T is for Test-Taking

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Welcome Margot Roberts! Margot is one of the many friends I made when I lived in Baltimore. She was my wing-woman, my sidekick and we were inseparable every weekend (and most weeknights). From movie nights, sushsi dinner and bar hopping, she is one of my greatest friends to this day. She's a driven woman and that is one thing I've always admired about her. Since I've known her she's been studying and excelling in her professional career. You're going places, Margot Roberts. Never forget that!

T is for Test-Taking
By Margot Roberts

From the moment Amanda sent her mass email requesting guest bloggers for her June A-Z Series, I knew what topic I wanted to write about. At the time, I was two months into a two and a half month wait to get my bar exam results. That means I was also four months into a period in my life where small panic attacks seemed to be an almost daily occurrence. From the pressures of studying, to actually taking the test, to the agony of waiting for results, I was at my wit’s end.

So when I got the email, I knew immediately that I wanted to write about a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately: test-taking.

We are a nation of test-takers. Beginning in grade school, our performance is based on a series of tests on various and increasingly more difficult subjects, to standardized tests that force a diverse group of individuals to be graded by the same standard. Then, there are tests to determine our eligibility for higher education. Then, college exams (fancy name for test). Then, tests to determine our eligibility for further higher education. More exams. Licensure tests. Continuing education. The parade of tests is seemingly endless.

I failed my first test when I was 27 years old: the first part of the CPA exam. Much to my surprise, the world did not end. And, my family and friends did not think I was failure. Despite being unsuccessful, I felt relief. The fear of failing had been the basis for my stress for over twenty years. The end result was merely that I had to take it again, which I did, and I passed.

During this time, my mother was also facing her own test-struggle. My mother became a teacher as her second career. She was told at the time that she would be able to teach high school math if she passed the Praxis 2 in business (which was her first career). After more than ten years of teaching, and at 54 years old, they told her she could no longer teach high school math under her current certification. She would either have to pass the Praxis 2 in math, transfer to middle school, or retire. In the ten years my mother had been teaching at the time, she was a finalist for teacher of the year in her county twice. If there is one thing I will take a moment to brag about my mom is that she’s an excellent teacher. She has a way of reaching the kids who most cannot.

Because my mother did not want to retire or transfer to middle school, she began studying for the Praxis 2 in math. Over the course of two and a half years, my mother took the test three times before passing on her fourth try. Seeing her battle herself in the way that she did and seeing her doubt herself in the way that she did was heart-breaking.

While I do think there must be assessments for fitness to practice a particular profession, the Praxis 2 in math required my mother to learn calculus at 54 years old, despite never teaching that subject or having taken the class. Her professional record of success is indicative that she was qualified to teach the subjects she was assigned. And yet, she had to pass a test in order to continue teaching.

During the weeks of studying for the bar exam, I had to come up with something that kept me from a having a meltdown almost every day. There was too much material, there wasn’t enough time, I couldn’t do it. The thought of spending several years of my life in law school and not crossing the proverbial finish line was overwhelming. However, I was talking with a good friend one day, who reminded me that even if I failed, I would still be Margot. We would still go get drinks, talk about life and how this election got out of hand, laugh at inappropriate times and love our puppies. It got me thinking and I came up with the following motto: Success, nor failure, on an exam defines who you are. 

While I often forgot the motto over the course of studying, knowing the truth of the statement helped me avoid the dread and fear of failing. My hope in offering this guest blog is to pass the message on to others. Passing does not change who you are – it may change what you do for a living or how much money you make – but it does not define you. Likewise, failure does not have that power. So, if you are reading this and you have an upcoming test, exam, quiz, final, review, assessment, etcetera, I hope you know that success, nor failure, on an exam defines who you are. You do that.

R is for Races

Monday, June 27, 2016

Today on the blog is Angela Alexander - she is the Southern Maryland ambassador of Ainsley's Angels. Angela was one of the first Angels I met when I joined AAA. My mom and I drove 3 hours down to Washington D.C. for an expo that AA was represented at. She took me under her wing, showed me the ropes, and introduced me to this amazing community. I ran my first Ainsley's Angels 5k with Angela and the list goes on and on. A former Marine, she is one tough cookie and an amazing mama. She's an AAmazing friend (she cut ALL her hair off as a fellow Ainsley's Angels ambassador battled cancer) and her heart is go giving. Stay fabulous lady!

R is for Races
By Angela Alexander

When I was in active duty, I hated running.  We were forced to run at least 3 times a week.  I never put forth effort, and I never trained or ran more then when we had our unit runs.  Who ever would have thought that within a few years of getting out, I would take up running again, and while sometimes I still hate it, I love it and look forward to running and racing with my friends.

I'm by no means fast, but I have fun and my friends know any race we do together is going to be fun and an adventure.  Over the years I've ran 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, ragnarians and triathlons.  I often hate the "training" part but look forward to race day.

I will carry the stories and memories of these races with me forever. I'll never forget my first 10k, running through the vineyards (literally) in SoCal, it was a tough course, but beautiful.  My first tri was the first time that I can clearly remember a song at the finish line, that feeling of knowing that I had just swam, biked and ran a race and crossing the finish line to Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney signing "Feel like a Rockstar," I totally got it and I felt like a rockstar.  It pushed me to run faster and I felt like a million bucks.

Since I had conquered the tri, I set my sight on my next running challenge and enlisted the help of 7 of my other friends go run our first Ragnar trail and it was amazing. (Ragnar is long distance, team, overnight running relays that take place in the most breathtaking places in the world. Teams come together to conquer a course over two days and one night, and push their limits, on little amounts of sleep, with friends and a community of runners by their side.) This was one of the most challenging courses I've ever ran.  The starting hill, even the best runners had to break to walk up, and there was a few areas on one of the trails that you had to watch your step and literally crawl up on all fours. But, I'll never forget seeing the city lights from the top of a mountain at 2 am in the morning, or one of my friends telling me she didn't know if she wanted to hit me or hug me after she ran her second leg. (Note she hugged me, and even ran it again the following year).

After that, the Ragnar bug bit me (and my friends), to date I've personally run 6. The SoCal Ragnar is by far my favorite that I've ran so far.  Nothing like running down PCH as the sun is rising and watching the waves hit the shore.  The peacefulness of the ocean and the calmness of the morning makes makes you thank God for creating this beautiful planet and allowing you to witness his wonders. Some of my best memories and friends were forged on a Ragnar. There is something about being cramped in a tent or in a van with 8-12 other people for 24 to 36 hours that bonds you.  You barely sleep, eat horribly and laugh so much it hurts that keeps you going.
Rider Athlete, Ethan

Now I run for not only myself but for people who can't typically run. I have an amazingly inspirational running buddy through I Run 4, Brady J, and I am one of the ambassadors for Ainsley's Angels.  I have now had the pleasure of pushing and enjoying watching the faces and hearing the crowd when you push someone with a disability across the finish line.  I'll never forget the first time I pushed, earned my angel wings. It was the Baltimore 10 miler, I met my athlete rider, Ethan, and the other angel runner, Liz, for the first time.  We took off with all the other chair athletes, and on one particular hill about half way through the race we lost a wheel. While at the time I had no clue what to do, we laugh about it now. Ethan will forever have a special place in my heart and jump at the opportunity to push him at every race we run together.

As I write this, I realize that all of my old memories of dreading running in the Marines have now been overshadowed by the amazing experiences that I have had over the last few years.

P is for Parenting

Friday, June 24, 2016

Welcome the beautiful Donavan Thomas to my blog this morning. A new mama, she found a few free minutes in her life to write a blog post I think new moms or soon-to-be new moms can relate to. Colin is so lucky to have you and Kyle as his parents. I'm so excited to see him grow up!

