do, say, write, see. But for now, I’m letting life soak in. Yes, there are milestones ahead of me in coming years, like buying a house, making career choices, expanding my family, and finding my own big thing. But this time, I refuse to let anxiety in. I have absolute faith things will always work out.

I intend to embrace that gap between the two trapezes, let go of the doubt, and be conscious and grateful for my beating heart and the life it fuels.

p.s. Regarding the trapeze image… Is anyone else obsessed with “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” by Coldplay? I just love those lyrics!

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Yoga. Strengthening. Calming. Rejuvenating. Right?

Yeah, yoga is one of those things all the cool kids seem to be doing. And I wish I could say I was one of them, twisting and stretching my limbs in those curious yogi ways.

In real life, the closest I get to doing yoga is yoga pants and my dog, who does weird dog yoga when she wakes up in the morning. Oh, and I did try prenatal yoga while I was pregnant – and props to Shiva Rea, who makes being pregnant look easy and graceful – but my baby bump and I failed miserably.

Clearly, my mind and body just weren’t destined for yoga. And yet, unreasonably, I sometimes have a hard time accepting the fact that things like yoga aren’t for me. They’re not things I truly want; it’s just that a little part of me wants to be like the cool kids and wonders what my life would be like had I gone down a different road.

For example, wine and cheese nights out in the city with a group of girlfriends. Sounds awesome. Except, when I do occasionally [read: weekly] break my “I don’t drink” rule, I’d rather share a giant bottle of pinot with one of my best girlfriends, sharing tales of mamahood, while our babies sleep in the background. And while the city entices me sometimes, I also love living on the edge of the suburbs, surrounded by cornfields and forest preserves. And besides, my local grocery store has the biggest cheese section you’ve ever seen.

Another example: traveling abroad. And that includes meeting new people, learning new languages, enjoying local cuisine, and exploring secret places that aren’t filled with loud tourists. Sure, I’ve had my small share of traveling outside my homes in England and America; like France, the Canary Islands, Vietnam, and – right now as we speak – Mexico. But really, I like the comfort of an English-speaking tour guide. And I don’t mind some touristy spots. And I enjoy the companionship of my husband. And now I have to get to think about where is child-friendly, because I want the baby to know the world, too.

Final example: quitting my day job and working for myself. Being a creative entrepreneur appears fun and incredibly rewarding, and it seems like so many people have gone down this road. But realistically, it’s incredibly hard work, and it’s just not my focus right now. Instead, I quite like the view from my office on the 22nd floor, my bosses are the best I could ask for, and, while I was never really made for the corporate business world, I am working on some exciting stuff where I do get to be creative. And the stable monthly paycheck, health insurance, and gym membership are nice perks, too.

Yoga, city nights with the girls, traveling the world, and entrepreneurship are a small handful of things I sometimes feel myself regretting I don’t do. But when I analyze these feelings and look at what I have done and am doing now, I know these things aren’t really me. And I don’t believe for an instant that I’d be happy if I ever tried to make those things a part of my life.

It doesn’t mean I don’t find other ways – more “me” ways – to rejuvenate and breathe. Or that I don’t have tipsy nights with my closest girlfriends. Or that I don’t fulfill my sense of adventure and curiosity elsewhere.

And so when I have those moments where I longingly look at all the “cool” kids, I have to remember to take a step back, assess what it is I really want in life, and be thankful for everything I already have.

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This has been my 12th Thanksgiving ever. Almost half of my previous 11 Thanksgivings have been spent away from home in various places, including North Carolina, California, Virgina, and England. Needless to say, with the newness of the holiday to me and with so much traveling, I haven’t found myself participating in any specific Thanksgiving traditions.

However, there has been one constant: Family. Even when traveling, I’ve always found myself surrounded by family, and that is tradition enough for me.

I come from a fairly small family that had always been spread across the country (and now 3 countries – UK, USA & NZ). Even though I enjoy spending time with them all, I only saw them a few times a year growing up, and now even less.

