Take Care! (of yourself)

I started this post on 9/11 and have been struggling crystallizing my thoughts into a cohesive post. Today is the eve of the anniversary of Sandy Hook, and I am determined to finish and post it. I am not sure that it will meet my standards of cohesion, but I decided that I don’t really care. For me, these two events, 911 and Sandy Hook, have touched my the depths of my heart and soul in ways that are impossible to describe. As a result, cohesion is not important to me at the moment. What is important for me is to use my writing to cope with my feelings, and to help me do something about them. And to hopefully inspire someone else out there to do something too.

There is something about this time of year that is so stressful. So many of us make ourselves insane trying to do EVERYTHING to make the holidays incredible. We put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to be happy, to make everyone around us happy, to be productive, to be excellent in every aspect of our lives at work and home.

Maybe there is also something about this time in our lives overall. Many of my friends are balancing having their first or second children, contemplating having children, advancing their careers, and/or dealing with illnesses and loss. I suppose it’s mid life crisis time for a lot of us. I seem to have conversation after conversation with friends about the realization that life is hard, and how it gets harder to pause, to be present with ourselves and the people around us. Harder to take care of ourselves. Harder to put ourselves first. Harder to have hope for the future. Harder to stop and find meaning and purpose amidst the busyness, stress and chaos in our lives.

We set ourselves up to fail with the notion of having it all – whatever that even means these days. But this is not a post about Sheryl Sandberg or the debate her book ensued. This post is about how the deep sadness of Sandy Hook and 911 make me pause in a way that no other events in my lifetime have done.

So I am sitting here on my couch, reflecting on what I want to share. And it’s this. It’s the same thing I have said to my friends in these deep conversations, and to myself when I am present enough to pause and catch myself: You are not crazy. What you are feeling is completely normal and legitimate. Don’t listen when people tell you to “stop feeling” a certain way. That’s impossible. How do you stop a feeling? Stuffing feelings is like playing Whack-a-Mole – a “stuffed” feeling pops up in other places over and over again until they are dealt with. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself.

I have written these words before – but I am writing it again because I feel it’s a universal truth worth repeating over and over again. Self care is not selfish. It is essential. It’s the key to my peace, my sanity and my hope for my present and future. I didn’t really know how to do this until I got help for myself a few years ago. My coach Sherry has taught me to create an achievable goal for each area of my life. This is my most recent list from this week:

  • Emotional: Take time to journal this week about what is happening in my life.
  • Physical: Get a massage.
  • Mental: Finish reading my most recent book purchase, “Selling with a Noble Purpose” and execute on my business plans at work for 2014.
  • Spiritual: Perform an “Act of Kindness” on the Sandy Hook Anniversary this Saturday with my mom by sponsoring a family in need for the holidays.
  • Relational: Bring my Grandma’s homemade soup to my friend who just had a beautiful baby girl.

When I take the time to make my list and to complete them, it’s amazing how momentum builds. Don’t forget about wise Newton and the laws of motion. An object in motion stays in motion. An object at rest stays at rest.

So – do something to take care of yourself today, and better yet – do 5 things in each of those areas to really practice self care. And ask for help if you need it because you are not alone!

“We need to give up on what no longer works and find new ways of being that keeps us close to what matters.”

-Mark Nepo

13 Going On (Insert your age)

Yesterday I returned from a trip to New York City with my niece Jana, where we celebrated her 13th birthday. We had a blast! This was Jana’s first trip to New York – where she experienced some other firsts including her first cab ride and her first Broadway show.

We saw Wicked, did the NBC Studio Tour where we saw the SNL and Today show studios, took amazing pictures from the top of the Empire State Building, met LOTS AND LOTS of celebrities (statues that is…at the Wax Museum)…and shopped until we dropped. Jana even got to meet a bunch of famous “Viners” in the Village and wound up in one of their videos. If you don’t know what Vine is…sorry – that would take way too much explaining and is NOT what this blog post is about. And if you aren’t a teenager, or don’t have a teenager – you don’t want to know anyway.

The 82 Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building

The 82 Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building

I stole the idea of taking my nieces and nephews on a trip for their 13th birthday from my friend Megan. When she shared the idea with me a few years ago, I immediately starting making plans with my oldest nephew Joseph, whom I took to Chicago last summer.

