Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What are five things you're thankful for this year?

Every year when my family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner, we go around the table and each say all the things we're grateful for that year. It's a wonderful way to reflect on the previous year and everything that happened. What better time to actually see who we've become and see just how much we've evolved?

Don't believe me? Well, friends, I've got a little something called science on my side. New York Magazine recently wrote about the link between giving thanks and a happy mood. According to research, the effects of saying those two simple words -- "Thank you" -- can last as long as a month.
[Researchers] gave a series of six tasks to more than 400 people to test different ways of improving people’s moods: Some participants were instructed to reflect on and write about their personal strengths, for example, while others were told to think about their personal strengths and find new ways to use them every day for a week. 
Just one of those six tasks involved gratitude: The participants were asked if there was someone in their lives who was once particularly kind to them, but whom they never properly thanked. They then were instructed to write and hand-deliver a thank-you letter to this person. In the end, the gratitude task had the biggest impact on the participants’ happiness, and the effects were still measurable when the researchers checked in a month later.
Pretty uplifting, if you ask me. So in the spirit of all things thankful, here are five things I'm saying a big "THANK YOU" to this year...
1. My family: Yes, easily everyone's top pick, but there's definitely NO shame in that. I'm not sure how I would have survived the last decade or so without my mom or my sister. I'm proud of the women we've become in my father's absence. We've managed to carve out a new life for ourselves, especially when it was the last thing we wanted to do. And of course, our two cats made the journey so much sweeter. Oh, where would we be without Harry and Stella?

2. My health: No surgeries and no major illness is definitely something to celebrate. There was a time in my life when having just a couple surgeries in a single year was considered a triumph, so I feel especially lucky this year. I feel like -- dare I say it?? -- a normal woman for once in my life. AND I LOOOOVE IT!!!! Can you tell I'm slightly pumped about it?

3. So About What I Said: This blog? I know I've said it 651521515 times before, but I don't know what I'd do without it. Sometimes, I swear it even keeps me sane. And YOUUUUU!!!!!! We are a pretty mighty, strong, fierce, passionate community. I've so enjoyed getting to spend the last six years with you, and I thank you for inviting me into your life. Together, I'm quite certain that we could take over the world, and I'm in no way exaggerating when I say that. You. Me. Together. The world.

4. Taylor Swift's 1989: Best album of the year, hands down. It teaches you to just shake it all off and live life -- on your terms and in whatever way you want! How liberating is that? FREEDOM!

5. Summer: Yes, I know it may sound like a weird thing to be thankful for, but my fellow Midwesterners will no doubt agree with me. Having survived the last few agonizingly cold winters, the summers have felt extra special -- sort of like a gift. I know the promise of next summer is what's going to get me through this brutal winter, so don't let me down, Mother Nature!
Ahhh, I do feel lighter -- and happier -- already! YOUR turn, friends: What are FIVE things you're thankful for this year? Family? Pets? A favorite show? Go ahead and share your list in the comments, and let's chat, shall we? xoxo

[Photos via We Heart It]

How I Feel (In 5 Photos) Wednesday.

"I took the good times...I'll take the bad times...I'll take you just the way you are..." --Billy Joel

[Photos via empty forest]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Surgery anniversaries: 20 years ago (the story continues...)

We continue our look back at my most serious and intense surgery to date -- my brain surgery. It took place 20 years ago this month. What sort of celebration does an anniversary like that call for? Am I the only one who celebrates her surgical milestones? Catch up on Part One if you haven't.

I felt like a walking time bomb that could explode at any moment while we waited for the MRI results. Why couldn't doctors find out what was wrong with me? Was this merely all in my head? All I knew was that I needed answers, and no one could give me any. As a 13-year-old girl, all I wanted to do was watch TV and go shopping, but instead, here I was, being poked and prodded. I was just downright scared and confused, hoping it would all be over soon.

