Why Are You in the Picture?

By: Chaunte McClure

 

With the convenience of having cameras built into cell phones, the world has become obsessed with taking photos. We take pictures of our food, plants, bare feet, shoes and my, oh my do we take photos of ourselves. Yes, the selfie has taken over social media timelines and feeds, but the ‘usie’ isn’t far behind. Of course, we have to snap a photo of our family and friends when we’re just hanging out; it’s all in fun and in the name of capturing memories.

I was warming up my pose and smile for a group photo recently when I was asked, “Chaunte, why are you in the picture?” For a couple of seconds, I second-guessed my position in front of the camera, knowing that I was invited to say cheese along with my friend and her friends.

Fast forward a few days, I thought about the question again during my commute to work. Why are you in the picture?

It’s a relevant question that we can ask ourselves regarding (the proverbial picture of) our conversations, settings, relationships, careers and other facets of life.

I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the question before but perhaps formed it differently. Instead, you’ve asked:

What is my purpose? Why did God call me to do this? Why do I have this job when my career goals are totally different? Why did I meet him or her? Why am I going through this? Why was I born? What am I to learn from this situation?

Each of these questions, I believe, is another way of asking: Why am I in the picture?

Truth is, we should exclude ourselves from some “pictures”, but we tend to try to fit in someone else’s shot, even if it means photobombing.

When you find yourself in toxic relationships, the honest, well-thought-out answer to the above question, should urge you to walk away from that which is not good for you.

On the other hand, a reflection of your journey as you recall a time when you’ve asked yourself some form of that question, your response may help you appreciate where you are in life right now and have a better understanding of how God has ordered your steps. That’s my story because now I can see how my past two jobs prepared me for my current job.

At times, we are in the picture for a divine purpose – to provide encouragement, bring peace, make connections, share love, take a stand, be a witness, and the list can go on and on.

Other times, we are in the picture for our selfish reasons. We force ourselves to stay in the picture although God is ready to crop us out and place us in a different setting with our past in the background. Are you ready to change places?

Take some time to think about why you’re in the picture. You might discover that you should be where you are, but you’re not fulfilling your purpose. You might realize that it’s time to do more or it’s time to move on. It’s helpful to understand why you’re in the picture.

How to Make Instagram Instantly Better

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I am not a social media maven. No, let’s be honest: I don’t even like social media. I just don’t see the fascination of wasting hours trolling through tweets or tracking someone’s every movement on Facebook. (Fair disclosure: I have Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts, but only because I need them in my work.)

This blog and an Instagram account are as adventurous as I get in social media, and the Instagram account only came about more or less by accident. A conference I went to offered a drawing prize for attendees who posted throughout the event using its hashtag. I’d heard of Instagram but didn’t know much about it or why anyone would want to use it. But with that prize dangling in front of me — and a long trip with time to kill — I downloaded the app and taught myself how to use it.

Well, guess what? It was a ton o’ fun, and so simple even I could get the hang of it quickly. Just take a picture, type a short phrase about it, toss in a few hashtags and click share. I don’t have a lot of followers (you can be one: search for @jeannedreynolds) nor do I follow many people, but I have been able to connect with one or two long-lost friends and gained some insight into the personal lives of some of the creative, caring and really cool people I work with.

But — you knew there was a but coming, right? — the more experience I have with Instagram, the more posts I see that are, well, kind of annoying. Here, then, are my gentle suggestions for making the most of your Instagram posts:

  1. Post a picture of someone besides yourself. Of course I like you or I wouldn’t be following you, but your constant stream of selfies comes across a bit self-centered.
  2. Less is more. If you need to write a paragraph to explain your pix, try another social media platform. Don’t make me hit the “more” button and scroll, scroll, scroll to read your entire thought.
  3. Less is more, part B: Enough with the hashtags. I’ve read that posts with multiple hashtags are more widely viewed, but viewed by whom? Do you really care if you reach a tattoo artist in Alaska with your personal views? Two or three is plenty.
  4. Let’s see some variety. There’s one co-worker who I like and admire deeply, but 90% of her posts involve her drinking champagne, or her and her friends drinking champagne, or just two glasses of champagne by themselves. Two family members post mostly photos or videos of each other making puppy eyes or looking soulfully into the distance. OK, they’re somewhat newlyweds, but still.
  5. Save the sap. Related to #4, please save the long, heartfelt confessions of true love for your Valentine’s Day card. This person is a lot of fun to be around and has changed your life for the better, check. Ooey-gooey hearts and doves, check out.

If you haven’t tried Instagram yet, take a look at it. It’s a fast and simple way to vicariously share travel, meals, holidays and everyday adventures with your family and friends. Like me, you’ll probably gain new insights into how they think and feel and a new appreciation for how multifaceted each of us is.

