Valentine’s Day Fun With Open When Cards

V DAY OPEN WHEN CARDS FOR KIDS

Like many women my age,  I love Pinterest and all of its glory. This past fall as I was looking for Advent decorations, I came across this really great idea to use for Valentine’s Day. If you don’t know Pinterest very well, then that statement may sound a little strange. But if you do know Pinterest, you understand that  as I was looking for Advent decorations I then started looking at Christmas card layouts which led me to look at poses for family photos and I ended up with Open When cards. Simple, right?

Because I had never heard of the concept of Open When cards, I actually clicked on the website that featured the pins and I learned a lot about this unique and relatively inexpensive gift. Open When cards are a stack of greeting cards that you give to someone in anticipation of the highs and lows of everyday life.

This is a great idea for a gift that keeps on giving and reminds the people you love that they are on your mind. Here’s how you do it:

  1. You are going to select anywhere from 10-20 cards per person you are planning to present the cards to. This year, I am giving all three of my kids a set for Valentine’s Day. I plan to also give each of my parents and my aunt a set for their birthdays this year. When we went to a Christmas party at a friend’s house in December, I took a set for her as a hostess gift with enough cards to last her until January 1, 2017. As you can see, anyone can enjoy this gift.
  2. When you’re shopping for cards, you need to think about the upcoming holidays that may be on the shelves already. Since we’re in February, the obvious Valentine’s Day cards are included, but St. Patrick’s Day, the Spring Equinox, and Easter may also have fun cards for you to peruse.
  3. Next you need to think about very human experiences that we all have. At some point, everyone feels sad, everyone feels nervous, everyone misses a loved one who has passed away. Think about getting a congratulations card, a sympathy card, a good luck card, and a blank card for you to write your own message.
  4. Most importantly, get a birthday card! You know your recipient will have a birthday in the coming months and a birthday just isn’t a birthday without a card.

After you leave the card store, come home and sort them as soon as possible. I bought all of my cards in December and by mid January when I was working on this project, I kind of forget who I had in mind for each card. The kids were easy, because for the most part, their cards are the same with the exception of a few. Here how the round of cards for Valentine’s Day looked. before I signed and addressed them.

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Here you see four sets of cards that I am giving for Valentine’s Day. Three for my kids and one for an adult. Now, I need to tell you that since I started this project, I have become a bit of a card freak. After buying the original set of cards from my local Dollar Tree, I found some more on-line from this website.

The most time consuming part of this project is the next part. Here’s where you sign the cards and write whatever sentiments you want to express. Then,  address each envelope for  the circumstance it covers.

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You can see that I’ve started addressing the cards for one of the kids. The lime green envelope relates to a school event where each of them will have to give a presentation. If this year is anything like the past two years, they will put a lot of hard work into it and absolutely rock the event. That particular card is a a congratulations card.

This project is great for its versatility as well. After I received a “what can I get a new girl that I’m kind of dating” text message from an old friend of mine, I gave him this idea. Because the woman lives in a different city he bought an extra large card to send the smaller cards in. In his words, she was not only touched but be gained major romance points with her friends!

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Have you ever given Open When cards? What are you giving those closest to you this year?

 

Dear Former Husband

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This year we have known each other for 20 years. This year we can celebrate (or not), the fact that the same stop on the path of our careers created a forever for us that neither could have ever imagined.

As we approach Valentine’s Day in less than a week, and as I reflect on the place love has had in my life, I can only say two words to you.

Thank you.

 

You never hid who you were and what was important to you in a relationship. Thank you for that.

No, I’m not being sarcastic. I’m not going to say thank you for hurting me because I learned I can emerge from any relationship adversity as a stronger woman. I am going to say thank you, because I learned a lot from you.

In our 20 years of knowing each other, you have given me a lot. Some things I enjoyed, some I could not stand. Some things made me laugh and some things made me post really aloof, yet catty things on social media about you. And while I may not have carried myself with the best amount of decorum in recent years, I still owe you a lot.

