Forget the guests, use the nice pillows.

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We’ve all heard the battle cries of carpe diem! Seize the day! Use the nice china. Don’t wait. I have one more to add: forget the guests, use the nice pillows.

We were recently preparing to have a guest at our home and I realized that I had given them the very newest pillows we own. How nice. When I tucked my son in for his nap that afternoon, I glanced at his pillow and found that had been through every storm, sick episode, and was likely older than I was. It was nasty looking. What the? I like to have guests, I’m sure you do, too, but they don’t live in our homes.

With this a-ha moment (light bulb!), I started looking around my house. I have a very large, grand sidewalk lined with boxwood shrubs for our guests, while my family comes through a dirty garage to the most confounding pile of crap in a muddy, muddy mudroom every day. My formal entryway is decorated with a theme for every season, in front of a door my family and closest friends never use. (See exhibit B for February). The spaces my family actually resides in? Tag sale city, sweetheart.

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What’s wrong with this picture? Image, I guess? Without being aware of it, I have cultivated some of the nicest spaces in our home for people that I care the least about. Have any of you done this, too? What is it about appearances that sucks us in? I can blame Pinterest and other social media sites, but it’s more than that. I don’t have to give greater credence to any of those sites than you do.

For me, I ordered new pillows in our house, for my family. I switched up our towels and paid someone to come in paint my mudroom. While finishing designing and decorating my home, I’m going to proceed with my family and our style in mind first from now on. Our real style, not how I wish it was, but how it actually is (storage for sweaty gear, heaps of laundry and all). I’m kind of done with appearances for fictional guests. My extended family members and closest friends recall when I barely washed my clothes and ate ramen noodles. I don’t think giving them the highest thread count in the guest room is going to change their opinion of me. Flattering or not, their memories of me have been cultivated over decades. It comes down to this…my favorite people use the back door. I bet yours do, too. Make it nice for them. More than that, make it nice for you. 

Keep sharing moxie.

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Feeding Someone with Love

My new litmus test for humanity is this: are you the type of person to visit someone in a nursing home and feed them soup? There is much banter over kindness, giving of yourself, and loving one another, but at the end of the day, what does that really look like? I’ve seen puffed up pretty boys expounding on good deeds and beauties talking about volunteering, but if I can’t see them feeding someone soup, their words ring hollow to me.

Love? Humanity? For me? It’s the lasting image of watching Bill feed Enid soup. I spent the better part of two years visiting one of my parents on a locked Dementia care unit. Eating was the last thing that my family member still enjoyed, and he did so quickly and with gusto. Enid was on the same unit and shook, so she had a harder time eating. Her husband, Bill, came to visit faithfully and helped feed her, slowly, wiping her mouth between spoonfuls. Talking all the while to her and other residents. After meals, they would often retire to the t.v. area, holding hands on the couch.

If this sounds like a Nicholas Sparks novel, you’re not far off. What’s missing is the banging and the groaning of the other residents. The repetitions of the agitated. There was always a scent diffuser going full blast to mask the smell of urine. It was, and remains, an impressive care facility, so I’m not knocking it, far from it. Alzheimer’s is a lot of things, but beautiful isn’t one of them. Not so for Bill and Enid. They were couple set apart, love personified. It was an inspiration to watch how Bill cared for his wife.

After one particularly trying visit to the unit, my husband asked me what was the matter. “I just watched the most loving thing today. Bill was feeding Enid soup. I don’t think you would do the same thing. I totally bet on the wrong pony.” My spouse assured me that he would feed me in my later years if needed. I hope so, but I doubt it. The way I see it? I have about 35 years to turn him into a guy like Bill. He’s not there yet. To be fair, I’m not there yet either, but I’m trying to be.

This year I’ve watched some of the greatest generation pass away. Octogenarians and their peers that were the backbone of our community and maybe of yours, too. 42 years on the fire dept, 37 years as a girl scout troop leader, veteran, Salvation Army volunteer, Gold Star families. I’m worried that my generation isn’t quite up to snuff to fill these shoes. Most of us aren’t the type to visit loved ones in nursing homes and feed them with love. Every. Single. Day.

