Why I’ll Never Teach My Children About Stranger Danger

stranger dangerWe hear it all the time: “It’s just not the same world out there anymore.” The world is supposedly a much scarier and more threatening place than the days of old when we would ride our bikes to the store with no parents in sight and blow our allowance money on candy and silly knick knacks with hardly a care. “We know better now,” we’re told. Keep a close eye on your kids at all times. Be aware of the dangers of others adults when you’re at the park or using a public restroom. Be wary of anyone who’s too friendly. Teach your kids about “stranger danger.” The world is so much more perilous these days and you simply cant be too careful when it comes to our precious children.

As a mom of two small boys you might be surprised to hear I disagree 100%. And whats more – I have never, and WILL never, teach my kids about “stranger danger.” Never. In fact, I hope to raise my kids to be ready and willing to interact with strangers in safe and appropriate ways, and I regularly encourage them to do so. I’m not a “free range parent” as they are currently known, but I admittedly make some parenting choices that would make many people these days more than a little uncomfortable.

Now before anyone starts calling CPS (or filling my inbox with hate mail) try to give me a minute to explain.

First off, I just want to take a minute to point out that the idea the world is less safe that the one we grew up in is a common misconception. You might be surprised to learn that all of the crime statistics actually show our children are SAFER today than we ourselves were back in our days. Don’t believe me? The folks over at Free Range Kids have compiled an incredible amount of independent research and statistics on this helpful page to show just how much safer our world really is. So why does it seem so much more dangerous? It all comes down to perception really. Crimes are more widely covered by the media these days in a way you simply didn’t see in our childhood. A child goes missing in a small town in Idaho and it can be national news coverage in the same day, and instantly flooding every social media feed for weeks. Statistics agree though: stranger abductions are remarkably rare, and the alarming majority of all crimes committed against kids are by family members or close friends. In short, the likelihood of a child being grabbed while walking to school or playing at the park is almost negligible.

crowdatparkOn top of all this media coverage we also need to take into account how much internet hoaxes have exponentially compounded the problem. Have you seen the story making its way around Facebook for the past few months about supposed attempted sex trafficking of a child in a Target store with their mom? A little internet sleuthing quickly reveals the story is 100% false, and that both the store manager and the local police have absolutely zero record of any incidences even remotely related to the one described on Facebook (despite the story clearly describing the authorities being the one to tell the mom about the sex trafficking ring.) And this is far from an isolated incident: urban myths have taken on a new level of reach in the social media world, and parents everywhere are bombarded with messages of supposed dangers around every corner. It’s pretty understandable why parents everywhere are feeling afraid.

I can already hear some of the naysayers ready to write me an email response right now. “But Stephanie: we can just NEVER be too safe when it comes to our kids. Its always better safe than sorry, so why chance it?” Truthfully, I 100% understand where you are coming from, and I think its important to acknowledge our clear common ground here. We both LOVE our kids dearly, that much is apparent. We both want the very best for them in every possible way. Its just the details of how to accomplish this that we seem to disagree on.

Here’s the thing: I refuse to raise my kids in a spirit of fear.

I can’t agree with “better safe than sorry” when I truly believe there are immense negative consequences to teaching kids to be fearful of strangers and to be constantly alert to potential predators around every corner. Parents are complaining that cellphones have created a generation that doesnt know how to relate to each other, but have we ever stopped to consider what sort of effect it had when we told our children that strangers are all dangerous? Or that anyone who’s a little too friendly might be trying to take them or hurt them in some way? What effect do you think it creates on our sense of community when a child cant go out and play with his friends on his street because all of their parents believe they cant be trusted to be alone for any stretch of time without fear for their safety? Do most children even KNOW who lives on their street anymore? And how can we bemoan the textbook millennials who seemingly don’t know how to be independent and care for themselves these days when we are raising an entire generation of kids who are never allowed to leave the safety of parental supervision until they are one day thrust into adulthood with no real experiences to prepare them?

Am I advocating total free range parenting? Not exactly – but I can certainly see why the movement has been gaining steam. I won’t pretend to know what all families need to do, but I can share a little bit of what’s been working in mine.

We never taught our boys to fear strangers. In fact, most american families who have babies and toddlers begin by naturally teaching their kids the very opposite. We tell them to say hi to the lady who’s smiling at them in the grocery checkout lane. We encourage them to wave back at strangers. We model friendliness, polite interactions, and overall participation in the human community. We were pretty typical really. And then somewhere around preschool age we saw a shift: more and more parents teaching their kids about “stranger danger” and espousing the importance of doing the same. It was a confusing 180 to say the least, and for myself it felt very much at odds with my core values of celebrating the lost ideals of community and “it takes a village.”

So what have we done instead? We continue to teach our boys to confidently address and interact with strangers, but we also teach important safety ideals as well. When Aidan was about 3 or 4 for instance we started to quiz a lot of “what if’ scenarios. For example, we’d ask him “what should you do if you find matches on the ground,” and then we’d practice the answer. We’d play this little quiz game every now and then until it became a normal part of our interactions. It was at that point we started to add questions like “what should you do if someone you don’t know asks you to get into their car with them?” or “what should you do if someone grabs you at the mall and tries to take you away somewhere?” We practiced important distinctions like making sure to scream “this is a stranger” and “I need help this isn’t my dad” instead of just screaming (because how many times have we seen a parent dragging away a screaming toddler and haven’t given it a second thought.) We started to introduce ideas like the difference between tattling and telling, and between a surprise and a secret, and how we cant ever keep a secret from our mom and dad no matter who might ask us to. We talked candidly about body privacy, respect for other peoples bodies, and age appropriate issues of consent, and we modeled with friends and relatives that our boys were always the boss of their own body and whether or not they wanted to show someone physical affection. We even introduced a secret family password and made sure he felt confident enough to ask for it whenever appropriate.

