Saturday, May 27, 2017

Mending the Mind

The air crackles with uncertainty. Every day there is a new development that angers, saddens, 
frustrates or scares us. We don’t know what’s happening in the world so we don’t know what to do.  I’ve noticed how the levels of anxiety have increased. I see it in my own life; I hear it in conversations with family and friends. I see it on the job with colleagues and students. I see it in the interactions between strangers. For the first time in my teaching career, we have had two suicide attempts in the same year. I teach in an elementary school. Most everybody is on edge. Something is amiss. What can we do? 

We have to take better care of ourselves and each other. We have to learn to recognize the signs of mental health deterioration and seek help. Sometimes it may a temporary problem like circumstantial depression or anxiety, or sometimes it maybe something that we have to learn to live with like bio polar disorder or schizophrenia. 

 Since 1949, May has been designated Mental Health Month (also referred to as Mental Health Awareness Month) by Mental Health America and their affiliates. And even though we are nearing the end of the month, it’s never too late to late to take steps to take care of ourselves.

There is no better time than the present to assess our mental health and mend our minds. So many people of all ages, ethnicities and income brackets are struggling with mental instability. Many suffer from some form of PTSD and are doing the best they can just to get through the day. Some don’t even bother trying. 

If our problems are temporary in that they are brought on by loss, or significant life changes, we must acknowledge our feelings and sort through them. This may require us to write it out, talk it out, cry or shout it out, pray, meditate or whatever it takes to get centered after being knocked off our square. We have to get quiet, get still, and go within. But when our self-medicating strategies, it’s time to seek professional help.
Gone are the days of thinking that only crazy people get therapy. If we take care of our physical self through diet and exercise, our spiritual well being through prayer, meditation, and fellowship, then we must also take care of our mental health. And we have to know when professional services are needed. Listed below are a few things we need to embrace to become our best selves.

1.     Like physicians, therapists are trained to heal what hurts, too. We have no trouble going to the doctor. We don’t try to heal our own broken bones or operate on ourselves. We seek those who are trained in the art of healing. The same applies to a therapist/counselor. While physicians heal the physical, therapists take care of our mental well being.

2.     Emotional and mental pain is an equal opportunity stressor. It’s time to let go of the myth that only “weak” people have breakdowns or that therapy is for CRAZY PEOPLE ONLY! The truth is most of us are dealing with life’s many stresses and we need coping skills for when the stress becomes too much.
3.     Once is not enough. Some us may have tried therapy once, and it didn’t work. That’s no reason not to try it again. We don’t lose weight the first time we step into the gym or play a beautiful piece of music the first time we sit a piano.

4.     One size doesn’t fit all. Shop around for a therapist just as you would a car or a pair of shoes, find the one that fits you. Knowledge is literally at the tips of fingers. We can “google” anything. And let’s not forget word of mouth. When seeking a therapist we should shop around until we find one who is suitable to our needs.

We know that the body breaks down, but we won’t admit that the mind breaks, too. Sometimes life punches so hard, that it takes all we can to get back up. Instead of sitting there trying to catch our wind alone, we might need the hand of a therapist to reach down and help us get back on our feet.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Post Mother's Day Reflections

I’m late. I know Mother’s Day is over, but I’ve been thinking about the meaning of Mother’s Day since Sunday. It seems as though Mother’s Day ushered in spring. It’s been quite chilly in Chicago, but leading up to Mother’s Day the cool weather gradually gave way to a balmy perfect day to honor moms. The sky was clear and the sun shone brightly with the slightest breeze that whispered that all was right in the world. God smiles on mothers. He loves them and so do we.

In 2015, in the United States alone, we spent 21.2 billion dollars for Mother’s Day—up 7% from 2014. Mother’s Day is the third largest retail holiday. We go all out to celebrate the mothers in our lives or to be celebrated if we are mothers ourselves. We do spa days and brunches. We buy flowers and candy and whatever will bring a smile to the face of the woman we know as Mother. Mom. Mama. Nana. Grandma.

My mother is simple. She just wants to see the faces of her children, grandchildren, and great grands. She wants to hear from the ones who live out of town. She loves cards--especially if they contain cash. She likes that we sit down and eat together and catch up. This year we celebrated the old hat mommies and the newbies as well as the matriarch. It was a good day. 

And even though the day was over, what kept coming back to me was how to honor my mother beyond Mother’s Day.  Through nature and nurture, my mother passed on some good stuff. Thanks to her, I think I turned out ok. Though we are different in many ways, I am definitely her child in a lot of ways. She married and had children. I did not. She loved to cook; I love to eat. But she taught compassion and respect. She showed me how to find my inner strength when life has thrown a fast curve and knocked me off my square. There’s so much to love and admire about the woman I call Mama.

Even though I’m a full grown woman, it still makes me feel good to make my mother proud. Every time I bring her an anthology I'm featured in or when I read her something I've written about her, I’m that little girl with the hand drawn picture taped on the refrigerator. I know that I am the woman  I am largely in part to her.