My Facebook feed has been as divided as our country lately. Yours, too? I work with teenagers and college students. Their level of narcissistic tendencies, if unchecked, makes me shudder and a little sick to my stomach some days, yet hopeful on others when I see them trying to understand and learn. I’m not impressed with indignant social media posts, they alone don’t accomplish much. I’m impressed with Bill feeding Enid soup. Each person can actually do something to help us all: Raise a Bill in your home, in your community, within yourself, and we’ll all be better for it. Set the bar higher for humanity. Feed someone with love. 

Arrowhead 135: Cowards Won’t Show

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The New York Times showed up last year to cover this race, but they haven’t been here for 10 years. I have. The Arrowhead Ultra 135 started in 2005 with a group of 5 snowbikers that wanted to do something crazy, but maybe a little bit cool, too. Let’s bike 135 miles in January, in northern Minnesota, on a snowmobile trail. Every good thing starts as a bombastic crazy-ass idea first: Climb Mount Everest? Impossible. Women voters? Don’t be ridiculous. Ride your bike through the snow? I don’t think so. Until someone did.

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The Arrowhead Ultra can be completed by biking, running, or skiing. It turns out that biking is the easiest, unless the trail is soft and you have to push your bike. Let’s just swing that idea past you one more time, because it’s worth registering: RUN 135 miles. IN MINNESOTA. IN JANUARY. The trail has hit -40 degrees Fahrenheit during races, and sometimes hovers around 30 degrees. Each year is a roll of the dice. You must carry all the gear you need, complete the race with 3000 calories in stow (my racer carries lard), and finish 135 miles in 60 hours. Less than half finish.

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(photo credit: Gear Junkie).

Once a feat is tackled, the flag is planted and the bell rung, you must make it harder, faster, and more punishing. It’s no longer enough to finish one difficult epic journey. While I write this there is a group of individuals that finished running 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents yesterday.

You get a special trophy -the Arrowhead A’trois- if you finish this winter race in all three modes of propulsion: ski, run, and bike over a period of three years. There is a Brazilian racer this year that is trying to finish the Badwater series. He has run the Badwater 135 in Death Valley (hottest),  Badwater Brazil (mountains), and is now attempting to finish the Arrowhead Ultra (coldest). He has been training in a freezer. Not kidding. Where does one find cold weather in Brazil? A walk-in freezer. I wish him well, but nothing has prepared him for the six inches of snow today expected on the trail and sub-zero temps at night. 30 degrees is balmy here, 30 below is to be expected and prepared for.

I admire people that do hard things, while I recognize that we have a cush lifestyle that allows us to train for these experiences, travel to different places, and the funds to do so. We aren’t fleeing through the mountains being chased by those that would do us harm. We aren’t running through the desert to flee from persecution. My husband doesn’t need to sleep outside in the winter trying to get us food off the trail. We have plenty. It’s a voluntary struggle that all of these racers sign-up for, yet they are the ones that run, walk, and ski it.

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It’s a psychological game at night to take out your sleeping bag and bivouac on the trail. When it’s below zero, your brain wants to survive and may buck the idea of surrendering to sleep. Ultramarathons aren’t for sissies. Winter camping isn’t for the fearful. Racing requires you to step off the sidelines. Arrowhead 135: Cowards Won’t Show. It’s honestly the tagline.

I think everyone can learn something from those that push for more, in every area. For me, if I was hiring, I’d go for a racer. They are tough as hell. Talent only gets you so far in life, at some point we all must do more. Dig deeper. Be better. If you can’t do it, bring a cowbell to cheer on those that can.

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Keep sharing moxie.

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Dear Beloved Phone

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Dear Beloved Phone,

I knew things were getting serious, but this is crazy. My daughter looked at you 78 times yesterday. I looked at you 28 times. I’m ashamed to say that you’re the first thing I look at when I wake up and the last thing I see before I go to bed. Some might say that I’m addicted to you, they’d be right.