It wasn’t until I met Chris’s family that I realized quite how much I craved a big, close family. On both his Mom’s and Dad’s sides are some of the most generous, hospitable, loving people I’ve ever met. It’s the kind of family where you can guarantee there will always be someone there to help and support you no matter what your problem is. The kind you look forward to spending holidays with. The kind where you can be utterly yourself and know you’ll be loved despite your flaws.

And, it’s the kind of family that makes me remember just how much I love my own.

And so this Thanksgiving will be unique because I’ll see everyone. By the time this post publishes, I’ll have spent time with my side of the family, Chris’s Mom’s side, and his Dad as well. Plus, Chris and I will be celebrating with the new little family of our own.

It may not be a tradition in the traditional sense, but being with family around the holidays is something I always want to experience. And it’s definitely something I want our son to experience as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Whether it’s the lure of seeing your name in print or the satisfaction born from such a huge accomplishment, even people who have no clue where apostrophes belong have “write a book” on their bucket list.

And secretly, I do, too.

However, it’s more than that. I want to tell a story.

To tell the truth, though, I’m not much of a storyteller. Instead, I am fascinated by words. By syntax and diction and metaphor and every other literary term you resigned to forgetting after college.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve kept a journal since the age of 11, and it’s the only way I have ever been able to fully express and work through my thoughts and feelings. In high school, I wrote the worst poetry imaginable, filling several notebooks that should probably now be burned. In college, it took 6 months of being a psychology major before I realized I could major in stories and poetry and words.

Then I spent 4 years building my own personal library. I spent many an all-nighter falling in love with Keats and Wordsworth and Blake, Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot, Alexander Pope and Shakespeare. Since those days, I’ve had obsessions with Cormac McCarthy, Barbara Kingsolver, Elie Wiesel, C.S. Lewis, and Dostoevsky. Oh, and I’ll always have a not-so-secret love for J.K. Rowling.

And while all these literary loves may occasionally annoy my husband, they all seem to tell  my heart and mind and brain the same thing: I, too, must write.

And so I have a little hint of a story rattling away in the back of my mind. Sometimes, in my spare moments, I struggle to procure the words that would do this story justice. Other times, a torrential rain of words threatens to burst out of me, and it’s all I can do to stop myself from running out of my office on the 22nd floor and write the day away in my own little world.

Maybe one day I’ll have my book, my name in print, and an enormous satisfaction from such a huge accomplishment. But even if I don’t, I know this: Writing is my life line. When I stop writing, my brain gets tangled up and anxiety sets in. No matter what miscellaneous professions I step into over the years ahead, I will always consider myself a writer.

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Registration for the Holiday Council 2012 is open!  21 days of  wrapping up 2012 and dreaming and scheming for 2013 + juicy writing challenges + kick-ass interviews with rockstar women + all the support and camaraderie that you could ever imagine. Want a piece of this? Let’s go!

This week I got a kick ass reminder as to why I’m here, writing on Stratejoy.

To tell the truth, daily life has been a little overwhelming in recent weeks. Nothing hugely significant; just a ton of little stuff filling my brain and schedule. It’s the type of fluff that distracts me from the big picture, from living life consciously and intentionally. And obviously, in this distracted mindset, it’s pretty difficult to craft the perfect weekly post for you all to read.

But then I got a message from an old friend who had fallen in love with Stratejoy. And just like that, it clicked. Oh yeah! This is why I’m here! Sure, blogging on Stratejoy is an awesome way to hold myself accountable to living life intentionally. But fundamentally, I’m here because we’re all part of the same, intricately woven story.

Whether you’re in school or not, employed or not, a parent or not, struggling with some kind of loss or not, traveling abroad or staying at home, no matter what your situation, you have a reason to be here, to be part of this community.

Whether you’re lost in the daily details of life, or in the depths of some big life event, it’s easy to forget that there are lots of people in your life ready to support and love you, even the familiar “strangers” in communities like this one, who are ready and willing to listen to your story.

And so, today, I want to hear your story. Whether it’s a couple of words, sentences, or paragraphs. I want to hear it.

