The Best Thing About the Last Day of Summer…

….is that you get to look forward to the first day coming again!  In between now and then, we get to enjoy the blessings of many holidays that bring so much love and joy.  

No matter what your age or what you do for a living, there is nothing like the first day of school. You’ve experienced it, and whether you’ve enjoyed it or not, there is nothing like it.  IT’S THE FIRST DAY! Now you get to watch your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbors, or family friends experience it.  Personally speaking, I think it’s the best!

The first day of school brings with it such a mix of emotions.  For children and adults alike, it can usher in excitement, apprehension, anxiety, and fear of the unknown.  Some wait all summer for the first day of school, while others hide under their covers begging for the summer to never end.

Either way, the start of the new school year brings a host of heart-warming holidays I look forward to celebrating with family and friends: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year.  Before you know it, the snow has arrived and we’re honoring those we love on Valentine’s Day, coloring our beer green on St. Patrick’s Day, and waiting patiently for the crocuses to peek their heads out of the ground to prove to us spring is on its way.

Before we know it, spring has sprung, and we’re making plans for the Memorial Day weekend.  See how quickly the year goes? It’s like twenty minutes. In all seriousness, we all know how important it is to savor each moment;  to live each day to its fullest and to be as present as we can in each situation.  It’s a practice and shifting your mindset to one that is more lighthearted and fun can really alter your world and change the way you look at things; even the end of summer.

back to school

For those of you that are dreading the start of the school year, think about all the great things that happen in your world as a result of the new flow.  For those of you who are welcoming it, run straight toward it embracing it for all it has to offer.  Either way, it’s temporary. Summer will come around again, we just need to be patient, bless it as it goes, and bless the new school year as it arrives. The things we don’t welcome into our lives happen to teach us how to look at things in a whole new light.

I hope you’re looking at the end of summer with a warm, sparkly glow, and see the new fall season with peace in your heart. Love <3

A Handful of Quiet

 

I bought this lovely book a few years ago when I began teaching fifth grade.  It was my intention to kick the year off with it, but it never happened.  Being new to the elementary school environment, I was barely able to keep my head above water.  As a matter of fact, my head was never above water.  My lips were really, really close to the top. I could see the light, and was begging for air like a gold fish swimming around in murky water needing the water is his bowl changed.

The water in my bowl needed to be changed big time.  Never have I ever had to work so hard to implement every single bit of energy work I had in my back pocket.  Whew…. I’m glad it’s over! I’m beginning my twentieth year in education (woo-hoo!) and my third year with the fifth graders. I’m still in the water, but now I’m wading through it and enjoying the coolness of the water’s edge.  It’s very refreshing as I twirl my arms and allow my fingertips to skim the ripples that surround me.

The anxiety and stress levels of the kids in my classroom are just some of the ripples that desperately need to be managed all throughout the day. This year, the kids are getting Mindfulness notebooks to decorate and make their own.  I know they’re going to have a good time with the drawing exercises this book offers and they’ll absolutely LOVE going outside to hunt for four pebbles to represent a flower for freshness and beauty, a mountain for feeling solid, water for reflecting and stillness, and space for the feeling of freedom. I can’ wait to get started!

Resources for Family Practice: Related books

Mindfulness Retreat Communities for families: I’ve never visited any of the locations below, but if you’re curious…

Blue Cliff Monastery

Friends have visited Blue Cliff Monastery and very much enjoyed the experience.  I hope to head there this fall.

Deer Park Monastery

Magnolia Grove Monastery

Plum Village

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Eclipse Ritual…Let Go of What No Longer Serves You

The transits we’ve been experiencing these past few weeks are great for burning rituals that help to let go of what isn’t serving you any longer.  This eclipse, according to Tosha Silver, is the ending of a major life cycle and the beginning of something much greater.

It’s taken me awhile but this morning, I just got to sit with my thoughts and things to burn while sitting under the butterfly tree in my yard. The first thing I noticed was how much more I need to be sitting outside among the butterflies and bumble bees. They brought such good energy to me, I didn’t want to leave. I’m spending much too much time in the house.

Three things to release immediately came to mind: Stomach/digestive issues, other people’s opinions of me, and any fear that is holding me back from being the best version of myself.