It’s not you, it’s me. I know people blame you for all your bells and whistles. You’ve become as addictive as heroin, as necessary as carrying a credit card, and as socially accepted as putting on clothes in the morning.

I’m a therapist by trade, but you wouldn’t know that would you? Given the ridiculous things I spend my time looking at with you, dear phone, one might guess my I.Q. to be much lower than it actually is.

I knew we were getting a little too serious, but tracking the times I look at you with the Checky app made me shrivel up inside. It’s hard to put you down, my beloved, but I’m working on it. Like a smoker cutting down on their ciggies, my daughter looked at her sweet apple friend only 25 times today, down from 78 yesterday.

Here’s a bit of research though to deepen my assertions…The time it takes for us to pick up our phones in the morning continues to shrink, according to a study by Deloitte. More than 40 percent of us, myself included, check their phones within five minutes of waking up. First, we check our text messages (35 percent), followed by emails (22 percent). During the day, we look at our phones approximately 47 times and that number rises to 82 for 18- to 24-year-olds. Once the day is over, over 30 percent of us check our devices five minutes before going to sleep, and about 50 percent in the middle of the night.

You’re not all bad, my constant companion. I’ve captured great pictures using you. I stay in contact with friends through you and I love your video camera to capture my kids in action, but let’s be real, you’re also the biggest time suck invented by man. You won’t miss me, but I’ll miss you. Hey, we can still be friends, but let’s spend a bit more time apart.

Love,

Me (and half the world’s population)

P.S. I highly recommend the Checky app (or something similar) to start monitoring your own usage or to check how much your kids are on their phones. Keep sharing moxie!!

That Still Small Voice

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I have never been one to respond to loud coaches, fiery preachers, or teachers that yell. Some are motivated by this, but I’m not one of them. That still small voice though? Yes, please. I wish it would come around more often. Better yet, I wish I would stop talking and slow down my fast and furious brain long enough to be quiet and listen for it.

Let me preface this post by saying the following: I respect all decisions regarding having children or not. Truly. In my younger years I may have asked couples about their interest in this area, but not anymore. I have come to despise that question. Any thought that you are less a couple without children, or complete with them, holds no weight with me. Being asked this question, and the accompanying feeling like you need to justify where you are at with a partner or spouse is a thinly disguised burden. My calm advice is please don’t do it. My pissed off, end of my freaking rope advice is, “For the love of all that is holy, stop asking people if they are going to have kids, have more kids, or really wanted a different kid”. Thanks much.

Disclaimer over, now on to my story. It just so happens that I fall into the camp that wanted kids and couldn’t have them. Perhaps you are in this tribe along with me. I don’t know about you, but I turned myself into an unhinged lunatic trying to have them. The advice is endless. Drink wine, relax, lower your anxiety, eat healthier, take your temp, make a plan. When the front line advice didn’t work, like star students, many of us become even more determined to pass this test: take this medication, have this exploratory surgery, and this one, wait, this one should really be the ticket. Up the game, have fresh vials of hormones dropped off at your doorstep in large coolers. Have a glass of wine, relax, and then have your husband give you injections. Super romantic.

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Through all this, I knew that I really wanted a child. Until suddenly (um, 5 years, I’m a quick learner, right?) I started to question if I was losing touch with my life. As a final push, I went for the brass ring, the doctor of doctors, a renowned endocrinologist at a research hospital. I had to subject myself to a series of tests before he would consider taking on my case. He may have been brilliant, but Mr. Sensitive MD he was not. Imagine the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day off ala “Bueller, Bueller?” and a persistent inability to look at my face.

“Your tests have all come back and you do not have gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, ….or AIDS.”

Me, laughing: “Well, that’s good, right?!?”

Eyes on the floor, “Yes, it does remove some complications.”

Truth is, I would have stood on my head with boiled chicken feet around my neck to please this guy. I just wanted a baby, and not any baby, I was certain it would look like this.