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words. Just be sure you’re only using a fraction of that on Instagram.

The Dove Made Me Do It

By: Angie Sloan

True confession: I love dark chocolate. It’s a weakness for me. Knowing how quickly I could slip over the edge and overindulge, I limit myself to the occasional bag of Dove Almond Dark Chocolate Promises. Yes, I know there are many other brands out there, many of them a higher quality or better taste. But I like Dove, and here’s why.

It’s the little affirmations.

Dove’s marketing team had a genius idea when they came up with this. Each time you unwrap a square of Dove, there is a little message in the wrapper. Most of them are instructional: “Play a grown-up game of tag with your friends” or “Share your smile with someone” – the list goes on.

After consuming about a half a bag in a PMS-fueled binge, I stacked all of the wrappers together and came up with a plan.

  1. Stop eating the chocolate
  2. Pick 5 of the affirmations and actually do them.

The first affirmation:

Buy something frivolous. Who needs an affirmation to do this one? But I am in a minimalist mindset, so it was a bit more challenging than before. Frivolous? Hmmmm. What to get? New shoes? No, not it in the mood to try them on. Jewelry? No. Just because Dove said it, doesn’t mean I need to spend a ton of cash. I pondered and thought about it.  Chocolate should not be this hard. And then it came to me. I wanted a bouquet of flowers. Nice, bright beautiful flowers. Bought for me, by me. No occasion.

The Peace Palace

Happy Hour at Barbara’s

Call an old friend just to catch up. This was easy. I called my friend Barbara. We’ve been friends for over 20 years and it was great to catch up with her. Later that week, we met up for a relaxing happy hour at her house (what she refers to as her “Peace Palace”) and we talked for hours. It was great fun! (See pics below of the spread she prepared). Thank you, Barbara. (And thank you, Dove.)  

Quote your dad. I read this one and it hit me right in the heart. I’ve not reconciled my father’s death. I’ve not grieved as I should. I haven’t even written about him like I did with my mother.

My dad

With her, it was my coping mechanism. But for some reason, I couldn’t do it with my father. My father had so many wonderful quotes. He possessed a deep wisdom that he kept well cloaked underneath his larger-than-life exterior. He always told me, “Speak to everyone at work, from the janitor to the boss. It keeps you humble.” This little chocolate wrapper made me think back to his words. I could almost hear his voice. It was healing.

Give someone a compliment. I think as women, we should empower other women. So I didn’t stop at one compliment, I did it all day! A compliment should always be sincere. I didn’t just say something nice to fulfill my chocolate obligation, I made sure what I said came from a real place. And it felt wonderful! If I liked someone’s earrings, I told them. If I liked her hair, I told her. At the end of the day, my cup was overflowing with good feelings.

Learn something new about a loved one. My cousin Tammy told me a funny story about her mother, my Aunt Sis. “Sis” as she was called, was a fashionista back in the day. She loved having matching shoes for each and every outfit she owned. But times were tight and she couldn’t afford to continuously buy new shoes. To solve her dilemma, she befriended the guys at the local paint store and began painting her shoes to match her outfits. I laughed when Tammy told me. But it was quite smart. She was trendy like that until the day she passed.

In total….

I plowed through countless numbers of delicious chocolates. Got some flowers. Spent time with an old friend. Reminisced the good times with my dad. Made random strangers happy. Learned a great story to share about my aunt.

This was fun and I was on a roll! I decided to select one more wrapper from the stack. And it read: Why not?

And that was all the affirmation I needed. It was permission…permission to polish off the rest of the bag of chocolate. After all, it provided me with inspiration to write this post. Why not indulge a little more?

Brush Up on the Basics During National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Every year over 30,000 US families lose someone from a ruptured brain aneurysm. About 40% of those experiencing a ruptured brain aneurysm will die. Those that survive often face significant challenges, greatly impacting their lives and the lives of their families. Today, at the beginning of National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, I re-tell my story to raise awareness of brain aneurysms.

On the evening of March 18, I noshed on some dark chocolate covered espresso beans left over from a road trip to see Modest Mouse in Charleston. I ate a lot, at least ¼ of a pound. Then later that evening, I felt a sharp electrical-like impulse go down my part line, and then down my head. Then it felt like ice cold water running down the sides of my head. I felt really weird, like I was outside of my body; I even told my sister that I thought I was dying.

She said that I threw up and felt better; I don’t remember that, but I do remember refusing her suggestion that we call Mom or go to the ER; I said, “No, I just ate too many espresso beans,” and went to bed. She found me unconscious by my bed the next morning.