In Chicago, Joseph and I saw the Tigers play the Cubs at Wrigley, went to the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science & Industry, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Shedd Aquarium AND the top of the Sears (technically the Willis Tower – does anyone even call it that?) Tower. We also saw at least three 3D movies (fell asleep during one of them) and got free Conan shirts from a vending machine on the street. All in three days. Aren’t you tired just reading about it??

From the top of the Sears (aka Willis) Tower

From the top of the Sears (aka Willis) Tower

Because I don’t have children, I have showered my nieces and nephews with my maternal energy since they were born…and as many of my friends can vouch – I have also adopted their children as my extended niece and nephew family. These special trips with the kids are just as much for me as they are for them. Part of me is probably subconsciously making sure the kids don’t forget me about me eventually in my old age if I don’t end up with children of my own…But truly, these relationships are so important to me that they truly are a big part of who I am.

Turning 13 is a big milestone for a kid. I remember when I turned 13 myself and can vividly recall the challenges of middle school. Are you cringing like I am remembering what it was like?? Yikes I don’t want to do that again! And I didn’t have to deal with a fraction of what kids have to deal with today…

A major reason I do this trip is to recognize the kids for this rite of passage, and to strengthen our bond before they enter a tough phase of their lives. I want to be sure that they know they have another person who cares deeply about them – someone that will be there if they find themselves in trouble and need help or advice. Plus, I want to have the right when/if they act out in their teenage years to call them out in a way that is different than a parent. Both Joseph and Jana have experienced this with me already – and I think they know what I mean!

I remember the first time I went to New York City with my family when I was 15, and remember taking pictures from the top of the World Trade Buildings, and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I remember seeing my first Broadway show, A Chorus Line, with my mom and sister, and going to my first Yankees game via the Subway. I also remember my first time in Chicago during my freshman year of college at Notre Dame. My roommate Diane and I took a bus to Michigan Avenue for a day of sightseeing and shopping. I had never seen an 8-story department store before!

New York and Chicago became my favorite cities to visit over the years, and I wanted to Joseph and Jana to have similar experiences of their first trips that they will hopefully remember when they are my age and much older. Through these trips, I want my nieces and nephews to start to see the world as a big place that is entirely accessible and full of possibility for them.

I can’t wait (though my pocket book can) for when my younger nephews and niece Dillon, Bridget and Trevor are old enough for their trips. I look forward to making similar memories with them, and to re-living my trips with Joseph and Jana over the years.

And in the meantime, as always, I look forward to my regular day to day lives with ALL of my nieces and nephews – Sessa’s and Cugliari’s, and all of my adopted ones too. I hope they know and feel how special each one of them is to me.

Signed, Auntie Laurie

Casa Dolce Casa (Home Sweet Home)

This is my house on it's 1 year anniversary.

This is my house on it’s 1 year anniversary.

I am sooo happy to be home after a 8 days of a wonderful short vacation to DC with a business trip tacked on. As much as I love to travel, I am always excited to come home to my own space…to my sanctuary…to recharge, relax, and enjoy my surroundings.

About an hour ago, I received an email from my mortgage guy saying “Happy Loan Anniversary!” While I appreciate Lorcan’s thoughtfulness in wishing me a happy loan anniversary, I am not exactly celebrating the fact that I owe the bank so much money for my little nest. But, I am so happy for the reminder to celebrate the wonderful decision I made to buy it.  So forget the money I owe, I am celebrating my house – and all that I have accomplished since getting it!

Since I haven’t posted in a while, I decided this was a very good reason to sit down, turn off all of my distractions and reflect on the year I have spent here. It was pretty crazy in the beginning. Anyone else remember the lightening storm that resulted in the firemen visit, and the A/C, fridge, and internet/cable not working in the first two weeks?? My anxiety about lawn maintenance, robbers and flood insurance? Last summer while exciting was nerve wracking to say the least. I had a lot of doubts – mostly in myself – about my ability to do this on my own – financially, emotionally, physically…

Here I am a whole year later, and all is well. In fact, all is more than well. At the very least, I have maintained the house pretty well as I haven’t killed my lawn, and I have managed all of the basic repairs and the associated bills along with them. I was and still am incredibly lucky and grateful to have the help and support of my friends and family. Otherwise, this would be so much harder – and much less enjoyable! I have a healthy list of people who have pitched in at different times…to move furniture, hang pictures, repair steps, help decorate… you name it, they have done it. Sometimes in exchange for meatballs or wine. Whatever it takes!