I wrote all three down, crumbled the paper into a ball, and moved to the patio where I sat my butt in front of the chiminea with the paper wad and lighter on my lap. After I meditated for a bit, I burned the hell out of that paper and while doing so I noticed an interesting metaphor.

Crumbled paper does not burn as easily as if the paper were flat. It took many, many tries with the lighter from all different angles to get the paper to catch. Once caught, the wadded mass opened only slightly, bit by bit with each continued spark of the lighter. Like an onion, the ball burned layer by layer indicating to me these issues are deeply imprinted. Watching this process allowed me to give myself permission to let go, be easy with myself, and be present with everything right where it is. Letting go is a practice, as is being easy with myself.  I love a metaphor.

Watch the Energy of Others…It’s Not Yours

A few years back I was having a tooth pulled for the first time; a wisdom tooth to be exact. I had no qualms about it. I knew it would be easy. I saw myself in and out and in good health afterward. I had meditated on it and felt really strong.

When my neighbor found out what I was getting ready to do, she laughed at me for taking it in stride and even called to her husband, “Hey, Jenn’s going to get a tooth pulled and she thinks she’s going to be ok!” They both laughed.

With this, I was a bit confused, but on her suggestion, I asked my daughter to come with me so she could drive me home afterward. Afterall, my neighbor told me I would be in no shape to do so myself.

My dentist, whom I’ve been going to since I was 9, allowed my daughter to watch the whole procedure since she was going into the healthcare profession. It was a great experience for all. He walked me through every step, joked as usual, and ten minutes later with no swelling I popped out of the chair and headed for home without any discomfort whatsoever.

I didn’t need my daughter to drive me home, although I let her; and she got a free lesson in a surgical procedure that would have cost a fortune in dental school.

I’ve gotten a whole lot better at not allowing other people’s experiences and energies not affect my world, but they certainly do come fast and furious at us if we’re not paying attention.

21 Days of Gratitude… Completed

So, I’ll begin by saying my dates are off.  When I began my gratitude journey for 2017, it was Wednesday, the 4th of January, not the 5th like previously posted.  I’ll get the dates back on track with this post.

Day 12 – Sunday 1/15…Taking Risks/Trusting

  • Apprehensively, I signed up for yoga teacher training for the next six months. Everything in my logical mind screamed, “Are you crazy?!”, while my intuitive mind told me to trust and move forward.  Being only three days in to the training, so many ideas and opportunities have already opened up to me.  Who I am to get in the way of a higher sense of being?

Day 13 – Monday 1/16…Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • I spent today quietly watching the speeches of Dr. King on YouTube. I found myself  filled with such gratitude for all of his efforts in the name of peace.  I kept wondering, Who is the MLK of our time? Who do you think it would be?

Day 14 – Tuesday 1/17…Discipline

  • I don’t want to double dip and list my yoga practice a second time as one of the many things I’m grateful for. So instead, I’ll acknowledge the discipline it took for me to get to the 6:00 pm yoga class after work today; knowing all I had to do to prepare for school tomorrow. Yoga is always worth it and discipline is a good thing.

Day 15 – Wednesday 1/18…New Teachers

  • Today in Room 37, our class was introduced to a new student teacher who will be with us until May. We couldn’t be more excited!  She is passionate about the field of education and I’m looking forward to all I’ll be learning from her; even though her placement in Room 37 is to learn from us.

Day 16 – Thursday 1/19…Acupuncture

  • My friend Terri is a phenomenal acupuncturist. I have a standing appointment with her every Thursday evening, and on special occasions, I get to watch my great-nephew for my niece afterwards, so she too, can reap the same awesome benefits. The release, relaxation and balance these treatments provide allow me to get through my week more clearly and calmly.

Day 17 – Friday 1/20… Flexible, Healthy Students

  • Today we started the school day with half the class absent. Before the day was out, we lost five more to fevers and strep throat.  There was no way I was going to teach my planned lessons only to have to teach them again on Monday. So, with best laid plans put aside, the students pulled together and sterilized the classroom, inside and out, with Lysol wipes.  They had a ball!

