Friday, September 30, 2011

36 while 36

I love lists.  The more, the better.  I think I've been making lists since I learned how to write my ABC's. There's something about them.  Maybe it's their ability to take everything floating around in my head and give them a safe, happy home.  To put things in order.  To make sense of ideas.  To organize chaos.  To make the intangible tangible.

I am a pro.  I have an endless to-do list of stuff that needs to get done.  Bills to be paid, walls to be painted, rain gutters to be cleaned out, doctors appointments to be kept.  It's just stuff.  Endless stuff. The list has never been blank.  I've never had to wonder what to put on it.

Several months back, I decided to start a "life list" - things I wanted to do while I was still 35.  It wasn't that easy.  I don't think I even finished writing the whole list let alone doing everything on it.  Well, in honor of September, my birth month, I finished my list.  My 36 while 36.  Oh, those pesky to-do tasks kept trying to creep in.  Come on, don't you want to organize the closets?  Re-do your bathroom?  Clean out the garage?  Um, yah, but you guys go on a different list.  This is my life list, my living 36 list.

I know some people get stressed out about lists like this.  They feel constrained or pressured to "do", to "check off".  I guess for me, it's the opposite.  It's freeing.  It's like a sweet, well-intentioned friend saying, "hey, don't forget about this one".  Because really, days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and before you know it you're turning 37 saying, "oh wait, what did I want to try this year?"  Or worse yet, you're not thinking anything.  That's my worse nightmare.  To let the days go by without notice, without intention, without thought.

So, I wrote it all out - all 36 lines of living. I don't feel pressured to do all of it, but I do feel encouraged to try.  I do like having ideas in my back pocket for those days you're like "hey, what should we do?"  (although honestly I don't think I've had a day like that in about 6 years - but you know what I mean).

Without further adieu, here goes...

  1. Paint something (I'm terrified of art and not very good at it - so I need to try:  a canvas, a table, a wall, something, anything.)
  2. Dust off my guitar and play again (it may only be for 10 minutes at a time but that's better than nothing).
  3. Go country line dancing.  
  4. Write letters to old friends and mail it (like with a stamp).
  5. Play in a poker tournament.  
  6. Plant a tree (or two)
  7. Write - my story.
  8. Eat at new restaurants.
  9. Drink hot chai tea in the snow. 
  10. Pick apples. 
  11. Write a song (and sing it). 
  12. Allow spontaneity.
  13. Raise awareness for AS
  14. Laugh at myself.  
  15. Create irresistible vegetarian meals.
  16. Refurbish some furniture.
  17. Write - something to be published. 
  18. Wear more colors.
  19. Sing (either in a microphone or in the shower - just sing)
  20. Become a better gardener.
  21. Pray without ceasing (and believe without ceasing).  
  22. Listen to live jazz as often as possible.  
  23. Stomp on grapes at a vineyard.  
  24. Write - a song. 
  25. Make jam (or jelly - I don't really know the difference).   
  26. Learn how to knit (or crochet - whichever is easier on my hands)
  27. Embrace the rain - walk in it, play in it, splash in it, LIVE in it.  
  28. Make pumpkin pie out of the pumpkins in our garden.
  29. Dance in a flash mob (seriously, if anybody knows how I can go about doing this, please let me know.  this is a non-negotiable, must-do!!).  
  30. Read poems to my children.
  31. Stay in a cabin in the snow - embrace winter!  
  32. Be kind to myself - set lofty goals, but allow myself time to get there.
  33. Take water aerobics.
  34. Go snow sledding!  
  35. Walk in a "Race for the Cure"
  36. Choose joy - because each day is a gift and I won't take a single one for granted.
So there it is - my 36.  Could I encourage you to create your own life list?  It doesn't have to be a certain number, it could just be 10, or 20, or 150 - whatever it takes to remind you to live.  Don't let another year go by just focusing on the to-dos.  Trust me, those to-dos aren't going anywhere.  I think we could all use lists that give us permission to dance, laugh, sing, explore, wander, live.  

Enjoying 36, 

I'd love it if you would leave a comment and share one, two or all of your ideas.  Living is always better together.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    An Apple a Day ... for 365 Days!!??

    Created by Jennifer Dye Visscher

    When is the last time you did something every day for one year?  I'm not talking about your usual routine.  I'm talking about something you set your mind to and make happen.  I don't think, no strike that, I know, that I have never done anything for 365 days straight.

