Monday, October 12, 2015

Change what you can

photo by Jenny Ingalls Nelson

Pretty simple rules, courtesy of Maya Angelou. There are plenty of ways to change situations. We can find a new job if we hate our current one. We can opt for delivery if we are uncomfortable going to stores. We can change our hair color, our eye color and our wardrobe. There are lots of things that we can change when we don't like them.

But what about the stuff we can't change? What do we do with that?

There have been plenty of things that I would have liked to change. My mom having breast cancer, the pain of a friend with an unfaithful partner, the fear when a friend's baby being born at 26 weeks. None of these could be changed.

These are big, sad, scary things, and I felt those emotions deeply. I also made a choice to not ONLY feel the sadness and fear. I also chose to feel love.

Love looked like forming a closer relationship with my mom at Dr appointments. Love looked like supporting my friend and being so proud of how she stood on her own. Love looked like showing up with food and praying my heart out.

It's normal and okay to be scared, and trust me, I had lots of fear in all of these situations...and I also found some love. I chose to focus on an attitude that served me, and those I loved. My attitude about these things got me through them. It enabled me to show up, fully in pain and in hope, and truly be present.

These days, all of those events are in my past, and for that I am grateful. Even though I never would have chosen them, the lesson of this Maya Angelou quote is forever imprinted in my heart. Change what you can, and when you can't change it, find a way to choose love.

Thanks for being on this journey with me.


CLICK TO TWEET: #Change what you can

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Friday, October 9, 2015

It's October

Post by Shannon DeVido for the Laughter Lover series.

image courtesy of

It’s October, which is synonymous with pumpkin over-saturation (seriously, this needs to get under control), the reemergence of our favorite boots, and the baseball post season. I love baseball. I remember going to my first game with my dad, cousin Lyndsi and Uncle Rolla. My favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, was in town to play the Phillies. I don’t remember where our seats were, or even if the Cubs won. I do however remember Lyndsi putting funnel cake in my face (a very welcomed activity) and the atmosphere of the ballpark. There’s something almost comforting about being in a baseball stadium. It’s the same feeling I get when I go into a theater. Granted in one I have a significant amount of talent, and the other I have next to nothing, but that’s not because of a lack of trying.

When I was 11 my dad found this disabled baseball league. He knew how much I wanted to play so he signed me up. I was psyched. This was my chance. This was how I was going to get my first celebrity crush, the Cubs first baseman at the time Mark Grace, to notice me. Clearly I’m a very realistic individual. Regardless, I couldn’t wait to get onto the field. Now, in theory, this league was awesome. My dad was my coach. I got to bat just like I saw my brother do, and when we played the field, we had someone to assist us with ground balls. My first suggestion of using pooper scoopers to get ground balls was rejected, but what are you going to do?

Here’s the problem. One thing you should know is that people often think people with disabilities are fragile. Therefore the people who created this league didn’t think there should be outs or that we should keep score. Yeah. I know. BULL SHIT. Needless to say, as one of the most competitive people in the world, I was not happy. I would sit in the corner of the dugout and keep score. Afterwards I would go up to the other team and tell them the final score. My dad would half-heartedly correct my actions. I’m pretty positive he was secretly proud of me. I am also pretty positive that I only finished the season because my dad would take me to McDonald’s after each game.

So my stint with playing the game was very short. Unless you count Wii Baseball because, not to brag, I’m pretty good and my Wii is adorable. Instead I became an avid fan. I'd sit with my dad and watch tons of games. I learned the ins and outs of the sport. I really grew to appreciate tight baseball uniform pants. I watched my brother become an incredible pitcher. I ate my fair share of ice cream out of mini helmets. And I even got to take my talent to the field, singing the national anthem at stadiums around the country.

Now, as a Cubs fan, I rarely get to watch baseball in October. The lovable losers tend to live up to their nickname. Still, any good relationship isn't always perfect. It takes work. Take the good with the bad. This year the Cubs made me fall in love with them, and baseball, all over again. They played their hearts out. Many players have inspiring stories that make you want to root for them. They all looked like they couldn’t wait to get on the field. They get to play October baseball. However, when you read this I will either be super psyched they got to the next round, or eating my feelings because they lost. (Not something pumpkin.)

Either way, the 2015 Cubs season made me feel like that kid who watched most of the game with funnel cake all over her face and had a crush on the first baseman. Let’s be honest. Not much has changed.

Play Ball!

Shannon DeVido is an actress, comedian, singer, and writer. She has performed comedy around the country as a stand up comedian and improv with her longform teams, Hell on Wheels and Axis of Evil, on television (Law and Order: SVU), and Off-Broadway. 

An accomplished singer, she currently performs with her quirky, singer-songwriting duo, Useful Rooster. 