  1. Thank you for showing me the back roads. When we were married, I remember complaining because you did not like to drive on highways. As I was used to rushing from place to place and felt that the side streets would not get me anywhere on time, you simply said, “Sometimes the highways are shut down and you have to get to your destination in a different way than you planned.” One time, you even went on to tell me, “Is it the end that matters Toni, or is it the journey?” Of course, at the time I thought is was the end, but when I look back on the purpose of life I have come to realize everything we learn, everything we appreciate, and everything that makes us grow, happens in the journey, which is sometime different from what we thought it would be.
  2. Thank you for teaching me how to to investigate. If there’s anything that my girlfriends and I love, it’s the fact that I can investigate anything. You and I learned how to Google together. We used all of the knowledge you learned in police academy about background checks. You taught me how to access public records rather quickly. Honestly sir, I became the go-to person when my friends needed to create their own version of the TV show, Cheaters. I know it’s probably not the best attribute of my personality to be known for, however that thirst for investigation allowed me to teach our children how to question, how to fact-check, and how to pause before believing something that is too good to be true.
  3. Thank you for being patriotic. Some friends and I were talking one day about the people who have such an innate love for this country that all they are is about service to it. From your involvement with the military to your career in law enforcement, you love the United States of America. You believe in the inalienable rights, and need to protect others based on those rights. Thank you for teaching the kids and me that even though America is not perfect, it is ours.
  4. Thank you for your love of music. For the years we were together, you would often come home from work and zone out by listening to music. That frustrated me often because we had three kids under the age of 3 and the chaos was loud and messy. Not too long after we separated, though, I found myself cultivating my own iTunes account with pride and joy because I learned that I needed to appreciate every opportunity that I had to be still and listen. Music gives me the opportunity to bask in reflection, peace, and vulnerability like I never have before.
  5. Thank you for living your calling. When I was 16, I knew I wanted to become a writer. After  I graduated from college, I followed a path that led to me doing a lot of different things related to my career. It took me until August of 2015 to meet my calling and accept it’s presence in my life. You knew you wanted to be a police officer when you were a little boy. You can now celebrate a career just shy of 25 years in law enforcement. Where the kids have seen my creative struggles and triumphs in jobs I’ve had that weren’t a part of my calling, they have seen your dedication to the police shield like  none other.
  6. Thank you for trusting me. As we embarked on the process of ending our marriage, we never had an argument about the custody of our children. I can remember you saying, “It only makes sense for you take the kids, you know more about schools and homework and college preparation than I ever could.” Many marriages end up in vicious court battles because of egos and the desire to win. I am convinced that ours was as good as it could have been because you trusted me to make the best day to day decisions as it relates to the kids. I want you to know that I don’t take that trust for granted.
  7. Thank you for sharing, not hiding,  your love language. A friend gave us Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages as a gift. To be perfectly honest, when I first read the book, I identified your love language, and decided that I hated it.  While it sounds harsh, I am grateful for the opportunity to know and study your love language first hand — even if I didn’t like what it revealed. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, this whole dating thing over 40 is tricky, and often clothed with a lot of smoke and glass. In the seven years we’ve been a part, one of the hardest things I’ve dealt with is trying to figure out the truth and what lies at the core of someone I am dating. You never hid who you were and what was important to you in a relationship. Thank you for that.

When I sat down to write this letter, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say. The only lingering thought I had was to be honest. As with many who reflect on a previous marriage, feelings of anger and resentment crept and I just didn’t know how to combat that. While we’ve never had a contentious relationship, I think it’s safe to say we would not actively seek out the opportunity to spend time together.

As we travel through life and visit places we never thought we’d go, it’s fair to accept and understand that we don’t have to be in love with an experience to learn and grow from it. That lesson is probably the best lesson I could gain from the last 20 years. Thank you for who you are and thank you for just being you.

And as you and I both know, we came together in the name of total greatness three times, and those gifts are called CJ, Tyra, and Jada. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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It’s Not About Cam’s Leggings, It’s About Greek Yogurt

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I am super excited to partner with Chobani yogurt for a special blog post in celebration of the Super Bowl and good  food for the big game. To be honest with you, I was feeling a bit meh about the game…after all, none of my teams were playing. I’m happy for both the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, I just happen to really like the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys and have a little bit of love for the New Orleans Saints.

Unless, we’re talking about Cam Newton’s fashion for the week. Because then, I’m all about Carolina, because he can dress and dab with the best of ’em. And to be perfectly honest, anyone who dresses that sharp deserves to be cocky on or off the field. I’m just saying.

But there is one thing I want to share about the big game this weekend. And it’s not about Cam.

It’s about greek yogurt. Chobani greek yogurt to be exact.

DSC_0017The health benefits of greek yogurt are amazing. According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the thicker texture in greek yogurt has fewer carbohydrates and sugars with more protein than regular yogurt. Other benefits include:  vitamin B12, potassium, calcium, iodine, and probiotics. All of those things combined can result in a slimmer waistline, muscle and cell recovery, and limiting your body’s fat production.

I don’t know about you, but my body seems to be an expert at producing fat cells, so every little bit helps!

My friend Christie is married to a high school football coach and the momma to two teen athletes. They devour Chobani daily. “My people eat about a dozen individual cups of Chobani per week! I feel that it’s a great option for breakfast (with a piece of fruit) or snack since most cups have approximately 14g of protein.”

From breakfast to lunch to gametime and beyond, Chobani yogurt needs to be a part of your Super Bowl plans this year.  Here are some recipes we are enjoying all day on any given Sunday!

BREAKFAST MADE WITH CHOBANI

Yogurt Parfait

Ingredients: Chobani Yogurt

Frozen fruit (thawed) or Fresh yruit

Light Whipped Cream

Granola

Crushed graham crackers

How to Make it: Blend the yogurt with the whipped cream together. In a bowl or a mug, place enough crushed graham crackers to cover the bottom. Layer the yogurt mixture, the fruit, and the granola to your heart’s desire. (My family likes two layers so they take in all the parfait goodness.)

LUNCH MADE WITH CHOBANI

Roast Beef Sliders

Ingredients:

Hawaiian Style Dinner Rolls

Dijon Mustard

Chobani Yogurt

Roast Beef

Cheddar Jack Cheese Slices

Butter

How to make it: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dijon mustard and the yogurt together. Melt a stick of butter. Slice the entire loaf of dinner rolls so the top is separated from the bottom of the rolls. Coat the interior of the rolls with melted butter and the yogurt mixture. Layer the roast beef and cheese in between both sides  of the bread. Brush the remaining butter over the top of the bread. It will look like one large square sandwich. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool and cut into smaller squares.

DSC_0054Chobani Vegetable Sticks

Ingredients:

Dry Ranch Dressing Mix

Chobani yogurt

Bell Pepper

Celery

Carrots

How to make it: Mix the ranch dressing with the yogurt in a bowl and chill. Slice the vegetables. Serve.