But more importantly, I have been making a lot of progress in making my house my home. Slowly but surely, this place is evolving, and every day that I walk in the door, I feel a sense of peace and satisfaction. That is such a powerful feeling…one that I hope never goes away. I reflect about how scared I was a year ago, I now feel joy.

I still don’t know what the future holds – does anyone? But I am a lot more at ease living with questions than I was a year ago. I am more comfortable with being open and vulnerable than I was a year ago. I am much better at enjoying the present than I was a year ago. And I have more love and joy in my life than I did a year ago.

There is a lot more to come – this I know. There will be ups and downs – this I also know. There is more joy – but also more heartache and pain ahead too – that is just how life works.

I can’t say it better than my favorite author Brene Brown:

“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.”
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Happy 1st Anniversary to my “Casa Dolce Casa”!

Survive and Advance

Remember the 1983 National Champion NCState Wo...

Remember the 1983 National Champion NCState Wolfpack (Photo credit: E. A. Sanabria)

It’s almost the end of April, and March Madness is now well behind us. I was so inspired by watching “Survive and Advance” on ESPN last month that I can’t resist writing about it. I watched it again today, and now I am ready to put my thoughts into words.

“Survive and Advance” is one episode in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, and it is about NC State’s NCAA basketball 1983 championship season led by Jimmy Valvano. While some may say I am not exactly a “true” basketball fan, I AM a fan of a great story, and the 1983 season was exactly that. Some say it is one of the greatest sports stories of all time.

Growing up in Charlotte, NC in the 70’s and 80’s, I couldn’t help but become a fan of ACC basketball. This was the era of Michael Jordan & Dean Smith at UNC, Jimmy Valvano at NC State, Coach K at Duke…a time when players stayed in school until graduation. This was the most amazing era of college basketball in my lifetime, and it was taking place all around me in North Carolina.

Watching “Survive and Advance” was both nostalgic and inspiring for me. When I was in fifth grade in 1983, I had no idea of the significance of what happened…but watching this documentary helped me to realize the impact of that season. Even the title alone, “Survive and Advance,” is inspiring. In those three little words, he summarized everything I was trying to say in my post “Onward,” about forward progress.

Here are some of my musings after watching “Survive and Advance” for the second time.

The power of having a dream:

On Day 1 of Jimmy Valvano’s time at NC State, he told his team “I know I am going to win a national championship.” It took him a few years before he did exactly that. His 1983 team spoke of him as a dreamer, a dreamer with a real vision of what he wanted to achieve, and the ability to paint the picture for the rest them so that they felt it was achievable.

“How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal, and you have to be willing to work for it.” – Jim Valvano

The importance of practice:

Each season, Valvano would have his team practice cutting down the net as if they had won the National Championship. Over and over again. This is not a normal kind of practice. This is beyond practicing the fundamentals. This is practicing being a WINNER, being a CHAMPION…so that when the team ended up on the brink, they could shake off their nerves because they already knew what it felt like to win.

The love of family:

If you have ever seen even a 30 second video of Jimmy Valvano, you know he was a passionate, Italian, family man with a large, passionate, Italian family. He credited his father for his success, saying:

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano

The power of emotion:

I don’t know any man or woman that has watched Jimmy Valvano’s ESPY acceptance speech without shedding a few tears. If you haven’t seen it, please take a few minutes to click this link and watch it start to finish. If you have seen it, watch it again. It is worth it. My favorite Jimmy V quote is from this speech, and since seeing it again recently, I think about this almost every day. While battling terminal cancer with just a very short time to live, Jimmy V expressed himself as passionately and eloquently as ever before. I want to feel things as deeply and passionately about my life that Jimmy V felt about his, and his speech inspires me to this day.