So yea, another Mother’s Day is come and gone, but I have time every day to honor my mother and let the world know what it means to be Mattie's daughter. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Salad Anyone?

Thanks to my friend Jennifer over at the award-winning blog, Pen and Prosper, I found out that May is National Salad month. Embarking on a journey toward healthier eating recently, the timing is perfect! My new eating plan is focused on fresh foods which means plenty of fruits and vegetables. And salads. Once upon a time, I thought of salads as lettuce (iceberg no doubt), tomato and salad dressing. Though we may think of salads as a healthy alternatives, not all salads are equal. Some salads are so loaded down with fatty ingredients, that you might as well eat a cheeseburger. 

Over the last year or so, I’ve learned to appreciate a good salad. One of my favorites is the cucumber, avocado and tomato salad pictured. I’ve learned how to toss together a great salad. Listed below are five things to keep in mind to create a tasty, healthy alternative to the traditional lettuce and tomato salad. 

1.      Ditch the iceberg. Go for the darker greens—spinach, kale, romaine or mixed greens. Not only do the darker greens have more nutritional value, they actually have more flavor. So, try a new brand of lettuce and spruce up your salad.

2.      Use dressing sparingly. One thing I learned is to use a fork instead of a spoon to add dressing to a salad. Most salad dressings are high in fat. Using less dressing cuts down on fat and it also allows you to taste the vegetables in the salad. I love oil and vinegar dressings!

3.      Add protein. Beans add fiber and fill you up faster. Grilled chicken, salmon or tuna are also good sources of low calorie protein. You can also add nuts or seeds to provide protein as well. 

4.      Add fruit. Cut up fruit and add just the right amount of sweetness to your salad. A fruit salad can also serve as a dessert to satisfy even the most finicky of eaters craving something sweet.

5.      Try a variety of vegetables. Mix it up. A salad is not required to have lettuce and/or tomatoes. As previously mentioned, one of my all time favorite salads is made up of mostly of cucumber, avocado and tomato. It’s tossed in an olive oil, and lemon dressing with salt and pepper to taste. Sometimes I add chick peas or toss it on olive oil and lime juice.

The sky is the limit with salads. There are websites with recipes and videos with step-by-step directions. Salads are easy to make, good for you and good to eat. You can’t go wrong with a good salad.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Life Lessons from Beauty and the Beast

There are times when you need to escape adult life. I did so recently by slipping off to see Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Best is the story of Belle and a prince of course. Belle is a young woman whose beauty is as much internal as it is external. Though beautiful and charming, Belle is a bit of an oddball in the village. She and her widowed father Maurice live together in a town inhabited by people who are very traditional. The women are viewed as potential or dutiful wives. But Belle is woman of goals and ambitions. Much to the town folk’s dismay; Belle loves to read and dreams of life beyond her small town. 

Belle ignores the requests of the men in town who want her as a wife, especially the boorish soldier Gaston who is determined to win Belle’s affection. When Maurice sets out on his journey, he asks Belle what she wants him to bring her back. Her reply: a rose. Maurice gets lost and stumbles upon a dark castle. He unknowingly plucks a rose from a bush on the property of a hideous beast. The price for Maurice’s theft is lifetime imprisonment in the castle. But Belle finds her father and offers to trade places with him. He returns home. A friendship blossoms between Belle and the Beast who is really a Prince who has been cursed. 

When Gaston learns that he is competing against the Beast for Belle’s affection, he leads a group of angry townspeople to the castle to destroy the Beast. He manages to shoot the Beast before plunging to his death. As Belle cries over the body of the Beast confessing her love to him, the enchantress who turned him into a Beast turns him back into the Prince and well, you know the rest. They lived happily ever after.

And even though it was your typical Disney Princess movie, I liked the modern elements of diversity and an independent Belle. As the movie ended, I thought about the lessons the movie imparted for me. 

1.      Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. The beggar woman offered the Prince a rose in exchange for shelter, but he laughed at her and cast her off. The rose was not good enough for the Prince. It was his ingratitude that caused him to be turned into a Beast. The beggar was an enchantress in disguise who told the Prince that he would remain a beast until he learned to love and was loved in return. How many times do we take people’s kindness for granted because we want more than what they give?

2.      Be yourself; everyone is taken. Belle was comfortable in her skin even in the face of ridicule and adversity. The villagers didn’t understand the strange girl who liked to read, and who rebuffed potential suitors like they were The Plague. But Belle remained true to herself and it worked out for her in the end. Are you trying to be an imitation of someone else’s expectations or are you being your authentic self?

3.      Don’t settle. Belle didn’t know where she was going or what she was going to do, but she knew that her small town couldn’t hold her big dreams. She dreamed of something different—something better. Have you put your dreams on hold or stopped dreaming altogether? Why?