Day 18 – Saturday 1/21…Cough Drops

  • My need for cough drops in the middle of the night proved that I had not escaped the sickness spreading throughout our classroom. The uncontrollable cough woke me from a sound sleep and nothing, but the natural soothing relief of the drops, allowed me a few more hours of sleep.

Day 19 – Sunday 1/22…Hot Water

  • I woke this morning with every muscle in my body aching. I have no doubt now that the bug of Room 37 has made its way inside of me. With every fiber of my being, I threw off the covers, shuffled to the bathroom, and drew a hot bath.  I could think of nothing better to sooth the aching muscles of my body. It was no easy task to ease myself down into the tub, but the glory of the hot water made all the difference.

Day 20 – Monday 1/23…Steve

  • Husbands come no better than Steve. I’m sorry, I have to just put it out there.  He is there for me always, unconditionally and usually with a little smirk on his face giggling at me for something. When women start hating on their spouses, I just can’t go there. He does nothing selfishly and considers the kids and me in every single decision he makes.  I love him and I am very grateful for him today and forever.

Day 21 – Tuesday 1/24…Brady and Drew

  • My babies! Who are no longer babies… They’re funky young adults who are doing their best at finding their way in the world.  The two are the best of friends and I enjoy their company immensely.  The notion that our children select us and come into our lives to teach us lessons is such a romantic belief.  My kids continue to teach me lessons every day without having any idea they are doing so.  I’m still learning lessons from memories that pop up from their childhood.  Parenting is one wild and crazy ride that has me most grateful for their selection of me.

The 21 Day Gratitude Challenge was a joy to participate in.  I don’t want to wait until 2018 to do it again. We should start a movement to roll right into another 21 days, and just keep it going over and over and over.

Wouldn’t it be a lovely idea for everyone who posts on social media, to first post what they are grateful for before posting anything else?  There’s an idea.

21 Days of Gratitude Continued…

Admittedly, posting daily will be the biggest challenge of my 21 Days of Gratitude.  Making daily notes and transferring them to a weekly post seems to work best for me. How is your list coming along?

Day 6– Monday 1/9…Fresh New Lipstick

Nothing gives me a rush straight back to the comforts of my childhood than cranking up a fresh new L’Oreal lipstick. The creamy smell of…lipstick. I have no other words to describe it.  I’m hypnotized by the perfect stamp of its very name embossed at the base of the stick. I can feel mom’s kisses so gentle on my cheek as I get ready to run out the door for school.  I LOVE it!

Day 7 – Tuesday 1/10…Supportive Bosses

I am blessed to work for and with a supportive administrative team, whose ideals for the education of children are realistic, proactive, and progressive. This is rare when speaking with others in the field of education.  If I didn’t work with these people, there is no way I couldn’t remain in education.

Day 8 – Wednesday 1/11…A Bath

What else really needs to be said?

Day 9 – Thursday 1/12…My Siblings

Today is my sister’s birthday and that reminds me of all the fun and the fights we had growing up. I’m blessed to be the baby of two older sisters and an older brother.  I love and honor them with all my heart.  I treasure the lessons they have taught me over the years, and look forward to growing old with them by my side.  We continue to get closer with age.

Day 10 – Friday 1/14…Technology

Today I had a very special surprise video chat from my son and his Navy buddy from Japan. He was feeling bad about not being able to visit with my class during his trip home over the holidays.  The kids were so excited to meet them both, and they had a blast asking questions and hearing stories about me as a mom.

Day 11 – Saturday 1/15…Ice Cream

It has become a steady practice for me to have a very small dish of chocolate ice cream at night just before the clock strikes 8:00.  It’s recommended not to eat after 8:00 p.m., so I do my best not to.  I drizzle my two small scoops with a bit of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and rainbow sprinkles.  It’s small. It’s simple. It’s delicious.

21 Days of Gratitude

At night while falling asleep, I do my 4-7-8 breath and lead myself into a moment of gratitude.  I choose three things from the day I am grateful for, and then I easily turn those three into ten!

This year, I have been given the challenge to keep a gratitude journal for 21 days.  This is no challenge for me.  In order for me to make it a challenge, I chose to post it every day to share with you all.

To prove just what a challenge posting regularly is for me, here are the first five days of my challenge to share with you today: (see?)