We gave Aidan all these safety tools, but we framed them with our confidence in him rather than a fear of all the evil out there. We didn’t spend any lengthy time discussing the people who might try to hurt him, and we were very very careful not to give him the impression we were fearful for him. We taught him that he was brave and smart and capable and that he had all the tools and knowledge to make good choices out there. Then when we were confident that Aidan understood all these ideas inside out and backwards? We began to give him more chances to test out his independence and have more responsibility. We started to let him go into the public men’s room on his own while I waited outside and respected his desire for privacy and independence. This year we started to allow him to walk the two doors down to the school bus stop on his own and walk the two doors back from the bus on his own as well. And we’ve seen a marked increase not only in his self esteem this past year, but also in his own sense of personal responsibility. My mother watched the boys during my recent conference trip and was amazed to see that Aidan gets himself up in the morning to an alarm, follows a morning schedule to dress himself and feed himself and his brother breakfast, and is ready to leave for the bus right on time when his alarm goes off again at 9:00am. He needed no help and was totally responsible for his own self care in the morning. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think this growth in personal responsibility wasn’t directly tied to the independence we’ve been giving him and the confidence we’re working to instill in him.

aidanwithflowersAm I writing all this to say that I think my method is the “right” way? Not at all. I will say that I think we’re seeing a generation of kids that are disconnected from others, lack any real empathy for people outside their direct circle of contact, and simply lack the independent skills and personal responsibility to transition successfully into adulthood. Is “stranger danger” to blame? Not entirely – but it’s certainly not helping the issue either. We can do so much better by our children than to raise them in fear. We can do SO much better than teaching them to prioritize safety above community at all costs. Deeper than that, we can remind our kids that God did not give us a spirit of fear, but he gave us the power to be bold and to rest comfortably in our faith in Him. I know God has a plan for my kids, and I know he has my boys safely in His grip even when I’m not there to watch over them. I do understand that evil exists in the world, but I refuse to raise disconnected children who are so worried about their own personal safety and needs that they never get a chance to reach outside their bubble and impact a hurting world around them. I want my boys to know I have confidence in them. I want them to be brave in situations that could be uncomfortable and learn to handle confrontation without feeling helpless. I want them to gain a strong sense of personal responsibility and pride in their independence. I want them to feel compassion and love for people who may not look like them, talk like them, or share anything in common with them other than being created by the same God who loves them. I don’t want to raise my kids in the spirit of fear, but in a boldness of faith and a strength of character.

And “stranger danger” simply doesn’t doesn’t fit with any of those goals.

Easy DIY Watercolor Project for Preschoolers

My sweet mama has a birthday coming up soon, so Jack and I set up some super inexpensive supplies we had on hand and made her a piece of art I know she’ll treasure. This project is super simple and Jack needed very little instruction other than “try to fill up all the white with your colors” and he was happily entertained at the table for longer than Im usually able to keep him in one place.

All you need for this project are:

* Thick Watercolor Paper
* Washable Watercolor Paint Palette
* Brushes
* Scrapbook “Thickers” Letter Stickers
* Cup of Water
* Paper Towels (for blotting and clean up)

Instructions:

1. Decide what you want your art piece to say. We opted for “Happy Birthday GRANDMA love JACK”

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2. Place scrapbook thickers onto your water color paper. Make sure to press them down all over so they have a tight seal.

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3. Have your little one paint over as much of the paper as possible, especially focusing directly on top of the scrapbook letters. We found its helpful to “blot” the brush on top and around the letters rather than simply brushing in strokes. You want as little of the white paper showing through as possible for this to work, especially in the space where the letters are affixed.

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4. Let the painting dry.

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5. Carefully peel of the scrapbook thickers. Occasionally some of the paint will rip off a bit with the letters, and thats totally ok. The idea here is an authentic child-made project, not a Pinterest worthy piece of perfection, so don’t sweat it.

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6. Make sure to take some photos of your child with the art piece. Our favorite way to frame and display child art is right next to a photo of its talented creator with their completed masterpiece.

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Conferences, Canes, and Chronic Pain

The Winshape Retreat, Location of the Pursuit Conference

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks, but I’ll do my best to condense my overflowing brain in to something resembling a blog post.

Recently I was in Georgia for the 5th annual conference for the Pursuit Community (an amazing nationwide ministry you can read more about by clicking the link in the top of the “Friends & Sponsors” section in my sidebar.) As has held true year after year at this event, God showed up in incredible ways. This year’s verse ruminated on the theme of “a new thing.” I came to Georgia with open hands, ready for God to show me something incredible without my own constraints and expectations getting in the way, and yet I was still utterly blown away by what He revealed through speakers and attendees alike, all speaking the same messages to me over and over.

Mary Marantz at Pursuit Conference

I felt consistent confirmation that God has laid a path before me that is uniquely my own. Sure, this industry is full of experts and mentors and plenty of well intentioned advice, but over and over He spoke plainly to my heart that His plan for me is a NEW thing: not a repeat of anyone else’s story. He hasn’t called me to be the next “so and so,” but rather to embrace the story He has written specifically for me. More than that though, He’s given me a calling that He created me perfectly equipped and suitable for in every way – not in spite of my weaknesses and struggles, but BECAUSE of them. His strength is perfectly displayed in my weaknesses, His story beautiful showcased in His faithfulness and grace to me each day. I felt confident that I don’t need to #hustle or knock down doors to make all my own opportunities, I need only to be ready to obey whenever He says to go, and be patient on His perfect timing. The Joy Parade is going to be exactly what He wants it to be exactly when He wants it to be it, even if I don’t always have an exact vision for what that is. Sometimes admitting we don’t have all the answers is the first step to something so much bigger and better than we could have imagined for ourselves.

