Friday, July 31, 2009

If You Just Smile

“You’re never fully dressed without a smile.”
―Martin Charnin

You don't want to be caught up in a scandal that involves you not being fulled dressed do you? Oh I can just see the headlines now - complete with pictures! And don't think for an instant that for the right price I would not snap off a few and sell them to the press myself!

.... so get dressed already .... we can avoid such a front page gasp and in exchange change your outlook with a flash of those pearly whites. That's the power of a smile - it completes you, changes your attitude, and in turn changes the world around you. Have you never heard the expression that a smile is contagious? You smile at the stranger in the elevator and an instant boost uplifts your spirit. You smile at the store clerk and suddenly the grocery bill is a little less taxing. You smile at your best friend and a soothing feeling takes hold. You smile at yourself in the mirror, and you give yourself a fresh start, a new look, for the day.

The lyrics of the Nat King Cole song come to mind: "Although a tear may be ever so near - That's the time you must keep on trying - Smile, whats the use of crying? - You'll find that life is still worthwhile - If you just smile"

... I am going to be singing that song for the rest of the day now ...

So try it on for size ... If you just smile it could be the missing piece to your ensemble and in turn change your appearance on the outside, as well as on the inside ...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Responsibility to Explore: Self-Discovery 101

Ann-Marie and I met during Anatomy during our under-grad. She and I would spend hours at Barnes and Noble studying, making flash cards, and quizzing each other. Sidebar – did you know that goose bumps are generated by the flexing of your pilo erector muscles causing your hair to rise? A little fact.

One evening, late last summer, Ann-Marie and I were having dinner and drinks. We were sitting outside, catching up, laughing, and talking about old times. Then the topic came up about “the here and now” – our directions in life – and if we were happy. She was talking to me about making a change in her life. Getting outside the comfort zone and really trying for something – anything – to fuel her spirit, and calm her restless soul. Over the next few months every time we met she was more certain than the last that she was on the verge of making a move that could in fact be the first step to changing her pace, and learning she does have that “fire” inside that cannot be quenched simply by sitting still and watching life pass by. Nope. Not her. She is an inspiration. Truly. In November, I traveled with her six states, and 1800 miles to move her to the sin city of Vegas. And even though she is back in St. Louis, for now, she still continues to amaze me with her jest for life; her gypsy spirit – her eagerness to explore – and her determination to soak up life.

She never allows herself to be limited. She takes road trips on a whim; in fact, less than three months from now she will have visited all fifty states and has a story behind each one of them. She has seen the ball drop in Times Square on New Years Eve. At 3am, on one trip, she began the drive to break “the four corners” monument of Colorado. Was stuck in a blizzard in South Dakota. Saw Brett Favre’s last game as a Packer in Green Bay (and since that is my favorite football team, I am still questioning on friendship on this one – where was my ticket Ann-Marie!?). Accidently got into a Bruce Springsteen Concert in Dallas. And, during Mizzou playoffs, you would have found her in Idaho – where she could not get a flight, so rented a car and took the scenic route. But she is more than adventure – she’s encouragement, inspiration, and conviction bottled in Ann-Marie. She reaches for the unknown, not the expected. She chases thrills and captures memories. She sits on the edge of the Grand Canyon taking in the view, and says to herself – “To think, I could have missed this if I had been too reluctant to get in the car ... and go …”

She is an inspiration to us all to chase our dreams, and follow the path of fulfillment. Today I distribute her piece with you in what I call Self-Disovery, 101–

"Responsibility to Explore: Self-Discovery 101"

It’s safe to say that, as readers of Plan B, we all have a bit of a ‘restless soul’ mentality, meaning we know that life has quite a bit to offer and we recognize that it is our right, maybe even our responsibility, to explore all that we possibly can during our lifetime. And the more we know about ourselves, the greater our chances of manifesting the happiness in our life. Most people would call this “finding yourself”, others would argue that one’s self is created, not found. Regardless, figuring yourself out is something everyone struggles with.

It’s a difficult process because, for the most part, you have to take an autodidactic route. No one can tell you who you are; all anyone else can do is offer you guidance on your self-discovery journey. Because of this, many people wander around lost and unfulfilled. Most just give up – you don’t have to. You deserve a fulfilling life.