You’ve already heard a bit about me: My move to America, my struggling with who I am, my marriage, pregnancy and baby son, and my overall quarter life crisis.

But I know I’m not the only one experiencing these things, and that knowledge alone is enough to calm some of my anxiety. My hope is that, in return, I am helping – even if it’s the tiniest bit – just one person out there remember that they’re not alone either.

So, what’s your story?

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I’m flying for work, which means I’m missing my boys for a few days. And there’s nothing like being alone, speeding at hundreds of miles per hour several miles above ground to make you ponder your own mortality.

The thing is this. I’ve never had anything truly bad happen in my life. I’ve never been to a funeral. I’ve never known anyone close to me die, get sick, go through some life altering experience or anything like that. I’ve never known poverty, starvation, addiction, death, sickness or anything horrible in general.

Of course, I’m beyond grateful for all of this. To never have known true suffering. It makes me realize I should be consciously grateful for everything in my life a lot more frequently.

But it all leaves me feeling like things can only get worse. Haven’t I had it too good, too easy? Is there death and sickness and sadness looming in my future? I’m an optimist and positivist by nature, but a small part of me can’t help but wonder.

What’s worse is when I come across quotes like, “wisdom comes from suffering,” and such words of “wisdom.” Do the people who experience rough times in their life really come out ahead of people like me?

These feel like horrible, embarrassing things to be thinking. I am truly thankful for all the beauty and generosity that surround my life, but here, alone on this plane besides strangers, I can’t help but be paranoid of the worst to come.

 

 

*Photo via: [Pinterest]

I have a confession to make.

Several weeks after my post about getting rid of our TV, and even after all your encouraging and motivating comments, that 47” widescreen is still staring me down from its corner in the living room.

After all that ranting and raving, it’s still there! Gah!

I did and still do believe it’s the catalyst to kicking off my other goals, so why is it still there?

Maybe I’m lazy after a hectic day. Maybe I feel too comfortable in that lazy routine. Maybe I’ll feel lost with that big gaping space in my living room. But really, I think the TV is still there because I haven’t clearly defined the goals I’d like to focus on in its absence.

In that last post, I vaguely mentioned that I’d like to read more, write more, cook more, swim more, learn more photography techniques, connect with friends and family more regularly, etc. Basically, I want to take all the little happinesses in my life and amplify them. Okay, good goal; but could I get any more vague?!

I think the reason I’m still hooked to Bones, The New Girl, Criminal Minds, and [yes, really] The Antiques Roadshow, is that I don’t know where to start once they’re gone.

With that said, I’ve taken a stab at defining my goals more clearly. I want to preface this by saying my biggest problem with goals in the past has been that I try to take on too much at once, get burned out within a matter of days, and completely give up all too quickly. Therefore, this is an outline of really tiny baby steps to help me get started.

1. Write [something, anything] 3 times weekly

I was an English major and I love writing, whether it’s journals, fiction, poetry, whatever. I miss it. Journaling-wise, it’s the only true way I can sort through my feelings and thoughts. Creative writing-wise, I miss the feeling of crafting a story or poem and experimenting with language.

2. Have a good reading session once a week

Ditto the above, but substitute writing for reading.

3. Cook 2 real meals weekly, including 1 new recipe

I like to think I’m a decent cook thanks to being taught various things by my parents throughout my childhood, but all too often I take the easy way out and throw a can of soup on the stove or something equally instantaneous. Actually cooking is healthier and makes me more mindful about what’s going in my stomach, not mention the fun I have when experimenting with ingredients.

4. Swim once a week

I used to be a runner, but after a half marathon left my knee in chronic pain, swimming is the only thing I can really handle. I started swimming while I was pregnant and loved it. It keeps me in great shape and helps my knee. Why I haven’t gone swimming in months is beyond me.

5. Avoid sweets and added sugars

This may sound a little radical, but I have a serious addiction! For me, sugar is all or nothing. Plus, a diagnosis of gestational diabetes despite no obvious risk factors while I was pregnant scared me into realizing the astronomical amount of sugar I’ve ingested over the years. I need to stick to fruit for my sugar fix.