P is for Parenting
By Donavan Thomas

Full disclosure: I’ve only been a parent for 388 days, as of today, so I’m by no means an expert!

It’s cliché but true – my life changed forever the day my son was born. But no matter how many
blogs and books I read, parents I talked to and prayers I said, I was totally unprepared for just how being a parent would really change things. So in the hopes of helping someone else, here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned about life as a parent in the last (almost) 13 months!

1. Sleep might not be the hardest thing.
Everyone talks about sleep when you have a baby. It’s the first question friends, family and the random lady in the grocery aisle ask. “How’s he sleeping?” So you think sleep will be your biggest battle as a new parent.

Except when it isn’t. My son has pretty much always been a great nighttime sleeper. He “slept through the night” – and not the 5 hours that the doctors say is technically sleeping through the night, but from 9pm-5am – at about 6 weeks. And sure, we had a few weeks of harried naps and nighttime waking as he’s grown, but even on the bad days he was still a better than average sleeper.

Before you go dismissing me as having an “easy” baby, know that my kid has his own set of issues, mainly with eating and food intolerances. But that has been an adventure that I was totally unprepared for, because I read a whole lot about sleep – that’s what everyone scares you about! But you don’t know what you’re going to get, so maybe wait and see what kind of kid you have, before you go crazy reading everything about babies.

2. Try to get good at two things: trust and multitasking.
Many of us struggle with trust. But guess what – when you feel like you know nothing and you need guidance, you better get good at it. Especially when it comes to doctors and caregivers. If you can’t trust your pediatrician and your kid’s teacher/nanny/babysitter, keep trying until you find someone who you can. If you feel you truly can’t trust anyone, you’re going to feel very responsible, and very alone.

Also, I never really struggled with efficiency – I don’t like to sit on things. But being a parent has taken my ability to get.shit.done to a new level. Run a conference call on the way to a doctor’s appointment with a sick, screaming kid? Done it. Hold the baby while drying my hair? Yep, been there. Order late birthday gifts while breastfeeding in a Wawa parking lot on a family road trip? Not proud of it, but I’ve done that too.

But living life as a crazy multi-tasker can cause issues, which leads me to my next lesson …

3. You must put down the phone.
Let me be as honest as possible. You could miss your kid’s life by holding your phone. It’s so easy today to be distracted by our phones, and sometimes we have to be – looking at a recipe while making dinner, responding to a work email in the parking lot because you left early, or looking at an address when going somewhere new. But if you spend your days (and nights!) engrossed in what’s happening on your phone, you’re going to miss a lot of things happening with the little human in your life. I’m terrified I’m about to miss my little guy’s first steps or first word because I was on Instagram or responding to an email. So I’ve just about given up my phone when I’m with him, at least I really try to. It’s not worth it to me.

There’s also way too much information available at our fingertips, and it can be overwhelming. I could write a whole post about that, but I highly recommend trying not to Google every question, ailment, symptom and developmental question you have. The Internet is a scary place – I say that from experience – and sometimes it’s better to let things play out, or to get information elsewhere. Which takes me to …

4. It truly takes a village, but your village may come from interesting places.
I knew how critical my friends and family would be as I raised my child. After all, they were the people I trusted most for everything else in life, so why not this? But I live 3 hours from my family and 3,000 miles from my husband’s, and most of my friends don’t have kids. So while everyone checked in on us, was curious about what was happening, and gave really great advice, I often felt like I was on a small island.

Over the last year, I’ve found support in so many places. Our pediatrician has been a huge source of comfort and guidance for me – I truly believe she’s my guardian angel. My coworkers who are also moms have reminded me on the tough days that it’s just a bad day and things will get better. My son’s teachers, who I trust to raise him as I would, are an extension of our family and our partners in parenting. My neighbor answers my kid questions at all hours, forgives the loud noises coming from our house and is always there to share a glass of wine on a long day. There have been strangers who have helped me return carts in parking lots while my hands were full, cleaned my child’s puke from the floor of an ER waiting room, and given me encouragement as I try to get a workout behind the stroller.

Sometimes, it’s the people you never thought you’d need to lean on that support you the most. So look for them in hidden places. (This is not meant to discount our family and friends, who have been absolutely invaluable to us!)

5. Your heart is bigger than you ever imagined.
When I was pregnant, I struggled to imagine how I could find room in my heart to love someone else the way I wanted my child to be loved. But the second I laid eyes on that little guy, I swear my heart grew five times. Even on the worst of days, when I feel like an utter failure as a parent, friend, employee, wife, daughter … his smile fixes it. I never expected to be absolutely smitten with my child, and I’m continually surprised by just how wonderful I think he is.

But truthfully, I’m surprised by how wonderful I think it all is. The spit-up, the poopy diapers, the early mornings, the ear infections, the teething, the drool – so much drool! – the worries … it’s all worth it. And I had to live it all to really believe that!

(Important note: I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to have had the experience of being a parent, and there are many who would give anything to have the same opportunity. My heart goes out to all of you.)

N is for Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

She's back for Round 2!

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys
By Jen Lawson

A few months ago, my cousin learned his employer was sending him overseas, where he’d be working for two years. He has two cats, Bingo and Charlie, and the plan was for them to live with my aunt and uncle until he returned to the U.S.

My aunt and uncle agreed to it, but they’re not cat people and they were stressed out trying to figure out how to integrate two fuzzy house guests into their lives and their home.

cheeto 2.jpg
My last foster, a kitten with an amputated leg, in 2012.
My husband and I are very much cat people, and dog people, and every type of animal people. I wanted to take them, but my husband and I already have three cats and he didn’t want to add two more to our pack.

So I came up with a plan that involved my husband and I taking in another relative’s cat for two years to free up some “cat space” in their home, then that relative could take Bingo and Charlie so that my aunt and uncle wouldn’t need to take the cats in at all.

I texted everyone involved. And, the idea was not well-received. In fact, people were offended and they said they had it handled and that my meddling wasn’t needed.

My husband and I were eating dinner at a pub at the time and I immediately burst into tears (I never hesitate to cry in public — it happens often) as the texts came in.

Right then I understood the concept of the saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

I shift into problem-solving mode whenever I see a problem that needs to be solved, even if it doesn’t directly involve me. It’s gotten me into trouble before, but I continued to be the savior that nobody wants.

After this incident, though, it really hit home: There’s no need to jump in and try to solve the problems of others. It’s a nice thing to be there for people, but sometimes the best thing we can do is to let them help themselves.

A friend had a baby recently and she and her husband struggled to come up with a post-maternity leave child care solution. I work from home, and I had an idea: I could maybe come out to her house a few times a week and work while keeping an eye on the baby.

I didn’t say anything right away because I wanted to think it through. Technically I could do it. She lives an hour away, but that’s okay. I don’t know much about babies —  babysat in high school and I have a bunch of nieces and nephews, but I’ve never cared for a baby for more than an hour or two at a time. Still, I could learn.

And doesn’t it take a village to raise a child?

But ultimately I decided not to offer to help because I’d be biting off way more than I could chew. And then I felt guilty about it!

I know I did the right thing, though. My friend figured out her child care without my help and things seem to be going fine.

Butter and her kittens, 2010
This gets a little blurred when it comes to one of the biggest areas of my life: animal rescue. I’m part of a network of other animal rescue volunteers and I’m frequently asked for my help. How can I say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” to that, when animals have no voice and they’re helpless and what they need more than anything is our help?

In the past, I’ve jumped in and I’ve done everything in my power to assist. I coordinated an off-site cat adoption center (which I still do) while also walking dogs at a different shelter twice a week. I signed up to volunteer at events nearly every weekend. I’ve driven all over the city with a cat trap in my car to trap feral cats at someone’s request.