    Well, let me introduce you to an amazing woman who has.  I have never seen her in person, nor have I heard the sound of her voice, but I call her friend.  Jennifer Dye Visscher (aka: Jenna), an artist, blogger, health activist and fellow AS warrior, decided last year that she was going to create an apple everyday for one year to raise awareness for ankylosing spondylitis.  Um, yeah, I told you she was amazing.  This Friday culminates her year of apples.  Yes, she has painted, or otherwise created, an apple every. single. day. since October 1, 2010.  This would be an accomplishment even under perfect conditions, but to do this while living with AS is just an incredible testament of resilience, passion and strength.   And not only did she create the apples, she actually blogged about it every. single. day.  Double wow!  Check out her website,, for some beautiful art and inspiration.

    Today Jenna landed in New York.  Why?  Well, to have a 24-hour Apple-A-Thon of course.  She will spend her last day of the project painting apples, along with other supporters, for 24 hours.  Seriously, my hands are cramping up and I want to fall asleep just thinking about it.  Not Jenna.  She's going out with a bang.  A bang to spread awareness, raise money for research (she is donating all proceeds to the Spondylitis Association of America) and show the world that people with AS know how to have some New York City fun!

    I'm so proud of her.  Proud that she has used her amazing talent for good - to be part of the solution. Proud that she stuck to it - even on the days nobody would have blamed her for "skipping" an apple. Proud that she  has completed this project with grace, excellence and the most amazing attitude ever!

    Jenna's mom wrote a beautiful post on her blog a couple weeks ago.  Please read it when you have some time.  You will not only learn about this incredible woman, you will learn a lot about life with AS.

    If you would like to support Jenna's project (and in turn help raise awareness and reach for a cure) you can purchase an apple, make a donation, or attend the event virtually, by clicking here.

    "See" you all in the Big Apple!

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Choosing Joy and Leaving it All Behind

    Sweet Sara
    - photo by

    Sara passed away on Saturday night.  My heart dropped when I read the news.  I guess there was a little part of me that held out for a miracle, a big miracle.  But that was selfish.  She was ready to go.  She was ready to be free, to soar, to dance again, to meet her Maker.  And from what I can tell, besides a beautiful legacy, she left nothing behind.  No words unsaid, no gifts unused, no love denied.  She gave it all away - all of it, and in the end, she was at peace.

    It's amazing really, to leave it all behind, to not take anything with you.  While I'm not thinking about the end of my life, I have begun to ask myself at the end of every day:

    Did I say the words I needed to say?

    Did I love the best way I know how?

    Did I give all that I had to give?

    Did I choose joy?

    Was I present? sincere? compassionate?

    If the answer is yes, somehow, I fall more peacefully to sleep.  If the answer is no, I know that tomorrow is a new day, a new chance, and for that, I am thankful.

    Choosing Joy,

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    A Beautiful Legacy - Goodbye Sweet Sara

    Today my heart is heavy.

    When I was first diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis I ventured onto a few blogs of other AS warriors. Really, it was too soon for me.  I wasn't ready to read about their lives, their pain, their realities.  Then I stumbled across one particular blog - she called herself Gitzen Girl and the top of her blog read "Choose Joy". It didn't take long for me to realize she was amazing - housebound and plagued with the worst AS has to offer, yet she was radiant, unwavering in her faith, full of life and hope.  I read - in awe and in silence.  I never commented, never emailed her.  I kept my distance.  Maybe it was because parts of her reminded me so much of myself. It hit too close to home.  If the disease could do that to her, couldn't it do that to me?  We were both women in our mid-30s, both believers, both bloggers, both a bit spunky.  I didn't know what to say so I said nothing.  In fact, I stopped visiting her blog for a little while.

    Last week, while I was in Hawaii, a friend posted a message about Sara.  It didn't sound hopeful, but I wasn't prepared to read that she was at home - with hospice - surrounded by her family.  Resting. Waiting. Waiting for the end, or the beginning.   Her health took a turn for the worse and her body is slowly but surely shutting down.  It is just a matter of time.

    I don't know how to process this.

    I'm angry that this stupid disease has cut her beautiful life short.

    I'm angry that I let fear keep me at a distance.  Oh, how I wish I would have told her how much she inspired me, how much I admired her strength, her faith, her incredible determination to choose joy.