The meeting with the doctor to find out the results of the MRI was overwhelming. He brought out the MRI scans and pointed to a compression in my neck. There it was, illuminated on the screen: the culprit that had been plaguing me for four months. A Basilar Invagination. That was the technical term he used for this very rare condition. My spine was growing up into my brain stem (the part of the brain that controls breathing and heart rate) and compressing it. Doctors had only fused the lower half of my spine two years earlier, so since I was still growing, the top half had no place to go but upward! The doctor said that most people have a little tip on the end of their brain stem, which I don’t have. If I did have it, he said, I would have stopped breathing and become brain dead the minute the compression started. As the doctor kept talking, everything began to happen in slow motion. His lips rattled off treatment options. His hands kept gesturing rapidly to the giant scan, which, through my teenager eyes, seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. Everything seemed to blur together into one big mess.
We found a wonderful doctor at the University of Chicago who performed the 14-hour surgery. It’s strange, but for the first time, I felt a sense of calm before this surgery. For once, I wasn't petrified of entering that big operating room. I was ready for the surgery. It was my only hope of getting better. I stayed in the hospital for a few weeks, part of the time on a ventilator, and then had to wear a halo frame for four months to keep my neck still while it healed. I’d find out later that my brain stem was under so much pressure that when the doctor removed the spine, the brain stem vibrated for close to 10 minutes!

If this experience has taught me anything, it’s to be your own advocate. Doctors may be brilliant people, but they don’t know everything. I learned that the hard way, but now I know that you can never be too careful when it comes to your health. Ask questions. Get second opinions. In short, take your health into your hands. If my parents hadn't been my biggest advocates, I would be sitting here today, a tube sticking out of my stomach, instead of a persistent and determined young woman. And yes, I can – and do – eat whatever I want now! I think this blog is a pretty good reflection of that! xoxo

Wise Words From Readers: Oh, if I won the lottery...

Oh, it's everyone's favorite question: What would you do if you won the lottery? How would you spend the money? It can be a daunting question. You want to spend it wisely, sure, but part of you wants to buy your own mountain and name it after yourself -- you know, a fantasy you've had since you were in elementary school. So you try to strike a balance, which is something I learned this week from you, friends...

*I'd pay off my son's student loans, and put aside enough to pay for the rest of his college. My parents paid for my college education, and I'd like to be able to pay for his. I've paid for a lot of it, but not all of it yet.

*Pay the taxes on the winnings. Then make nice large gifts to my two children to use as they raise their children.

*Pay the bills, including the kids' bills. Build a ranch house on some acres and build a huge year-round kennel for Bloodhound rescue. Donate to charity.

*Retire. To live happily ever after, of course!
So what would I do? I'd build my mom a house with an indoor pool like she's always wanted, and I'd buy my family a beach house on the Alabama Gulf Coast, so we can go visit any time we want and remember all those good times we had there over the years. I'd also donate to suicide and mental health awareness. Oh, and I'd also get front-row tickets to a Taylor Swift concert. Anyway, here's next week's question...

If you could live in any decade or time period, which would you choose and why?

Visit So About What I Said on Facebook and Twitter to share your smarts -- and don't forget to use hashtag #WiseWordsFromReaders. See you there, friends! :)

[Photos via We Heart It]

Found: Pretty holiday cards

When I was growing up, my mom used to send a holiday letter to our friends and family every year. It was a great way to keep in touch with everyone, and I'd always get so excited when we'd get letters from people we hadn't seen in years.

We haven't sent a letter for a few years now (thanks, Facebook!), but I still can't resist a pretty card, and as usual, Etsy is spot-on again this year! I'm really loving their sets of cards, like these bright, retro cards from mydearfellowco. Here are three more of my favorites this year...
Sleek, chalkboard design from LilyandVal...
Modern letterpress set from KleePress...
And, this funny one from HappyDappyBits...

Aren't these cards awesome, friends? In the Great Age of Technology, do you still send a good old-fashioned card in the mail? There is something to be said for opening your mailbox and seeing an envelope from someone you haven't seen in awhile. So. Much. Fun. xoxo

P.S. More holiday cards and a special secret message card. :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Surgery anniversaries: 20 years ago...

In November, 1994, I underwent my most serious surgery to date: Brain surgery to relieve brain stem compression. After nearly a year of doctor visits and medical tests, we discovered that my spine was growing up into my brain stem and compressing it. That, as you can imagine, resulted in a whole mess of problems. Since this month marks the 20th anniversary of that surgery -- and because I celebrate medical milestones like this, obviously -- I thought I'd share the story of that journey. Look for part two tomorrow, friends!