With this in mind, I’m urging you to step up to the challenge of discovering yourself. I can guarantee that once you begin this quest, you will not regret it. It may prove to be difficult, it may involve giving something up, it may entail giving more of yourself. Hell, let’s hope that you continue to evolve so that you’re never completely finished uncovering your true self.

So, instead of searching for some miraculous answer to what you are or an all-encompassing label that will define you, head in a direction that brings you joy. Go with what feels best – follow your heart. Take a risk. Try something new. Try something that excites you or try something that terrifies you. Screw the practical and go against the grain! Move to a different city, start that novel, or take a class. Travel (this one’s my favorite!), keep a journal, volunteer. Write some songs, draw a few pictures, whatever. Explore, seek knowledge, chase thrills, just don’t allow yourself to be limited!

You’ll never find anything staying in the same place, doing the same things. Get outside of your comfort zone and you will find that you understand yourself better. You’ll discover new character traits and you’ll realize that you’re more resilient and resourceful than you thought. You have the support of Chrissy, myself, and everyone who reads Plan B. Most importantly, you have yourself – believe in yourself and take some “me” time to get to know yourself.
- Ann Marie

Monday, July 27, 2009

Advice from the Music Man

Last night, I took Thomas to the Muny to see "The Music Man". A tail of a con man coming to the Midwest to work over yet another town, yet ... its he who is "worked" over. Call it a change of heart, or change of ways, influenced by the surroundings and people; this music man discovered what he was missing ... out on life.

"Oh, my dear little librarian. You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don't know about you, but I'd like to make today worth remembering. " - Harold Hill, The Music Man

What is one thing you can do today that will leave it a "filled" yesterday?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Another good read ...

I found an article that was an interesting read, and I thought a great addition to "A Bird's Perspective" piece. Enjoy.
The Hollywood Illusion by Darren Hardy

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

From a bird's perspective

Who’s not scared of love? I mean whether you are scared that it will or will not find you, that it will or will not last, that it can or cannot exist – in some theory we are each scared of love. Scared of getting our hearts broken – scared of taking a risk – scared of putting ourselves out there. Scared of not taking a chance, or taking too many. Scared of making a leap of faith, or not enough. Scared of losing ourselves, or of truly finding who we are.
Whether you check mark the box labeled single, married, separated, or divorced – each of us has our own desires in a relationship, or what we anticipate from one. Each has our own hesitations and expectations … each are scared as to what happens when our expectations fall short, and our hesitations come to surface … and more likely, scared of what happens when expectations can be met, and we can stop being afraid.

When do we stop being afraid?

I watch my grandparents, who have been married for 52 years; still expressing their love for one another and I admire what they have. I once asked my grandpa the secret to their marriage, and his answer gave me such hope in relationships. He told me that him and grandma never fought over anything, besides the children – no matter what they always respected each other, listened to each other, and supported each other. I see them interact with one another and value that foundation of respect, and love. As Grandpa will tell me, “Kiddo, you’re not getting any younger…” On the eve of another birthday, I find myself not so much afraid anymore of finding love, but more afraid it will not find me. So how do we become unafraid? What first surfaces in my thoughts are to face our fears and shed our layers to our walls we have built in the form of self-protection. If I have learned anything from myself it’s that walls serve a purpose, but eventually you must learn to let in the good and not just keep out the bad.

“If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.”

If you are a woman and have a pulse you know what movie that line is from; for some of you of the male persuasion you may need to know that is from “the Notebook” – ah, you have heard of it …. .

Ladies, how many times have each of us seen “the Notebook” – eleven, twelve? Yet it happens to be on as you walk through the living room and you cannot help but sit down, grab a Kleenex and have a good cry. Doesn’t matter what you were doing at the time - dinner is burning, the toilet has a “diving” GI Joe in it, the door bell is ringing - we are mesmerized by this fictitious movie – it captures our mind, our hearts, and our thoughts. And it stays on our mind, the depth of their love … long after the ending credits stop rolling.
Why do we allow invented moments such as those shown on the silver screen – dominate our thoughts? Suckers for movie moments I suppose – but when was the last time someone gazed into your eyes and said something that made music begin to play in the background, while the stars did a twinkle dance (not to be confused with “tinkle” dance), and all at once your heart skipped a beat and you lost your breath ….