GAMETIME MADE WITH CHOBANI

Chobani Taco Scoops

Ingredients:

Tortilla chips (scoops work best)

Ground beef

Shredded cheddar cheese

Cilantro

Taco Seasoning

Chobani Yogurt

Salsa

How to make it: Mix the taco seasoning and the yogurt. Place in the refrigerator and chill. Cook the ground beef as if you were making tacos. Arrange the scoops on a tray. Place one cilantro leaf in each scoop. One the meat is cooked, drain and add to the yogurt mixture. Place a spoonful of meat in eat scoop. Garnish with salsa and cheese.

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Chobani Nachos

Ingredients: Same as above, except you can use any kind of tortilla chips

How to make it: Follow the same instructions as with the scoops, but you can layer all of the ingredients any way you like instead of carefully placing them. The messier the better!

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DESSERT MADE WITH CHOBANI

Frozen Yogurt Sandwiches

Ingredients:

Graham crackers

Chobani Yogurt

Frozen fruit (thawed)

Light whipped cream

How to make it: Blend the yogurt with the fruit and whipped cream. Line a cookie sheet with the graham crackers.. Spread the yogurt mixture on the graham crackers. Place another layer of graham over the mixture. Freeze uncovered for one hour. Cut the sandwiches into squares and return to the freezer in freezer storage bags.

As you can see, your choices are endless when you cook with Chobani yogurt. For even more recipes, check out the Chobani website here. To access a printable version of this post, click here.

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How to Homeschool While Working Full-Time

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This is the first post in a series of my experience as a homeschool mom. Even though we stopped homeschooling this academic year, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about our journey and how we did it.

For two years, I was one of those moms. The kind of mom that recognizes something absolutely amazing in her child but she knows that the child can’t thrive (or even survive) a traditional school environment.

It was hard.

There were tears.

I felt guilty and questioned myself even though I knew  in my heart this was right.

And ugh….writing lesson plans every Sunday night.

I was a homeschool mom.

For our family, it was a difficult, but necessary decision that turned out to be for the best.

When CJ was two years old, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. One day he was a typical toddler and was playing on the couch and all of a sudden he fell over into a fury of convulsions.

Amidst the screams and cries for help, my ex-husband and I called 9-1-1 and sat through the 2 minutes of horror that was that was his first seizure.

That day changed our lives forever. The following days were filled with more emergency room visits (because often they send you home and tell you to follow up with your pediatrician) and endless internet searches (At the time, I didn’t even know what epilepsy was.).

For the next 3 years, we dealt with the disease. It was  very unpredictable. Anti-seizure medicines don’t work right away and have a lot of side effects, including more seizures. We also had two other  babies to take care of.

Shortly after he turned 5, things changed. He had one seizure at school and that was it. We didn’t see seizures again.

For 8 years.

After two years, he stopped taking the medicine.

We watched carefully, but nothing came back.

When I spoke of epilepsy, I changed my words from, “We are at a really good place right now,” to “No seizures in ____ years!”

At one point,  I even started working for the Epilepsy Foundation as an Education Coordinator so I could help others.

The kids volunteered at epilepsy awareness events. It was one of our causes.

But three weeks after his 13th birthday, the seizures came back.

And this time the rules were different. The seizures were different. The doctors were different. The schools were different. The sisters weren’t babies, but tweenagers who got easily freaked out by all of this. And as if there could have been a better time for all of this to happen, we were dealing with seizures in my post-thyroid cancer life.

Even though he was taking medicine again, he was having an excessive amount of seizures of day. Before I knew it, within two months, he accumulated 20 absences from school. Without knowing exactly how to do it, I knew what had to be done.

He needed to be homeschooled.

So I began looking at the laws and guidelines surrounding homeschooling and I talked to my boss about having some flexibility in my work schedule while working 40 hours a week. And very early in my research process, I discovered that this was doable. Very doable. Despite the fact I was a single mom who worked outside of the home. 

Here’s exactly how I did it:

  1. I talked to CJ about his options with school first. I talked to him about possible accommodations his school could make, we talked about what-if scenarios, and we researched alternatives. At the time, the biggest issue for him was the fact that he had to wear a helmet because he frequently had “drop” seizures where he would fall to the ground with no prior warning.  Wearing the helmet allowed him to have greater mobility at home. He could move freely from room to room without hurting himself if he did have a seizure. At school, though it proved to be a bit more difficult. All of the classrooms are in portable buildings outside. They also use an outdoor classroom that is adjacent to a creek regularly. For him, wearing a helmet everyday dropped his swag-meter down by 100 points. For me, I saw broken bones and a lot of other injuries as a result of the falls. In that initial conversation, we just shared ideas, and weighed the pros and cons. We didn’t decide on anything.
  2. We launched a huge internet research operation so we would know and understand the homeschooling journey we appeared to be approaching. We looked at curriculum programs and state requirements and talked about life after we regained seizure control. We knew that our plan was always for him to go back to school once they subsided. There was never a doubt in my mind that they would subside, I just didn’t know when. Did you know that several colleges and universities have very affordable options for homeschooling children in grades K-12? We found part of our curriculum through the Duke University Tips Program.
  3. As a family, we held several meetings to discuss the impact this would have on everyone, including CJ’s sisters and my ex-husband. We needed everyone to understand why we were doing this.

After all of the talking was done, we were off and running! The decision was made, announced, and it was time to implement our carefully researched plans. These things listed below were key to our survival as a homeschooling family.

