Live Your Life Out Loud

Stormy weather

Stormy weather

This past week my family received a phone call, the kind that causes you to feel as if the rug of your life is being pulled out from under you. My husband’s fifty-year-old cousin had collapsed on the playground while outside with his students at their elementary school. At first the children thought their teacher was being silly, but they soon realized he was in serious trouble. They were right. He had suffered sudden cardiac arrest. Luckily, he was resuscitated by the school nurse and survived the ambulance ride to the local trauma center.

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Photo by Natasha Hanova (WANA Commons)

The time from our family member’s collapse to revival is estimated at three to four minutes. The specialists have lowered his body temperature in an effort to allow the brain cells to recuperate from the lack of oxygen, and over the next twenty-four hours, they will raise his temperature one degree an hour until it reaches 98.6. The outlook is uncertain (but I dare say hopeful!). According to statistics, some people don’t come back from this kind of situation, at least not without neurological impairments. His doctors say they will know more about our loved one’s prognosis by Tuesday. Until then, we wait, we hope, and most of all, we pray.

As you may remember from an earlier post, my honey recently completed an intense six-month treatment for recurrent prostate cancer. He has his first post-treatment blood test in a few weeks. We feel blessed to have reached this point, and we are very optimistic about his potential for a complete cure. But news like our recent phone call reinforces my belief:  Anything can happen to anyone at any time. Good or bad. So what are you waiting for?

Live your life out loud!

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• Dance or laugh or sing–at least once a day. Who cares what others think?
• Define your success by your standards, no one else’s, and lead your life with your heart.
• Get away to somewhere you’ve always dreamed of visiting, or return to a place you love.
• Contact a friend or family member to catch up with their news and share yours.
• Watch the sun rise at least once a season. Hear and feel the nature surround you.
• Overcome a fear. (I recently overcame my fear of small planes.)
• Tackle a project or finish one you’ve begun.
• Be yourself! Remember, “normal” is highly overrated. Own your own opinions and stand by your word.
• Celebrate life, whether it’s with a glass of wine, chocolate, a run, or whatever makes you connect with yourself and your loved ones, allowing you to step back from the daily grind.

Do you live your life out loud? Share some ways you live it to the fullest.

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Thankful to Be Living in the Moment

Ever have days where you didn’t want to get out of bed, you just wanted to sleep until the bad stuff went away? Ever have days when you thought you couldn’t bear to face the world, put on a brave face, and go through your normal routine? I know you have. Everyone has stuff to deal with that gets them down now and again.

Like you, I don’t sweat the small stuff. Recent personal issues–BIG, BAD stuff–have gotten me down though. Boy, have I sweated it, and I’ve struggled to move forward. Hell, I’ll admit it. I’m still struggling. Thanks to a colleague of mine, though, I have a strategy to navigate the unknowns these coming days and months. (And no, this is one case where a margarita isn’t the answer.)

This friend knew, without me telling her, that I was at my wit’s end. She knew, without me telling her, that I needed someone to talk to, but I didn’t want to share my burden. She insisted we go out to lunch, get away from everything, and talk. Poor thing didn’t know what she was in for, because as soon as we got in her car that afternoon, I spilled. Everything. Then she shared such simple, yet profound advice I knew I’d have to share it with you: Don’t project. These two words gave me hope that I will be the person I need and want to be for my family, and for me.

Now, you may have heard about the importance of not projecting your feelings or problems onto others, but apparently this phrase means something else entirely. It’s more along the lines of Carpe Diem, or Live for Today. If you are a regular reader of Margaria Moments, you know I’m a huge believer in taking time out of your hectic schedule to enjoy a moment for yourself.

Seems so simple, doesn’t it? It is, and it isn’t. When the Big Bad Stuff has you scared out of your mind about your financial security, or a loved one’s health, or your child’s safety, you can easily go down the Path of Negativity. Don’t do it. Don’t go there. Take it one moment, one day at a time. In other words, don’t project. Don’t worry about the what-ifs in your future. I’m famous, or infamous perhaps, for always saying, “Anything can happen to anyone at any time. Enjoy and treasure everyone in your life.” Now, I’m not saying to ignore planning for the future with a sound retirement strategy, or forego researching a medical diagnosis needing treatment, or not ensuring your child has the best caregivers and education available. What I’m saying is plan for the areas of your life you can control, and do your damnedest not to worry about what you can’t.

Live for today. Each day. Be the best person you can be, make the best decisions you can with the knowledge you have, and be present–in your life and that of your loved ones.

Since that lunch conversation, my home life has been more peaceful and joyful than it has in many weeks. I hadn’t realized how much my anxiety was affecting my family, how it took me away from them emotionally. I’m so grateful for the change, and grateful that someone took the time to reach out to me in my time of need. I only hope to be the positive difference for others as this friend was for me.

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is watching romantic comedies. Today I watched, “While You Were Sleeping” for the umpteenth time. I thought you may enjoy this part, where Jack (played by Bill Pullman) demonstrates to Lucy (played by Sandra Bullock) a lesson about body language (It’s the first minute of this ten-minute clip):

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, or it’s been awhile, it’s a great holiday flick to watch with your girlfriends or for an at-home date night. Wishing you a happy holiday season, and hoping you’ll stop by next Monday for a Key West post.