The cross country travel to and from the conference definitely wreaked havoc on my body though, and I saw a lot of how the world treats people with invisible illnesses and disabilities. On the one hand, I need to give an enormous shoutout to the wonderful people at Southwest Airlines. From the moment I checked in at PDX for my first flight, all the way to loading my bags into my car as I was photo-1437846972679-9e6e537be46eready to head home, the folks at Southwest went above and beyond to ensure I was cared for in every way. They never hassled me about needing the extra help, they never demanded I produce extensive documentation to prove my need for assistance, but rather they jumped at the opportunity to provide extra services to me the moment they could sense I was in pain. They ended up setting me up with a wheelchair escort through all the airports I traveled through, which helped with the journey far more than I anticipated, as well special preboarding for all  4 flights so they could give me the opportunity to sit in the front row (where you get some extra leg room and a chance to put your legs up on the front wall when needed.) I had never even set up or arranged these services before booking my trip, but when I asked for help loading my bags onto the belt when initially checking in at Portland? The attendant immediately noticed signs of struggle and sprung into action. I was incredibly touched by the service I received on each leg of my trip, and Southwest has certainly won this customer for life.

The passengers I encountered along the way were unfortunately not always as kind. I recognize, its unusual to see a young 30-something in a wheelchair, and its even more confusing when that person stands up from the chair to move into their seat. Here’s the thing though: disabilities don’t all look the same, and not everyone who needs to use a wheelchair is paralyzed. It was clear there were a few business passengers (who had likely paid the extra fee for their coveted A1 boarding status) who were pretty convinced I had wheelchaired my way into preboarding in front of them without even paying a dime. And since I accepted the first row seating as offered, I got to see each and every one of them glower at me as they passed by to choose seats of their own. It was one of those times I wished my airport-wheelchairdisabilities were a little less invisible. I wanted to tell them I would gladly board the plane last and have someone else live with chronic pain in my place, but I sat silently in my seat and did my best to meet their annoyed stares with apologetic smiles the best I could. In the end I was grateful for the additional help Southwest had offered me, because at the end of each travel day by body was a total wreck. There were plenty of tears, lots of night waking from the pain, and eventually I had to use some of the narcotic pain meds that I usually try everything to avoid. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been without all the extra help from the airline.

Image by Jordanne Marie | Click for Shop

Image by Jordanne Marie | Click for Shop

Since arriving home from my trip I have finally let go of a long fight with embarrassment and accepted once and for all that it was time to buy my first collapsible cane. I have been fighting this day for some time, much in the same way I initially fought glasses, but this trip really solidified for me how much more pain I am putting myself in by refusing to use the tools designed to help me when I need them. I don’t need to use the cane all the time, but since I have regular issues with both my knees and my hips, it’s certainly a helpful aid to have on hand. I’ve done my best to embrace this with a sense of humor as much as I can, and I even chose a gold cane so that, as I told my husband, it would “match my iPhone.” He of course tells me I just need a fur coat and a fedora and my pimp costume is ready for Halloween, and I’m pretty sure my boys just see it as some kind of weapon. All in all, I know that the cane is another sign that pain will always be a part of my story, but that acceptance of my reality is the healthiest step towards making the best of the body I’ve been given. As I told some students at a recent talk I gave: this pain is my constant reminder that this world is not my home, and that my Jesus is passionately pursuing me each and every moment of the day, reminding me that He has so much more for me than this world can hold. I’ll always be blessed to have such a longing for heaven so deeply entwined with this pain, and for that I can only be grateful. I know he’s not done with me yet, and this silly collapsible cane will only be one tiny page in the story He’s writing.

Let The Wild Rumpus Start | Jack’s 3rd Birthday

I can hardly believe my littlest miracle is already THREE, but alas, it appears to be true. This year we took our inspiration from his current favorite book, Where the Wild Things Are, which he affectionately refers to as his “Wild Rumpus Book.” And a Wild Rumpus certainly seemed appropriate for our little monster. We opted for a Saturday morning brunch, complete with pancakes, bacon, a yogurt bar, and plenty of donuts. There was even a mimosa bar for the grownups to enjoy. We chose to have an “open house” get together, rather than a traditional birthday party, so that we could enjoy the time with our guests and just let the kids be kids. Overall we had a grand time and I would call the rumpus a big success.

Here’s a gallery of some very quick photos I snapped before the days festivities got underway (and before we added all 5 lbs of bacon to the table! YUM!) Much of the party was DIYed by yours truly, but I will include links on the bottom in case you see something you want to snag. (I tried to include a link to a similar item whenever I could.)