  1. We joined a family homeschool support group. Y’all, this one was probably more important for me than it was for him. I had the opportunity to visit and get real advice from other homeschool moms on everything from lesson plans to state guidelines to field trip ideas. To this day, I am still in contact with the women from our homeschool group because they are just so awesome.
  2. I assessed my skills and my ex-husband assessed his skills. Based on what I did at the college I worked at, I could teach goal-setting, study skills, reading, and writing. My ex-husband, a police officer, could teach government, criminal justice, and forensics.
  3. We used our village for other experts. A friend suggested a book that was written by one of his law school professors. In the book, Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League, Paula Penn-Nabrit discussed about how college students helped their family a lot as homeschool facilitators. Because I worked at a college at the time, it was not hard finding education and allied health majors who’d be interested in working with us. I also talked to family friends who agreed to mentor CJ according to their interests. In those two years, CJ learned how to write code for a website, serve as a co-host for a friend’s talk radio show, learn the basics of financial management and the stock market from a banking executive, and led our family in a nutrition revolution and overhauling our poor eating habits.
  4. We quickly realized that learning does not have to occur only during the hours of 9 am and 3 pm. It happens at 9 pm or 3 am or even on weekends and holidays. As a matter of fact, because the school the girls’ attended had a half-day every Wednesday, they were able to join in on some of our homeschooling fun.
  5. I took off from work 3-4 days a month for field trips and academic enrichment activities. We got out of the house as much as possible to explore the world as a classroom.
  6. My ex-husband would spend 1-2 school days a week with him, based on his abnormal work schedule as a police officer. It’s funny how that abnormal work schedule with “weird” days off was such a thorn in my side for so many years and now came in handy as he was able to spend time with CJ during the week.
  7. This one doesn’t seem that big of a deal, but it was. I made sure I took the full hour for lunch every day at work. Some days I was able to go home and have lunch with CJ and his tutor, or if  I didn’t make it home, we had a virtual lunch and visited over Google Hangouts and FaceTime right from my office.
  8. We changed the lingo. All of the college students were called tutors, not babysitters. That was very important to his 13-year-old ego. There were many days that the tutors actually functioned like babysitters. If the seizures were heavy, he would sleep a lot. In turn, I would pick up the academics that evening once I go home from work. On the heavy seizure days, we just needed someone to make sure he didn’t have any additional side effects from the seizure activity. Since they were college students, they were able monitor him closely but still do their own homework as well.
  9. He stayed in touch with his friends from school. With the wonders of video chatting and texting, it was almost as if he didn’t miss a beat socially. As much as his health would allow, he would visit friends and hang out as often as he could.

Once we started and got into the routine of things, I then realized that I needed to create space for all of our homeschooling materials. Since I was not the only adult that helped him with his homeschooling, everything had to be organized.

The other little pickle in our homeschooling plan is that we physically did not have a lot of space at home. So in addition to being organized, I had to do it in a small space. When I tell you I made use of every inch on one of my bookshelves, I am not kidding. So here’s what our homeschool materials/ textbook/ bookshelf looked like:

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Each shelf had specific subject areas, including a section for reference materials and magazines that we used for current events. We even kept school supplies in the bottom drawer with writing utensils, highlighters, markers, etc in the cylinder on the middle shelf.

During the school year, I was a fanatic about keeping that shelf neat and organized. Even on weekends. But in the summer, not so much. And then there’s the walls. I keep them covered with resources related to the topics we were studying. Here’s an example:

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Sometimes I’d place the chart paper on the wall and use it like a blackboard for him to do problems on, or he could write questions he has as he’s progressing in any given lesson.

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I used the sticky-back chart paper. And when were on a  break from school, I just took the sheets down. Even now during the summers, our dining room and living room are covered with the kids’ summer bucket lists, Bible verses they are studying, and chore charts.

Was it easy? Not at all. Was it worth it? Most definitely! Is there anything I would do differently? Stay tuned for the next post in this series!

 

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Three Years Later, Cancer Still Sucks

CANCER

How do doctors do it? I’ve always wondered if there’s a class in medical school that advises them on what to say when they have deliver a questionable or bad diagnosis? How are nurses and other medical professionals able to keep doing their jobs with kindness and grace when they see the chart and they know you’ve just been hit by a blow. A blow that in many cases, you had no ideas was coming your way?

January 2013 was life-changing for me. A routine trip to the chiropractor led to some concerns. Those concerns led to some tests. The inconclusive results of those tests led to more specialized tests. And the specialized test results led me to the office of a surgical oncologist.

All of this occurred in about 10 days. It was a whirlwind. After that initial diagnosis, I then had to undergo therapies  and treatments while waiting for a surgery that would happen six months later.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer between 1998 and 2012.  About 64,000 of those diagnoses were for thyroid cancer, with women outnumbering men in having the disease at overwhelming statistics. The survival rates for thyroid cancer in particular are 97 percent. But the numbers are not that optimistic for other cancers. An NBC News report noted that the 10 most deadliest cancers are 1. Lung and Bronchial Cancer, 2. Colon and Rectal Cancer, 3. Breast Cancer, 4. Pancreatic Cancer, 5. Prostate Cancer, 6. Leukemia, 7. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, 8. Liver Cancer, 9. Ovarian Cancer, and 10. Esophageal Cancer.

One of my college classmates who is now a doctor recently updated his Facebook status to remind us that there is a lot each and every one of us can do to protect the precious lives that we have been given. And this advice y’all, he says is pertinent to anyone older than 35. Anyone. Ouch.