Finally, her popular YouTube channel, Stare at Shannon, breaks the conventional image of disability through comedy. 
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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Brain Cancer and Beyond, part 3

Post by Jamie Buchanan for the Kind Kindred series.

Cancer changes your life, often for the better. You learn what's important, you learn to prioritize, and you learn not to waste your time. You tell people you love them…Gilda Radner used to say ‘If it wasn’t for the downside, cancer would be the best thing and everyone would want it.’ That’s true. If it wasn’t for the downside.
-Joel Siegel

Part 3: Diagnosis

Click HERE for Part 1
Click HERE for Part 2

January 2nd, 2007— Christmas had come and gone without me even realizing. This is usually my favorite holiday. I love the aromas of my mother’s cooking, the smell of pine in the air, the sounds of jingle bells and paper being ripped off gifts, and family gathered around the tree of course. This year the aromas just made me want to curl up in a ball and throw up. I had no interest in leaving my bed to gather around a tree. I did not want any gifts this year. All I wished for Christmas was to feel better, for this agony to come to an end. My family eventually convinced me to come downstairs. I must have walked downstairs in a dream-like state because I have no memory of unwrapping my gifts or even what my gifts were. I felt like I was taken out of my body and living in a corpse.

The memory of one particular cold, gray and weary January day will always be engraved in my mind. This happened to be the first day back to school after Christmas break. The break could not have been long enough. I was too ill to return to school. I exited my bedroom that day, unaware of who I was, where I was, where I lived, or even who my own mother was. I felt lost and confused. Everything was a blur to me. My vision became distorted and I started behaving abnormally, like singing crazy songs. Aware that something was not right, my mother drove me to the local hospital to ascertain the cause of my symptoms. After waiting hours to be seen, lab results confirmed that I was pregnant because the tumor affected FSH hormones that suggest pregnancy. My mother knew this could not be right - I was only fourteen. After more hours of waiting for further test results, a CT-scan confirmed my life changing diagnosis. I had a mass on my brain. I was rushed to Yale New Haven Hospital by ambulance. This diagnosis changed my life forever.

January 3rd, 2007— Once at Yale New Haven Hospital, I remained conscious but slept the days away. I’d never broken a bone as a child, so the idea of surgery was unfamiliar to me. The memories of this day, and the days and months following, fortunately remain a distortion to me due to the traumatic pressure in my head. What I do remember is my lack of appetite, so I got all my required nutrients through intravenous. Even though I did not want food, I was still thirsty because my sodium levels were out-of-whack. I begged anyone who entered my room to give me water, even strangers in the hallway. One night when my mom was in the hospital shower, I reached my arm out as far as I could and drank her water bottle to the very last drop. I remember the feeling of hard crushed plastic and the sound of crinkling plastic in my small, weak, pale hands. I even said to my family, “if you loved me, you would give me water.” I was talking like a maniac.

Water was dangerous for me at this time because my sodium levels had to remain stable, so I could only drink capfuls at a time. I had no short-term memory and questioned everyone what their name was every single time they entered my room, even though they just told me seconds earlier. After my initial brain surgery, my entire left side was impaired and doctors confirmed that they did not know the extent of my memory loss. I had to learn to walk, talk and eat again. I learned that all of these huge challenges required patience and perseverance. With the assistance of occupational therapists, physical therapists, and my family’s support, of course, I became stronger. I pushed myself to walk one lap further each day until my body was strong enough to be discharged from the ward. I believe an illness like mine provides room for opportunities and expansion for growth. My experience allowed me to learn the virtue of patience in ways I would not have been able to, and to really cherish the power of the present moment. Nobody expected me to be able to walk again overnight; thus it was during this time I learned to take it one-day-at-a-time as I built enough strength to finally walk a complete circle around the floor.

February - April, 2007— As time slowly dwindled by during months from February to April, I underwent invasive rounds of chemotherapy, but luckily got to spend Easter at home. My family shaved my head in anticipation for my hair to fall out and to avoid clumps falling out at a time. From this experience I learned that hair is not everything; it will grow back soon. I also learned to be comfortable in my own skin. Never before my diagnosis with cancer, did I think I would ever be so comfortable in my own skin. Some days I wore my favorite pink bandana and other days I wore nothing on my head because I felt free. This new transition required that I accepted the new circumstances, my new look. I was ready for stage two: radiation therapy.

My radiation therapy took place at Massachusetts General Hospital during the spring and summer of 2007. While I was extremely sad, scared and nervous to be moving to a new city for my treatment, I know now that new experiences, like moving away, allow one to expand and develop in ways that one would never contemplate.