Yet still I am a hopeless romantic, waiting for a movie moment. And I would not change that quality about me in exchange for any other more “riskless” traits. The Dalai Lami said, “Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk…” I hear stories of what seems to be plaguing my friends at the moment; relationships just started off, relationships ending – some on hold, some hoping to take shape. I ask them why I am the go to Dear Abbey and I am told, “Because your heart is that of a true optimist. Rational, non-judgmental, understanding, and you always encourage a start and a finish, and cherish the in-between.”

So here is my advice to them, and my advice to you: Take a chance

Remember when we were in middle school and our biggest relationship moment was when a note was passed (or we did the passing) with the key question – “do you like me?” Followed by drawn squares of Yes and No … I would draw in my own little tiny box labeled, “maybe”, check it, and pass it back. Looking back, that maybe was my vague way of playing hard to get. I have no doubt that whether you were the passing party or the receiver, you were scared.

But the difference between then and now, besides our ages, maturity levels, and actual “events” of true love, heart break, and everything in between … is that back then we actually took chances. Sure, sometimes the note came back with a check mark by “No” with a “Way” written in behind it, but it did not stop us for trying … again, and again we would send and receive. We may have not known the meaning of love, but we could have taught our adult selves an invaluable lesson: pain is temporary – failure will last forever – not taking a risk can lead to worry of the unknown, and taking a risk could lead to a playground romance that just might turn into a walk home, and a nervous kiss on the cheek goodnight … but you will never know how that walk will turn out if you don’t initially take the first step ….

As fate would have it, as I began writing this piece, my daily affirmation arrived, from Tut.com and seemed to fit flawlessly:
Yesterday I watched a small bird, flying very fast, disappear into the canopy of an oak tree. So dense were its leaves that it was impossible to see what happened next, though I can tell you it remained inside.

I wondered how the little bird found its opening through the leaves at such a speed, and then managed to gently align its fragile body on the branch it chose to land upon, all within a fraction of a second. Not to mention the impossible to imagine flying maneuvers required: the banking, the curling, the vertical and horizontal stabilizations, the deceleration and landing.

Memory? Calculation? Not in that tiny brain. Instinct? Maybe, but how does instinct know which way the branches of a tree have grown when no two are the same?

Chrissy, that little bird just knew. It had faith, in spite of not being able to see how things would work out, that if (and only if) it stayed the course the details would be taken care of; that an opening would appear and a twig would be found.

In fact, had she slowed down enough to carefully and logically inspect the tree first, the prudent thing to do, she would have lost her lift and fallen to the ground.

Kind of like reaching for your dreams. Neither memory, nor calculating, nor instincts are the deciding factors, but faith coupled with action.

Stop doubting, stop questioning, stop analyzing – your break ups, your marriage, your new relationship, older one, or lack of one. You have a choice to let that someone in, or push them away. To build upon, or tear it down. To embrace change, or shy away. Having the understanding to your fears, and the appreciation to face them gives you an opportunity to cleanse your soul, improve yourself, and in turn improve the relationships around you. Being afraid … in whatever relationship capacity … can bring nothing refreshing to your life…

... but taking a "walk" … asking to be bird … and soaring without fear can give new perspective, new depth, and a new view to life ….

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How to Make a Beautiful Life - Reflections ...

I received an email today from a dear friend who picked up this Hallmark card that seemed to speak to her; she is turn typed it out and sent it to others in hopes of sharing its excellent advice. I could not help but feel compelled to share its wisdom with you:

How to Make A Beautiful Life...reflections

Love yourself. Make Peace with who you areand where you are at this moment in time.Listen to your heart.If you can't hear what it's saying in this noisy world.

Make time for yourself.Enjoy your own company.Let your mind wander among the stars.

Try.Take chances.Make mistakes.Life can be messy and confusing at times,but it's also full of surprises.The next rock in your path might be a stepping-stone.