  1. Sitting is the new smoking. We should not be sitting still more than 3 hours a day. We should be going for more walks, choosing to take the stairs, parking in one of the last spaces in the parking lot and walking. All of this is in addition to our daily exercise of zumba, cross fit, or whatever our cardio hearts desire.
  2. Only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary, and most definitely only when prescribed by a doctor.  According to the website for the Mayo Clinic, antibiotics have been proven to impede the natural work of our digestive tracts. If you’ve taken antibiotics, you undoubtedly know that diarrhea is a side effect. This happens because antibacterial medications tend to upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. Only take them when needed.
  3. Physical Exercise is a must. Regularly. Like every day. As much as possible.
  4. We take care of our bodies by what we put in it. Stop eating crap. Period.
  5. Cognitive Training is a plus. As we age, we should exercising our brains. The official term is neuroplasticity or something like that, but here’s the bottom line.  Start up a new game of Words With Friends, keep playing Candy Crush Saga, and host occasional game nights with family and friends. It’s all good!

In other words, as adults our charge is two-fold. Now is the time for us to be doing the things that we should have been doing all along. And as parents, it is critical for our children to learn how to take care of themselves properly. And what’s really interesting is that when I had cancer, I felt much better when I ate the right foods.

I know I am not a medical professional, I am an avid reader. I’m sharing this information from credible sources and my own opinion based on my medical diagnosis. This should not in any way replace the advice of your own doctor.

While I don’t do anything to officially commemorate the month of January as my cancer diagnosis month, (I prefer all commemoration happen in June, the month I was actually deemed cancer free) I do use the month to reflect on how that diagnosis three years ago has changed my life.

  1. I have finally realized that to my parents, I am and will always be their baby. My parents did a fine job of raising me to be a very independent person. I am an only child and even though I am in my 40s, I have found that no matter where I go, or what I do, I am always their baby. And for the record, my kids are a very thin extension of that. All four of us are their babies.
  2. Nutrition and exercise are critical to good health. I know I wrote that above, but it’s amazing when you come to the revelation on your own.
  3. Be a family that talks about things. Talk about family medical history, talk about how you are feeling, talk about it all. Talking about things regularly before a crisis occurs sets the foundation for how you and your family will cope when the going gets rough.
  4. Life after cancer does not return to normal, life after cancer is the new normal. The sooner I could accept that, the better off I was. My cancer-free life consists of bi-monthly doctor visits, medicine every day for the rest of my life and sometime painful side effects of not having a thyroid.
  5. It’s sometimes the smallest things that have the biggest impact in our bodies. I’m still amazed at how a small glad that is shaped like a butterfly has such a profound impact on the body.
  6. Second opinions are okay. They are more than okay, they are necessary. Get as much information as you need and take the amount of time that you need so you can make the decision that best for you.
  7. Every day, do something you absolutely love. A happy heart is a healthy heart. When your mind, body, and spirit are aligned, your chances for illness are lessened greatly. Doing more of what you love equals less stress. Less stress equals lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and no more obscure aches and pains.

And if someone you know and love is diagnosed with cancer, this is what you can do:

  1. Offer to go to doctor’s appointments with them and take notes.
  2. Coordinate a Meal Train for them from diagnosis to recovery.
  3. Say a special prayer for them each morning and each night.
  4. Give them the time they need to process what’s happening to them. Don’t bombard them with questions, and don’t get mad if it takes them some time to open up to you.
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As a patient. I felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

And finally, if you ever have to deliver the news to friends and loved one about your own health diagnosis, these are the lessons I learned from my experience.

  1. Start talking about the affected area.  For example, here’s how a conversation went with a coworker after I was only able to work part-time once I was diagnosed. “Toni I haven’t seen you in a while, how have you been?” “You know, I’ve been off because my thyroid has been acting crazy and giving me a lot a problems.”

This is good because it sets the stage. The listener can decide if they can handle more specific news, or if they are done. Let’s continue, shall we?

“Really, Toni? What’s it doing?” “Well, it bounces back from hyperactive to hypoactive and I have a goiter. It appears that the goiter has an underlying malignancy, which means I have thyroid cancer.”
2. Give them a moment to respond in the way they are comfortable. I usually end up saying something like, “See I told you it was crazy.” Telling someone you have cancer is 10 percent about you, but 90 percent about them. They will instantly remember their uncle, or cousin or friend who has had the disease and no matter what your prognosis is, their mind will travel.
3. Relate the news to a celebrity. I am very thankful that Brooke Burke-Charvet announced her thyroid cancer when she did. Once I announce my condition, I follow up with, “Did you see the lady from Dancing With the Stars on television? You know she just had thyroid cancer too?”
This helps because our society loves celebrities, and we tend to think they are invincible. But in reality, they get cancer too.
4. Tell them how you will keep them informed. Once people get over the initial shock, they need to know how they will keep up with your progress. Tell them they’ll see you at work until surgery, they can read your blog on Caring Bridge, or that a certain family member will keep them updated. If you don’t have a plan to keep them informed, they will stalk you and pressure you and make your life more miserable than cancer already is.
5. Let people see you “live” with the disease. I know that with any medical condition, you have good days and you have bad days. Some days, I remember wishing I could say, “I have cancer so I’m staying in bed all day.” But I couldn’t. My kids were in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades at the time of my diagnosis. There were tonsils that had to be removed, middle school hormones, and a Presidential Inauguration that we had to attend. Continuing to “live” is just as important for me as it for everyone around me.

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During my cancer experience, I made sure that others (especially my children) would see me actually living with the disease. Our trip to the Presidential Inauguration was an example of that.

 

While my diagnosis was scary and I was fortunate enough to have a great prognosis and an ever greater outcome, that cancer event led me to be even more appreciative of the life I have instead of trying unsuccessfully to force the life I thought I should have.