6. Be more mindful of finances; look at my bank account monthly

Money stresses me out. It’s not that I’m totally fiscally irresponsible, but I have experienced tight spots that I should have foreseen instead of letting them creep up on me and give me anxiety attacks. I need to stick to some kind of monthly budget.

7. Take a walk at least twice a week

Currently, I live 500 feet from a forest preserve with an awesome grassy trail. Why I don’t get out there more I have no clue. Being in nature relaxes me, calms me down, and lets me more easily work through any chaos in my world.

8. De-clutter the house once a week

Maybe I’m expecting too much with a 40 hour work week, 2 hours of commuting, a baby to play with, a dog and 2 cats to take care of, and a husband to spend time with, but I really wish I could keep the house in better shape. For me, clutter = anxiety.

There’s more I’d like to commit to, but I know without a doubt that I’ll get overwhelmed until I’ve built habits out of these above goals.

I’m hoping that sharing these things so publicly will help hold me accountable. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We use the words ‘Oh, I’m sorry’ like it’s some sort of linguistic bandaid that excuses the fact that we are human to other human beings. -Erika Napoletano

I have a problem with living up to other people’s expectations. I’m not sure when this started, but I can definitely pinpoint a few occasions where I found myself asking this hard question: To disappoint myself or to disappoint others’ expectations?

Example. Weddings. Ugh. I loved my wedding. But mostly because I was marrying the man of my dreams. Not because of the wedding itself.

Like my post from last week, weddings are just another one of those topics where there are a million people preaching etiquette and arguing over the “right” way to do everything.

I won’t launch into all the details of everything I wouldn’t have done had they not been expected, but I will say that ideally, after the beautiful church ceremony, I would have hopped straight to our little farmette and its 5 acres of land to have a fun, casual, yet beautiful backyard reception with barbeque yummy goodness, great music, and a giant bonfire.

Instead, I lived on a diet of wine and ice cream everyday for a month before the wedding to relieve the stress and tension that came from trying to please everyone and live up to expected wedding etiquette. I absolutely do not believe that that’s what weddings should be about, but I felt obligated; I felt huge pressure not to disappoint anyone, and to this day I wish I’d listened more to my own wishes… I wish I’d been more honest.

And that’s exactly what Erika Napoletano from Redhead Writing expresses in both the above quote and the one below from her TEDx talk she posted on her blog the other day:

From a very early age, we are taught to turn down that honesty knob and turn up the one on polite, and it’s no wonder that by the time we get to be adults, we can’t honestly tell anyone around us who we are, what we love, and what we’re feeling.

Obviously, it’s an issue that goes so much deeper than mere wedding etiquette. It’s an issue that resonates in every aspect of our lives. And I think it goes hand in hand with authenticity, which I’ve written about struggling to achieve before.

I think this second step of being authentic is harder. Being honest about who you are can often be more challenging than defining who you are in the first place. I, personally, don’t want to offend or upset anyone, especially people who have surrounded me with such amazing generosity (i.e. those wedding guests), but I also don’t want to spend my life worrying about living up to expectations that don’t align with my own.

I guess the ultimate question, then, is where to draw that line?

 

Here’s a fact I’m beginning to believe is fairly axiomatic: Mothers are crazy people.

Most of us have probably felt that way about our own mothers once (or twice… or a hundred times…) in a while, and if you’re a mother yourself, I suspect you know deep down there’s a little bit of crazy camping out inside you.

The thing is, this mother-brand of crazy comes in 3 different forms.

The good form of crazy looks something like this: You’d do anything to protect your child, even if you come across to others as mentally unbalanced. Or, you snoopy dance down the grocery store aisle while cackling like a mad woman, just to put a smile on your baby’s face. Or, you got off the elevator at the wrong floor, put salt in your coffee, then discovered your underwear is on inside out all because you stayed up all night with your sniffling/teething/constantly-feeding child.  All good crazy.