Be happy.When you don't have what you want,want what you have.Make do.That's a well-kept secret of contentment.

There aren't any shortcuts to tomorrow.You have to MAKE YOUR OWN WAY.To know where you're going is only part of it.You need to know where you've been, too.

And if you ever get lost, don't worry.The people who love you will find you.Count on it.Life isn't days and years.It's what you do with time and with all the goodness and grace that's inside you.

MAKE A BEAUTIFUL LIFE...The kind of life you deserve.

Behind the line, is what you leave behind

"The Dash” is one of my best friend’s favorite poems. She is one of those friends that is not afraid of dying. She is one of those friends that don’t realize how her lack of fear encourages those around her to see the magnificence in life. She and I share a passion for questioning, quotes, and quests. In the middle of the day it is not rare to find a text message or a phone call or an email (and even the occasional singing telegram) sharing a thought – or a song – or a quote. In fact, when I was packing up the house a few months back, I found my box of memories. Tucked inside were letters from her back when I left St. Louis to find myself. I called her up, and read her words to her. The letters may have been nine years old, but yet today we are still those same girls – searching for more. Wanting more. She called me this afternoon at my office to check in and see how I was.

“Are you seriously interrupting my traditional end of the week golf game?”

“I just wanted to see how studying was coming alone – I see your priorities are in check. Golf first, study later – ‘tis that the plan?”

“I don’t know much about anything it seems lately. I cannot focus this week to save my life. And you know what’s riding on this exam. My life as I know it. I pass, and I complete phase one of my plan. I fail, and I … well, don’t even want to think about it.”

“Chrissy, what do you want?”

“I’m sorry – I was in mid-swing – come again?”

“Seriously … want does Chrissy want?”

“I thought I knew Jess, but I feel the plan slipping from me. I postponed the test next week because I am not ready. After a lot of thinking I had to admit I was being too hard on myself – I was pushing too hard for this plan to work, when really I think I was setting myself up for failure. I was trying to overachieve.”

“You??? Overachieve? Pushing too hard? I don’t believe it!”

“Okay smart **censored**”

“I will ask you again – What does Chrissy want? And don’t give me the phases of the plan answer. That has no bearings on what you truly want.”

As much as I hate to admit – she is right. I sacrifice what I truly want in order to conform to sensible plans. One of the reasons I stepped away from Plan B is because I am at a place in my life where I am being given an opportunity to soar in my career and I am desperately afraid I am going to fall short. I thought giving up some of the things I love, some of the things that allow me to be me – sacrificing for the greater good – could allow me to be focused and driven to achieve. But in doing so, it has given more power to the worry and tears, than it has given to accomplishing “the plan”.

I feel frustrated, and scared – the term focus doesn’t even makes it appearance as most days the fret and doubt consume most of my brain function. Do you ever feel like that? Do you worry? Do you question your ability? Do you give more power to the doubt than you do to your power to excel? It’s like we spend so much time focusing on how to become focused, that we forget to enjoy the satisfaction in our lives. Like going for a midnight run to burn off frustration and to look up at the sky and see the wonder of the moonlight. Or blowing off part of your to-do list to catch up with an old friend at the theatre. Or driving out to a sandy beach and walking in the vast presence of nature, and God’s creation. Or waking up to a four year old cuddling your hand and telling you good morning - seeing a new morning through the light of a child’s eyes.

Although plans are necessary components to our lives, sometimes even in our greatest architect and engineer abilities, we neglect to incorporate our imagination. Not every day can be lived by a cookie-cutter, cut and dry, either do it or die trying outlook. The creation of the plan is great, in theory and written on paper, but if it does not provide the opening to enjoy what you are creating, then really what is its purpose? Each day you inch closer to what you are leaving behind your dash in life – and if we overlook to break free from conformity, routine, and ease then truly what is behind the line is something that we are missing.