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At My Lowest Point, LeBron James Was There

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I hear the news and I see the reports. I know that LeBron James is not liked by many because of his arrogance. I know that words have offended many. But not me. Almost a year after my ex-husband and I separated,  when I was facing accusations about my parenting from my kids’ school,  when I had a very limited income, and when I was still trying to move through divorce proceedings with some pride and dignity, LeBron and his mother Gloria had an impact on my kids and me like no other.

Gloria James was 16 years old in 1984 when she gave birth to the man we now know as “King James.” As a teen mom, she was forced to raise him alone as his father was not in the picture and her only other support, her mother, died when LeBron was three.

And while you know the rest of the story as LeBron’s NBA career skyrocketed, our family is living proof of the positive effects of his life. About 8 years ago, Gloria James came to Dallas and hosted an event for single parents through their charitable organization, the LeBron James Family Foundation. One Sunday afternoon, we were treated to a VIP and full access afternoon at the Dallas Zoo. The event did not feature pretentious workshops about how we needed to read to our kids more, it didn’t talk about the importance of nutrition,  and definitely didn’t tell us what we needed to do to be a better single parent (as if we lost all of that knowledge when the relationship with our co-parents ended.)

Instead, the James family celebrated the good that we do through a day of fun. No lectures, no “what you should have dones,”  and no arrogance.

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In 2008, LeBron James and his foundation hosted an event in Dallas that we are still talking about today. My kids were so little then!

That pretentious stuff against single parents is real y’all. It is an unfortunate truth that far too many of us have had to unnecessarily endure. And even today, 8 years later, I still get the side eye, snubbed, and spoken to in tones not becoming to me or my family. All because I am a single mother.

The LeBron James Family Foundation’s mission is to positively affect the lives of children and young adults through education and co-curricular educational initiatives. You can read on the organization’s website that it promotes the belief  that an education and living an active, healthy lifestyle is pivotal to the development of children and young adults. Through a variety of outreach initiatives, the foundation hosts events like the one we attended all over the country, and in particular to the youth of James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Our day with Gloria James ended with an incredible meal served family-style for each family. While LeBron wasn’t there in person (it was during basketball season), he did record a video offering his appreciation to the attending families with a  Walmart gift card valued at $100 for each family.

That gift card filled a gap in my almost-empty  pantry and bought the groceries that would feed us for the next week. As a mom, the feeling of pride that I got from being able to walk into Walmart and buy groceries without counting every single penny of the items in my basket was inexplicable.

Here’s the deal, y’all. When you are a celebrity, and in particular, a celebrity athlete, you are going to be under fire. You are constantly being handled and shuffled around adhering to a schedule that is not your own. Please understand me when I say that I am not defending rudeness and arrogance in any circumstance. What I am saying is that unlike our personal relationships where we are able to talk to our loved ones when rudeness occurs, we don’t have that opportunity with celebrities. We don’t get to talk to LeBron about his statements and his actions. If you think about it, his job is to play basketball, and I think he’s proven that he does that quite well. So because we don’t get to talk to him, we don’t know about the other stuff going on in his day to day life, and we can’t judge.

When he misses a lay up or a free throw, or if his defensive moves are crappy, then we can talk. Liking LeBron the basketball player has nothing to do with liking LeBron the humanitarian.  I just happen to like and appreciate both.

Here’s another fact that is a cause for consideration. Celebrities can’t be vulnerable with us. For safety reasons alone, they just  can’t. And just because we feel like we know them, we relate to their history,  and they are in our living rooms at least once a week, they know absolutely nothing about us. If I have a hard time managing my life as a mom and writer, and all of my friends have a hard time managing their lives, what makes celebrities any different? Trust me, they experience heartache, exhaustion, family strife, and illness. Because all of that is part of the human experience, and we are all human.

With that I say to LeBron James and all the other humanitarian celebrity athletes in the world, thank you.

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2016: One Word

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My word for 2016 is vulnerable. If I can be perfectly honest in a nonjudgmental way, this is hard. When I first heard that being vulnerable was actually “in,” I was confused. Brene Brown has written books and been on tv talking about it, and I just couldn’t get it. Why would anyone think that being vulnerable is ok?

In 2007, my ex-husband and I separated after seven years of marriage. With all of the many other things that make divorce hard, there was one thing that I didn’t realize happened in the early part of 2008.

I became guarded. I started to limit the number of people I trusted. No man had a fair chance at having anything that remotely resembled a decent, romantic relationship with me.

My heart had hardened. It would stay that way for the next seven years.

There have been a few times in the not too distant past that I have been challenged to be vulnerable and I have just flat out refused. Well, as much as I could anyway. Let me tell you right now though, I learned that you really can’t refuse to be vulnerable, and trying to do so will just make you feel worse. Let’s look at the instances I tried…and y’all, I tried hard.

1. The divorce. No matter how you slice and dice it, divorce is hard. Even when it’s for the best, even when your not the one at fault, even when you should be rejoicing instead of crying. My divorce was no different. It made me vulnerable and raw to my core. Because the pain cut so deep, I thought that people could see just how hard I was taking the demise of my marriage. To avoid being vulnerable, I kept our separation secret until after we moved. Then, I sent an email to all my friends explaining our current relationship status and made myself really busy when they would call so no one would hear the crack of heartbreak in my voice.