  • Day 1 – Wednesday, 1/5/17…Yoga Practice
    • Today I stuck to my original plan of attending one of my favorite yoga classes after school, even though it meant I had to leave shortly after the kids were dismissed and didn’t straighten up the way I would have liked to. Class was fabulous and the practice outweighed tiding up my classroom.  I can do that tomorrow when I arrive at school
  • Day 2- Thursday, 1/6/17…Happy Knees
    • Grateful that I have been paying attention to the needs of my knees, which have been more than cranky lately. (This is new.) The daily healing energy and visualization I am working on is paying off.
  • Day 3- Friday, 1/7/17…Doctors, Nurses, Practitioners, Technicians, Scientists
    • I am grateful for those who have chosen medicine as their life’s work. They heal my wounds and their wondrous, creative minds have the capacity to devise medicines and provide the cures we need in the world.
  • Day 4- Saturday, 1/7/17…Strength
    • I am grateful my body is strong enough to help stack the firewood Steve chopped today. We worked in the cold, snowy morning for over an hour and it felt great. Sure beats sitting on the couch. I remember when I couldn’t walk into the doctor’s office without the help of a wheelchair.
  • Day 5- Sunday, 1/8/17…Sunshine
    • I am grateful for the warmth it provides and the growth opportunities it offers our environment. I am grateful for its simple beauty.

How do you practice gratitude?  Do you keep a journal or a daily ritual of thanks?  Have you begun to keep one for this year? Even thinking of one thing you are grateful for as you move throughout the day is enough to shift your mood into a happier space.  Love to all on this sunny Sunday (in Jersey anyway).

Celebrations

happy_birthday

Holiday lit pines replace the wilted corn stalks and brown-topped mums that once decorated our front porch. I relish the subtle move into the Christmas season that I celebrate with family and friends while hanging on to every note of Christmas music that now plays.

Thanksgiving has come and gone and leaves me with warm and wonderful lasting memories of the day and years gone by. We’re fortunate to host the mother of all holidays, and I treasure every moment of time spent making the day all it should be for our family and friends. Preparation for Thanksgiving Day created many last minute trips to the store (and I thought I had done so well on my first trip), which presented lots of opportunities to run into old friends doing their last-minute pickups as well. They ask how I’m doing and we both know the underlying concern. Am I well? Am I still well? Have there been any changes?

I find it overwhelmingly heartwarming to know so many still care and are concerned when sometimes I briefly forget it was even a chapter in my book. Here I am running around picking up last minute items after countless trips have already been made, when not so long ago, going to store wasn’t even an act I could entertain. Remember how excited I was to just walk to the end of the driveway? I smile wide and tell my friends confidently, “Yes, I’m great!” And I want to add to that, “And please don’t worry about me because I will always be great. I am fine.”

The week of Thanksgiving also brings my birthday celebration which is, and always has been, an exciting day for me; even before the more dramatic significance, it now holds. It saddens me when I hear people say, “I’m not celebrating this year.” Or “I’ve stopped celebrating.” Really? You’ve chosen to not celebrate the last year you’ve been gifted? Nothing in the last 365 days held any significance for you? You can find nothing to be grateful for during that time? And you’re not looking forward to the new year that has presented itself to you? Oh, please change your mind. Please put new thoughts into the air to be whipped up, heard, and sent back to you with love and kindness. You deserve the love. I know many may be kidding when they say it, but why even put it out there for the negative response? Somewhere deep inside it’s a thought, and thoughts become things. We need to choose the good ones.

Excitedly, I celebrated another year, a 48th one to be exact and they just keep getting better. My true inner celebration, however, is the 8th year mark of wellness, which is December 17th. I will celebrate next month; a new birthday if you will. As I’ve shared before and many already know, the medical field notes all survival dates from the date of diagnosis. So medically speaking, I’m 8 ½ years cancer free already, and on my day of diagnosis, I was on information overload listening to many things from my doctor and nowhere in our dialogue did he utter, “You’re cancer free!”