Even though I was living in Boston solely for cancer treatment, I really appreciated its surroundings and everything Boston had to offer. Luckily for me, my treatment was conveniently right across the street. Proton beam radiation was scheduled every day for two months. Having my music playing during treatment really helped me cope and relax through the lengthy procedure. After that, I usually had one hour of tutoring to keep me caught up in school. I never gave up my schoolwork, or anything for that matter, while undergoing treatment. In spite of my academic success, I had to learn to stare fear in the face as I survived day-to-day, accepting the unknown - the unpredictably of my illness. I knew my counts would drop deadly low, but I did not know when. I learned to celebrate courage rather than fear unpredictably by cultivating patience and living life one-day-at-a-time. I did not let my tragedies rule my triumphs.

After finishing radiation, I came home and realized I wasn’t the girl I used to be. I began gaining weight, only to learn that I had a new ailment because of cancer: it was hypothalamic obesity. Although I was told that no matter how much I worked out and ate healthily, I would still gain weight; I still do these for the benefit of my body. In just a few months, I rapidly went from a size XS to XXL. As my body enlarged, my self-esteem decreased. I felt like I was fading away. My increasing weight gain was out of my control. I felt angry, frustrated and helpless. Nonetheless, I persevere.

I am a passionate optimist committed to helping others improve themselves. 
I have been tested to my core and have overcome against all the odds. 
I will be a beacon, an activist, and an advocate for those who feel they cannot do it for themselves.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Making Self-Care Non-Negotiable

Post by Nikki Starcat Shields for the Kind Kindred series.

image courtesy of Britt Reints on Flickr

Self-care is such a hard thing to schedule in our fast-based, go-go-go culture. If you think about it, it’s kind of ridiculous that so many of us go through life feeling exhausted. Wouldn’t it just be common sense to take care of yourself, so that you can be more present and effective in doing all the things you want to do?

Do you feel guilty about taking time for yourself especially if you're a parent or caregiver? I suspect this has a lot to do with ingrained notions of giving, service and helping others. It can seem selfish or perhaps even wrong to take a couple hours to get a massage, go for a walk by yourself or take a yoga class. Women in particular are expected to be “on” all the time, taking care of your family, your job and your household first. Then, if you have any time and energy left over (yeah, right!), you might exercise or enjoy a “Calgon, take me away” moment in the bathtub.

But how can you sustain the pace of a lifestyle of constantly giving and putting others’ needs first? The answer is, you can’t. Something will eventually happen that will cause you to slow down and force you to recharge. You might get sick, become depressed, face a spiritual crisis or have a mental breakdown of some kind.

Why wait until you feel really awful and dysfunctional to implement self-care?

Think about the message that you’re sending when you choose this route of self-neglect. You’re affirming to your kids, your extended family and your community that you all have to give until it hurts. When you buy into this mentality, you’re only helping to perpetuate it. What quality of life comes at the expense of your own basic wellness?

I would argue that taking care of yourself - your body, mind, emotions and spirit - is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity. Not only will you be of better service to your family and community, you’ll also be happier, more productive and kinder to those around you. Plus you’ll inspire your friends and colleagues to improve their own self-care.

First step: Start where you are.

How can you make your self-care non-negotiable in your life? Think about what you need the most right now. What’s missing from your wellness care? Let’s take a look at some of the challenging areas where you might be missing out on your self-care needs.

Body. Our bodies need basic sustenance: air, food, water, movement and rest. Beyond the basics, though, you will thrive when you nurture your body mindfully. Do you get enough sleep? Do you eat foods that feel healthy and nourishing? Do you exercise regularly? Do you take time to get outside in nature and breathe some fresh air? Taking good care of your body is foundational. You can’t do anything well if you’re always run down and sick. Caring for your body with massage, regular wellness care and rest will help keep you going strong. Make a list of areas where you could use some more regular self-care for your body.

Mind. How are your thoughts treating you? Think about both input and output for your mind. What are the things that you read, view and talk about on a regular basis? Your mind won’t thrive on a diet of gossip, mainstream news media and TV drama. Do you have time for creativity in your everyday life? Do you set goals for yourself and then work toward them? Mental self-care might include enjoying your hobbies, reading inspirational books and blogs, taking meaningful steps toward your dreams and releasing negative self-talk with the help of guided meditations. Learning new things will keep you vibrant and mentally agile. Are you a life-long learner? Make sure to add some great self-care for your mind to your list.

Emotions. Your emotions are like a GPS that guide you through your life. They tell you what’s not working and what needs to be changed or let go. Emotions also remind you of what and who you love most. With all the overwhelming stimuli you encounter, your emotions will help you sift the wheat from the chaff. These important messages from your feelings will allow you to flow more easily through life and to feel more grounded and centered. If you’re an extravert, you’ll want to process your emotions by talking with a trusted friend or family member. Introverts need time alone to think and perhaps journal about their feelings. How do you prefer to nurture your emotional side? Jot down a few ideas.