    I guess I thought there would always be tomorrow, next week, next month.  I thought we had time. I didn't think she would leave us so soon.  I didn't think the disease we both share would actually take her life.  I still can't believe it.

    It only takes a couple clicks of my mouse to find someone else in the blog world writing about Sara at this very moment - grieving the end but celebrating her life.  She has certainly left a legacy - one of grace, love and faithfulness.

    Sweet Sara, 

    I can only find comfort in knowing that you will soon be made whole.  You will run, dance and jump again.  No more pain.  No more sorrow.  No more canes or walkers.  No more hand fulls of medication. No longer will you be confined to your four walls. Thank you for choosing joy, even in the midst of unimaginable pain.  Thank you for choosing to share your life, your faith, and your hope with us.  Your fingerprints are all over us and we will never be the same. You, my friend, have fought the good fight.  You have finished the race.  You have kept the faith.  You, Sara, are my hero. 

    All my love, 

    Locks of Love

    A few weeks ago I was thinking about how I wanted to celebrate my birthday.  Not what kind of dinner I wanted or what kind of gifts I hoped for - I'm talking about celebrating, honoring, acknowledging my place in this world.  It didn't take long for me to come up with an answer (and if you've been reading my blog you'd know that this whole birthday thing is new to me).  In celebration of my birthday I decided to chop my hair off and donate it to Locks of Love.  For those of you who know me, you know that I've had long hair all my life (except for once in college - bad move).  It may seem silly but hair can turn into a sort of security blanket.  It becomes part of your identity.  I was a little nervous about how I would look but I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do it.

    You see, there were moments earlier this year when I thought I might lose my hair to cancer. Thankfully, that was not the case.  I didn't lose my hair, but I did gain a new perspective on life.  Yup, there was no question - I wanted to give a part of myself to help someone in the midst of their fight.  My life isn't perfect.  I'm not completely pain free, but I'm getting stronger and living the best life I know how. This year, I just wanted to be thankful - and give.  And really, we always have something to give - sometimes it's money, sometimes it's time and energy, sometimes it's hair.

    Locks of Love is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children who suffer from hair loss due to a variety of diseases.  They create hairpieces which in turn create self-esteem, confidence and normalcy in children's lives.  It is an amazing program and I am so glad I was able to give.  Happy Birthday to us all!

    Locks of Love,

    **  Thank you, LyAnn, for a great cut. What a gift! 

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    Healing Water

    I sat on the beach.  I watched everyone get in the water, jump on their boards and paddle out to the surf. I stared out at the old surf break where I spent years of my life.  I smiled on the outside, but really – I was angry that my body was keeping me on the sand.  

    And then it happened.

    My girlfriend said, “Come on, let’s paddle out!” 

    I instinctively stood up and headed to the water. 

    It’s not that I’m incapable.  In fact, I’m thankful that I can do almost anything I want these days (on a smaller scale, on a good day), but lying on my stomach is still a tough one.  Lying on my stomach with my chest propped up – even harder.  Lying on my stomach, chest propped up and paddling – I couldn’t even fathom. 

    Instead, I got on my knees, paddle in hand, and headed out on a stand-up paddleboard to prove something to myself. 

    Each stroke made me feel – strong, able, alive, and happy from head to toe.

    Four beautiful green sea turtles surrounded me.  They kept popping their heads out of the water and looking at me, as though to welcome me back home.  As though to say "good job".  

    After a few minutes, I decided.  I needed to get off my knees and on my belly.  I needed to feel the water rush beneath me.  I needed to remind my body of what it used to do and how we used to do it.  I motioned to my girlfriend that I wanted to switch boards with her. 

    Paddling was what I expected.  Everything hurt.  It was hard to breathe.  My spine felt rigid, unable to curve the way I needed it to curve. 

    But it didn’t matter. 

    I saw the wave coming, paddled as hard as my arms could paddle, and that was it.  I was up.  Nothing fancy, but I was up.  And that did more for me than all the doctors and all the medicine in the world.  At that moment, it didn’t matter how my body felt, or even how I might have to pay for it later.  I was alive. 

    If it wasn’t going to break me in half, then it was going to make me stronger.  I needed to be there – in the healing waters, surrounded by friends I have known most of my life, taking it all in. 