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Celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary with my husband, ” I think I’ll be ok if this doesn’t work.” That was me, finally starting to come to terms with this business of infertility.

At my next appointment with Mr. Personality MD, there was construction thereby forcing me to walk through the pediatric oncology department. I can think of few things more sobering and poignant in America than walking through a pediatric oncology department. At that moment, I felt it in my bones. Enough. Enough. It was the still small voice.

At the visit with doctor that afternoon, he told me it was another bad round, the eggs weren’t right and the lining wasn’t good, they were calling it off. “I’ll go get you a shot to end this cycle.” And there it was again, the still small voice. No. I had never said “no” to this man before, but I did. “No, what for? It’s not necessary. I don’t need it. In fact, I don’t need any of this. I’m done.”

Walking out of that office, I felt such relief. Like mountains moved and waters calmed relief. Amazing. And let me just say, I’m not a shouting hallelujah from the rooftops kind of gal. I called my husband, “I’m done.” I called my sister, “I’m done.”

And to the still small voice? Thank you. My son was born 9 months later. I would have unknowingly terminated the pregnancy that I had fought for without standing up for myself that day.

I wish the still small voice came around more often. It’s out there though. We just need to be quiet enough to listen. Some things come with the force of hurricanes and others come with a still small voice. Be brave and listen.

Keep sharing moxie.

 

Want. Need. Wear. Read.

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The Christmas gift-giving concept is straightforward: something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. It sounds simple. It should be simple.

I pitched my idea to my firstborn and, ever the rule follower, she promptly gave me a bullet point list. 1. Want-Bookniture, furniture made from books. 2. Need-Shopping money for Paris.

I stopped reading at number 2.

I tried with my preschooler. “I want a drone.” What do you need? “I need a drone.” This prompted a discussion on the definitions of want and need.

Is this a hard question? I turned inward. What do I want? What do I need? Nothing, really. My children don’t truly lack for anything, but I don’t either. So what do I want? Time. Uninterrupted time with them, with my sisters, with…my favorites. What do I need? The same thing, time.

I realize that now that my list-making days are over. I’ll be asking for the same thing every Christmas from now until the end. I want time with the people I love. I’m going to be vocal about it, too, so my children start to begin to get the idea that this concept of time is important. As in, “my mom has been asking for time with us for the past 20 years, it’s sooooo obnoxious, it’s all she wants.” I’m not some paragon of sainthood, but I realize that my children will only live under my roof for a short period of time. I will always want more time with them, especially at Christmas, and I’m perfectly comfortable making them feel guilty as hell if I don’t get it. It’s all I’m asking for.

I just spoke with a colleague yesterday that hasn’t had their children all together for 10 years over the holidays. She wants time. There is a lovely young woman in our community that was just diagnosed with cancer. She wants more time, god, she deserves more, please.

Christmas is a magical time for some, for others they’d like to just get through it. It’s financially and socially stressful and is less a celebration of true love and selflessness than it is of consumerism. Grinchy, grinchity, grinch.

When it comes down to it though, our deepest wishes, the theme is often the same. You want more time, you were deprived of more time, or you haven’t found the right people you want to spend time with.

For all of you, dear readers, I hope your Christmas is filled with time. Time with the people that make you laugh till you cry, drive you insane, make you snort with derision, and fill your heart up. Find your tribe. Love them, fiercely. Merry Christmas, friends.

Keep sharing moxie.

 

Thankful for Pickled Beets

Thanksgiving was my Grandma’s holiday. She owned it like a boss. It was her birthday, plus Thanksgiving, and the mission was clear: fill the Taopi town hall with her family. Grandma is gone now and new traditions have replaced the old trek to the drafty hall. I miss the bent folding chairs and being paraded on the town stage.

I have two feet planted squarely in middle age and have never bought pickled beets till this year, because Grandma isn’t here to make them anymore. I saved her last beets until I needed to google shelf times, safety and canning. My sister made a commemorative batch, but it wasn’t the same. Nothing is as good as the loving original.

