Freedom Isn’t Free

When I was a little girl, we always recognized and celebrated Memorial Day. As a child, I thought I knew what we were celebrating, even though my focus was on one event that was the most important to me. Which was the end of the school year. I hated school. I always did, which is ironic that I ended up being a life-long learner as well as earning a Master’s Degree in physical therapy just 3 months shy of my 40th birthday.

But as an adult I fully understand the incredible sacrifices that have been made by ordinary people who did extraordinary things to allow me the freedom and the ability to make some of the choices that I have made in my life. The freedom that we so often take for granted. The kind of freedom that people have fought and died for over the course of over 243 years. 

It boggles my mind to think about the tremendous amount of courage and determination that drove the founders of this great nation, the men and women, who were willing to put everything on the line for freedom. Their lives, their homes, their families. And the courage that makes the few that answer the call–the call to serve.

For me. For you. For all of us. Every Memorial Day, as we enjoy a 3-day weekend with picnics, cook-outs, beach trips and volleyball, I take a few minutes to  get down on my knees and thank God for my freedom. Then I look at the sky and say to all of those fallen heroes, “Well done. And thank you for my freedom.”

Because as we all know, freedom comes at a high price. Freedom isn’t free. And it never will be.

Hairless At Twenty-Five

Imagine a young woman waking up one morning, getting her coffee, having her breakfast, and then taking her shower. It’s just an average day in the life of a twenty-five year old. Until she gets out of the shower and begins drying her hair. She notices a small bald spot at the top of her head, and her boyfriend confirms what she sees.

Instead of going to work she heads straight to the dermatologist. She is diagnosed with alopecia and told not to worry about it–it was probably a temporary situation, and isolated incident, and the hair would grow back. Five months later she was completely bald. Now imagine that young woman is you.

You have just begun living a nightmare that just won’t end. You try every treatment that is recommended, no matter how painful and/or expensive. They all fail. You do all the research, consult with the experts, do everything you’re told to do, and the only result you get are a few soft hairs beginning to sprout. However, within a few days they fall out.

The only consistent answer you get to all of your questions is, “We don’t know.” It’s a wait-and-see situation. However, there is a trial medication that you can try. But it costs about $800/month, insurance doesn’t cover it, and there is no guarantee that it will work. Or, if it does, that it will be permanent.

You feel completely normal except for your bald head. You aren’t sick, but you look really weird, even with your wig. Which, by the way, is hotter than hell and itches as well. Strangers come up to you and ask you what kind of cancer you have. Children stare and point, much to their parent’s embarrassment.

You tell the parents it’s okay–you’re used to it. You try and make jokes about it. You keep thinking that someday your hair might grow back. But the reality is, it’s a crap shoot. What would you do?

I honestly don’t know what I would do. But I don’t think I would handle it with the dignity, grace, and spirit that my niece does. She is that woman. And she is truly amazing.

Don’t Tell Me What To Do

Are you ever amazed that some people believe that they have the right to tell you what to do? To control what you say, do, think, or eat? Yes, I said eat.

I’m part of a group that meets twice a week for some pretty intensive physical and mental conditioning. It’s exhausting, especially since I have to drive an hour to get there and an hour home. But, it’s well worth the effort. After all, I don’t ever want to become complacent, or choose not to do something because it’s “too hard.” Besides, I love a challenge.

Those 2 days are long, exhausting, and depleting. If you don’t bring food to sustain you, you will die. Or at least pass out. Since there is no scheduled break, we step off of the mat anytime our blood sugar threatens to plummet. I always bring chicken, because it’s the only thing that keeps me going without making me feel sick.

After doing this for two years, last week I was informed that my chicken was no longer welcome in the building. I couldn’t eat it anymore because the smell of my chicken was offending the delicate senses of the vegans in the room. Huh.

They never even thought to consider that I might be offended by their 6-clove-garlic-seaweed-ginger-tofu curry. Or that they might want to think about using deodorant and occasionally washing their feet.

But I would never say that. Because I believe that we should live and let live, unless it is causing someone harm. I believe in free will choice. I believe in mutual respect and appreciation. Most of all, I believe this courtesy should be extended to one and all.

So, I will continue to bring my chicken. Because I can. Because I will. And because no one can tell me what to do. But the ninja in me sure would like to see them try.

A Day In the Life Of a Penguin

My love affair with penguins started in the 5th grade when I had to do my first research paper (ack!). We were able to chose any topic that we wanted to write about. I was completely at a loss, so my mom suggested I look in something called The Encyclopedia Britannica for ideas.

Yes, that’s the way we did it back then. No quick internet search right at your fingertips or in the palm of your hand. No, Sir-ee, not for my generation. We had to do things the hard way. Like walk a mile back and forth to school in 2 feet of snow, uphill in both directions.