Spirit. Your spirit is your essential nature, the part of your inner self that is directly connected with the Divine Mysteries. Spiritual self-care helps you to weather the storms that come and go in your life. When you realize that you are an eternal being, you understand that your troubles are just temporary. You can find a deeper connection through meditation, prayer, reading sacred texts, a Tarot card reading or attending a church or temple. When you commune with nature you’ll connect to the sacredness of the world and yourself more easily. What are some ways you can nurture your personal spiritual connection?

Self-care practices will often be beneficial to more than one aspect of your life. Going for a solo walk will exercise your body, calm your mind and help you spiritually connect with nature. Vigorous exercise not only makes your body stronger but will help you be more emotionally centered and focused. Creativity keeps your mind healthy and connected to the eternal creative spark of the cosmos.

Now that you’ve made an inventory of self-care needs, I challenge you to implement three of your ideas this week (no, not next week when you might have more time). Create an intention to prioritize self-care in your daily life, and more importantly, follow through.

How do you get started? It sounds cliché, but try this: schedule time in your calendar just for you. Add your self-care items to your daily to-do list even if you start with only ten minutes at a time. If a daily practice seems like too much, add a weekly self-care time dedicated to you. As you continue to integrate self-care into your routine add another day, and gradually increase the amount of time you devote to nurturing yourself.

Build up to where you feel your self-care needs are being met regularly. Notice the difference? Cultivate your self-nurturing awareness and adjust as needed. Your self-care practice might look like a daily ten-minute meditation practice, yoga classes twice a week and a monthly massage. Make it a practice to check in with yourself each week, perhaps on Sunday evening, to schedule your self-care for the upcoming week and see if you have any special needs or concerns.

Treat yourself like you would a beloved child or client. Be firm with boundaries around your self-care time. It’s no longer okay to put yourself last. Self-care is non-negotiable and the benefits will ripple outward from you into your family, your community and the world at large.

Nikki Starcat Shields is a published author, Mom, Reiki healer, and licensed priestess. She blogs at Starcat's Corner and shares her callings at Feline Dreamers. Looking for ways to expand your creativity and bring more joy into your life? Here's a gift just for you: download Starcat's brand new free e-book, Open Your Creative Portals.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Have more fun

photo by Jenny Ingalls Nelson

I love Amy Poehler, and have recommended her book Yes Please, to many people.

How many times have we been self conscious as adults, when we were just trying to have fun? Think about being on a dance floor, taking a class, or even just wearing a daring new outfit. We so often fall into the "what will they think about me" trap. We lose sight of having fun.

What would life look like if we let ourselves have fun? If we let go of the fear of what others might think? If we embrace the courage of a young child, and just dance our hearts out?

This lesson became so clear to me over Labor Day weekend. Every year, hubbs and I have a big backyard party, and my musical friends and I put together a once a year band. It's a lot of fun...and...I'm always nervous about what everyone will think. What if no one likes my song? What if my voice sucks?

This year, as we were on stage (AKA my deck!) all the little kids at the party were right in front of us dancing their hearts out. People started taking video of them, and even those of us in the band were captivated by them! They were having so much fun. They never thought about how they looked, they just did what they wanted.

I know we're not all 6 year olds, and I also know that being self-conscious is learned behavior, as the kids at my party reminded me. This means that if we learned this behavior, we can unlearn it.

Take a chance and choose to have more fun this week. Listen to Amy Poehler and trust that you won't look stupid. Your childlike courage will shine through, and it'll feel awesome!

Thanks for being on this journey with me.


CLICK TO TWEET: Have more fun!

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Be gentle, be kind

It isn’t hard to be gentle
To lean into yourself as though you are a tiny delicate flower
Piercing through the forest floor
Spreading its elusive white petals to kiss the sky for the first time

It isn’t hard to love yourself
Or embrace the soft pear-shaped being that you are

It just takes a little tenderness here, a little patience there

A little kindness

It isn’t hard, but sometimes we forget how to
Be a mother to ourselves
How to hold our own tender hearts with warmth
Or how to soothe of our own sweet tears

We forget how to sing lullabies to ourselves at night
And how to walk barefoot under the stars
Bathing in healing moonlight
Knowing that tomorrow, when we wake from the deep therapy of slumber
We can start anew again

All is not lost
For what is forgotten can be remembered
What is misplaced can be found again
And these simple words:

Be gentle, be kind

These are guiding posts on the map back to that place of tender grace 

Jodi Sky Rogers is an Eco-Intuitive & Writer based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

She is a flower charmed and nature loving soul who loves quiet moments in lotus position, dreamy sky-scapes and the magic of the Universe. 

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