Your mind’s a funny thing. It’s your internal camcorder. Sounds. Smells. Tastes. They all evoke powerful memories. Your own private trip down memory lane, if you will. A typical Saturday for me in high school consisted of two things: Jack’s Pizza and a classic ‘90s medical drama a la ER or Chicago Hope. The scene played out the same week after week. Around noon, my mother would plop those thin pizzas in the oven. Thirty minutes later, I’d start to smell the aroma of grease and gooey cheese practically oozing out of the kitchen. Then my family would gather around our living room TV, my father stretching out on the floor with his head resting on a pillow and a blanket over his feet.

You see, we needed to brace ourselves for all those stats and code blues. To us, it wasn't just an hour of mindless TV; it was instead like watching a home movie. We felt the heat from the sterile lights of the operating room. We knew all too well the medical jargon. We even felt the fear and confusion of the patients. For a good portion of my life, we were those very patients, and I couldn't help but wonder: Would I be the person I am today if not for one scary, life-altering medical crusade? My own private episode of ER, minus a ruggedly handsome George Clooney, if you will.
It all began when I was a wide-eyed 13-year-old. One night, I was eating dinner. I was watching Wheel Of Fortune and eating macaroni and cheese. The big wheel whirled around in all its glorious color. I tried to swallow, but suddenly, my food wouldn't go down. I took another bite. Gulp. Swallow. Nothing. It was like my esophagus had just stopped working.

Over the next few weeks, my condition became progressively worse. There were more and more foods that I couldn't swallow. My parents and I knew something just wasn't right. So in March, 1994, we began what would be our entire lives for the next six months. I first went to a gastroenterologist to examine my esophagus and digestive system. I underwent a battery of tests, including multiple endoscopies, where they stick a tube down your nose with a camera on the end to examine your digestive track; I also had multiple radiation tests, where I had to swallow barium so they could get an x-ray view of food going down my esophagus -- what little food I could eat at the time, anyway. All the tests came back clear. My digestive track was in perfect working order.
By this time, I had lost so much weight that I was down to 49 pounds! My mom even had to start blending my food because there were virtually no foods left that I could swallow. The digestive doctors were running out of tests to run and were still clueless as to what was happening to me. One doctor even told us: “Your daughter will have to be tube-fed for the rest of her life. I’m surprised she hasn't had problems before now.”

My parents were extremely medically savvy and wouldn't settle for this answer. They knew there was something medically wrong with me, so they asked the doctor if I could have an MRI of my spine; I’d had surgery to fuse my spine two years earlier. For some reason, they just had a hunch that the problem might be neurological...

Look for Part Two tomorrow, friends! xoxo

[Photos via We Heart It]

The introvert's heart

PSA: The holidays can be a hard time for us introverts. Please handle us with care... ;)

[Illustration by Gemma Correll. Head on over to Society 6, where you can buy more of Gemma's amazing work]

Behind The Blog: Run Away Mägi May

I'm so happy to be bringing the Behind The Blog series back today, friends! As you know, I love taking a peek behind the curtain of blogs just as much as I love reading them! And Run Away Magi May is the perfect blog to help kick off round two of our series. When Magi wrote to me and described herself as "a wandering-traveler human who likes to plug into small-towns," I knew I wanted to know more. I mean, her life sounds so cool, so adventurous and so...awesome! And it is! She's currently teaching in Alaska and enjoying lots of time with her little nieces. I hope you enjoy reading her story. And as always, I'd love to feature you and your blog, so feel free to email me (mellow1422 [at] aol)...

Quick facts
Name: Mägi
Birthday: September 19th, 1990 (International Talk Like a Pirate Day)
Where are you from...Kirkland, Washington (home to Costco)
3 words to describe me...resplendent, inimitable, and zealous
Occupation: Wanderer. But, to fuel the wanders, I've been a direct service provider to children, the elderly, and to folks living with developmental disabilities. Currently I teach in different homes in rural Alaska. My specialties are German/Swiss-German, cello. math and English.
Blog: Run Away Magi May
When did you start your blog...I started Run Away Magi May in 2010, but I started blogging actively in 2004 when I was 13.
What inspired you to start a blog?
I wrote regularly when I did my first year abroad in Switzerland. It was then that my blogging became a staple in my life as a form of documenting it. I mainly wrote because everyone asked the same questions and I wanted to be able to give them a more solid answer without exhausting myself by writing the same thing to each human.