Grief is the thing that makes your throat hurt when you’re past the point of crying. I stood in the grocery aisle staring at a jar of beets this week and my throat hurt a little. “Are you finding everything, Ma’am?” My voice cracked on “yes.”.

This month I met with two families that have lost their children and wanted to set up scholarship funds in their memory. And I heard it again, the voice crack. Their throats hurt a little. Those hearts bear scars that they will never show to the world, but will smile this spring giving scholarship money to someone else’s child.

The dark side of holidays is the simple truth that sometimes they suck for others. It’s hard to celebrate when your heart hurts, but celebrate we must. I think it’s important to be thankful for a life well lived, however short or long. It’s also good to give an extra squeeze whenever you hear someone’s voice crack. This Thanksgiving let us be thankful for those that are gathered around our table and the empty chairs that we wish were still filled.

If I were to assemble my favorite meal, it would have Grandma’s pickled beets, my mom’s chocolate cake, Willie’s fish, Jan’s deviled eggs, and my husband’s steak. Some of these people are living and some are not, but I’m thankful for all of them. Who makes your perfect meal? Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Keep sharing moxie.

Piss off, Pinterest.

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I’m looking at you Pinterest, Instagram, Fakebook, and Photoshop. You’ve left me feeling a little bit LESS THAN. You’ve taken the concept of Keeping Up With the Joneses (or Kardashians, blech) to a whole new level, squared. No worries though, I’m throwing in the towel. I’ve decided I can’t keep up and am jumping off that train.

I have found my people… Pinterestfail.com “where good intentions come to die” and Celeste Barber, a hilarious Australian comedian that has recreated celebrity selfies. Take a moment and look this stuff up. Crying. Oh my gosh, these are my people.

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Have you started to feel a bit like you’re in 7th grade again looking at all these airbrushed beauties and their carefully cultivated on-line presence? You know it’s not all real, every day can’t be THAT fabulous for others, but somehow you feel left out? I didn’t love 7th grade. Did ANYONE?! And then…I remembered to laugh. I mean really, people. Life is messy, sometimes beautiful, but often funny.

I identify with Bridget Jones. Do you?  That is one Jones that I could run with. I’ve always wanted to be British, am slightly chubby, prone to failure, and we both love Colin Firth. Who doesn’t? My daughter gave me Colin Firth on a stick a few years ago on Mother’s Day. “What would be the best gift, Mom?” Colin Firth on a stick was always my answer. It remains my favorite gift of all time, but I digress.

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I think somewhere we’ve started to lose the ability to laugh at ourselves. We’ve started keeping score with others daily and thinking it’s a real thing. I fail all the time. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I often share my failures with others, because sometimes they’re hilarious. The picture of the stairs at the beginning of this post? Those are my back steps. Piss off, Pinterest. I couldn’t even get the damn window cling idea to work. I mean, really. Failure at window clings? That’s funny.

Last weekend my niece got married. I showed up to decorate her hotel suite with rose petals, battery operated tea lights, and champagne. I got patted down at the door for bringing liquor into the establishment. I had to wait with the security guard until I confirmed that I was the one paying for the room and wasn’t some deranged drunk trying to ruin someone’s wedding night. Oh my stars, was I embarrassed, but how much did my sisters laugh when I told them? Tears.

So today, tomorrow, and next week let’s all work at laughing more and judging less. Let’s try to remember we’re not in 7th grade. I don’t really care what you have as long as you’re nice to others. Piss off, Pinterest. I’ve found my lunch table and we’re absolutely freaking hilarious. Fail on, friends!

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Lawnmower parents, please stop.

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Dear Lawnmower Parents,

Please stop. We’ve moved on from helicopter parents to you and I don’t like it one bit. Helicopters would hover, but you seek to mow down every obstacle in your child’s path. You aren’t helping, you’re suffocating. Unless you plan to move to college with your kids (if you can get them to leave you), please turn off your engines now to listen for a bit.