It was exhausting.

The shelter where I volunteer regularly sends out emails asking if someone could foster kittens. I found those requests hard to ignore, so back when I was living alone a few years ago, I found myself taking care of nine cats: A nursing mother and three kittens, three older male kittens, and my own two cats. Oh, I also had a dog at the time.

“How big is your house?” a staff member of the rescue jokingly asked me one night when I popped in to pick up the male kittens the day after I picked up the mom and her litter. “I can’t imagine where you’re putting them all!”

I was stressed out. I mean, really stressed out.

And I needed a break.

So I took one, and I haven’t done any fostering for a few years now. Sometimes I think I’d like to start again, but then I remember how much work it involved, and I decide to put it on hold for another year.

Foster kitten Oliver in 2009
Now, rather than jumping into action whenever I see a plea for help, I connect the person with someone who can help rather than personally taking on more than I can handle. I’ll share a Facebook post about the need for kitten foster homes rather than picking up the kittens and bringing them home. I’ll let someone borrow my cat trap rather than going out and trapping the cats myself.

I can’t do it all, because no matter how much I do, there will always be a need for more and more and more help. And I’m just one person, after all.

Can you relate to the concept of “Not my circus, not my monkeys?”

M is for Mukaa Children’s Home

Monday, June 20, 2016

Readers -- please meet Denise! Not only is she one of the best dental hygienist in all of the land, but she's a pretty rad chick too. She loves to live an adventures life, always trying new things or making plans to a new location. Shes a lover of lipstick, cute hair and the queen of having fun. What I love about her most is her loyalty to her family, friends and those most in need. Have fun reading her AMAZING experience in Kenya at the beginning of this year. After reading it she will have you booking your own trip to help give back.

M is for Mukaa Children’s Home
This is my first blog EVER, so here goes nothing....

There’s a little village in the southeastern part of Kenya called Mukaa; a village that I like to think has become my Kenyan home.  Mukaa is full of green rolling hills, tall lush forests, and plenty of little makeshift fruit and vegetable stands with Coca-Cola advertisement stickers stuck to the side of them; a sight that I couldn’t even imagine prior to my first trip to Kenya.  But my favorite part of Mukaa, besides its beautiful originality, is Mukaa Children’s Home.

I am a dental hygienist, a career that took me years of college and thousands of dollars later to realize this was my true calling, and in my first few semesters of hygiene school, I knew right away that this was something I wanted to share with others.  Oral health education has made a huge impact on my life because I realize it’s a subject that not many are educated about even in America.  I’ve always dreamt, even as a little girl, of learning a trade or a talent and providing my knowledge to people who in a way, can’t help themselves, and I knew dental hygiene was it.

Mukaa Children’s Home became known to me after I had just graduated and received my hygiene license.  An old instructor of mine (ironically an instructor that I loathed) had contacted me and told me about this opportunity to go to Kenya and clean teeth with her at an orphanage.  Of course I jumped on the opportunity.  Children, poverty, Africa, cleaning teeth, it was a no brainer.  I was meant for this trip.  I only had a few months to prepare because the trip was scheduled for early January 2016, and in that time I had to come up with $3000 and enough vaccines that basically I would become the bionic woman.

So, $3000 is a lot of money to a girl who just graduated college, and doesn’t know how to save because she likes to buy too much junk on Amazon, but I didn’t care, I was determined to go on this trip and I knew God was going to help me.  Long story short, after months of stressing and scheming, and getting poked in the arm, it worked out, and before I knew it January 2nd came and I was boarding my flight to Paris, which eventually would take me to my Kenyan home.

We arrived in Nairobi Kenya around 9 pm their time, which immediately I was amused by the homemade Christmas tree and pictures of white Santa hung up around the airport.  I just thought this was funny because it was an obvious attempt for the Kenyan people to try and make American travelers feel “at home” when arriving in their country, and yet in my mind, I’m thinking “I’m in Kenya! AFRICA! How the hell is this anything like America?”  Anyway, there was supposed to be a driver there waiting for us who was nowhere to be found, but this is Kenya, which I learned, you can’t always rely on what people say they’re going to do  (not any different than the USA).

We finally get a driver who has a vehicle to carry the four of us and all our stuff to a hotel that would board us before we departed to the Children’s Home the next day that was a solid 3-4 hours away from Nairobi.  Now I have to just add this tid bit to the story, because I think it’s hilarious, but one of the first questions our driver asked us was “Is Donald Trump really running for president?”  YES!  This Kenyan man was astonished to find out that Donald freaking Trump was running for president.  An amazing thing to these people is that basically anyone in America can become president of the USA.  There are signs posted all around Nairobi illustrating Obama, which I learned then that Obama’s father is from Kenya, and they call themselves the land of the future Obama’s because it’s influential to them to work hard and follow your dreams, and one day you could be the next president.  It’s very empowering actually, and I was slightly jealous that we don’t even look up to our current president in that way in America.

Okay so Mukaa Children’s Home, I know, I’m getting there.  After breakfast the next morning, my first taste of Kenyan food, which was delicious by the way, Peter, our amazing driver, hauled us and all of our junk to Mukaa Children’s Home while explaining to us the lay of the land.  One thing that is very important when traveling to a third world country, always try and get in contact with someone who can provide you with a trustworthy driver.  Peter is known to American organizations and missionaries for picking American travelers up from the airport and driving them to their destinations while keeping them safe and showing them the ropes.  We also were very fortunate to have another amazing driver at the end of our trip, Nelson, who I feel the need to mention just because someone as simple as a driver, can really make or break your trip, and I felt truly blessed to have met these two men who really went out of their way to take care of me and my friends while staying in their country.

Okay anyway, the moment has come, where I first arrived to Mukaa Children’s Home! It’s a moment
embedded into my brain forever.  After hours of driving, and me having to pee really REALLY bad, we approach the blue steel gate doors with Mukaa Chilren’s Home painted on them.  And before I forget to mention, I do not at all understand how the hell drivers find any address’s because there are no real “streets”.  No street signs, hardly any paved roads, and Mukaa is so hilly, that places are basically stacked on top of each other.  It’s a mess, but a beautiful mess at that.

So I first expected that once we drove past those steel doors, that children would come swarming over to us, wanting to see us, touch us, hug us, I don’t know, I just imagined this happy moment of kids all around me who were excited for me to be there.  Yeah, not so much.  We pull in and all who is there is Armstrong, the home manager, Amos, the assistant manager, and Grace.  Oh Grace.  How can I ever forget Grace? I get out of the car and say my introductions, all while keeping my bladder as tight as I possibly can because I’m telling you, I had to pee that bad.  Finally I say hello to Grace, ask her to show me the bathroom, and she immediately grabs by hand with the largest smile and starts to show me the way.  I thought this was odd because Grace wasn’t a child.  She was a woman, around my age, who without hesitation, held my hand, and we basically swayed arms on our way to the bathroom.  I just met this girl, and yet, I already feel like we’re best friends.

The Children’s Home was unique.  Very colorful buildings, no air conditioners, electricity that only
ran sporadically,  sinks outside attached to one of the buildings where the children would line up before and after their meals to wash their hands, and a large play set with swings and slides directly middle of the home for the children to play on.  Looking around, I was high.  No but seriously, I’ve never felt such a natural high in my life.  At that moment, getting there, standing on the clay-like ground soaking in my surroundings, I thought I was going to cry.  Before I got there I was scared. How am going to survive in this place so different from home? But immediately after getting there, I felt so safe, so happy, so blessed to be there.