What are you thankful for or how has another person’s kindness changed your outlook on life?

What on Earth Are You Here For?

The following post is adapted from my article, “The Purposeful Writer” published September 2012 in SHORELINES, the Long Island Romance Writers newsletter. Although the original was written for fellow writers, I believe it’s easily adapted to any life pursuit. Let me know what you think!

What On Earth Are You Here For?

By Jolyse Barnett

One of the most influential non-fiction books I’ve read as an adult was The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren. As I began my quest as a new writer, quotes from this bestselling book would pop into my head, and I soon realized many applied to my life as a writer. They easily apply to whatever your passion or life pursuit entails. Here are three of my favorites:

“Relationships take time and effort, and the best way to spell love is “T-I-M-E.”

If we are passionate about something, we take the time and effort to learn it. We don’t try to cut corners. Learning your craft well takes time. For writers, that means write, write, and write some more. Read about writing, read a variety of genres, and consider story elements in the various dramatic forms. Accept the ebb and flow of writing. Think about writing, keep a journal, talk to your characters, and people-watch for character and dialogue ideas—whatever inspires creativity.

One of the greatest lessons I learned in my first two years as a serious writer was the importance of thinking like a writer, not a reader. A reader enjoys the well-crafted novel, but the writer understands the purpose of each part of a story, and how they interconnect to convey a particular mood and move the story forward. Time spent writing allows the writer to develop her voice as well.

 “Why is this happening to me? Why am I having such a difficult time? One answer is that life is supposed to be difficult! It’s what enables us to grow. Remember, Earth is not heaven!”

People at all stages of their career likely experience setbacks or at least little roadblocks during the learning process. Yet-to-be-published writers like me may fret about getting an agent or selling that first book. Debut authors may worry about sales and getting the contract for their next story. Multi-published authors may be concerned with meeting deadlines, juggling the business aspect of writing, and maintaining their love for the art of writing. Remember, follow your dream career not because it’s easy, but because it’s your passion.

“Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. Don’t waste your pain.” 

You invest yourself and your time into making your dream a reality, and it’s painful to fail. Your hard work is rejected. This experience may cause some people to give up, hide from judging eyes, and move onto less frustrating, wound-inducing pursuits. When I received my first rejections as a writer, I was very disappointed, but I determined to use that experience to improve my first novel and future work. Learning from your failures in life, and persevering despite failures will lead to ultimate success. I’m not a quitter, and neither are you.

What on Earth are you here for?

West Martello Gardens of Key West

Thanks for your patience as I prepared this week’s little getaway. I hope it was worth your wait. Enjoy!

The morning my husband and I were scheduled to fly to the Dry Tortugas from Key West, we left our favorite B&B with time to spare. Perhaps sensing my anxiety about our impending date with a tiny seaplane, he suggested we stop at one of the local beaches for a romantic stroll. (Isn’t he sweet?) I jumped at the chance to burn off some nervous energy and quell my fervent imagination.  We generally bike past Higgs Beach on our way to Smathers, but this time we made it our destination.

If you’ve traveled to Key West or are a regular reader of this blog, you know the Conch Republic is renowned more for its splendid sunsets, fishing, water sports, and vibrant nightlife than spectacular beaches. Higgs Beach is small and ultra-casual, frequented more by locals than tourists, but still has some interesting features. This is a good place for beginning snorkelers to acclimate to the water with mask and snorkel merely by descending steps at the end of the pier and following the underwater pylons. History buffs may appreciate the African Cemetery located between Higgs and White Street. Families may enjoy feeding fish off the pier or taking little ones across the street to Astro Park for some playground fun.

This is where my husband led me. Serene, beautiful, and romantic…

Entrance to West Martello Garden, Key West

My senses were in heaven. I drank in the dappled sunlight amidst the lush foliage, and the angular beauty of the tower, walkways, and gazebo architecture juxtaposed against nature’s errant curves.  I inhaled the ocean breeze imbued with sweet tropical flowers.

Dappled sunlight amid the lush foliage

As I revelled in the delicious sights and smells, the many garden fountains played watery music, drowning out the everyday noises. Traffic and babble were replaced by the trill of exotic insects and calls of resident birds. Truly peaceful.

I almost hated to ruin the moment by recording it. A photograph or sixty second amateur video cannot possibly do justice to the experience. But I had to try.

A Sweet Escape

You may look at your car as a way to get from Point A to Point B, or as a gas guzzler, or even as a favored possession you’re thrilled to tool around in. My car isn’t anything fancy; it’s got over a hundred thousand miles on it, has a faint, spoiled milk scent from baby years gone by, and isn’t the least bit feminine. I live in the northeast and feminine-looking cars don’t help much on winter roads. We also wouldn’t be able to afford getaways if we spent our money on little numbers like the one shown above. Yet my car, when I have the luxury of being in the driver’s seat with no passengers to transport, can be a vehicle for my own little, sweet escape.