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” – Jim Valvano

So, “survive and advance” everyone.

Keep moving forward.

Laugh, think and cry. Every day.

Dream big.

Practice.

Love your family, and hold them close to your hearts.

On a Mission

Buying my house was a big decision for me – the biggest I have ever made on my own. When I sold my previous house last spring I seriously considered moving to a larger city – or leaving it all and moving to Tuscany…or the Piedmont region of Italy…too many episodes of House Hunters International I suppose.

After some serious soul searching, I decided to plant some roots again here in the Lowcountry. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave my friends and family, and the beauty of this place…just for another step in my career, and the potential for a better singles scene? I dug deep to think about what was important to me – and came to the conclusion that I wanted a real “nest” for the family I would like to build.

I was mortgage free for about a month – and here I am eight months later!

I have been busy “pinning” ideas, reading decorating books like “The Things that Matter” by Nate Berkus, and reading articles – planning for how I want to decorate and fix up my house. Believe me, this house that I love did not have anyone to really love it before me. I find evidence of this every day.

Recently, I came across a great article on Houzz about decorating with intention by creating a mission statement for my house – right up my alley!

I went through the entire mission statement exercise, and this is what I came up with:

“My home is an inviting, energizing, rustic sanctuary where creativity lives and breathes. It is a place where my family and friends gather for warmth, love, connection, fun, peace, and nourishment.”

-Laurie Sessa

Doesn’t that make you want to visit? I sure hope so.

I love the idea of having this mission statement to guide me in my decorating/design decisions. It really simplifies things and keeps me focused. Which is another way of saying, it stops me from buying stupid things. Rather, I am making decisions with purpose and intention…making choices that are tied to my values.

My house isn’t close to there yet – but I sure am working on it. Fueled by my tax return check, I just finished redecorating my bedroom and bathroom, and did a few other things in and around the house.  If you have been reading, you know that I am not exactly handy. I hired some professional help, bribed my dad to do a few small projects, and handled some things on my own (shopping and painting are skills I like to use).

Here are a few examples of what I did – and how it ties to my “mission.”

This is my new chandelier in my dining room. I love the quatrefoil shape, and the weathered look. This is one of those precious things that will stand the test of time. If/when I move – this DOES NOT convey!

New chandelier for my dining room.

New chandelier for my dining room.

This flag was given to me by my very close friends, Mary and Brian, and was flown over Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on July 28th, 2012. I know this because Brian is a Major in the Air Force, and he gave me this flag along with a certificate after his deployment in Afghanistan. Don’t worry, thanks to Mary, I know and practice flag etiquette. When I raise my Notre Dame flag on occasion, I will properly take down and fold my American flag and store it safely.
Flown over Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, July 28th, 2012

Flown over Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, July 28th, 2012

This is my new mosaic mirror. I love mosaics. There is something about making beauty out of chaos that I find appealing. If you look closely in the reflection, you will see Animal and a very small penguin collection. And a glass wine jug filled with yellow forsythia. On my dresser you will see just a few of my accessories and pictures with friends. These are just a few of my favorite things.
Mosiac mirror. LOVE.

Mosiac mirror. LOVE. With some awesome things in the reflection.

I guess I should have taken a before picture of my bedroom so you can really understand the dramatic difference here. But I didn’t because I would like to erase the “before” from my memory. Rest assured (as I do now) that this room is now full of light, serenity, and style.

Updated bedroom with new chair, curtains, walls, ceiling, fan, and bedding.

Updated bedroom with new chair, curtains, walls, ceiling, fan, and bedding.

My mom gave me this vase a few years ago – it spells the word “LOVE.” Every week I buy fresh flowers (most of the time yellow flowers) to fill it. Until a few weeks ago, I had very strange “awnings” covering the windows on the back of my house including this bay window in my kitchen. Those awnings are now gone, and natural light now streams into my kitchen and sun room.

LOVE my vase and fresh yellow flowers.

LOVE my vase and fresh yellow flowers.

That is all for now. Mostly because that is all I can afford to do for now. And because now I have a mission that will help me be deliberate and intentional with my choices…which will naturally slow me down.

Built-ins for my books and desk are on the horizon…stay tuned!