The children were all at school when we arrived.  DUH, they go to school!  The school is located literally a block behind the home which is convenient, so all the children can walk safely together to and from. I eventually got to visit the school, and with its broken windows, and lack of books along with electricity, I was surprised to learn that it’s one of the best schools in the area.  My friends and I got to stay in the guest house.  A cute little home with a kitchen, which we never cooked in because the women who work at the home do all the cooking, a living room where we ate meals every day, their nicest bathroom with a toilet that only flushed maybe twice a day, and a shower that was really a spout attached the ceiling over the toilet that had a drain in the center of the floor.  Our bedroom had three beds in it, one of my team members had their own room, and we all had super cute mosquito nets around our beds, which although cute, I learned that I never want to sleep with a mosquito net ever again because they are the biggest pain in the ass.

We took the grand tour of the home and were introduced to their home cow, which wasn’t a milk cow, and they didn’t plan on eating him, so I’m not quite sure what his purpose was, but he definitely added character to the home.  Mukaa Children’s Home also has a chicken coop where they get their natural eggs every day, and a hydroponic Tilapia farm that travelers from Kansas helped them set up, and a water well that a transformer uses electricity to send the water through a special system that converts the well water to clean drinking water.  Unfortunately, the transformer was broken, so they couldn’t use the well water, and only had collected rain water to boil and drink like many other Kenyan communities, but I learned that when the transformer works, it doesn’t only supply clean water to the home, but people in the village can come and buy gallons of clean water for a small fee. This place is pretty self sustainable and amazing.

Finally it was time for the children to be done school! They came trotting into the home with their school uniforms on, some of them not wearing any shoes even though they had them in hand, and they basically walked right past us with unsure looks on their faces when they saw us.  I realized right then that these kids were smart.  They weren’t going to just trust us in a second.  They wanted to learn about us before they showed us who they really were.  It took a day.  A full day of us approaching different age groups with our innocent smiles, and hands held out showing them that we were there at their mercy.  We wanted nothing more than to help them.  They didn’t want us to feel bad for them, and they made it clear that they were happy with their lifestyle, and once we realized that, they let us in.  Actually, it wasn’t long before they even started making fun of us, with our American accents and mannerisms.  They weren’t being mean, but they were letting us know they were comfortable with us, still shy, but wanted our friendship.

Soon the girls would approach us and ask about our American traditions and show us the stray kittens they had running around, and the boys would show us how to play marbles and how to slide down the slide at full speed.  There was no mercy with those boys.  They were tough, and played that way.  At one point I observed five smaller children sitting together on a ledge quietly.  I said hello to them, and they just stared at me wide eyed like they were in shock.  Armstrong explained to me that those children had just entered the children’s home about a week ago, and they only knew their mothers tribal tongue, no English.  They were all there for different reasons, their parents abandoned them in one way or another, or died tragically, but either way, they all knew that they were at a place that could provide them with a better life.  Actually, I learned that getting into the children’s home was a blessing.  Outside families envied those children in a way because they knew that they were being fed, receiving an education, and had regular clothes to wear.  It’s one of the only places in the world that you’re better off an orphan and staying at Mukaa Children’s Home, then having true parents.

After our first day, it was time to get to work.  We awoke with the sun; actually the loud ass rooster
woke us up every morning like clockwork, like it was out of a movie, and we cleaned teeth every day until the sun went down.  We set up temporary shop in the cafeteria, where the kids would lay on blow up rafts, and we would stand, and we would give them mirrors to hold so they could see what we were doing, while they spit into cups after we cleaned and brushed their teeth because there was no suction.  That’s something I take for granted, suction.  Let me tell you, after hours of cleaning teeth, the spit bucket would really fill up, and it wasn’t just spit, there was blood, and HIV, something we had to be very careful about, along with the heat and the flies, YUCK!  Suction is something that I will forever be grateful for.  We would take traditional “tea breaks” and have tea and biscuits in the living room, along with lunch and dinner, and we were never under fed, but our main objective was always to clean as many teeth in a day possible.  Towards the end of the week that we were there, we were exhausted, and dirty because we could only shower maybe twice for 3 minutes the entire week we were there, and so the irritation was there, but it never deterred me from the natural high I experienced every day.

On our last day as we were eating dinner, we could hear the children singing in the background.  It was so beautiful.  Armstrong told us that they were working on a song and dance they had created just for us, and that after dinner, we were to go see their show.  We walked down there in our traditional Kenyan attire, which by the way, women are usually expected to wear long dresses or skirts that cover their knees, and sat down amongst the rows of chairs they had set up for us.  Before they performed, Grace, Armstrong, and Amos made a few speeches thanking us for our service and commitment to them, and right before the show began, something amazing happened to me.  One of
the little boys, part of the five I mentioned ea
rlier who just got to the children’s home, came up to me in silence and sat right on my lap.  He walked right up to me like it was a natural instinct, and my friends, and some of the other children just observed in slight surprise, because this boy hadn’t shown any emotion since he had arrived at Mukaa Children’s Home.  We sat there together and watched the show.  Of course I cried because their words were so beautiful, even though they were in Swahili, and it was such an illustration of appreciation towards us.  It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  I still cry when I watch the video I recorded of it.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

That little boy who sat on my lap the last night I was there, his name is Shadrack.  He is 5 years old, and he is now the first little boy I sponsor in a third world country.  The day we were leaving, I talked to Armstrong, and learned that he was without a sponsor, and I don’t think it was a coincidence for this little boy to randomly sit on my lap one day.  We were meant to find each other.   Every month I send money to the orphanage to provide food, clothing, and schooling for him, and I recently sent him some new shoes along with books for school.  Facebook is a glorious thing, because Armstrong posted pictures of Shadrack receiving his gifts and I was so happy to know he was happy. I thought before I arrived at Mukaa Children’s Home that I would want to adopted several children, give them things they don’t even know exist, and I would be so much more grateful for everything I have, and although I am tremendously grateful for the simple things, my bed for instance, I left Mukaa with a completely different mindset than I thought I would.  I would never want to take any of these children away from their beautiful home.  Yes their schooling is not as advanced as America, or their medical care a bit sketchy, but the simplicity of their lives is something I envy.

I learned that I don’t always need an iPhone, TV or electricity for that matter.  I survived without taking a shower every day, and all the extra accessories in my life that I THINK I need that many people in Kenya don’t even know exist, is actually all just added stress!  Mukaa’s Children’s Home is more than just an orphanage; it’s an example of the way life should be.  It changed me forever, and now I can only count down the days until I can get back to my Kenyan home.

L is for Let's Talk About Dad

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there! In particular I want to talk today about my dad - the one and only, Dolla Bill.

**Full disclosure, this blog is raw and filled with emotion.**

Dad and I never had one of those daddy-daughter relationships. I NEVER called him Daddy (except maybe when I was 2 or 3...Shell can you confirm that?), I was never his "little princess" or "little pumpkin." I don't remember bedtime stories or good night kisses, or sitting on his lap watching movies. I was a mama's girl, but I never wanted to disappoint my dad. I didn't want to let him down. EVER.

He wasn't like my best friend Caroline's dad, where after every game he would walk up to her and give her a big hug and kiss and say "Way to go, Carrie!" My dad was tough...my biggest critic in the loudest of ways, however, he was my biggest supporter in the quietest of ways.

I was the son he never had. It was tough love with my dad. REALLY tough love.

He was the biggest critic in the loudest of ways:

  • Like the time I had a goal kick, kicked it to the other team and at the top of his lungs he yelled "Amanda, are you color blind?!" Every player, parent and referee laughed their asses off that day. I sucked back tears. 
  • There were countless games where we sat in silence on hour long car rides home from games because he ripped me a new asshole after a 1-0 loss. (Mind you, I could have made 22 saves on 23 shots and our team couldn't put a ball in the back of the net, but sometimes it managed to be MY fault.) It got nasty in the car and Shelley usually had to be the mediator. 
  • And who can forget the game where he yelled at me on the field to "Get your head out of your ass and start playing." Pretty sure the opposite goalkeeper heard that line.