    Let me preface the following pictures with this:  Under ordinary circumstances, I would NEVER post pictures of myself (in a bathing suit, looking a little goofy) on the internet.  But… these aren’t ordinary circumstances.  These pictures capture life.  And hope.  And perseverance.  And healing in progress.  And that’s why I share. 

    Amazed that I'm even in the water.  Thankful...

    Switching boards.

    Having a moment.  Thanking God.  Let's just say there were a few tears.  

    Paddling for my first wave of the day.  I couldn't breathe.  It hurt like crazy.  Best pain I've had in years.


    This moment was a pinnacle healing moment.  
    You see, for about 10 years excuses kept me out of the water.  Law school = no time; work = no energy; kids = no time or energy.  How silly.  Nothing puts life in perspective like sitting on a hospital bed, waiting in doctors' offices, being poked, scanned and x-rayed. 

    I know life is busy.  You may be tired, overwhelmed and juggling more balls than you signed up for.  But let me tell you something.  If you are sitting here reading this then you have time and you have energy.  Do something you love.  Don’t let excuses keep you from living.  I understand that life (and years) may limit parts of what we’ve done in the past. I am sensitive to the fact that some of you truly may not be able to do the things you once loved.  If that's the case, could I encourage you to try something new?  Something that makes your heart leap, your soul smile, something that makes you come alive.  Believe me, I get it.  And because I get it, I’m urging you to get off the sand.  Jump into the water, whatever that might be, and live.  You won’t regret it. 


    Thank you…
    - Tammy and Vanessa for getting me up and cheering me on. 
    - My hubby for standing on the beach and taking pictures (I know it made you just as happy as it made me)
    - All our friends on the beach – for watching the girls as mommy played. 

    Life is sweeter because of all of you. xoxo

    I'm Back!!!

    Oh, it's so good to be back - on the blog, that is.  My family and I just got back from visiting friends and family in Hawaii.  We celebrated my daughter's 1st birthday and my 36th (more on that later).  It was an amazing trip, simply amazing. I did, however, have blog withdrawals and quickly realized it's time to get one of those gadgets with a fruit on the front in order to stay connected while on the go (my hand cramps up after a long text message so I was not about to write a post on my Blackberry).  Anyway, I have a million words in my head and on my heart to share with you all.  I'll break them up so as not to overwhelm you so please stay tuned.  I look forward to hearing from you all as well.

    Good to be home...

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Through Mama's Eyes

    The moment I laid my eyes on you, I fell in love.  The first time you rested your head on my chest, I knew I would never be the same.  Our family's capacity to love grew exponentially the day you were born.   And today, we celebrate your life again.  As I reflect on your first year, I can't stop the tears from flowing.

    You are sunshine.

    And joy.

    And life.

    You are sweet and silly, yet strong and independent.

    You love art.

    And animals.

    And music.

    And food.

    You take it all in, the way we humans should.

    I love watching you explore your world.  Don't ever stop.

    See every corner of it.  It is yours.

    Find your wings and soar.

    Don't be afraid.  You are capable of amazing things.

    You make me want to do amazing things.





    And know that I will love you every moment of every day for the rest of your life.

    Happy Birthday to my sweet baby girl.  

    I love you, 

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    Gems Along the Way

    The first few days of my vacation were the hardest.  I had to find a rhythm, a new way of thinking, a different way of approaching the day.  The last thing I needed was to be overwhelmed, stressed, and hungry.  That would defeat the purpose.  Once my fridge and cabinets were stocked with the key players, we were golden.  Planning was vital.  Staying nourished and hydrated, equally important.  But what started as a mere body cleanse ended up being an incredible life lesson.

    This vacation held a mirror up to my face, and I didn't like everything that was staring back at me.  But aren't those the best lessons?  The ones that put you through a little bit of fire. At the moment, it's uncomfortable, you want out, you don't want to hear it, but fire - fire reveals the heart, refines the soul, cleanses the mind.  And if we would just walk through it, we would find ourselves more vibrant and alive than ever.

    Here are some of the gems I picked up along the way:

    **  Life is not stagnant.  It is ever-changing, always moving, never stopping.  This doesn't mean that you should allow yourself to be tossed in every direction.  It only highlights the importance of being firmly planted in a strong foundation.  Contrary to what we might think, a solid foundation allows us to then be flexible - to embrace life's ebb and flow.  Don't be afraid of change.