But then there’s the crazy that makes us believe that what’s good for our own child is good for everyone else’s. It’s the crazy of the all-too-cocky, self-professed BTDT (“been there done that”) mothers. Without necessarily meaning to, they’re the mothers who make you feel like you’re doing everything incorrectly every time you Google something pregnancy or baby or parenting related.

I can’t count how many times other mothers laughed in my face or cocked a skeptical eyebrow when I told them I didn’t plan on an having an epidural, didn’t care to buy a pack-n-play or diaper genie or boppy pillow, didn’t find if it was a boy or a girl beforehand, and was planning on working up until the day I went into labor.

After Nicholas was born, I found it so disheartening how many parenting forum sites seemed to exist purely as a platform for debate over who’s wrong and who’s right. When my son lost more than a pound in 5 days during the first week because my milk never came in, Google searches for “switching to formula” brought up results from angry, self-righteous people yelling about the evils of formula and that your milk always came in and was always enough, and that any woman who “ignored” these facts was a bad mother. The same negative forum discussions exist for every issue you could ever think to innocently Google.

When you’re hormonal enough already, “advice” like this is simply devastating.

It’s so easy to get buried in what everyone else is doing or telling you that the overwhelm can lead you into becoming the 3rd category of crazy: the nail-biting, anxiety-ridden, paranoid mother who can’t relax and enjoy her baby because she’s too busy doubting and distrusting herself and everything she does.

Just two days after Nicholas was born, Sarah from Sratejoy’s Season 6 wrote this post about listening to your instincts and mothering with confidence. I’ve found it’s a concept of which I have to remind myself frequently.

Because, ultimately, I’d so much rather be the good kind of crazy, giggling and dancing madly, than the self-doubting or the self-righteous kinds of crazy. I realize now that so much of the questioning and fear I experienced during my pregnancy stemmed directly from listening to the wrong people, worrying about the wrong things, and letting the people who laughed in my face or raised their eyebrows get under my skin.

And really, I think that’s probably the case for most of life’s transitions. The world is full of people telling you how things are supposed to be, and when you feel like your life is going down a different road, it’s a little scary to look those people in the eyes and laugh right back.

But I’m learning that if you want to keep your sanity, laugh you must. Laugh, dance, and then start trusting your instincts.

So, I’ve been thinking of getting rid of the TV.

*gasp*

Seriously. Chris and I have been talking about it for a while. Yet nearly everyone I tell thinks it’s a stupid idea. They tell us to give it to someone who can just “hold” it for us until we, too, realize it was a stupid idea and want it back.

Seriously?

I’m not one of those cocky types who thinks TV is entirely full of garbage and I’m way too good for that. No, actually, I love TV. There has been plenty of laughter, tears, anger, and enlightenment over the years of shows I’ve followed, and I’ll always be nostalgic over a little “Boy Meets World” and the like.

But recently, there are so many things Chris and I talk about doing in our spare time that don’t get done simply because it’s too easy after a long, hard day to fall onto the couch, remote in hand.

The ridiculous thing is that getting rid of the TV is just another one of those things that we’ve been talking about doing but doesn’t get done because it’s too easy to say, “We’ll get rid of it next Saturday! It’s the season finale of this show on Thursday!” or “Make that next Wednesday; it’s the season premiere of this other show tomorrow!” And so it’s a vicious cycle.

But deep down, at the end of every night I’ve wasted watching more finales and premieres, I regret not having read a book, written a journal entry, gone for a walk, run or swim, called a friend I haven’t talked to in a while, spent time cooking a new recipe or learning new photography techniques, or simply had a good conversation with Chris.

Every one of these things and more are activities I want to make inherent to my daily or weekly life over the next few months. They’re the things that define me, and when they’re missing from my life, I end up feeling useless and miserable. They’re the things that would make me feel better after those long days, terrible commutes, cold/flu attacks, emotional breakdowns, baby tantrums, etc, but it’s like the TV drowns them all out.