But here is where he was the biggest supporter in the quietest of ways:

  • He never missed a practice. Whether I was training in Telford, Upper Providence or Council Rock High School, he got me there, he stayed there and was always the sounding board on the way home.
  • He was at every game, following me from one end of the field all the way to the other end of the field to shadow me and my every move each and every game. He made every soccer match, softball game, field hockey playoff match, YOU NAME IT. He was always there and you could never miss him on the sideline. Camera in hand, snapping away shots of his girl. 
  • This is TMI but the day I got my period my team was in the finals for a state cup championship. Following my every move from goal to goal, he asked me about 30 times during the game "hey, you alright? you feel alright??" (Yes, Dad, I'm not dying! hahaha)
  • He was the first one to verbally stand up for us girl when a Jersey douche bag parent started to run their mouths about us. No wonder I have such a great potty mouth.
  • And probably my most favorite memory with my dad is after every big win/game I played amazing, he would come up to me after the game, take his hand, cup it around the back of my neck with a gentle squeeze and tell me in my ear "you played amazing out there, man."
Our affection has always been small, but I know when my dad is proud of me. You can tell a lot about someones eyes and in his eyes, I know I have made him proud throughout all these years. 

While our love may have been tough love, that tough love is what has made me the strong, independent and driven woman I am today. Him challenging me has made me challenge myself. I  don't think I would be where I am today without him. I thank you for that, Dad.

My dad is one of the funniest people I know and I credit much of my humor because of him. My dad has a short fuze, another trait I have so greatly inherited. He curses like a sailor, as do I. He takes no shit from nobody and has taught me that I shouldn't either. He is one of the biggest assholes around but that's what makes him him. He has always worked his ass off to provide for his family and that is something that has never gone unnoticed even since I was a little girl. He is rude and ruthless at times, but at the end of the day, he's MY dad and he will always be on MY side...having my back for the rest of our days.  

Dad, you're an asshole. But you're MY asshole.

I love you.

K is for Krispy Kreme Challenge

Saturday, June 18, 2016

My friend, Dave Goldstein, is a competitive eater. He's always posting his YouTubbe vidoes of his latest challenges on Facebook. After watching one of his, I came across this one. This is gross, yet amazing! May I add, 12 KK donuts is 15,000 calories. WHAT!

J is for June 20th

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 20, 2016. Next Monday. Five days away. 120 hours. 7,200 minutes.

That my friends, is how long I have until Marine Corps Marathon training starts. And then I get to do THIS!! Watch this video...

It’s time to lace up my sneakers and get back in the training saddle. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m anxious. This will be my third time training for a marathon – the first time, very unsuccessfully I “trained” for the Disney Marathon back in 2012. I took training much more seriously in 2014 for the Philadelphia Marathon. Doesn’t matter how many times you train, my nerves still get me.

Last September's Rock n Roll half marathon was my last "big race" I trained for and I'll be honest, I'm excited to get back into training. I trained for my sprint Triathlon a few weeks ago, but the training is not as intense as a half or full marathon. This winter/spring I was a bit all over the place. For months and months I was just winging it -- run 3 miles here, run 5 there, walk a few. I'm a person that needs a schedule to keep me motivated and in line. I'm ready for this!

I wrote a post a few weeks back but I’ll mention this all again. What makes this year’s marathon so special is that I will be decked out in my pink & black, running with over 50 Ainsley’s Angels runners and rider duos AND I will be pushing the one and only TEAM DYLAN the entire 26.2 miles. You heard me, PUSHING -- spreading the word of INCLUSION along the D.C. streets and representing Ainsley's Angels in Southeast PA!

I am HONORED to participate alongside 49 other athlete riders at this year’s race and I'm blessed to know that Dylan will be pushing/pulling me (and most likely yelling at me to go faster, he's competitive) the entire 26.2 miles.

Training for marathons are tough -- the miles and hours you spend on your feet are harsh over an 18 week span. But this year’s training will be NOTHING like my training plans in the past. This year for my training runs I plan on pushing one of our Freedom chairs during training runs, adding weight to the seat the equates to Dylan (roughly 90lbs). I have on my schedule this weekend to hit Lowes and purchase a sandbag or two – luckily they are cheap at only $4.50 a bag! I’m also trying to come up with something creative to note that I’m training for this race with a fake human in the chair and to not think I’m crazy. Any suggestions/thoughts are welcome!

I have a few big focuses for training this year:

1. Stay healthy. I’m having some SERIOUS calf problems since I went to Ireland in March. Some runs are unbearable. Some runs my legs and feet go completely numb. Over the last month my main focus has been to keep rolling my calves with the foam roller, stop and stretch on my runs if need be and to DRINK MORE WATER!!! I’m not sure if this is a hydration issue or something else. I should PROBABLY see a doctor…meh!

2. Fueling pre- and during race. Believe it or not (and I know I’m not the only person) but I can’t eat anything before a race. The combination of my nerves and excitement have me usually taking 3 tiny bites of a bagel and ditching the rest. I ALWAYS carb load the night before so I know I have a full stomach, however, that’s not healthy and will not give me top performance.

Here is a little science info: Carbohydrate is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver.  You can store about 400g of glycogen in your muscles, and about 100g in your liver.  This means you can store about 2000 kcal as glycogen – enough energy to run or walk about 20 miles. (You can read more here later). That being said, a marathon is 26.2 miles – you NEED more energy throughout the race and that is done with fuel.

So this time training I plan on eating before my runs (crazy I know) and I plan on something simple like half bagel or some oatmeal. I have a feeling this is going to be a trial and error situation and I better create some routes that have bathrooms near by. Haha For during race, I love GU and other have suggest to drink Tailwind. I’ll keep you posted on that!

3. Nutrition in general is key. I’ve been pretty lazy on the nutrition front, but over the last three weeks I’ve been regrouping on my food. Here’s to hoping I can keep at it and see some weight loss during this training (I did last time, I hope it works again!)

4. TO HAVE FUN. Marathon training gets tough…real tough. But to remember my WHY and what I am representing this time around allows me to put life in perspective.

Oh, and I should mentioned because who doesn't love a shameless plug -- Ainsley's Angels of America is a charity partner for the 2016 Marine Corp Marathon. Each runner and rider needs to fundraise to participate in this race. If you're willing to make a donation to help Dylan and me be present at this race, we would greatly appreciate it! You can make your donation by clicking here: https://www.crowdrise.com/picspoundingpavement

I is for "I Can't Even"

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ashley Johnson is back again! She has had some amazing posts...I can't even begin to tell you how much I'm liking this :) Ready, set, GO ASH!

Me again! Amanda was kind enough to let me take two letters in a row.

Today, I want talk about the phrase, “I can’t even”

Definitely overused, funny each time I hear it, but are we really being true to ourselves when we say it, or just masking what we really want to say?

Urban dictionary is great for all of those phrases you wonder about when you see them on the internet. Here is the most appropriate definition for my purpose (read the others at your own risk!):

As I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw a friend posted the picture (right) and I thought it was a perfect and hilarious way to put the day to day frustrations into perspective. You can find this image, compliments of Google if you wish to save it for another day.

Venting is such a good way to get things off of your chest and be able to move on with finding a resolution to your issue. 

While we can find a joke on just about anything on the internet, what about the time where you are using this phrase in the most literal sense. 

I can’t do FILL IN THE BLANK_____.