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ITEMS PICTURED:
Shirt: Plucky Mustard on Etsy
Crown: Fortune Favors the Gold on Etsy
Tail: Fox Tail Keychain from Amazon
Wooden Silverware: From Amazon
Corrugated Cups: From Amazon
Birch Tree Straws: From Amazon
Green Hanging Tissue Balls: From Amazon
Chocolate Rocks: Similar from Amazon
Candy Bags: From Amazon
Burlap Table Cloth: Similar from Amazon
Galvanized Silverware Caddy: Similar from Amazon

ITEMS NOT PICTURED BUT WORTH MENTIONING:
Big Brother’s Special Party Shirt: Our Five Loves from Etsy
Big Brother’s Party Horns: Babycricket from Etsy
Twig Pencils Included in the Favor Bags: From Amazon

DIY SUPPLIES:
Plain Favor Bags to DIY: From Amazon
Soft Gold Paint Made for Fabric: From Amazon
Craft Moss: Similar from Amazon
Fairy Garden Mushrooms: Similar from Amazon
Moss Table Runner: Similar from Amazon


People of the Internet, You’ve Been Had

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People of Internet,

You’ve been had.

In the past couple years we’ve borne witness to an interesting set of trends. Various hashtags started gaining popularity that claimed to be celebrating the #authenticlife, but they were unusually ripe with photos of farm to table feasts on custom built farmhouse tables, cleverly staged journals with pristine latte art, and gorgeous minimalist home decor without a trace of evidence that real live people actually inhabited these homes. We saw an Instagram “celebrity” go viral for posting an extremely public breakup video to the very app that gave her a platform, only to start rapidly growing a following on her very well marketed (and highly monetized) site promoting her newfound position as a leading voice for being “real” online. Conferences and retreats have popped up left and right with speakers who market themselves brilliantly as experts and success stories of their supposed fields and vocations, but if you peek behind the curtain you discover the only job they actually hold is that very self marketing, speaking, and teaching. It’s a bit like when we find Dorothy pulling back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard of Oz is in fact a tiny little man pulling levers and dials, and its all been a cleverly designed trick all along.

There is no Wizard folks.

photo-1449535423830-de3f6546aabdThe internet doesn’t actually care about authenticity. Social media isn’t actually growing more appreciative of the vulnerable and exposed. Many of the biggest names who claim to have a way to sell you a path to success don’t actually have success in anything other than selling success.

Yeah… kind of Debbie Downer today, right?

But hear me out fellow citizens of this crazy online world. I am NOT advocating for cynicism or apathy. I’m in no way hoping to simply burst the bubble only to sit back and watch the damage. This isn’t just a case of “misery loves company.” Rather, I’m hoping we can all find a little Dorothy in ourselves right now and be brave enough to pull back that curtain, call out a clever con for exactly what it is, and put the illusion to bed in order to make way for something better to rise in its place.

The good news is this: the underlying reason for this trend’s success is that so many people ARE in fact craving a more authentic experience online. The bad news however is that its going to be much scarier to achieve than we hoped or expected. We like when we are seen as brave and vulnerable, but we’re not nearly as in love with the reality of living that out. It’s messy. It’s embarrassing. It’s anything but glamorous. It’s counter cultural in every way. And yet the only way we can hope to see a more authentic form of community online is to be willing to come to the table first, knowing full well we might be out there alone and exposed. It’s risky, but all the best things certainly are.

photo-1447914178647-198e7e4a70b5Can you imagine if we all stood up and saw the false hashtag #authenticity for what it really is and demanded something better? What if we stopped celebrating pseudo-vulnerability and held ourselves to a higher standard of bravery? What if we didn’t just share the carefully curated highlight reel that fit the persona we worked so diligently to cultivate, but opened our personal closets and admitted we aren’t any more on top of things than anyone else? What if instead of self promotion and viral marketing, we just put our work out there and let it speak for itself? What if we actually created the #authenticlife we claim we so desperately crave?

And therein lies the bigger challenge. It’s easy to criticize what we’re against, it’s a lot more difficult to actually do something about it. I could get up on stage after stage speaking against false authenticity and write blog after blog calling out the online culture of deception, but what can we actually DO about it? It’s not good enough to know where we don’t want to go if we still don’t have a plan for where we should – it only leaves us stalled and stagnant.

Claim your personal stake as part of the solution:

Calling out pseudo-authenticity doesn’t solve nearly as much as stepping up to the plate with the real thing. The only social media accounts you have any certainty of affecting for change are your own. Make a commitment to take personal responsibility for your online citizenry and focus on your own domain. Lead by example.

Don’t misinterpret inappropriate sharing as authenticity:

No, you don’t need to post all your dirty laundry on facebook in the name of being more authentic. There are most definitely situations that call for privacy, especially in the name of respect. No one enjoys seeing martial spats played out over social media, and disputes with friends are always better handled face to face rather than publicly on facebook. Most importantly: authentic sharing is NEVER sharing information that isn’t about you or isn’t yours to share. Gossip isn’t a tool to better community, it only encourages people to hide their vulnerabilities even more, lest they become ammunition in the wrong hands later

Take regular stock of your social media “big picture,” and compare to the real story:

There’s a difference between not airing your dirty laundry and presenting the false idea that you don’t have any laundry to begin with. It can be a tightrope walk for sure, but it CAN be done. Look over your social media account regularly and ask yourself if the story you present overall is an accurate representation of the real life person behind the screen. If you aren’t sure, find a close friend you trust and ask them to weigh in. Ask yourself: if someone who had only known you online were to come spend a week in your home, do you think they would be at all surprised at the person they would see? If your answer is yes, ask yourself which parts of yourself would be most surprising, and how your might more accurately represent them moving forward.

Real authenticity is almost always scary to some degree:

If you have never experienced that nagging instinct to self preservation, or had to will yourself to press post on some less than flattering aspect of yourself, its a good idea to examine just how authentic you’re willing to be. Yes, there are those rare folks among us who maintain such an incredibly healthy self esteem that no amount of unflattering photos or admitting of their flaws holds any sort of fear. These are the exception though, and not the norm. For most of us, the idea of sharing our mistakes with the world gives us more than a little bit of pause. For many its outright terrifying. If you’ve never had to urge to hit delete or felt the weight of just how vulnerable it is to feel exposed? Challenge yourself to share something uncomfortable and see how folks respond.