    **  Turn off the auto-pilot.  Have you ever driven from point A to point B and then thought to yourself, "Whoa.  How did I get here?"  Our minds are drifting.  Our attention is elsewhere.  We unconsciously shift into auto-pilot to get to our destination, to get through our day.  I understand.  Life can be busy, with everything and everyone vying for your attention.  I get it, but here's what I learned this week.  Do I really want auto-pilot to run my life?  Do I want her to read to my kids, cook my meals, talk to my husband, direct my future?  No way!  Those are my kids, my husband, my health, my life.  And you see, the scary part about an auto-pilot is that if it is even a few degrees off, miles down the road you will find yourself in a very unfamiliar place.  You never meant to be there.  You don't even know how you got there.  It was a gradual shift, a slow departure, and yet, you find yourself off course.  Turn the auto-pilot off and live your life.

    ** For the last few months I've been saying, "We shouldn't wait until we're dying to start fighting for our lives." I still agree with this statement but there was something about the word "fighting" that didn't really convey what I meant.  There was something a bit too aggressive about it, something that implied a winner and a loser.  Well, this week it all became clear.  It's not about fighting, it's about investing.  It's not just about our health, it's about everything we care about.

    Don't wait until you're dying to start investing in your health.
    Don't wait until your kids are rebelling to start giving them your time, your undivided attention.
    Don't wait until your marriage is suffering to start investing in your spouse.
    Don't wait until you are desperate, weak and afraid, to build your relationship with God.
    Don't wait until you are all alone, to invest in your friendships.

    None of these things will thrive on their own.  They are all worth fighting for, but more importantly, they are all worth investing in.  Investing means putting forth effort, giving of yourself, even sacrificing.  But it also means great reward, exponential returns, blessing upon blessing.  Don't wait any longer.  Invest. You can't lose.

    As you can see, this vacation did more than change my diet, it changed my perspective and deeply moved my life.  Thank you, as always, for reading.  I am thankful for you.

    Cleansed and Renewed,

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    Whew! What a Vacation!

    The vacation is over.  The rules have been lifted.  14 days of gluten-free, (refined) sugar-free, dairy-free, meat-free living. Honestly, it was fabulous.  Challenging? Yes.  Did I crave ice cream?  Yes.  Red wine? Yes.  Was I tempted to stuff my mouth with a handful of my daughter's animal crackers and call it breakfast? Yes.  Did I give in?  No.  I juiced, blended, chopped, diced, and ate my way through an amazing two weeks.  I bought things at the farmer's market and grocery store that I never tried before.  I tweaked recipes and did some creative ordering at restaurants.  There were times when I felt limited, but never, ever deprived.  I had a renewed sense of energy and overall well-being.  My mind was clear, heart was soft, body still sore, but energized.

    This ended up being more than a cleanse, more than a vacation. I learned some incredible life lessons that apply across the board:  health, family, relationships, spirituality.  There's so much I want to share, but there will be time for that in the days to come.  For now, I'm going to apply some of what I learned, listen to my body, and rest.

    Good night everyone,

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Dear September: I've been waiting for you!

    I've never felt this way before - giddy that September is here.  The first of every month usually just means the rent or mortgage is due, the emergency broadcast system will do their test at 11:45 a.m., and I need to flip my calendar over.  Nope, not this month, not this year.  I'm ringing in September with open arms and a thankful heart.  If you read Learning to Celebrate, you'd know that my birthday is in September and that this is the first year I'm actually going to celebrate it.  My birthday has never been a big deal to me.  Ever.  I'd just as well work through the day and order Thai take-out.

    Well, my friends, not anymore.

    If there is ever something to celebrate, it's being, well... alive.  Another year.  Another shot at living your best life.   I will never take another birthday for granted.  I will not let another September 18th come and go without saying, "Thank you, God!  Thank you, family.  Thank you, friends.  Thank you, life!"  No complaining about the number of years, or even the number of white hairs on my head.  And to make the month even sweeter, my little love will be turning ONE on September 7th.  Oh, what a year she has had.  What a gift she has been.

    As for me, it's 36!  Bring. It. On.  I have a feeling this may be the best year ever.  Oh, I've got all kinds of plans up my sleeve.  Needless to say, the theme of the month is going to be - CELEBRATING.  Are you ready?

    Let's do this!