Aside from being a woman over the age of 40, I had few of the risk factors. I’d lost and maintained an 80 lb. weight loss. I had LOW blood pressure, so much so that I had taken meds to prevent me from having constant vertigo. I never smoked except for one or two cigarettes in college. So I had no idea I may be having an aneurysm. (Unaware to me until after the event, which could’ve been far too late, I did have a family history. My father’s sister, Rose, had one and survived, and they lost two cousins to aneurysms.)

The doctors say that my aneurysm was about as bad as they get, and my family didn’t know if I would survive for three long weeks. Even then, the doctors couldn’t predict a full recovery. I was fortunate to have wonderful care and to go to a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta for follow-up care. My story ended well. I’m still alive, and while I do have some very mild deficits, I’m a living, breathing success story.

From someone who’s been there, I urge you to use this month to learn more about aneurysms, including the risk factors and symptoms. If you have a history of aneurysms in your family, make it a point to talk to your doctor this month.

There is plenty of information available about brain aneurysms. You can talk to your doctor or consult the internet; my favorite site is the Joe Niekro Foundation. I’m not a doctor, but I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have or speak with you or your small group about my experience.

Loss and Gain

By: Angie Sloan

They say that when a person loses their sight, their hearing becomes more attuned. They are suddenly able to hear things on a different level. I assume it is nature’s way of compensating for the loss of vision. It serves to help guide and protect the person from things they can no longer see.

What happens when a person loses (almost loses) their life? What happens after a near-death-experience?

I can answer that. And I am grateful that I can answer that.

After you have faced death, you are more attuned to life. The life around you. The singing of the birds. The feel of the sun on your face. The smell of the rain. You notice things that have become background noise. You feel the emotion of others around you. Rather than just noticing the father carrying his daughter on his shoulders, you feel the joy and exhilaration his daughter feels. You feel the love and adoration they have for each other. You notice the young couple in the restaurant, on their first date. You see the nervousness and anticipation in their eyes. You feel their hope for connection. You see the elderly woman shopping for groceries and feel her confusion when she cannot find what she wants.

You take notice of it all.

On March 1, 2017, I woke up feeling extremely short of breath. I simply could not get enough air in my lungs to walk to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the kids. Luckily, my oldest son was home and helped get them off to school. I knew something was terribly wrong and once the kids were on their way to school, I called 911. An ambulance arrived within 5 minutes. My oxygen saturation was dropping and they took me to their nearest hospital. Seven people converged on me as I entered the emergency room. Even on oxygen in the ambulance, my oxygen saturation had dropped to 59. I was dying. I knew it.

I tried to stay calm. I knew that getting upset would worsen my situation. I lay there, on the gurney and thought about my life. I tried to remember what the kids were dressed in as they left that morning. I tried to remember their last birthday and what we had done for Christmas. I wanted to make a mental inventory of all the good memories, simple memories, in case that was my last day alive. My oldest son arrived as I was mentally preparing for what would come next.

Seeing him gave me strength. My mom instinct kicked in. I did not want him to witness his mother dying, so I made up my mind that I would get through this. They still could not get my oxygen saturation up. I had a massive blood clot in both sides of my pulmonary artery. The physician looked at me and before he could ask, I said, “Do it. Intubate me. Do whatever you can. I have to be around for my kids.”

And I prayed. I begged God to give them the insight and knowledge to save me. I was not ready to leave this earth. And just as they were about to intubate me, my oxygen saturation came up. My vital signs began to stabilize. I was still in critical condition, but things were improving.

Later than afternoon, they transferred me to ICU, where I stayed for the next 7 days. I was lucky that the physicians were able to shrink the clots in my lungs and my legs with high doses of Heparin and I eventually transferred onto the regular floor of the hospital. After 10 days total, I was released to come home just in time for Jack’s 9th birthday.

As we lit the candles on his cake, I made a wish. I wished that I would always take inventory of the life around me and that I would appreciate every moment. And that wish has been granted.

You don’t have to have a near-death experience to take inventory of your life. The good in your life. The things that matter. The things that don’t matter. I emerged a changed person. I felt like Mr. Scrooge on Christmas day. Being in the ICU for seven days will change your perspective. During my stay in the hospital, not one time did I ever think about the “things” I owned…the clothes in my closet, the car in my garage. I only thought about the people in my life. And the miracle of life itself.

The experience was a wake-up call. I was traveling 3-4 days a week for work. I was constantly on the road and rarely took breaks. I was under a tremendous amount of stress, which all led to the blood clot. I was consumed by what I “had to do” to provide for my family. And then I realized…I don’t need all of the “stuff” I had. I was existing, not living. My life was work, work, work. And for what? Things we didn’t need.

In June, I downsized to a smaller house. I got rid of the gas-guzzling car, and got a cheaper one. I had a HUGE yard sale and sold things I didn’t want or need. I ridded myself of the possessions that almost cost me my life. I traded all of that in for a simpler, more comfortable life. A life where balance is the priority. A life where I am mindful and present enough to savor the little things…those little everyday things. I don’t travel any more for work. I am home for my kids.