2. The cancer. Let’s take a brief look at my cancer event of 2013. It was exactly two years ago this week that I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. For a couple of weeks, though, we didn’t have the exact diagnosis, we just knew it was cancer and somewhat related to the thyroid. The diagnosis went from thymoma to lymphoma to thyroid lymphoma to finally thyroid cancer. In case you don’t know this, hearing a doctor say, “We need to talk and I need to shoot straight with you” brings nothings but vulnerability to the situation. Except for me, the girl who is anti-vulnerable. So in true Toni fashion,  even though I was scared, sick and sad, I did what I always have done and put on a brave face covered in strength to hide my vulnerability. Now, let me tell you this. I truly believe that two important parts of any health crisis are 1. positive thinking, and 2. eating healthy. However, I can now honestly say that I used my “positive thinking” rule to cover up the vulnerability.

This time, though, my coping plan didn’t work so well. The fact that I physically felt bad and fatigued a lot ensured the fact that I couldn’t cover up a lot of the truth, meant I needed to be vulnerable. Well, at least a little bit.

3. When the seizures came back. When my sweet first born was two years old, we were playing at home one afternoon and he fell over in convulsions . After a lot a medical tests and hospital stays, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. After three years, the seizures subsided and we didn’t see any activity until he turned 13. But six months after I was deemed cancer free, the seizures came back. And this time, I felt since I had just been vulnerable earlier that year, I didn’t need to be vulnerable again.

I’ve learned that vulnerability doesn’t operate on a calendar. You cannot decide how many times a year you should be vulnerable. If you are hurt, you are vulnerable. If you were taken advantage of, you are vulnerable, and if you are in love, you are vulnerable. If you are alive, you are vulnerable. And that’s okay.

While I mentioned three of the big hints in my life to embrace vulnerability, I need to tell you that there were several more smaller hints that I just didn’t catch. Looking back, there were moments almost every day where I choose to hide my vulnerability.

Enter the need for one word.

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At the end of each year, I reflect on the word from that year and the  important events that shaped my life during the previous 12 months. I then enter a place of prayer and meditation where I ask God to send me more word or phrase for the coming year. And as He knows my struggles, that phrase was be vulnerable.  Fyi, if you have a good relationship with God, it’s okay to fuss and fight with him over something he’s charged you to do. The key is that you must submit to His will and decide to do it. So after I fussed and cried and fussed some more. I decided to embrace the concept.

Since I’ve opened myself up to the idea and started exploring the concept more, incredible things have happened in my life. Hmmmm…we’ve only been in 2016 for 11 days and I’m already seeing results. And you know what else? Brene Brown has a new fan in me.

I truly believe that this wouldn’t be my word if I wasn’t meant to help others, so I’ve created  a free blog challenge using the hashtag #bevulnerable. I’d really like you to join!

If you want to work through the process of accepting vulnerability and experiencing the shift in the universe that occurs when you are vulnerable, then this challenge is for you.

Being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure.

And even if you don’t join the challenge, I’ve got a little gift for you. Click here to access a free printable with a quote on the importance of vulnerability. If you do join the challenge, I’ll send our daily tasks and items for exploration via email. I’m also creating a secret Facebook group for us to work in and there will even be videos and other fun items I am sharing. To sign up for the challenge, click here.

The biggest fear I faced when I decided to allow myself to #bevulnerable was that I would be judged by others. That was really hard for me (and frankly it still is) because I try so hard not to judge other that when I feel judged, I feel attacked personally. So needless to say, this challenge is a judgement-free zone. We are going to do the work and see what manifests as a result of it.

Tell me in the comments below, what impact does the phrase “be vulnerable” have on your life?

If you’re a little unsure about this whole vulnerability thing, I would suggest you start with researching the work of Brene Brown. I started by watching this Ted Talk and eventually reading this book. Good luck!

 

Make 2016 Work for You

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Let’s be honest here. This week (and probably for the next month), we will be hearing a lot about resolutions, plans, goals, and the things we all need to do in order to make 2016 the best year ever.

I know there are many people out there who don’t subscribe to the “New Year, New Goals” theory, but I definitely do. If I can start the year off right and be super-productive, no matter how long it lasts, it would be longer than if I hadn’t made the resolution at all.

This year I thought about my goals and plans a bit earlier than I have before. My plan was to start the reflection process a little bit earlier so that by December 31, I could have clear, actionable goals and actually be working to meet those goals before the new year hit.

However, when I started I was at a crossroads. It seemed that every blog, every coach, every writer I follow was flooding my  email inbox with their plan for success this year. They had published accounts and systems that detailed what worked for them in the past. And they wanted me to join their program.

Maybe it’s the only child in me, but I kind of felt that the only plan I needed to follow was my own. Without throwing shade, I just needed figure out what I needed to focus on. Reading about those other systems helped, especially since I saw a common thread in all of them. But as far as the daily activities are concerned, I needed to work that out myself.

To be honest, I really just needed a workbook that would guide me through some concepts but allow me to add the specifics. I needed that workbook, but I also needed something that could appeal to my life as a writer.

You see, in this funny thing called life, our experiences are not cookie cutter. We all need to be able to carve out our individual plan for love, success, and anything else that’s important to us.  This year, I found two books that are helping me get where I want to be, personally and professionally.

I first heard of author Honoree Corder from the Successful Single Mom book series. As a single mom, I tend to read a lot of books and blogs by other single moms who have been there and done that. Honoree has, and I might add, she’s done it well. In addition to writing about being a single mom, she’s also a successful writer,  business coach and a visionary strategist. It’s her unique combination of sound, practical knowledge combined with family and life priorities that make her strategies work.

I’ve been using two of Honoree’s books to organize myself and 2016. I am highly recommending them right here right now. These two books will help you outline your goals, plans, and priorities and make them actionable.

Book #1: Tall Order.