Anyway, as I was flipping through the entire collection of books I saw a picture of a penguin. Eureka! I had my topic! My mom looked a bit skeptical when I told her I wanted to write a paper on penguins, but she agreed to help me. Over the next few days, we both fell in love with these adorable mammals as we learned about their habits and patterns. I even remember a few fun facts to this day.

For example, penguins are incredible social. And, even though they can’t fly, they can jump as high as 9 feet. That sure would come in handy in a ballet class or during my ninja training days. Also, penguins display very intricate courting behavior. I guess that means the females preen their feathers and the males flex their muscles.

I even remember how they know if it’s safe to go in the water. They all gather at the waters edge and begin pushing and shoving each other until one of them falls in. If the penguin swims around, they’re good to go. If the hapless penguin gets eaten by a predator….well, you get the idea.

I learned a lot of life’s lessons doing that report. First of all, it’s good to belong to a community. After all, there is safety in numbers. Next, sometimes you need to be able to jump and rise above the fray to get to where you’re going. Finally, don’t make it a habit to push to the front of the line in a crowd, because you might not make it out alive, literally and figuratively.

This sweet memory was triggered when my sister showed me a video of the penguin parade at the Pittsburgh Zoo last month. And, the fact that National Penguin Day was last month. Who knew?

I still love penguins. And I love the fact that for the next 40 years, any time my mom and I saw a penguin, we would look at each other and smile. My mom would always ask if I remembered “our” report on penguins. Which , by the way, I got an “A” on. I always assured her that I did. Because I remember everything, especially a day in the life of a penguin.

Karma Cooties Can Really Bug You

Karma cooties can be a real threat to our health and well-being. We all get exposed to them every now and then, and they can be very infectious. And contagious. However, just like we can protect ourselves during cold and flu season, there are precautions we can take from being susceptible to the little buggers. And the first step is knowing that they exist so you can avoid them.

The first time I heard about karma cooties was about 20 years ago from a friend who was a massage therapist. She told me she had a client that she had to cut loose (in other words, she fired her) because her karma cooties were so bad. “Karma Cooties,” I responded in confusion, “What are those?”  

She explained that we all experience hurts and transgressions in life. You got that right. After all, life is full of hits, and none of us get through this roller coaster of life without our fair share of them. But, some people let those tough times define them, even embrace them, which breaks down their karmic immune system. Okay, she kind of lost me there, but at least I had something to think about.

So I began paying attention. I noticed that some people could suck the joy out of a room by simply walking into it. Or suck the life out of me just with a phone call. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. You might even have a friend like that, which can be a real problem for you.

I had a friend who was so infected that she was beyond hope, and I finally had to cut her loose. It was awkward, especially since we had been friends for 30 years. But, being exposed to all of that negativity isn’t healthy. Eventually, it breaks down your resistance and draws you in. So, just like you do during cold and flu season, take some precautions to keep yourself safe.

Because staying safe and being healthy is much better than being bugged.

Simple Steps to a Happy New Year

Here we are at the beginning of another New Year. I find it hard to believe it’s 2019. Where did the time go? Along with the excitement of a shiny New Year comes the resolve of self-improvement through (ack) New Year’s Resolutions.

I personally dislike New Year’s Resolutions because I believe they set us up for failure. And disappointment. Statistics reveal that most people give up in less than 2 weeks! That’s a terrible way to start a New Year, by feeling like you’ve already failed. I have another idea.

Each and every day is a new start, and an opportunity for self-reflection and self-improvement. Or not. After all, life is full of hits and unexpected challenges that can undermine even our best intentions and throw us off track.

It’s important to remember that we are all works in progress. Part of our life journey is how to be kind to ourselves and not to beat ourselves up. Trust me, there are plenty of people out there who will do it for us.

I shudder when I see the sign at the local gym that I drive by every day which blasts in red letters “New Year….New You!” As if to imply that there is something wrong with the current version of you. It’s almost a form of subliminal body shaming. I don’t like that. Besides, I think you’re perfect just the way you are.

But, if you do want to make changes over the next year, take it one day at a time. Start small, and start slowly. Over the next few months I will offer simple tips and steps you can follow to help you achieve your goals, no matter what they are. You can pick and chose which ones make sense to you, and ignore the ones that don’t.

Most of all, never give up on your goals. Or your dreams. Not just once a year, but every single day. I’m your biggest fan, and I believe in you. Happy New Year!

Don’t Fear the 5-0

A lot of my young friends are getting ready to turn the big 5-0. Meh-heh-heh. I laugh because none of them seem very happy about it. As a matter of fact, some of them even act like it’s the end of the world. As a deliriously happy person over fifty, all I can say to them is “Buck up, Buttercup!”

Turning 50 is NOT the end of the world. As far as I’m concerned, turning 50 was the best thing that ever happened to me. To be honest, my 30s were a bit of a nightmare. My 40s were even worse. There were times I didn’t even think I would make it to 50, and neither did a lot of my friends.