Most importantly, I am HERE for my kids. Present. Appreciative. Ever grateful.

Something to Chew On

By: Rachel Sircy

My last post was on the dangers of eating out at restaurants that serve gluten free food, but don’t have gluten free kitchens. I thought I would follow up on that by offering my opinion about certain gluten free products that are sort of in the same boat.

Anytime a person with an allergy or food intolerance purchases a product made by a company that makes a wide variety of products, or that attempts to appeal to a broad base of customers, the person with the allergy is taking a risk. Unfortunately for those of us with issues, there are more people out there who aren’t allergic to peanuts or who aren’t lactose intolerant or who don’t have celiac disease. These healthier customers are usually going to win out with most big companies because they are going to be making up a larger part of that company’s revenue than sickies like us.

Now, that being said, many large food corporations are realizing that the number of people with food intolerances and allergies is on the rise and that it is in their best interest to start making a niche for us or they’re going to lose a large portion of paying customers. BUT, people with serious conditions should not feel indebted to these companies for noticing us. It’s not personal, it’s business.

One thing that I’ve had to learn over the years is that as ecstatic as I am whenever I see a food product that I used to love that has suddenly “gone gluten free,” I shouldn’t feel as if the big-name company that produces that product was really interested in my well-being when they made it. I’ll admit, it does give me the warm fuzzies when I see my childhood favorite cereals like Lucky Charms and Cheerios are now gluten free. I sometimes catch myself thinking: “Wow, General Mills really cares that I’m happy. They’re giving me back a piece of my childhood.” And, of course, they are giving me back a piece of my childhood, for a price. So, write letters to the company if something makes you sick or if you are not satisfied with the way that the company is handling safety issues.

And of course, you have pay attention and learn whether a company’s safety policies are up to your standards, so read, read, read. Be picky, be demanding and don’t feel bad about it. Allergen free products are just a matter of money to most large corporations. The stakes are a bit higher for those of us with dietary issues. For us, allergen free food is about our quality of life. Don’t forget, the hardest punch you can throw is with your dollar.

I don’t mean to sound too cynical, but when you have a real issue with your health, you cannot afford to let excitement or nostalgia cloud your judgement. What I’m trying to get across here is that it is expensive – sometimes it’s really, REALLY expensive – for these companies to accommodate those of us with special dietary needs and since the regular customer base (I mean those with no dietary restrictions) don’t want the cost of the products that they’re used to buying to go up, it only makes sense that some companies might cut corners in order to still make a profit. That means that they might not test these products for allergens as rigorously as they should, or it might mean that they are producing these products in the same facilities as the gluten, dairy or nuts that you may have a problem with. Cross-contamination can happen at any stage of the process and it will still make you sick. (By the way, this includes your own home, so watch out!) I’m not saying that any of these companies definitely do cut corners, only that they might. We can’t be 100% sure. It’s always a little bit safer to go with a product that has a written guarantee on the side like this:

Labels like those generally come on specialty products that are a bit more expensive than the products that are more widely available and are marketed to a broader customer base. But, in the end, I’ve found that I’m willing to pay a bit more for certain products just to have that peace of mind about my health. Plus, I’m happy to help support smaller companies that have made efforts from the beginning to create food that is safe and healthy for all of us.

Let me finish by saying that I, too, purchase gluten free products from famous brand companies, sometimes. But, when I do, I try to make sure that I am keeping track of how I feel after I eat them. Keeping a food journal is a really good idea, especially if you have a food intolerance instead of an allergy. Food intolerances are much slower to affect the body. Sometimes you won’t feel bad until 2 or 3 days after eating something contaminated, so it’s best if you have a written record that you can look at. Record both what you ate and your symptoms even if your symptoms don’t seem related to anything you ate. Eventually you will start to see patterns in your diet and your overall health.

Hopefully this was helpful and gave you something to chew on for a while!

When Did You Grow Up?

 By: Ashley Whisonant

The day I have been dreading has finally come. My oldest “baby” started kindergarten this morning. I held back my tears and we walked down his hallway and into the room that will mold him into the student he will become. My confident little guy went from attendance check in to lunch choice with ease. He gave me a hug goodbye and sadly did not look back. Here are all the words I wish I could have said…

You will always be my baby. You are the one that made me a mom. I didn’t know how much I could love someone else until I met you. I am a ball of emotions. I am both terrified and overjoyed for you. All the experiences you will have, good or bad, will make you into our future young man. Remember to help others, even when it isn’t the popular choice. Find your voice and use it for good. Kids can and will be mean. Do your best to surround yourself with sweet souls. Remember to be yourself. Love you my sweet boy.