I miss writing. I miss painting abstract at 2am with the sound of the blues in my ears. I miss packing a suitcase and taking a trip just because I need to get away. I miss the sound of laughter coming from friends, sitting around a dinner table, sipping wine and sharing stories. I miss driving to my grandparents on a Sunday afternoon for a game of Dominos, and the taste of stuffed cabbage cooked by one of the greats. I miss watching a sunset of a day passed, and looking forward to the sunrise of a new day to come. I miss making memories. I miss feeling like I was living my life. But most of all, I miss just being me – the Chrissy who knew the answer to the question of what she truly wanted.

The past four weeks of sacrifice has shown me the true importance of not basing your life solely on a plan; but giving yourself permission to find the balance between enjoying life, and achieving it. When you take the pressure off and give yourself room to enjoy, the pieces to the puzzle seem to fit. You become more driven to excel in all of your endeavors, because you appreciate that life is not about living a plan … it’s about making a life that you can find elation in, as well as achievements. After your dash is written, there will be no more sunrises … you have to watch them take silhouette now and truly value the meaning of what a new day can make.

So I ask you – what do you miss? What do you want? And when are you going to find the balance between the two? Three questions. You know the answers. Just try to give yourself permission to allow room in your plan to make both achievements, and memoirs, to leave behind your dash.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A note from Plan B's Creator

Okay "a note'" is a little misleading. Its a litle more like:

Housekeeping:
- As you know Plan B works through subscribers, such as yourself. I do not put a clause on the emails / distribution, however, from time to time I will inform you that if you wish to no longer subscribe just send me an email ... its that simple.
- New subscriptions are still accepted! So although you have already landed yourself a great feed, feel free to share with your family, friends, and the cashier the next time you are at the supermarket ...
Thank you:
I cannot stress to you enough my thanks for allowing me to fulfill my selfish desire to write in a way that helps others along their journey ... all awhile, being able to help myself. It still amazes me that through an idea generated from a little Cafe in Chase Park Plaza is what I am able to deliver to you each week ... and when I hear your stories of how Plan B helps / changes / encourages / motivates ... well, its what fuels me to continue the discussions. And for that, I sincerely thank you.
Now... Leaving on a Jet plane ...
I have decided, based on current events in my life, to take a "vacation" from Plan B and put that focus on other accepts for awhile. Don't cry for me Argentina - I will be back. Moments away give us what we need to rejuvenate ourselves, and although Plan B already provides those moments for me, I need to take the next couple of weeks to focus solely on others avenues in my boardwalk. ... But I do know when I will be back again - expect to see a fresh piece sometime at the end of July.

So until then - Besos! Life is what you make of it, so ... make it yours.

The Power of Conversation, and Communication

Yesterday Thomas and I made the hour or so car ride over to Holiday Shores, IL so we could spend the day with his Godparents and family on a Fourth of July celebration. As we made the journey, I had Thomas take “quite time” (aka nap time because momma needs a break and wants to listen to the lyrics of her new Jason Aldean CD …) before we arrived at our destination. About half way into the trip he awakes crying … one of those cries that you consider pulling the car over to address. I won’t go into detail behind his tears as its hard for me to express without becoming quite upset myself, but I will tell you that after a long talk I became conscious that his thoughts must have been weighing heavily on his little mind. What caused him to be upset is out of my control, and it broke my heart yesterday trying to explain to him the reasons why. But he listened, attentively, as I explained thoroughly that I was very pleased that he knows he can talk to me, openly and unreservedly – and that if he ever has any more questions or thoughts, to feel free to discuss them with me always. I also made sure that no matter how much I express it, he can never know how much I love him – all the way to the moon and back is our saying, but that still is not enough for the love that I hold. Our talk calmed him – he went back to slumber land and I spent the rest of the trip in awe of the conversation.

When we arrived I was instantly compelled to speak to his Godparents about the exchange. I needed another perspective. As a single parent you feel the pressure to be three steps ahead of the game at all times, and feel there is never room for error. Once I poured out my heart, surrounded by the sounds of waves crashing on the beach, and the assurance from his godparents that I had addressed the issue well, I felt solace that the little boy I am raising came to me with his questions … how hard it must have been, how long they must have been bouncing in his thoughts … at the end of the day I take comfort that I am doing my job as a parent – I am making sure he knows beyond a doubt, he can find refuge in our relationship and placate whenever he needs … for whatever questions, or thoughts, or debriefings his mind holds.