But, for some reason, I figured if I could make it to the big 5-0, maybe things would get better. For once in my life I was right. It was almost like magic happened. I felt like I was finally comfortable in my own skin. The nagging and sabotaging negative self-talk that plagued me all of my adult life finally fell silent. Don’t get me wrong–it still does rear its ugly head every now and again. But at least I recognize it before it gets out of control and I can tell it to kindly shut up and mind its own business. In a loving way, of course.

Once I hit 50, I felt happier, more content, and less stressed over the little things. I learned that it was okay to walk away from “friendships” that weren’t working for me. I learned to like myself more, and to be my own best friend. My 50s were so great that when the big 6-0 came creeping up on me, I ran toward it with arms open wide, ready to embrace whatever came next.

So, if you are turning 50 soon, stop worrying about it. It will give you frown lines, and laugh lines are far more attractive. Besides, the best is yet to come. Embrace it.

Breaking Up With My BFF

Breaking up with someone is always awkward, and uncomfortable. But I had the McDaddy of uncomfortable breakups when I had to break up with my BFF of 30 years.

Because, how do you tell someone that you have been best and dearest friends with for 30 years that you haven’t liked them for the past 15 and have been trying to figure out how to break up with them for the past 10? Like I said, it was awkward. So awkward and uncomfortable that I actually had to seek professional help.

My friend and I met in ballet class 30 years earlier and established an unlikely friendship. She was quiet, reserved, shy, and highly intelligent. I was loquacious, demonstrative, outgoing, and just smart enough to get by. For some reason we got along famously.

However, over the years what had begun as a wonderful friendship based on mutual support, respect, and caring somehow turned into one that was demanding, controlling, and manipulative. Our social interactions left me feeling drained, depleted, and even angry. Her arrogant condescension set my teeth on edge. When I tried to limit our “girl time” she became hostile and belligerent. I couldn’t even imagine how she would react if I tried to break up with her.

I slowly tried to interrupt our habitual patterns  by setting clear boundaries and re-establish new patterns in our relationship. After all, we had been friends a long time, and I wanted to salvage our friendship if at all possible. Besides, we had shared our deepest secrets, so we both knew where all the bodies were buried, so to speak. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way.

Sometimes you just have to cut the ties that bind.

No You Can’t–Or Yes You Can

Have you ever wanted to try something new, or do something different and exciting, and were told, “No, you can’t?” Perhaps it was pursuing a dream, achieving a goal, or changing a career, and were told, “No, you can’t?”

I was born and raised in a small steel town in Western Pennsylvania, which is why I live in Denver. Nah….I’m just joking. More or less. My hometown was a great place to grow up, especially when I was a kid. We were all living the American Dream, and it was wonderful.

However, I wanted more out of life than what my town had to offer. I always wondered what it would be like to get out on my own, see the world, and make a life for myself away from the safety net of family and everything that was familiar to me.

During my senior year in college I decided to do just that. When I announced my plans to move to Denver, my friends and family were shocked. I was bombarded by well-meaning (but misguided) people who told me “No, you can’t.” Denver was too far away. It was too dangerous. I wasn’t smart enough, or strong enough to make it on my own. The list went on and on.

However, the most persuasive argument came from a guy I was dating, who told patiently explained, “You can’t go to Denver, because you have to get married. And since you have to marry someone, it might as well be me.” That convinced me. Two days after I graduated college I was halfway to Denver before the ink on my diploma even had a chance to dry. So much for “No, you can’t.”

The point is, there will always be people who will try to hold you back, keep you from pursuing your dreams, or simply tell you, “No, you can’t.” It’s your job to smile, nod your head, walk away, and do whatever it is you want to do. Because you can.

Excessive Apology Disorder

When I realized how often I was saying the words “I’m sorry” to everyone for everything, I became acutely aware of how many people apologize excessively when they don’t have to. I even came up with a name for it, which I dubbed Excessive Apology Disorder. Thank you–I thought it was pretty good myself.

When we have EAD, it allows for a close cousin to come creeping in, which is the chronic and nagging voice of self-doubt. Think about it. Every time we take responsibility for something that isn’t our fault, we relinquish a little bit of our personal power. We literally hand it over to another person, typically the one we are apologizing to. When we make excessive apologizing a habit, (like I did), we are constantly chipping away at our self-confidence and self-worth. Even worse, we eventually open the door to guilt and shame. Yikes!

When my Sensei called my EAD to my attention, I was mortified how much I apologized for no reason. I was stunned how much negative energy I was allowing to take over my life. Once I  stopped saying “I’m sorry” to everyone for everything, I felt my power and my self-confidence begin to improve. I found my voice again, learned how to stand my ground, and discovered how to set clear boundaries. It was a beautiful thing to behold!

Besides, if you are constantly saying “I’m sorry,” you diminish the impact of a sincere apology when the situation calls for it. So, notice how often you say you’re sorry. And pay attention if it really was warranted. Don’t say you’re sorry out of habit, or because you think the other person expects it. After all, most of the time you don’t have anything to apologize for, and everything is not your fault.