Resist the urge to adhere to a label or niche:

One of the most insidious ways we start to take on false personas is by allowing ourselves to step into a comfortable label online. Nobody is just a DIYer, just a Christian, just an attachment parent, just a #girlboss… the list could go on and on. When we take on a label its often too easy to take it on as a role to be played, with proper costumes and guidelines for who the character should and shouldn’t be. Theres a reason that you’ll see so many similarities between bloggers who blog in similar niches – it can be all to tempting to let those labels define us and start to filter our other choices through those roles. Authentic people are much harder to fit into a box. You might be a blogger who doesn’t like coffee, a hippy mom who also enjoys rap music, or a fantastic designer who’s living room usually looks more like an abandoned daycare than a plug for HGTV. Real people are more than one thing, and we wont all look the same.

The Best Question to ask before EVERY post:

“Are you sharing this to build better community or to build up yourself?” Real authenticity is always about building connections, not building a platform. Authenticity is never about gaining the high ground, but about leveling the playing field. Authenticity is never about being liked, but about being known. Authenticity cant be planned, staged, coached, or branded. It has no cares of what will be retweeted, repined, reposted, or double tapped. It is because it IS. It’s truthful, it’s real, and it’s without agenda. Anything less simply misses the mark.

We can do this, people of the internet, I know we can. It’s not too late! With bravery and intention we can still right this ship.

The only question that remains is whether we really want to.

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Im Not Ready to Quit Yet

photo-1438480478735-3234e63615bbThere comes a point with most all chronic and incurable illnesses where you reach the stage of acceptance. You learn to let go of your unrealistic expectations and find ways to make life with your particular handicaps livable. You surround yourself with excellent supporters, you give yourself an extra serving of grace, and you make your own definitions for success.

And then sometimes there are days like today; days when you throw all that aside for a minute and take the bravest step of all: you let hope sneak in again.

Today I went to a new doctor. We looked over the history of everything thats been tried already, and then promptly threw it all in the trash. We went back to square one and allowed the hope of new options and answers to come alive. We made the choice to go back to the starting line with a new set of eyes and open ourselves up to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we’ve missed something, or that medicine may have new answers to offer this time around.

And nothing could possibly be scarier right now than hope.

Acceptance is such a healthy phase when you finally reach it. So being willing to let it go, without any assurances that anything will come from it? Thats terrifying. Right now it feels like a huge step backwards – back to a time when my imagination ran wild with possible outcomes and worse case scenarios, when I was bounced from misdiagnoses to failed treatments and back again, and I had no way of knowing what the future might hold. Being willing to let hope in also means letting go of the comfort of having everything all figured out. It means giving up being settled in order to set out on a long and arduous journey – knowing full well that it may come full circle right back to where you started.

Yet that’s exactly what I’m doing. Letting go of it all because maybe, just maybe, there is something better out there for me. Maybe Im clinging to something so much less than I could have if I’m willing to try. And yes, Im fully aware that I might get the same answers, the same lack of solutions, the same diagnoses that will bring the same cycle of grief – all to end up back at acceptance once again. But that’s a risk I’ve decided to take.

So I dropped off most of my blood at the lab (ok not really most of my blood, but it sure felt like it,) and made the difficult commitment to begin the process of weaning off a medication that has been a huge part of my routine for a long time now, so we can start trying new options and see if theres a better outcome somewhere else. In typical fashion, this is an “it’s gotta get a bit worse before it can better” sort of thing. Coming off this particular med is a bit of an ordeal, with a complicated step down regimen and cross weaning process onto the other medication. The side effects of this process alone made me reconsider.

But ultimately, hope is never the wrong choice. I never want to get so comfortable in my acceptance of my condition that I stop being willing to consider Im wrong. Risk is scary, but apathy should always be scarier. It’s simply never time to completely give up; there’s always got to be room for the possibility of hope. And sometimes, on days like today, its time to let that hope out of its hidden corner and let it take the wheel. I have no idea where it’s going to take me, but I know I’m committed to finding out just how far this road goes and where it ultimately ends up, even if thats right back here at the beginning again.

Either way, I’ll know I saw this thing through. And thats worth it.

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31st Birthday Wishlist

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Today is my birthday! So far today I’ve received the flu: sore throat, body aches, fever, fatigue… yeah. I don’t remember registering for this. At least it gives me an excuse to eat copious amounts of ice cream and watch all the old seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, right?

So what IS on my birthday wish list this year? Check out some of my most coveted items from my Wishing and Swooning board on Pinterest these days.

1. BAGS: A girl cant ever really have too many great bags, can she? (My husband says “Oh yes she can,” but we wont listen to him now will we.) No matter how our size may fluctuate through the years, a great bag wont ever stop fitting ;) These days I have my eyes on the chicest little leopard foldover clutch from Accessory Lane ($45.99). It’s the perfect pop of leopard print without being too overwhelming, and adds just the right touch of fun to a polished look. For future speaking engagements I’ve been eyeing this fantastic weekender bag from Sole Society. ($79.95.) Its the perfect size for a quick overnight getaway, and it even has a separate compartment on the bottom just for shoes!