Now, I know getting rid of the TV isn’t going be the magic solution to tackling everything else I want to do. But I do believe it’s the first step.

Having said that, I need a little encouragement. It’s not just about getting over the fact that there will always be more finales and premieres that seem necessary to watch. It’s also the fact that as we get closer to the end of the year, there’s a whole list of Christmas-time movies that I make a point to watch every December. There’s nothing I love more than snuggling up with an Irish coffee, roaring fire in the background, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” lighting up the room.

Not to mention flu-ridden days when all you want is a bowl of soup, pint of ice cream, and a chick flick. Or sleepy Saturday mornings when delicious cooking shows get you motivated for the day. Or times when you’re in early labor at 4am and can’t sleep and documentaries about whales and dolphins somehow distract you from the contractions. Yeah, that happened.

So you see, my brain is making this whole “getting rid of the TV” thing much harder than it needs to be. Any words of encouragement?

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Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”   Dr. Seuss

“Bloody hell!”

I have no recollection as to why these words escaped my mouth in the middle of a crowded hallway during my freshman year of high school. But I do know that after the questioning, amused, and judgmental looks my way, that was the last time I ever said them.

I was 14 years old and as English as they come, having just emigrated with my family a mere 2 months before school started. I was desperately self-conscious, awkward, and shy, and every day began with a knot of anxiety planted deep in my stomach.

Behind closed doors, I got so angry with myself for not being the cool, outgoing girl with the fun accent I thought everyone wanted me to be. And so rather than stand out and show my true self, I found it easier to blend in. To this day, I know the exact order in which my vowels and consonants migrated one by one into an American accent. I don’t think this was a fully conscious process at the time; more like a subconscious survival tactic to conquer debilitating anxiety.

Slowly but surely, I found “my place.” I made friends, joined clubs, found myself a boyfriend. And yet, in every social situation I was a different person. It’s not like I was hiding anything, but I was so overly conscious of how people might judge me, that I found myself constantly adjusting my personality.

I had been journaling since I was 11 years old, but my journal from this time is filled with grossly sentimental puppy love and not much else. After being so worried about what people thought about me, it was like I had planted my entire self-image in the foundation of this highly volatile young love. It was inevitable that when we split the summer before I left for college, I found myself entirely lost and unable to define just who I was.

My next journal records this struggle well. It’s a tumultuous adventure that bounces wildly back and forth between “figuring myself out” and “fucking everything up.” It’s full of angst and regret and stupid decisions, most of which came with the introduction to college and alcohol. There were a few moments of astonishing clarity, but it is primarily despair and anger.

And then, at 19, I met my husband-to-be. And that journal ends with: “And then I met Chris. Talking with him and being with him unearthed the part of me that actually cares about the important stuff.” This was finally a relationship where I could begin to define my true self.

And yet, a summer away from Chris before my senior year of college seemed to undo everything. It was as if I reverted back into that insecure 14 year old who was eager to please out of fear of being judged. The last journal entry I wrote that summer was highly depressing and full of self-loathing. After that, I didn’t write for a whole year.

It was a year and a half after graduation when I first discovered the term “quarter life crisis.” Having married Chris 6 months beforehand, I was extremely happy. And yet, deep inside I felt desperately unhappy with myself and with life.  I felt like I hated my job, I hated that I drank so much, and I hated that I spent all my spare time just watching TV. Plus, I was still secretly desperately insecure, eager to please, and constantly afraid of people judging me.

In May of 2011, I signed up for Joy Juice. It was the kind of thing I felt cheesy writing about so consciously, but I persisted. And, amazingly, something clicked. I was soon feeling good. I thought I was slowly figuring everything out.

And then, August 2, 2011, I was confronted with two pink lines staring back up at me. The first evidence that I had helped create life. The next journal entry, a day later, asks only if I’m ready. If we’re ready. The start of something new, I declared.

And so, of course, that began a new journal. The same one I write in today. Many pages are filled with months of agonizing over questions and doubts about being a parent, a role model, a good human being.