I’ve done it, I think we all have. Completely doubted all of ourselves in one sense or another. 

For example-
-I can’t save enough money to possibly do [blank]
-I can’t continue my education because [blank]
-I can’t run as fast/far/long as [blank]
-I can’t lose weight
-I can’t see myself doing [blank]
-I can’t leave this job 
-I can’t move out of state
-I can’t even imagine doing [blank]
-I can’t possibly get over this break-up
-I can’t even believe someone else would want to date me
-I can’t heal
-I can’t start over
-I can’t deal with change

I’m sure you could write a book on all of the things that you, “literally can’t even.”

Here’s a note to myself and a note to everyone else-

Yes, you absolutely without a doubt can do anything you desire. It does not always come easy and it will not always happen right away. Sometimes there has to be a compromise. There’s no stopping any person who puts their complete mind, body and spirit into what they want to do. Here’s a reminder that it is not too late to look at that list of things you feel you can’t do and find a way. Some progress is better than none and perfection is all in your own perception. 

The internet is great for inspiration, here are two quotes I always like to think of when I feel like I can’t even...

Get out there and own whatever you need to today and every day.

H is for Happy

Saturday, June 11, 2016

I literally was so HAPPY when I heard Ashley Johnson was going to be a guest blogger this series! The letter H and her post is beyond fitting for her as Ashley is one of the happiest, positive and inspiring individuals I know to date. Ashley is driven, focused and a go-getter. She just recently received her Masters degree from Temple University, all while working full time (YOU GO GIRL!!!) and her daily Facebook and Instagram posts are so uplifting that she makes me want to be a better person. I think she MAY out do me in the selfie game, or we may be a close tie as "People Who Take The Most Selfies" :) Ash, stay amazing and fierce, so many of us look up to you (I hope you know that!!!)

H is for happy. Are you happy? What does happy look like? Wait, does it have a look?

The definition of happy, according to Merriam Webster is,
 “: feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.
  : showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment
  : pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc.”

I feel like the above definition covers it... to an extent. I’ve been thinking about being happy and happiness quite a bit over the last several months. Pic’s blog gives me the perfect platform to spill my thoughts into one place. (Thanks, girl!) A lot of my thoughts stem from books I’ve read, sessions I’ve attended, observations, my own life journey, and of course the internet.

A lot of people that know me personally, know that I always try to bring positivity to a situation. I keep it as real as possible and sometimes I do not always think before I speak. Even with that being the case, I have been told on more than one occasion that I remind them of sunshine. I take this as a huge compliment because it shows the progression I have made as a person over the last several years. From the outside, can you really, really tell if a person is happy? I do not think so, but over the last few months the following things that been said to me:

"But, you're always happy."
"You're always smiling."
"How do you stay so positive?"
“You look happy.”
“You’re the last person I would think would be in therapy.”

Wait… what? How can one just easily assume?

Thankfully, I am writing this and I can confidently say that I am happy. One thing that I do not always discuss are my own personal struggles. It is not always that easy. Each any every day we are fighting some type of battle. Even your closest friends and family may be going through struggles that you have no idea about. If it did not rain on our parade once in a while, we would be in a drought. How would we possibly be able to fill ourselves back up?

While no battle is easy, there’s a lot of inside work that has to happen when it comes to happiness. You have to heal yourself from the inside out. As you’re doing this, it will show. There’s always going to be bad days but when the good far outweigh the bad, that is something to be grateful for.

I write this as a person who had to grow up a lot faster than the average person. I’m typing this as a former people pleaser and worrier. As someone that has struggled with depression, loss, heartbreak, and insecurities. As a daughter, sister, and friend who has been nearby while some of the people closest to me have struggled with their own issues. At the end of the day, those experiences, trials and tribulations are still there. They are lessons in our life journey.

 What about you? Are you happy? If you are not, are you doing something about it?

It never ceases to amaze me that by a simple smile, there are so many assumptions about a person. If a smile helps boost the next person that may be having a rough day, I am all for it. Try smiling a little more, being a little bit warmer, and bringing those around you into your peace.  Happiness is contagious, I’m convinced.

There is no magic pill for happiness. I do have a few suggestions:

It may sound cliché, but think happy thoughts. Your mind is a powerful tool, bring the good things in your life into existence
Surround yourself with positive people. It is hard to stay happy when you are in the presence of negativity. Does that mean cut a person off? Not necessarily, but while you heal, you may have to create some distance
If you believe in any type of higher power.. faith, spiritual, religious, however you wish to label it. (lots of options!), tap a little bit deeper into that
Enjoy the sunshine! That’s FREE vitamin D + several other health benefits, including being a mood lifter (use sunscreen!)
Read a good book (or poetry, quotes, whatever you like)
Spend time with friends and family that replenish our energy
Self-care. If you are not sure what that is, look it up :)
Fill yourself back up, you are nothing to others if you are running on “E”
Make more time to do the things you love

I feel like I could go on and on, but those are just some of the things I am doing to be the happiest I can be. Life is not always easy, but our resilience is what makes us so wonderful. You may be having a hard day, week, month, or year but do not give up hope. This crazy thing we call life can’t be done alone so do not be afraid to speak up when you need someone to lean on.

If that someone can’t be a friend or relative, consider counseling. While, sometimes a stigma surrounds therapy and mental health, it is just as important to have a healthy mind so the rest of your body can follow. A therapist is also an objective, third party that can typically help develop skills to deal with your life situations.

After all, none of us are perfect with normal lives, you just have to learn to live happily in your “normal.”

Take care of yourself and don’t forget to smile..


G is for Grandmothers

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pre- Brooklyn Half Marathon Selfies
Meet Jennifer Connor. Jen and I met when she worked with the Souderton Independent and I worked at The Reporter. Two young and broke journalist, we bonded over unusual news assignments and cheap pizza dates to Main Street Pizza. We always gossiped and chatted about life, movies, and music. We were both born to be entertainment and lifestyles reporters. Sadly, myself first and Jen to follow, we both moved away from our journalism careers and Jen has since landed in the Big Apple for the last several years. She moved there taking on the role as the Social Media Program Officer at the Fulbright Student Program Outreach at Institute of International Education. I hope we can put another race on our calendars again! Bring me back to Brooklyn please.

G is for Grandmothers
By Jennifer Connor

“This is the story of Joy, as told by her grandmother.”

On an average Wednesday night in New York City, my boyfriend and I sat watching Joy, the recent movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, about Joy Mangano, a young single mother, who attempts to patent and manufacture an innovation on the common mop.

Instantly, this movie resonated with me.

Many who know me from personally to professionally know I have a special relationship with my grandmother. From weekend sleepovers as an elementary school kid, when we would stay up late drinking root beer floats and playing Rummy, to weekend escapes to her house in the beautiful Bucks County from my new home in NYC – we’ve shared many moments together.

After watching Joy, I was curious if there was a reason Joy’s grandmother narrated the story. A few Google searches later the only conclusion I came to was that this character was meant to present the only unconditional love Joy had lifting her up.

There’s something about grandmothers – their comfort, their inspiration, their grit, their love – that brings a sweetness to this world. It’s a love that’s universally understood. In some commentary I found on Joy this was the reason for her grandmother’s narration – a way for those young and old, American or not, to grasp the kind of love that Joy had.

For a 26-year-old, I’ve seen a bit of the world, seeking adventure that may have originated in my Grammy’s inability to have the profession of her dreams as a flight attendant. I believe it was her eyesight that took this dream off the table for her, so she moved on raising two kids and building a home in Bucks County with my grandfather. But, though I’ve gone rather far, I’ve always come back to the comfort of her home, and the oasis I find there.