4.      Don’t follow the crowd. In an effort to make himself the hero of the day and deflect from the cad that he really was, Gaston convinces the townspeople that the Beast was evil. That he had Belle under a spell and needed to be destroyed. He led the villagers to the castle to kill the Beast. When have you gone along to get alone even though you knew your gut told you something different?

5.      Be brave. Belle never cowered. Not before the town’s people, or Gaston or her first encounter with the Beast. She did not allow fear to stop her from moving forward. What is fear holding you back from?

Which of these lessons resonates with you? Tell me about it in the comment section.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What’s Meant to Be Will Be

On Tuesday April 18, Chicken Soup for the Soul will release its latest book in the series, Chicken Soup for the Soul: An Inspiration for Teachers. And I am one of the 101 contributors.
 I am a writer with dreams of being featured in publications with worldwide recognition, and now that dream has come to fruition. It began with an idea in my head, and I went for it. Even after rejection and missed deadlines over the years, I was still determined to get my work into a widely recognized publication. 

Years ago, I submitted a piece to Essence magazine, and an editor called me while I was at work. I called back on my lunch, but was unable to speak with her. Shortly, thereafter I received a nice rejection letter in the mail. Something went wrong. I knew that I hadn’t been called only to be rejected. That’s not how this works. For a long time, the incident haunted me. I had come close to being published in a magazine that I read faithfully from cover to cover every month. Periodically I’d think about submitting, but wouldn’t follow through.

I went on to get published in Black-Eyed Peas for the Soul—Tales to Strengthen the African American Spirit and Encourage the Heart—my first anthology! I thought I was on my way. A triathlon teammate sent an email that Chicken Soup for the Soul was doing a book for African Americans with Lisa Nichols as the editor. The woman who sent me the email knew Lisa personally. There was no guarantee that I’d be accepted, but at least I had a contact. What did I do? Missed the deadline! I kept thinking I had more time than I did. I could have kicked myself. Like the Essence incident, this too bothered me for a long time. 

I continued to write and get published in anthologies. From time to time I would check to see what was coming up in the Chicken Soup series. Even the ones that were of interest to me, I wouldn’t sit down and write. I didn’t know why. Was I afraid that my writing wasn’t good enough for Chicken Soup? I didn’t make it into Essence.

Then last summer, I saw that Chicken Soup was accepting admissions for Chicken Soup for the Curvy Soul and Chicken Soup for Teachers. I submitted to both. I received a letter saying that my piece for the Curvy Soul was being looked at for possible acceptance. I was ecstatic! Almost there. Surely, this would not be a repeat of making it to the finish line, but not crossing? It was. I got my nice rejection letter in the mail. Since I hadn’t heard from anyone regarding the Chicken Soup for Teachers piece, I figured I was out of the running. I was down, but now out. I kept checking to see what other titles in the series were on the horizon to try again.

Then I received another letter regarding my teacher piece. It was being considered. I was excited but scared. What if this one was rejected, too? Maybe my writing wasn’t good enough. Then lo and behold I got the letter saying my piece had been accepted. I was in such a hurry to give them permission to publish that I forgot to sign the contract! 

I never saw the email saying that I had not signed until 8 pm, and I don’t have a fax machine at home. I fired off a quick email, jumped in the car and went to the nearest Staples. I faxed the contract and sent an email to the editor. The following morning I called to make sure she received it; She did! And I have been walking in the clouds ever since. It’s such an honor to be featured in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book and especially one about teaching. It’s another way to help people—like Chicken Soup helps people. I love being a teacher!

In 1993, motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor started Chicken Soup for the Soul following requests for the stories that they shared.” As Jack and Mark traveled, people constantly asked if the stories they related had been published. So, Jack and Mark set out to do just that. 

According to the website, they began with a “simple idea that people could help each other by sharing stories about their lives. They compiled the top 101 stories and pitched them to the major publishing houses in New York. They were rejected. It was a small publisher in Florida who decided to give Jack and Mark a chance, and the rest they say is history.

The first book sold 11 million copies and a second helping of Chicken Soup was born. There are 250+ titles in the series with more than 500 million copies worldwide. The books have been translated into 43 languages and published in over 100 countries. Chicken Soup for the Soul is more than a series of books. It’s a brand. 

Jack and Mark sold Chicken Soup to William Rouhana and Amy Newark (husband and wife) and Robert Jacobs in 2008.  In addition to its best-selling titles, Chicken Soup also carries a line of wholesome foods--for people and their pets. They are currently working on a TV show and a major motion picture. There are aps. I couldn’t have asked for a better national platform to debut my work. In additional to inspirational stories, they donate to a number of worthy causes. Their socially consciousness matches my socially conscious advocacy. 

Just like Chicken Soup for the Soul is “changing the world one story at a time,” I am changing the world one student at a time. It's no accident that we are in this together.  This was definitely meant to be.