2. BEAUTY:  My amazing mama was in town this last week and actually surprised me with one of my most coveted beauty items! The gorgeous Everything Eyes Palette from Bobbi Brown (a Nordstrom exclusive item) has $139 of value at a $75 pricetag. I love that Bobbi has already coordinated the colors for perfect eyeshadow looks, and even included 4 amazing travel brushes that fit right IN the compact. I can throw this right into my bag and chance from day to evening on the go, or just touch up my look wherever I may be. Plus the colors are universally flattering and age appropriate for anyone, Bobbi’s signature when it comes to her cosmetic line. I’ve also been eyeing an amazing new lip line called Lip Sense, which seriously holds up to its claims of being smudgeproof all day color. Google for some videos from their sellers and you’ll see: these colors hold up to just about ANYTHING you can throw at them. For somebody who speaks on stage for part of her living? Im thinking a collection of their amazing colors might be in my future.

3. MUGS: I collect coffee mugs (much to my husbands dismay) and am always looking for great ones to add to my growing collection. Two of my most wanted right now? The fantastic “Stressed, Blessed, and Coffee Obsessed” travel mug from Be Still Clothing company is definitely my #1 must have ($18.00). It’s like they designed it just for me! I’m also eyeing this adorable “Coffee, Because Adulting is Hard” mug from Etsy, because lets face it, Adulting IS hard. ($13.00)

4.CREATIVITY: I’m always looking for ways to play with my creative side, and so this years list includes the amazing Minc foil applicator set from Heidi Swapp. This incredible little crafting device lets you make gold foil prints at home, and Heidi even sells a variety of other colored foils and accessories to let your creativity really shine. Im also coveting the amazing Lightroom editing collections from VSCO ($59.00.) I use the mobile editing application from VSCO, but Im dying to add their beautiful film style editing tools to my Lightroom suite.

5. CUTE COMFORT: When you are a #spoonie, you’re always looking for comfortable loungewear thats still chic enough to be seen in. This amazing “I Woke Up Like This #Tired” sweatshirt is pretty much my life story! ($42.00) Im dying to get my hands on one. This adorable “Coffee Is My BFF” loungewear set from Target is both cute AND affordable, ringing in at only $17.99 for both pieces.

6. PAIN RELIEF: Life with chronic pain means your fantasy wish list looks a little bit different than most, with items specifically geared to minimize pain and maximize your ability to be a functional human being. Since my husband and I are currently spending our nights on a 12 year old mattress that honestly belongs on a trash heap somewhere, my biggest fantasy would be an amazing memory foam mattress with an adjustable base. But…. that may have to wait until we win the lottery. A little bit more reasonable may be this 2″ Foam Mattress Topper ($57.99) that might make our current mattress feel a little more tolerable for the time being. If all else fails, I could use this Shiatsu Massage Pillow ($34.95) to imagine I have a live in masseur ready to tend daily to my aches and pains. A girl can dream right?

What’s In My Bag?

 

whats in my bag

Got a request email from a reader for a “What’s In My Bag” post. Confession? I see the gorgeous and fashionable versions of these all the time, and this isn’t exactly one of those. My bag was less than $50 from Target, I don’t carry adorable lotions and skin care and Kate Spade office accessories, but you know what? That’s exactly why I agreed to do the post. I think many of us are tired of seeing the same lifestyle products shown over and over (often sponsored and paid for by brands) and we are left thinking we are the only gals left out of the loop. So today after the email I emptied my actual purse out onto the floor, and *confession* threw away some of the random trash I accumulate in my bag as a mama, and I have pulled together whats left to share what is really and truly in my bag.


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1) Journaling ESV Bible from Crossway: Yes, I really do carry my Bible around in my bag. With the circus I live in there’s just no way of knowing when a few minutes of peace will come, so I make sure I’m prepared anytime, anywhere. I can’t recommend this particular Bible enough. The ESV is a fantastic translation for accuracy (I’m a total Bible nerd, so this is a big deal for me,) and this version has a lined column on the side of each page so you can put your notes directly INTO your Bible. I often think of how neat its going to be to pass this on to my kids someday, so the investment was worth every penny. It’s a priceless heirloom.

2) Bible Study Kit: I made my own personal Bible study kit from an adorable expandable bag I scored at Target once, these great double ended colored pencils I use for highlighting, and items from the dollar spot at Target. A date stamp is a great way to show when you added your thoughts, so you can track your journey through the years, and page flags can mark spots of special importance to come back to.

3) Lego Mini Figure: This may seem odd, but this little lego guy is one of the most important items I keep on me. Every time I see this lego guy I remember to stop for a moment and pray intentionally for my boys. Its a great reminder in the midst of all the daily chaos of life.

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4) Notebook: Writers gonna write, and I never know when inspiration is going to hit.  (This notebook is from a collection sold exclusively in store at Target. Lots of matching pieces are available too, in case you love mint and gold as much as I do!)

5) Pens and Pencil: Im a writer, so I have a favorite pen I love and simply cant be without. For me its this gorgeous fine nib gold fountain pen from Pilot. Its incredibly affordable for a fountain pen, so its easily replaced if lost or stolen. Amazon sells refill cartridges, or the pen comes with the option to use traditional bottled ink as well. I also make sure to carry a mechanical pencil for the times that a pen just wont do, and a ball point pen that doubles as a tablet stylus – perfect for electronic signatures.

6) Business Cards and Case: You never know when you’ll need to leave your card! I have mine in this adorable case from See Jane Work.

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7. iPad Air and Bluetooth Keyboard: Rather than use a laptop, I’ve opted for the light portability and versatility of this more creative set up. I have the gold iPad set in this gorgeous bluetooth keyboard case, which has a matching gold exterior. It looks like a mini laptop and gets tons of compliments, and the case is a great way to protect my screen while its in my bag.