Reasonably, I choose to celebrate the day I did hear those words from him when he shook me awake by grabbing my big toe at the foot of my bed saying, “Hey! Wake up, you’re cancer-free.” I love him. Steve and I both do. He’s like a celebrity to us and we always say he’d be a great fit in our circle of friends. He’s the kind of guy who is real, honest, and genuine, a guy you can sit down with and enjoy a nice cold beer with, tell stories and laugh. Did I mention he’s Irish??? BONUS!

As you move through your holiday season, honoring your celebrations with friends and family, I wish for you peace, love, perfect health, inner calm in its simplest of forms, and the ability to see the silver lining in all that life places before you. You owe yourself that much. Peace. xo

Don’t Judge Me, I’m Working On It

define

Since I began the Shift for Wellness journey back in 2013, I always felt a little awkward about defining myself; particularly as a “survivor”.   Social media profiles are always asking you to define who you are.  What am I supposed to write?  There’s not enough room to list all the hats I wear, and who would care about them anyway.   I’m then left wondering if I’m listing the right ones to attract my intended audience. I find that there’s too much pressure surrounding something that is meant to help and to heal.

I’m not quite sure why I don’t feel comfortable with the term “survivor” for myself and I certainly mean no disrespect to anyone who has adopted it for themselves.  I don’t even think twice about it when I hear someone else use the term. At the time when I wasn’t well, I was certainly in survival mode, but what about those who did their damnedest to survive their journey? Those who struggled, won, and struggled some more only to lose?  Weren’t they surviving each day they made it through?

During treatments, you’re surviving and sometimes barely.  I remember having my doctor guiding me through breaths every time I came out of anesthesia. She coached me to breath deeper and deeper in order to come out, but it was quite nice to remain where I was. I wanted to stay there.  It was so peaceful there in my little land of grog, I was more than comfortable, but I chose to listen and gave it my very best and deepest belly breaths to bring myself back in the room.

Randy Pouch hadn’t left this life yet when I wasn’t well.  The Carnegie Mellon professor and I share our diagnosis date: August of 2007. Pouch began giving is Last Lecture one month later.  His journey was all over the TV and I couldn’t get enough of it.  Knowing full well he was not long for this life, he had something I needed.  He had lessons to share from a perspective that no one else could offer.  Many would have been afraid to reach for the book but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and devour every page.

I wanted to buy this book for everyone I knew but it occurred to me that people managing challenging times may not perceive the book as helpful.  During our “Live Your Best Life” book chat at work, I excitedly recommended The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as one of our monthly reads.  It was so incredibly inspirational to me during when I wasn’t well that I thought it would be the same for everyone else who read it.   After 20 days in a coma, Bauby, the editor-in-chief of  Elle magazine, awoke into a body which was paralyzed with the exception of this left eye.  It was his nurse who discovered he was able to communicate through blinking it and she worked out an alphabet of sorts and together they wrote his memoir.

The book is small and can be easily read in a night; and yet I was surprised to see how many members of the chat didn’t read the book because it struck a chord too close to home or was too depressing for them. It was then I learned that it’s all about where you are in your life and how everyone handles life’s challenges differently. Their feelings should not be judged, only respected.

I find it fascinating how each of us is affected differently by books, movies, conversations, songs, etc. What’s important is to respect and to be sensitive to understand that what works for one may upset another.  This very realization prevented me from creating Shift for Wellness many years prior to 2013.  I allowed one person’s negative comment about sharing my story hold me back from sharing and helping others.  I’m so sorry I allowed that to happen, and it was my One Powerful Word: FEARLESS, that kick me in the butt and helped me to move forward with the idea.

During the Shift for Wellness workshops, I introduce myself as someone who has experienced cancer, rather than referring to myself as a “survivor”. It feels better to me since the journey is a chapter in my life that allows me to help others, but does not define who I am. I am so much more than a person who has had cancer. Thankfully, I am that much more because of the journey. I was trying to hard find a way to say it in one word when creating an online profile and I’m still not certain where it will all lead me.  It’s a work in progress.

Those who have experienced cancer do walk the path alone regardless of who surrounds them.  They need inspiration, understanding, comfort, desire, hope, humor, drive, motivation, truth and above all else gratitude.  The universe will not reward you with what you want if you do not already appreciate what you have.   I will always have my journey with cancer.  I will always be grateful for it. I will always honor it, but I will not be defined by it.   I still find myself in search of how to refer to this time in my life without feeling awkward. I should just ask the universe and wait for my answer.  I’ll let you know when I get it.