It’s a house full of love, that while my grandfather was living and my grandmother was more nimble, they poured their sweat and creativity into. From planting dogwood trees in the front yard that continue to bloom to this day to adorning the house with oodles of Christmas decorations to make the holidays magical – it was their home that they shared with all of us.

The past six months have been rough for my grandmother. She can’t catch a break, health-wise, and is restricted from going home. Our family continues to visit her regularly, attempting to keep her spirits up and to navigate the health issues that arise. Through all of this, I’ve done a lot of processing of my relationship with her and it’s moments like those opening lines of Joy that bring it home.

We are blessed to have the relationship we do, through thick and thin, tough love, and even arguments – we’ve been there for one another. Lifting each other up, and reminding the other that with tomorrow comes another day. This unconditional love will carry me through life – giving me strength to continue to chase my dreams, always remembering where that strength comes from.

G is for Grandmothers.

F is for Feeling Like a Fraud: Imposter Syndrome

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A writer, lover of all animals and craft beer drinker - welcome back the wonderful and talented, Jennifer Lawson. I'm so happy to have you guest blogging again!

Feeling Like a Fraud: Imposter Syndrome
By Jen Lawson
byjenlawson.com (follow her NOW!)

Five words jumped out at me one night a few months ago as I was idly surfing the web.

It was an article and quiz that asked, “Do you have imposter syndrome?”

I took the quiz and, just like that, I had a definition for what I’ve always felt.

Imposter syndrome is a pervasive feeling that you’re a fraud, that you’ve tricked everyone into thinking you’re smart or capable and that everything you’ve accomplished in life has been because of dumb luck. And pretty soon, everyone will find out that you’re just scamming everybody.

When I started reading more about it, I became convinced that imposter syndrome is what happens to other people. They feel like frauds, but they’re really not — it’s just that self-doubt and fear are clouding how they see themselves. I, on the other hand, am an actual fraud.

I read more, and learned that believing you’re a genuine fraud is one of the characteristics of someone with imposter syndrome.

That made me feel like I was in a carnival fun house locked in a room of mirrors. What’s real and what’s not real and how do we know?

It’s maddening.

I first became aware of imposter syndrome while reading “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. She graduated with honors from Harvard and now she’s COO of Facebook and she still feels like she pulled a big scam and doesn’t deserve anything she’s earned.

It made me feel sad for her, that she’d feel such anguish when she has every right to be proud of her accomplishments.

Unfortunately, it’s a phenomenon that mostly affects women. I’m grateful that Sheryl Sandberg was honest about her struggles to accept how awesome she is because I think so many women experience this just think it’s normal.

So, if you feel this way, what do you do?

If your imposter syndrome is severe, it can put you in a dark place and steal any joy and excitement you’d feel about anything awesome that you do. Talking to a mental health professional would be a smart course of action, according to experts.

My case is more mild to moderate, and I’m happy to say that just being mindful of my thought patterns and acknowledging when I’m dismissing myself as a fraud is so helpful. It doesn’t really take those feelings away, but it does result in those feelings having a diminished impact.

I also signed up for an eight-week mindfulness meditation workshop at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital that begins later this month and I’m really excited about it!

So, if you can relate to anything I’ve written here, just know that you’re not a fraud. You deserve all that you’ve accomplished. Tell that voice in your head to STFU and be proud of yourself because you’re awesome.

Here’s a quiz you can take to see if you have imposter syndrome: CLICK HERE FOR QUIZ

E is for Eating Disorder

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Friends - meet Monica! Monica and I became friends through Facebook actually. We found each other on the I Run 4 group - as she runs for a little boy named, Jake. I saw Monica posted to her buddy Jake one morning and I saw it was posted from "Souderton, Pa." I said, holy shit balls, we're neighbors, who are you and do you wanna run with me sometime?! And just like that the rest is history. We've been inseparable since December 2014 logging endless miles together, going on dinner dates, shopping, having serious talks about life, making each other laugh and the list goes on and on. Monica is my "sole" sister and one thing I treasure is her oh so caring heart. Her heart is HUGE and she's always wanting to give back, always worried about everyone else over herself. While this may be a flaw of hers, it's also one of her strongest characteristics which I adore because no matter what, I know she is ALWAYS there for me! Monica, I am extremely proud of you for writing this post and I hope it helps others going through the same struggles as you. You know I'm always here for you!

Thanks Amanda for letting me be a guest on your blog!

Most people have fears, right?  You would be hard pressed to find somebody who does NOT fear something.  There are quite simple fears such as spiders, heights, tight spaces, you get the idea.  And what about addictions?  Many people struggle with some sort of addiction from nicotine, alcohol, and gambling to name the biggies and even some on a smaller scale as a certain TV show - you cannot stop binge watching the latest season in a weekend because you crave more and are actually upset when it’s over.

The good thing, when you fear something, you can avoid it.  When you are addicted to something, you can cut the addiction out of your life, albeit difficult, and even find support groups for said addictions. BUT – what if one of your greatest fears and addiction is food? The compulsion to want to consume food until you are going to explode yet is the very thing you need to survive. The thought of eating brings on more anxiety than you thought possible.  Obviously you can’t avoid it.  Everyone needs to eat to survive.  The only way to handle it is to relearn how to eat properly and deal with the feelings and thoughts that come with it.

I have been struggling with my weight since I was a teenager.  I always had a love of food that I realized over time became an addiction.  I was able to control it though.  Yeah, I would over eat, or have ice cream for dinner – you get to do that when you are an adult – but I never would sit down and just house everything in sight. Over a few years I had lost 60 pounds but there came a point where it stalled. Then things got worse.

I cannot pinpoint the exact date, but May 2015 is the closest to the beginning I can determine.  At that time, I had been to 4 funerals in 5 months and every loss led to me to “sweep it under the rug”.  I would tell myself I would see these people later, that they were still around, nothing happened.  I know, ridiculous thoughts.  But it was May 1, 2015 that the hardest loss hit.  My dad’s best friend, TP.  He was 54.  He was younger than my dad and so much like him.  I believe it put mortality into a huge perspective at that point as I couldn’t get past the thought that one day I would lose my father.  I didn’t deal with TP’s death.  Sure, I cried like crazy, but after a couple days, I had to bury it and move on thinking that there is no reason to deal with it since the outcome would not change.  (I promise, I will get to the eating disorder part soon).

I began to eat.  A lot.  Weight was creeping back on.  I thought the stress of life was getting to me.  Who cares if I went out and got a big meal, I could always start over tomorrow.  Then came June.  Another loss.  Then came September, another loss. He was a schoolmate, turned co-worker, turned friend who died tragically in OCMD over Labor Day weekend at just 37 years old.  That was it.  I was done.  I ate and ate and ate.

Around October I started to see articles and information through social media about binge eating and how it was beginning to be recognized as an eating disorder.  I mentioned it to a couple friends, and well – the binging stopped!  It was like telling people out loud made it “real”.  Plus I was training for a marathon in November and had to get my act together real quick.

The marathon came and went.  I found myself binging up to 5 nights a week.  And when I say binging - I mean binging. Approximately 2500 calories in one sitting (nearly 1000 calories over what should be my daily intake!).  I’d be beyond sick to my stomach but had to finish.  As I look back now, I guess the food numbed me.  It took pain away for a fleeting moment.  I wasn’t just hurting from these 6 losses in less than a year, but realized I still have yet to heal from my divorce.  It hurt watching life go by for everyone else when I felt stuck standing still not knowing where I was going in life and wondering would I ever be happy again.

In January I cleaned up my act again and cut the binging from 5 nights a week to 2-3 times.  It was an improvement but still not enough.  I had to deal with this.  After talking with a nutritionist and being referred to The Renfrew Center, a facility that helps women with eating disorders, I went for my assessment.