I just spent the last few days trying to register kids for a college fair. I am passionate about college and will do what I can to help any child get there. I found around 5 of every 25 students in a room didn’t know their home address or didn’t know their parent’s number. One would think this might be a bit embarrassing for them, not so much. “Just wait, I need to text my mom to find out my address. She usually does all this stuff for me.” These were teenagers that didn’t know where they lived. This wasn’t a remedial class, nor was this a transient population. They were juniors and seniors in a small midwestern town.

I had a conversation with a parent recently that confessed that she had a pen taken out of her hand when she was trying to fill out her daughter’s forms at college. She was told that she wasn’t the student. That’s right. You as a parent are not the student. You aren’t the entry level worker and you aren’t the athlete on the field. Stop acting like you are. Every time you grab the pen, yell at the coach, and demand an answer from a teacher you rob your child of the opportunity to learn something on their own, conflict management.

If our job as parents is to give our children roots and wings, we need to concentrate a little more on the wings part.

Your kids are amazing. They can do great things if you let them. Problem solving is one of the most important skills you can allow your kids to develop. Let them deal with the problems of life, school, work, and sports while they are safe in your home with a soft place to land. Allow them to stumble a bit.

If a teenager doesn’t know where they live, what their parent’s phone number is (unless they look in their contacts) and can’t boil water we have then successfully churned out a generation that has less self-help skills than the generation before them. Granted, they may be able to program your t.v., but if they can’t tell the dispatcher where you live to send the fire trucks…

Your child should be able to complete algebra, write a coherent essay, and pass a citizenship test when they graduate from high school. That is the work of educators and the effort of your children. If your child knows how to wash clothes, make a few meals, mow a lawn, use their manners and remember their home address, that’s on you. Stay off your lawnmower long enough to teach them.

Thank you.

Keep sharing moxie.

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Speak Your Truth

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Speak your truth. Even as I write this I  am mindful of the fact that speaking your truth does not always parlay into speaking “the truth”. Speaking your truth is what you hold in your heart and believe to be true. Product matters, but so does process. I’m not particularly proud to say that I have, on occasion, written and made some rather scathing remarks. Some of these things needed to be said, but I regret the way I said them (some of them, I’m no saint). On the other hand, there are times that I have not said anything and I wish that I had. Speak your truth when you’re afraid. Speak your truth when you think it doesn’t matter; it does. Stop saying you’re fine, when you’re not.

I’ve been working on this and just so you don’t think I’m all rah-rah bullshit, I’d like to share my early results in order to encourage any of you that are on the fence. Last year my birthday was spent at a Chinese Buffet with a toddler having a melt-down. I said I didn’t care what we did for my birthday (I did) and however we spent it would be fine (it wasn’t). I ended up being crazy mad at my husband which was met with bewilderment, “you said it didn’t matter”. The Chinese Buffet showdown  of 2015 wasn’t fair to him and it was just ridiculous on my part. This year I was direct, explicit and very encouraging: I’d like to go on a trip with nice restaurants, galleries and, no, I don’t want the kids along. Nailed it. See exhibit A above(my birthday present) and B below, as pictured.

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Life isn’t all wine on a Saturday afternoon dining al fresco, so in my day to day hum drum life I’ve been practicing this, too. I have been setting up one on one meetings, some easy, some hard to speak my truth. On that note, speak  your truth and then shut-up and listen. We connect so little face to face with people these days that sometimes when you speak your truth and listen, you might cry, you might soften a little. In my book, that’s a lovely thing. You have little time for posturing when you are sitting face to face with someone, if your intent is honest and true, there is so much less of that. An e-mail is quick, where a real conversation takes time, but is a true foundation you can build upon. So far I haven’t regretted one moment of the time I have spent doing this, time well spent.

Speak your truth, kindly. You can say the same thing any number of ways. Be charitable until you know you’re being played. Then continue to speak your truth in a way that you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you have done everything you possibly can. Sleep well with that truth then, even if the change you wish doesn’t occur.

Speak your truth, but know it’s only your truth in this moment. You may change, too. I have.

Keep sharing moxie!