Unwaivering Faith

Faith

Without a doubt, faith is hard for many to grab hold of and trust in. As I began to get well and “Come back to life” as I call it, I was coming from a place of confinement for a long period of time and was not able to take care of myself.  I was fully dependent upon my family and friends for every basic need. Eating, sleeping, bathing, taking medication, transportation, head rubs, at times even dressing. You name it, I needed it. I could do nothing without help, with the exception of turning the channel on the remote. I felt great success in that accomplishment even though it often brought me endless episodes of Meerkat Manor during ungodly hours of the night.

During the time of my treatment, I was not able to work. I could barely make it to the bathroom in time and resorted to wearing diapers. I was pushed in a wheelchair to get in and out of my daily radiation treatments since chemo and radiation took just about every bit of life from me. I wore the same navy blue, elastic jersey knit pant set to treatment each day because making the decision of what to wear was too overwhelming for me and the elastic made getting in and out of treatments easier. Each day I would roll myself onto the radiation table, pull my pants down to my knees, remain still for a few beeps of radiation, and I was on my way.

There wasn’t a person around who was not nice and kind and loving, and full of good intention. My mother created a sanitized sanctuary where no one could enter our home without good reason, and if you did, you left your shoes at the door, lathered up with hand sanitizer, and were told not to stay too long. Typically though, if you were not a member of the family you didn’t make it past Mom.  She took whatever you had to offer and sent you on your way. No potential germs were making their way to her youngest cub and she saw to that.

Each day the mail filled our mailbox with cards and well wishes, flowers and fresh fruit deliveries, and gifts galore.  I was truly overcome with the outpouring of love that came from all areas of my life.  I could never have imagined such caring and compassion could come my way. I never thought I mattered so much to so many. It was quite an awakening.  Even now as I write this, I am in awe of it all and so very, very grateful to have been lifted up and held so tightly by so many wonderful people.

Steve was with me every moment he was not working. From the time I was diagnosed, he never missed a doctor’s appointment. I’m not sure when he rested. The poor guy walked through each day like a zombie, his eyes swollen with the desperate need of sleep.  Ask anyone who saw him day in and day out.  He was my rock. Because he rarely left my side I went through some major separation anxiety as I began to heal and was left alone in the house more and more. Getting well proved to be a lot tougher than I thought.

When treatments were over and I prepared for surgery, I watched my body bounce right back to life just as quickly as it atrophied. The body is such an amazing machine.  It can be brought right to the edge of lifelessness, giving you just enough to hang on, and then pop right back to where you were before your diagnosis. The only difference is, you’re never truly right back to where you were before your diagnosis. There’s a change, a shift. I suppose if you were the same person coming out, you wouldn’t have learned the lesson that was meant for you. Wrapped up in all you’re experiencing, the universe is sending you a message. Pay attention.

I always knew I was supported, loved, taken care of and being led to a better place. My faith never wavered through all of this.

Fast-forward almost seven and a half years and my faith is being questioned yet again as my son makes the decision to be among many of our nation’s bravest and join the Navy. How could I possibly question his path and allow myself to worry? I’m not a worrier, that’s Steve’s job. He worries enough for the entire family- my side and his. Worrying is not part of my make-up. When the faith is strong, worrying is not part of the equation. How can I come from a place of heavily relying on my faith through one of the toughest time I’ve experienced, and then waiver when it involves my children?

Joining the military is just one more notch on the parental belt of concerns. It comes not long after first bus rides, girlfriends, questionable friends, driver’s licenses, turning 18, smoking, tattoos, and alcohol. I’ve had more than enough practice in relying on faith when faith was all I had to go on.

My best advice to you when questioning where you are, is to just Trust and Know. I leave you with the refrain of an old Gospel song written by Charles A. Tindley. I had the pleasure of singing these words last night a Kirtan in town sponsored by our local yoga studio. I hope you feel the lyrics as deeply as I did and enjoy the tears that roll down your cheeks.

Leave it there, leave it there,
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there;
If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out—
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.