As I read through these journals in preparation for this blog post and reflected upon the Transatlantic move that sparked it all, I wasn’t sure what to think. There had been no traumatic, tragic events that turned my life upside down. Instead, I had been selfishly plagued with insecurities over my self-image and personality. Every new scenario threw me into self-doubt, changing how I acted and, scarily, even how I thought.

11 Years after that Transatlantic move, I am proud to say that I now have a stronger sense of self than I ever have before, but it’s still a struggle sometimes. At this point in my life, I know only that I want to be a good role model to my son, as well as a good wife, friend, and person in general. And ultimately, that means I really need to define my beliefs, values, and goals, and live life in accordance. And that, my friends, is why I’m here.

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INTRODUCING CLARE:

“Two little pink lines brought me crashing back down to earth.”

 

One day during the summer of 2011, I excitedly emailed Molly with the subject line, “On why I won’t be applying to be a Stratejoy blogger.” Why? Because I thought I had my life figured out. A couple months worth of Joy Juice prompts, a little summer sun, and one delicious Chai tea had me feeling invincible. Quarter Life Crisis? Psh. I had it solved and tidied it away.

Two days later, two little pink lines brought me crashing back down to earth.

In utter emotional shock, I crawled into my husband’s arms and wondered how on earth nine months could be enough to prepare me for being the mother this child deserved (make that eight months – did you know the first 2 weeks of “official” pregnancy are before you’re actually pregnant? Yeah, I had no clue. Add to that the 2 weeks it takes to figure out why your boobs hurt so much, and suddenly you’re holding onto every single day for dear life).

I spent weeks and months journaling. What kind of parent was I going to be? How do I change a diaper? How do I teach a child right from wrong?

I spent many hormonal nights sobbing to my husband about how I was inevitably going to be a bad mother (he had much good advice and many kind, supportive words, but pregnancy hormones make it difficult to listen to any man, especially male obstetricians who confidently yet mistakenly try to tell you that stretch marks are nothing to worry about).

Throughout my pregnancy, I felt guilty and selfish whenever the term “quarter life crisis” crept back into my vocabulary. I couldn’t think about me! I had to figure out how to keep a newborn baby alive! I had to determine just how to raise a child into an adult who wouldn’t be totally messed up!

And then, six days before my April 12 due date, I went into labor. When I first realized I was in labor, I panicked. Holy Shit. This is it. This is real.

After about 22 hours of un-medicated labor, I hit the “transition” period – the period of time before pushing starts. The contractions came one on top of the other without giving me so much as a second to catch my breath. And let me tell you, it’s scary. I was terrified about what came next. I remember telling my husband, who held my hand the whole time, that I can’t do this, I can’t go on. Why did I ever believe I had the strength to do this?

Even if you’ve never given birth, chances are that sounds familiar, right? It sounds just like any transition period at any point in your life. The challenges won’t stop coming, each one knocking you flat on your back. It’s intense. It’s painful. You feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, and you have no idea if and how you’ll ever make it out alive.

But you know what? You push through it anyway. You lean on anyone or anything that’s there to support you, and at the end of it all, new life awaits, whether it’s the warm, blue body of a tiny crying baby, or the awakened, rejuvenated life of your own. And it’s magical.

It took 24 hours of labor and a warm, blue baby boy in my arms to make me realize two key lessons:

First, to be the person someone else needs you to be, you have to become the person you need you to be first.

Second, babies are resilient; they let you make mistakes. When you’re thrown head-first into sleepless nights, dirty diapers, strange breast pumps, and wee morning hours, you stop worrying about how to do it all. You just do it. You push through it.

No, I don’t have it all figured out. And it was ridiculously cocky to think I ever did. I’m still in the process of becoming the person I need myself to be, and my biggest goal is to be a good role model to my son while living life intentionally. I’m so excited to be blogging for Stratejoy because I know this amazing tribe of women [you!] can help hold me accountable for achieving that. No matter what kind of transition we’re all going through, I know we can help each other push through it.

I can’t wait to start connecting with you! Feel free to say hi in the comments below or on Twitter!