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As an entrepreneur (and a relatively new one at that), this book has what I need to further establish my business and brand during 2016. When I made to decision to be a full-time creative last August, I didn’t know much about the business aspects of what I was doing. This book gives me a clear path to follow as I continue to do work through Twilli Media.

Tall Order outlines seven master strategies that are essential to business success. They are:

  1. Create Your Vision
  2. Visible Goals
  3. The 100-Day Rule
  4. Find a Masterful Mentor
  5. Use Time-Multiplier Strategies
  6. The Power of Association
  7. Unlock Your Super Alter Ego with a Coach

This book is a must-have for readers that are interested in establishing, rebranding, getting direction, or setting new goals for their brand or company. You can buy it here.

Book #2: Prosperity for Writers Productivity Journal (affiliate links below)

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If you’re reading this, you obviously know I’m a writer. I definitely need to hone in on my craft throughout the year and I can always benefit from help from a writing coach. Prosperity for Writers and its companion, Prosperity for Writers Productivity Journal are the two books that I’m using to aid in my writing goals. In the past, I’ve been a 500-word-a-day writer, but this year I’m striving to be a 2,000-word-a-day writer. For me, that means 2,000 coherent, well thought out words. The benefit actually works two ways: 1. I’m doing more of what I love and improving my craft, and 2. My audience is getting the very best of what I have to offer.

That simple word count goal for me is only one way I can improve my life as a writer, and believe it or not, I actually needed more direction being a prosperous writer with abundant results. For me, I needed to believe that I could have a financially successful life as a writer. Here are the titles of the book chapters:

  1. YOU Can Be a Prosperous Writer
  2. Prosperous Writers Believe They Can
  3. Your Journey to Becoming a Prosperous Writer
  4. Get FAME for Prosperity
  5. What’s Your Money Story?
  6. Practical Practices of Prosperous Writers
  7. Accelerate Your Success
  8. Your Time to Be a Prosperous Writer is Now

This book is one part motivation and the other part action. She does the motivating and we do the work. If you’re a writer, you can buy Prosperity for Writers here and the Productivity Journal here.

Here’s to a fabulous year! What resources are you using to jumpstart your year?

Disclosure: I am a member of Honoree Corder’s Advanced Reader Team. I received copies of all the books I mentioned free of charged in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Things I’ve Learned – Suggestions for Moms’ New Years’ Resolutions

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BY TRACEY CLAYTON

RESOLUTIONS FOR MOMS

 

Being a mother of three kids certainly puts you in a faster gear, and if you didn’t use to multitask before, you will certainly have to start. There are many of your children’s needs to be met, you need to take care of their physical, emotional and cognitive needs, as well as their play time. It can easily get overwhelming and stressful if you are not well organized and really know your priorities. We all learn as we go and we often need to change our course to make life easier for everyone. This is what I have learnt from my experience of being a mommy of three little girls.

Being lenient means trouble

We all know it is very difficult to be strict with your kids, especially if you are a mom and they make cute little faces at you. However, discipline is a must just because the lack of it can snowball into complete anarchy in your household. It is important to set rules, let the kids know these can’t be broken, and then apply reward and punishment accordingly. It doesn’t have to be harsh, but it has to be felt. For example, if one of the kids’ aggressive behavior is tolerated even a couple of times, soon the others will try to get away with it and you might end up with a little battlefield that’s out of control. Muster up the strength to be a good disciplinarian and cut problems at the root.

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Praise them more

Kids yearn for acceptance, approval and words of praise. We usually notice when they do something wrong and criticize them much more often than we praise them. Make a point of focusing on their accomplishments and good behavior as well. Also, when you praise one kid, try to think of good things to say about the other kids as well, in order not to make them feel less worthy. They take things personally, get jealous easily and think they are not good enough. When you say something nice about them, mean it.

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Use everything to instill values

It is easy to let your kids play on the computer, watch cartoons and movies. You can switch your brain off for at least a little while. I have allowed cartoon characters, princesses and superheroes to become the focus of my kids’ lives. However, I have been thinking about a good way to make this work to my advantage. I started thinking about the reasons these characters are good role models and I came up with some basic values I can teach my kids: they fight for justice, they protect the poor and the weak, they are always well dressed and there is a distinct difference between the goodies and the baddies. So now, before we take the kids to amusement parks or organize superhero parties, this is what we talk about: Spiderman is cool because he can fly, but he flies in order to help people in trouble, and that is why he is a true superhero.

Keep it simple

It seems that nowadays the parental role of a provider and caretaker has gained a new dimension – that of an entertainer. Never, in the history of the world, has there been a larger selection of toys, games and gadgets available for kids to play with, and never have kids been more bored with their lives. The more toys they have, the less entertained they seem to be. I have realized they are simply over-stimulated, so instead of buying more and more toys at a rapid pace, I have decided to cut down on buying toys for them. We donate the toys they don’t play with anymore and I don’t replace them with new ones. Instead, I let the kids get creative and come up with their own games. They draw, do crafts, they go outside much more, they sing and dance, they play with paper cups, pots and pans and the good old ball. I plan to continue moving in this direction.

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What our kids need most are our time, love and attention. No amount of modern gimmicks can replace quality time with your kids, and a good balance of love and discipline will give them a healthy and safe place to grow and develop. It is ok to keep it simple!

About author:

Tracey Clayton is a full time mom of three girls. She loves cooking, baking, sewing, spending quality time with her daughters and she’s passionate for writing. She is contributor on High Style Life and her motto is: “Live the life you love, love the life you live.” Find her on Facebook.