This summer has been extraordinarily busy, and it was a rare occasion the other day when I found myself driving somewhere alone. Ahhhh. I turned up the volume of my favorite radio station and began to sing. A few songs later, my voice was warmed up. Well, as warmed up as my voice could be. Let’s just say kids have been known to cover their ears when I belt out “Happy Birthday.” Anyway, I was relaxed and the knots in my neck had begun to loosen. That’s when Natasha Bedingfield’s 2008 pop hit, “Pocket Full of Sunshine,” shot over the airwaves. My day was perfect.

Singing along, images flit through my mind and emotions swell. Music does that, doesn’t it? I think of my children and my hopes for their future. I think of my losses and how my wonderful friends and staying positive got me through the grief. I think of mean people I’ve encountered, secure in the knowledge their cruelty has only made me stronger and more compassionate. I think, too, of my husband’s love, our relationship keeping me entertained and completely head-over-heels crazy for him 90% of the time (Nobody’s perfect, right?). Threaded through all these random thoughts and feelings is a newfound contentment with who I am and where I’m going in life.

I smile up to the sky, I know I’ll be alright

This song lifts my spirits at the literal level, too. Sunshine reminds me of my favorite season, days at the beach, backyard pool parties, and tropical vacations.

As the song ends, I’m struck by how this could be my blog’s anthem. You see, I like to think of my posts as moments of happiness I’ve bottled up to share with you. In turn, you can hold that happiness close to your heart, your own little pocket full of sunshine. Corny, yes, but that’s me. I hope you have a wonderful week! Please don’t hate me too much for putting that tune back into your head.

What song lifts you up and fills your soul?

S’more Fun Than Internet?

A World Away From Home

Eleven days ago, my husband and I packed up the family car and loaded in the kids for a 72-hour-break from our busy, tech-connected life in the suburbs.

Embarking on an internet- and cable tv-free weekend, I initially felt as lost as my children acted. I’ve become increasingly attached to my writing schedule, using my laptop for word processing, internet research, and emailing with my phenomenal critique partner. Of course, I also write this weekly blog and am on Facebook and Twitter daily. At night, I generally relax a half hour or so by tuning into HGTV or Travel Channel if there aren’t any ESPN highlights to capture my interest.

Why not pack up the gadgets and bring ’em along for the trip? To be honest, I considered it. A LOT. Facing a five-hour ride, I was pretty tempted to use that time to meet a self-made deadline for my work-in-progress. Yet I’d been inspired by a writer friend’s suggestion. Ashley Cockerill had posted this tip on her blog and I wanted us to take on her challenge as a family:

Take a computer-free day once a week to help reduce stress and eye strain. No cellphones. No e-readers. No computers. No TV. Disconnecting for a day is tough, but worth it.

As mom to an autistic son and very typical college-age daughter, this was easier said than done. To ease their worries, I brainstormed with them all the things we love about the Adirondacks. I wanted our back-to-simple-pleasures weekend to be just that–a pleasure. In addition to seeing loved ones, we agreed that making s’mores was our favorite activity. I promised to make it happen and promptly bought the three simple ingredients. (Could it really be this easy?)

Blackberry Bush

We arrived upstate and enjoyed a lazy summer afternoon in the country. The kids and we picked blackberries, checked out Grandpa’s John Deere lawn mower, ate lunch, and visited with relatives on my dad’s comfy porch under a cool awning.

A rain shower later that day threatened our much-anticipated marshmallow roast. Standing indoors around a microwave, waiting in thirty-second increments for our chocolate and marshmallow to melt, wouldn’t have been quite the same experience. Heck, we could do that at home and play Wii to boot!

Roasting Marshmallows

Thankfully, the storm passed and the quest was on for dry kindling around the property. Soon a fire blazed in the cement block fireplace used for all our outdoor family gatherings since I was a little kid. Adults and children alike sat around the fire in awe as it licked at the logs to gradually die down, leaving a small flame with glowing embers. Perfect for what we had in mind.

Twirling marshmallow-tipped sticks over the fireplace, my children enjoyed making roasted creations to order. At first, my son was nervous about the fire, its heat intense if he stood a smidge too close. With his dad’s help, he prevailed and proudly made marshmallows for Mom and himself. My daughter giggled as she ate her gooey chocolate concoction. I did, too. S’mores are yummy, and I generally don’t eat such decadent sweets.

We had a wonderful night by the fire, with family and food. I must admit we didn’t make it through our weekend completely tech-free, however, using googled directions (thanks to a nice hotel receptionist) to find our way to my niece’s beautiful wedding the following day (as highly anticipated as the s’mores, I might add).

Was our “computer-free weekend” worth it? I cannot speak for my kids, but I believe it was a success. We returned home relaxed and rejuvenated. I was more productive that week than I’d been the past few. Maybe there’s something to be said for taking a day or two off from my internet-dependency. Once in awhile.

What summer treat do you enjoy with your family? Do you make a concerted effort to “unplug” for a day now and then, or would you consider it?

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