8) iPhone 6 and Headphones: I’m an apple girl 10000%, and my phone is no exception.

9) Charging Options: I always carry charging options when Im on the go. I keep an extra USB/Wall Plug Adapter in my bag, and I use cords from this collection – i love that they match my gold devices, and since they are woven rather than the usual cords they hold up much better to all the twisting and friction of regular use. (I was using my usual cord elsewhere, so its not shown in the photo here, sorry!) I also keep a portable charging bank similar to this one, in case I find myself low on batter when Im on the go.

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10. Health on the Go: I always keep a little of my most essential medication on hand, and I store it in one of these absolutely adorable macaroon cases. And I always keep a bottle or two of essential oils in my bag – this blend is great for when kiddos are getting a bit nutso.

11. Kate Spade Walk on Air Roller Ball & Gloss: This came as a part this set I received for Christmas. I don’t really use the gloss, but the roller ball is fantastic for a scent touch up on the go. ( I found the roller ball sold alone without the gloss here at Sephora)

12. Make Up from Bobbi Brown: My sweet mama got me the adorable Bobbi Brown mini lip and eye palette I had my eye on for Christmas. Its only $29.99 and well worth the price!I also carry a Bobbi Brown lipstick (the color varies) and a Bobbi Brown gloss, always in Buff (such a fantastic shade.)

Just throw in my keys, my wallet, and inevitably some stuff for the boys, and Im ready for a day on the go!

She’s The Boss: Andrea Cwik of Bliss & Bale

I’m excited to be sharing a super special Girl Boss with you guys today: the lovely Andrea Cwik of the hottest new gifting service, Bliss& Bale. You guys are going to adore her!

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So Andrea: tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.

Hi! Thanks for having me, Stephanie! I’m Andrea Cwik, I live in the Silicon Valley with my two boys and my husband. I’m a Christian and I’m also the founder of Bliss & Bale. In a nutshell I lovingly curate gift sets and hand-package them in beautifully wrapped boxes. I launched Bliss & Bale to enable individuals to gift thoughtfully and easily. Our gift sets are about celebrating and enjoying the goodness of life — friends, family, shared experiences and time well-spent.

Where did the idea for Bliss & Bale begin? Tell us about the journey from concept to reality.

Bliss & Bale was born out of my love for mixing and matching items into coordinated gifts that have wowed my friends and family. I believe when you give someone a gift it shows you thought about them and that makes the recipient feel special. I put a ton of care and consideration not only into each gift set as a whole but also into each item within the gift sets too.

The journey to launch Bliss & Bale was longer than I would have ever expected. It started with iterating on Bliss & Bale’s strategic direction (scope and scalability), evaluating platforms for my website, sourcing product photographers and graphic designers, creating the brand and name of my business, visiting gift shows, ordering products, going to IKEA for shelving solutions for inventory, converting our play room to a play room and office combo space, selecting my packaging, writing product descriptions, creating a pricing formula, researching and selecting shipping partners, negotiating shipping costs, building product pages and homepage assets and also launching social media pages. There truly is a lot of work involved in starting a business from scratch but I am so thrilled to be up and running! Now onto a marketing and sales strategy coupled with PR opportunities.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetCould you tell us a bit more about the products. What can a new client expect when purchasing from Bliss & Bale?

So I will first start off by saying I LOVE what I do! I say this because customers can expect to feel this emotion when they make a purchase from Bliss & Bale. I travel to numerous gift shows throughout the year to curate and find the perfect products to go into each set. I even traveled across the country to New York because I learned that was the biggest and best gift show in the US. It took me 4 full days on my feet to explore that gift show but it was well worth it! I found some really fabulous products and vendors I would not have known about otherwise.

I’m really picky so I need to personally approve every single item chosen for a set. I taste every food item and as a foodie I have really high standards. I smell every candle, fragrance, cream and bath item. I handle every item to make sure each one feels great to the touch and is made of the utmost quality. Ultimately I pick items that resonate with me emotionally and that I know will do the same for the recipients of my gift sets. Picking the very best products like this takes a considerable amount of time but I love doing it and it’s time that my customers don’t have to invest themselves — they can trust they’re getting great items!

Customers can also expect a very high level of thoughtfulness ingrained throughout each gift set. The items are carefully combined into sets in such a way as to create a really memorable experience for the recipient. Our thoughtfulness also extends to our beautifully wrapped gift boxes which are shipped inside a shipping box — so they’re ready to bring as a gift to a party without the dirt and scuffs that gifts shipped in a single box tend to have.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetHow do you personally define success?

Success to me means I have freedom and access to resources so I can help others when they are in need. It also means I can do what I love on a daily basis and share my passion for making others feel special.

Where do you see your brand in the next year? The next 5 years?

I just launched Bliss & Bale so I’m hoping in the next year to grow my consumer base but also I think there is a huge opportunity to accelerate my growth by partnering with more corporate clients who need a thoughtful gifting solution. I ultimately want my brand to have universal praise from my customers and to get there I’m going to analyze and adjust on the fly, see what’s selling well and listen to my customers. Much like a chef composing a meal and continually tasting and making adjustments!

In the next five years, I want Bliss & Bale to be recognized as an authority in the gifting space. I know it’s ambitions but I have some interesting ideas for collaborations with designers, artists, bloggers, and trend-setters that I’m excited to explore.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetWhat’s the best piece of advice you can give to women who are thinking of becoming entrepreneurs and want to make the leap into working for themselves?