I left the assessment being told I should go to their Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOP) for 6 weeks, every Monday 4-8:30, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5:30-830.  The first 2 weeks were very overwhelming.  I just thought I binged and needed to figure out how to control those urges.  Well the emotions that were being unleashed made for a very stressful and anxious time.  I realized too, that much of what I thought was “normal” was not normal at all.  The rules I created for myself regarding what I could and couldn’t eat, what I omitted completely from eating - was not normal.

At Renfrew I was taught about intuitive eating, how to allow myself a dessert and it NOT be the end of the world.  There were some stressful sessions.  Unannounced challenges in which you had to eat the cookie you were given with dinner.  You may think, “How can a center help someone if they force them to eat a cookie?”  I thought the same thing.  It was about being part of the community.  Showing a sister that restricts, it’s ok to eat the cookie because you did too.  We all had to finish our meals for the same reason.  We all had nutritional goals through the amount of exchanges to have at each meal (2-3 protein, 1 dairy, 2 starch, 2 fat, 1 fruit or veggie, for example).  We also had to realize how to eat a cookie and deal with the emotions that came with it.  If we ate the cookie we could process our feelings with the group so we would know how to deal with it the next time we would be faced with this.  Cookies are a part of life!

Learning how to truly eat meant watching my hunger cues, being mindful of my choices and portions, knowing there is no “good” or “bad” food, and to get rid of the idea of “food police”.  You see, eating is not supposed to be scary and riddled with anxiety.  At times, it still is to me.  Recovery is a long journey.  You never lose the urges to act on certain behaviors; for me - binging, but for some restricting or purging.  I have been fortunate in my journey to have gone since March 29 without a binge.  There may be a day where it happens, but I was given tools to help me process the emotions and thoughts when it does.  I have a great support in the friends and family I have chosen to share this with.  Amanda has been a huge support to me.  She even came to “multi-family group” with me to experience what dinner and a group session were like.  For that I could never thank her enough.  Love you for that and so much more “sole” sister!

I could go on and on here, but I think you get the gist.  I have made great friendships with the other women from group.  Each with their own issues and different set of circumstances, but the bottom line – we all face the same issues with our own addictions surrounding how we deal with food. I am grateful for their support. I will always have an eating disorder, but I have finally decided to not let the eating disorder have me.

D is for Doctor

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Guest blogger Kristian Johnson von Rickenbach is BACK! 
Did I mention, she's a doctor?

I’m back for my second installment, ya’ll! Who’s pumped?! Cue emoji girl with her hand raised because it’s me, it’s me, I’m pumped.

Today’s letter is D and D is for Doctor. It sounds super weird to say, but I’m a doctor. I’ve only been one for a month and change now, and I’ve basically been on vacation for the past few months, annndddd I haven’t actually started my residency or had my own official patients yet… So yeah, I’m like the jockey on the horse heading toward the starting gate, but the crowds of people wearing ridiculous hats have yet to arrive. But it’s still a real thing – I promise! I paid lots of money (loans, baby, loans) for those sweet new initials after my name so I’m putting them to use.

Today, I’m gonna drop a little bit of doctor knowledge. Truthfully, I’m sharing easily searchable material á la google and everything I say is just regurgitated info and NOT real doctor advice (aka I accept no liability or responsibility related to what you read or interpret from this post ☺).

Here’s the truth – doctors are simple people who think simple thoughts, so when you go to the doctor for a pain, rash, runny nose, cough, injury, foreign object implanted in a place where it doesn’t belong, or whatever your ailment of the day is, be SIMPLE.
Here’s how to be simple – mnemonics. Medicine LOVES mnemonics like Ice loves Coco. I’ve
literally learned (or let’s be real, memorized for exams) hundreds of medical mnemonics over my four years of education and none is more ingrained in my mind than OLD CARTS. So if you share the information from this mnemonic with your doctor, you’ll likely be nominated for ‘The Most Perfect Patient’ award. You’re welcome.

Sounds simple right? So let’s begin. OLD CARTS stands for:

Onset – when did it start? Yesterday, one week, one month? What were you doing around when it started? Paint us a picture with your words. Have you ever had this before? Timing is everything people.

Location/Radiation – Location, location, location. Now, this doesn’t apply to every type of illness, obvi, but for those that it does, where is the rash or the pain? Did it start in one spot and move, or did it spread to include other locations? Now take your hand or finger and literally point to the exact spot. If you say you have stomach pain and point to your left ribcage versus your right lower pelvic region I’m thinking very different thoughts.

Duration – How long does the pain or rash or cough or whatever last? Does it come and go or is it constant from day one? When it happens, how long does it last for? I told you, timing is Ev-er-y-thing.

Character – What is it like? Describe it. And can you associate anything else with it? For example: if it’s a cough – does it rattle like a 60 year old smoker cough or is it barky like a dog? Is phlegm coming up with the cough? What color is it (for real people)? Do you also have a headache, fever, and/or a runny nose? Do you have allergies and it’s mid-April and your car outside is covered in tree love- aka pollen? If it’s a rash – is it fiery red, hot, and blistering? Or is it little pink bumps everywhere? Do you have a fever or pain elsewhere in your joints with this rash? If it’s ankle pain – does it feel like someone is stabbing you with a kitchen knife or is it more like a dull achy pain like a little sister constantly poking you in the same spot over and over again? Can you feel your big toe on that same side? Are you able to do normal everyday things like go to work or walk (if that’s normal to you) or is the problem so disruptive that you can’t even enjoy the Netflix binge sesh you’ve been consuming?

Aggravating factors – What makes it worse? What makes that pain go from a slight annoyance to an unbearable rage? Does your wrist pain dramatically increase whenever you bend your wrist back to an unnatural degree (if so, just STOP DOING THAT) or is it simply when applying pressure? Does that headache get worse when you eat food, drink coffee, or wake up after a night of one too many tequila shots?

Relieving factors – What (if anything) makes it better, or at least not be as bad? Have you tried some old fashioned home remedies (I’m talking ice, meds, rest, fluids, honey, prayer, etc) before you made this decision to tap into that sweet healthcare insurance you’ve been paying for? (Side note: Yes – healthcare is ludicrously expensive, but I promise you – it’s totally worth it. Take a peek at what your insurance company is charged and then breathe deeply into a paper bag because it’s insane).  Point is, if you tried anything, even if it didn’t work, tell us!

Timing – Didn’t I tell you timing is everything? So timing is timing, when does it hurt? Are your headaches only in the morning? Does your knee pain always happen the day after you run? Does your cough only happen when you’re trying to cuddle up with your boo in bed? Does your chest burn only after consuming an appropriately proportioned burrito from Chipotle with extra hot sauce? Can you relate anything you do with when your problem occurs at all?

Severity – We’ve made it to the last letter. Tired of all this medical talk? Me too, so let’s wrap this thing up and put a bow on it. Doctors might seem like mythical creatures at times but they cannot feel your pain/discomfort so we need you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 – 10, with one being just a little nugget of pain and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your entire life. I repeat, 10 is THE WORST PAIN YOU’VE EVER FELT OR COULD EVER IMAGINE FEELING IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. So when you casually stroll into the doctor’s office and take a running start to jump up onto that oh so comfortable paper sheet covered table, you probs shouldn’t rate your ankle pain a 10 out of 10, it looks suspicious.

So that’s it folks. Like I said before, this is by no means real doctor advice, it’s really just a script for you to consider following at your next doctor’s appointment. No need to wait for a doctor to ask you these questions, you can jump right in and share this info from the start! Then before you know it you’ll be walking out of the office with that cherry lollypop in your mouth knowing you just owned that appointment.
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