Let it Be…

Sometimes I think God speaks to me through my car radio. Not in a creepy booming voice kind of way…it’s just that sometimes the perfect song plays at the time I need it the most. This has happened to me more than a few times – at either incredibly painful or joyous times…these songs and the way they made me feel have become defining moments for me.

I have been wrestling with a lot of questions lately – a lot of uncertainty. This is not a comfortable place for me, but I am working hard to stay vulnerable – to be conscious of my feelings, to be deliberate in my actions…to resist fear and take risks. Trying to adopt requires this… some days it is easy, and some days it is hard.

My big question lately is when does it make sense to let go, and when does it make sense to dig deep? I really struggle with this – I do not have a clear answer. I don’t think there is an answer because I think the answer changes moment to moment for me. Sometimes I want to let go of the angst, the uncertainty and to just let the inevitable happen. Most of the time, I don’t know how to actually do that. Other times I feel I need to dig deep and try harder. And much of the time I am not sure what to do. Sometimes I think I need to do both at the same time – let go AND dig deep. Ugh! Can you feel the tension?

Tonight I was driving home, lost in my thoughts on a tough day. I turned on the radio, and the very beginning of the Beatles “Let it Be” came on. Ahhhh… I immediately felt better. What a lovely song:

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

The perfect song for the perfect moment. Again. God speaking to me through my car radio.

So next time I struggle with this question (which is likely to be tomorrow) I’ll remember how peaceful I felt on my drive home tonight. I’ll try to “let it be” in that moment…

An Attitude of Gratitude

It’s Sunday morning, a time I like to reflect and write…and as I start this, I am not quite sure where it’s going to go.

I think I will start with gratitude and faith today – something that I rarely write about.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust

Since I wrote my New Year’s post last month (Onward), I have heard from many friends, family, coworkers, and strangers who shared words of encouragement, and in many cases their own stories of heartache and joy. I am deeply touched that some said my post helped them in some way. That is why I write this blog – and I am so blessed to feel I was able to connect and help someone else.

Thank you to everyone who reads this. Thank you to the people who feel compelled to share your own pains, struggles, and joys with me. It means more to mean that you will ever know.

Last week, I had 150 nuns along with a Mormon temple praying for me, as well as many family and friends (my faith is not bound by my religion…but my religion is part of my faith if that makes any sense). I had a friend light a candle at the Grotto at Notre Dame for me. And I got to visit with my real live guardian angel, Anna Lee Crumpton, yesterday. How lucky am I?

Anna Lee is my friend Tiffany’s mother in law. I met her when Tiffany married her husband John a few years ago. I feel that Anna Lee is a guardian angel because since I met her a few years ago, I instantly felt a spiritual connection to her. Anna Lee always tells me how she prays for me (as she does for many of my friends too). She is certain that God has a plan for me – that my journey will completely make sense to me. I always feel better after spending some time with her, because she is such an inspiration to me and to people who know her.

Anna Lee has been fighting cancer for some time, but you would never know by talking to her. She emanates joy, grace, and peacefulness, which comes directly from her faith. She is one of those people who walks the walk. Tiffany and John brought Anna Lee over to see my new house yesterday, and we shared a bottle of Prosecco and visited for a little while. When we spoke about her most recent treatment, she shared a funny story about how her granddaughter Tristen went to chemo with her…and how they watched their favorite TV show and laughed their way through. Laughing through chemo? Wow – she is something else!

When Anna Lee left my house, we promised to pray for each other like we always do. She asked that when I pray for her, that I express her gratitude since she has everything she needs. Wow. Since yesterday, I have been thinking about that, and am trying to learn from her example.

Anna Lee is in the middle. These are just a few of the people she prays for!

Anna Lee is in the middle. This was taken a year ago. These are just a few of the people she prays for!

My journey continues to be unpredictable and challenging, but today, I feel peaceful because of the support I feel from my “village”, and from the faith I share with them. I don’t have any more answers than I did a few weeks ago, but I feel stronger.

Gratitude is powerful. I know most of us know this…and yet it is so easy to forget or ignore. But it is impossible to ignore with people like Anna Lee in my life. Today I am grateful!