Here’s the thing: there are great days and there are stressful days. The biggest advice I can give is literally take one step at a time and still make time for yourself. After launching Bliss & Bale I thought I was going to be able to rest a little since I worked tirelessly to get to the point where I was up and running. The reality is that after the launch there was still so much to do. There will always be a To Do list but what I’m learning is that I can’t continue this path of working an insane amount of hours a day (I have a corporate job too, by the way!) because I’m going to lose steam. I’m in it for the long haul so I need to maintain a steady pace. One step at a time and add in little breaks. Doing what you love is so rewarding so make sure you take care of yourself so you don’t burn out.

Thanks so much Andrea! And I know all of you are going to be thanking Andrea too when you hear she has generously offered to provide one winner with ANY curated gift set of her choosing from Andrea’s gorgeous site! THATS RIGHT! There is no purchase necessary to enter, just follow the steps in the contest below before 12:00am PST on January 27th and you might be our lucky winner! Eeeek! Best of luck ladies <3

a Rafflecopter giveaway

bliss & bale site

I’ve Been in Pain

946770_10153542624579818_1936731990056128860_nIt’s been a long time since sharing my words in this setting. Too long. Its been an awkward enough pause to address it, but doing so is easier said than done. Some bloggers would suggest I call it a “sabbatical.” That’s really just a cop out at this point. Still others would counsel to have me point to my behind the scenes projects to show that I’ve been “in demand” and the brand is still thriving. And yes, I’ve been working furiously on the book and lining up my 2016 speaking engagements, but it’s certainly not what’s kept me away.

Here’s the unglamorous and totally truthful reality:

I’ve been in pain.

Some of it is physical pain. Many of you know I suffer from a debilitating pair of chronic health conditions called Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) and Fibromyalgia. Winter is the hardest time of year for both these conditions, as cold and flu season hit with a vengeance and cold weather is a known trigger for additional fibromyalgia pain – especially now that we’ve left mild CA for a state with an actual winter. We even had our first ever snow this year. The pain has been harder to tolerate than I’ve been used to, and our medical insurance situation last year left me unable to pursue any real forms of help. I’ve been fairly open about these issues on my social media accounts, and have appreciated the wonderful support Ive received from both my readers and and from fellow members of the spoonie community. And it would have been easy to enough to leave it there and accept all the good wishes and understanding emails of encouragement. But that’s not the whole truth…

I’ve been in pain.

I’ve been neck deep in pain that was difficult to admit to myself, let alone to anyone else. It’s a pain I’ve tried to rationalize myself out of, explain away, and stifle down it hopes it would disappear on its own. But as with most pain, it really doesn’t work that way. It’s continued on as this persistent ache, popping up at the most inopportune moments and gnawing away at my ability to ignore it. It’s not going anywhere, and the more I attempt to ignore it the more aggravated it becomes.

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I’ve been in pain.

At the beginning of 2015, in the midst of our multiple months of unemployment, my husband and I discovered we were very unexpectedly pregnant. It was quite the shock, and I would lying if I said it didn’t take some time to used to the idea. It was literally the worst possible timing, but it was far from unwelcome. We felt blessed to be experiencing the possibility of another miracle baby, one we had been discussing for some time but weren’t quite ready to take the leap to try for yet. That baby was a shining light in the middle of a dark season, a much needed anchor of hope to ballast us in the midst of so much uncertainty.

And then, after a longer than usual ultrasound with the nurse, the doctor said those horrible two words.

Not. Viable.

This marked the 7th child that we wont meet until eternity. A 7th precious little one with no birthday to celebrate, no future to plan.

I’ve been in pain.

12342486_10153485769759818_246129569753746655_nSoon after the loss,  my closest friend was blessed with her own unexpected surprise: a 4th little one to join her beautiful brood. It was a joy I admittedly have struggled to untangle from my own sorrow. The happiness I feel for her is authentic, but it’s difficult not to feel the pain of the could have beens. Up until now all our boys have been perfectly staggered in age. If I had carried my most recent pregnancy to term, this trend would have continued, but with the final pair being the closest in age of the bunch. We would have experienced our first pregnancy we’d actually get to do together. Watched the boys grow together. Done it all together.

I’ve been in pain.

Perhaps the hardest part of miscarriage is that the world around you goes on, and you carry no visible scar to help legitimize your pain. There isn’t a label such as “widow.” There is no grave marker to show. There’s no words to properly explain the gaping hole you know you’re walking around with but simply can’t find a way to show. You’re seemingly alone in it. – and no one knows, or they’ve all but forgotten.

I’ve been in pain.

They say, “time heals all wounds.” Has this ever really been true? If you leave a gaping hole in your leg untreated and wait for time to remedy it, does it really heal? Don’t you usually end up with gangrene? Why have we been taught to believe any different with invisible wounds? Why do we beat ourselves up when our pain doesn’t heal according to some fabricated timeline we’ve assigned ourselves? Why do we feel the need to limit the reaches of our grief? And how can we ever find healing for wounds we are so unwilling to admit, let alone treat.

I’ve been in pain.

1237591_10153541449494818_9191476745620302457_nMy best friend welcomed her 4th little guy into the family a couple weeks ago. He’s beautiful: perfect in every way. And with his birth, I was finally able to admit out loud to my husband for the first time whats really been paining me. Maybe it was the first time I was truly able to admit it to myself. I miss my baby. I miss what might have been. I ache to have a photo, or a birthday, or even a name for this perfect little person I haven’t been able to meet.

I’ve been in pain.

Perhaps finally admitting it is the first step to real healing. It stings like mad, but most wounds don’t heal themselves. And I refuse to ignore this one any longer.