The lesson here grasshoppers is one that I myself must constantly keep in the forefront of my mind. When the questions of today weigh on us – both emotionally and physically – we have those around us that we can turn to in our moments of distress. They welcome our questions, no matter how hard they are to ask or hear, with an open mind, and an open heart. Through the power of conversation we are given new insight – new wisdom – to understand, and to move forward. I struggle with reaching out for help; I tend to pile on the responsibilities and stress until I crack and break. In the moment of capsize is when I use my “phone a friend” card and vent/ cry / hash out. These discussions give me clarity and new found thoughts of the greatest importance.

Isn’t that one of the true foundations in the meaning of friendship? You extend your hand in your moment of need … and you are met with a hand in yours. Granted, I won’t be as foolish to say that I extend more than I meet – but as I drive it into Thomas head, I am quite fortunate to have the opportunity to drive it into my own, and hopefully yours:

Reaching out, seeking console is not a moment of weakness – it’s a moment of strength. It’s not erasing the questions at hand, it’s providing a stepping stone to understanding, and working through. Sure we have our days, weeks, and sometimes longer, that we hold it in – maybe thinking no one will understand, maybe thinking we will be judged, maybe thinking it’s not worth the effort – but I cannot tell you one conversation with a true friend where I did not leave the dialogue feeling relief.

Life does have room for error. Us “overachievers” (that would be me, and in all likelihood yourselves in some retrospect) tend to be hard on ourselves; our bodies, our minds. We don’t truly reach out until we are at the end of our rope. We don’t view failure as an option, or conform well outside of the way we plan. Coming back to the Jason Aldean lyrics (oh you knew I would eventually, I love what music can incorporate!), track five is entitled – Don’t Give Up on Me. He speaks of not being exactly as he thinks he should – he is hard on himself in every sense of the word. But at the end of the day – his mind racing, clouded with thoughts – harvesting questions and lacking answers – he knows there is that one person who can always lift him from his doubt in himself, and the world around him.

Look around you: there is a person, or persons, that you have a comfort level with that allows you to not only be yourself – completely, truly, and honestly – but they give you the belief in yourself. A belief that you don’t question being able to turn to – again and again. A belief that allows you to surrender your thoughts. A belief that answers one very important question that I cannot formulate for you, but in this case will provide you with the answer:

“When life is not exactly as I have planned; when I question, when I struggle, when I need the zone of comfort <- Insert Name or Names ->was placed in my life."

The true gift of any relationship is commutation; and being able to tap that resource when you need it the most.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Freedom, and Dreams ....

Now where did I put that sparkler? I know I had it lit in this house somewhere...

... That is neither here nor there ... its Fourth of July!! My third favorite holiday of the year!! (Your guess on the other two, and no Columbus day is not one of them ... however Flag Day is close in the running...)

The movie “Independence Day” is one of my most adored summertime flicks, and captures one of my all time favorite movie speeches:
“In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And, you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. "Mankind," that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interest. Perhaps, its fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom--not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution, but from annihilation. We're fighting for our right to live--to exist. And, should we win the day; the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish, without a fight. We're going to live on. We're going to survive. Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!" – President Thomas J. Whitmore.

Our country was founded on three key principles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. I will not weary you with one of my political soap boxes, but I will say this – these principles are a privilege. It’s a privilege that blood has been shed for; that others have sacrificed so that you are able to have. Nevertheless, you must choose to incorporate them into your lives. When faced with hardships, deadlines, overwhelming responsibilities, and emotional heartache – try to remember that you too can declare you will not go quietly into the night … Stand for what you believe in, fight for what you dream of, and live a life full of happiness. Although it’s not written as a Hollywood blockbuster, your life is enriched with freedom, dreams, and recompense if you seize to capture the true essence of America’s birth. Your freedom gives you today – to make the most of it, both the bad and the good. Declare your own Independence Day, free of negativity and procrastination in living out your dreams … The ticket has already been bought and paid for. And this is a movie worth cherishing.

God Bless America. Happy 4th of July. And may all your dreams come true ….