Then, I started a blog related to my different "disorders" (I live with ADHD/SPD/BED/trichotillomania/DCD...). I was in college and trying to sort things out, and wanted to write about how they were affecting me. I got a lot of positive response from moms and dads of kids living with the same disabilities, and they were interested in my story. I was like their kids, but a few years ahead. It was an honor to be a voice for our community and to give the parents encouragement and hope.

Now I travel frequently, always on the move, it seems, for the past five years, and blogging has become a way for me to keep track of my journey and share it with friends I don't get to see often.

What do you love the most about blogging? Does anything about it stress you out?
I love that blogging has a lot of growth and experiences documented in an organized format that my friends and family have access to. They tell me they like keeping tabs on my adventures when I'm on the road. Nothing about it stresses me out. I only blog when I want to about what I want to write about.
If you had to describe your blog in one sentence, what would you say?
It's the documentation of the life of a normal twenty-something...who just so happens to live in her truck and has been dealt a few developmental disability cards and a hardcore shot of wanderlust.

What has blogging taught you?
Lessons sometimes have to be learned more than once for them to sink it. It's sometimes funny (or painful) to look back and go, "Ahhh! I've been through this! Why didn't I learn?"
What advice do you have for new bloggers?
Know why you're blogging. Your heart has to be behind it to keep going. If your goal is viewers, well, I guess you can run with that, but you'll probably lose momentum quickly. In a decade, what will you be grateful for that you spent time to write out today?

Where do you see yourself and your blog in 5 years?
In five years? I rarely know where I'll be month to month. I can't ever seem to stay in one place. Your guess is as good as mine. My blog will probably look just as it's looked the past few years -- daily documentations of the changes in life and the beauty of temporary routines.
What has surprised you the most about blogging?
Besides how many people try to start a blog and stop after four posts? What a beautiful tool it can be in life. I find it to be a great coping mechanism when my thoughts start to get scattered.

Man Candy Monday.

Oh, good morning, friends! How are you all on this fine Monday morning? It's hard to believe that we're only three days away from Thanksgiving, but perhaps the stars have aligned because I'm very thankful for today's guy. He played a cute nerd on this '90s classic. He's got an infectious smile. And something tells me he'd always be there for you...


"My advice would be to write what is most personal and specific to your experience or your life. And your voice will emerge and because of its specificity, it will be universal."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Have a relaxing weekend

Woo hoo, welcome to the weekend, friends! What are you doing this weekend? As you can probably guess, I'll be staying in and resting from this evil cold! In fact, as I was typing this, I just sneezed three times in a row -- TMI? Anyway, I hope you all have a great weekend, and here are my favorite finds from the wonderful Web...

Really, Oxford Dictionaries, this is your Word of the Year?

This male news anchor wore the same suit for a year to protest sexism.

Loving all the rings by Colby June -- how pretty are they?

The perfect finds for the perfect cozy weekend.

Dream Home: Soothing blues.

50 U.S. states, 50 deserted places.

Sugar nail frosting glitter, anyone?

Fall is a cruel lie.

Aww, how cute are these sleeping animals?

These 100 questions would be great conversation starters.

The creative process? Oh, I think so... (via Swissmiss).

United States of Thanksgiving.

Good advice: Dealing with jealousy.

Aww, this four-year-old is really upset that she'll never get to meet George Washington!

I love you, Blair Waldorf.

Yes, I'll never get tired of aerial photography.

The science of sleep.

Every terrible ad cliche you've ever seen in one genius video.

How awesome is this Bridesmaid Gift Guide?

...and a gift guide for the modernist in your life.
**A special offer from one of my long-term sponsors: MagnetStreet is having having a 35% sale on all wedding stationery through December 1st. Just enter promo code WETHANK35 at checkout!

**Don't forget to enter the Jacaranda Designs $30 Gift Card Giveaway -- you've got until next Tuesday!!

And as always, feel free to connect with me on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and now YouTube! See you there, friends! xoxo

[Photos via bippity boppity boo]
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