Hindsight is 20/20

May 29 is a significant date in my life. Twenty one years ago, on May 29, 1995, I gave birth to my son Kyle. At nine pounds, two ounces, Kyle was a burly baby, who looked more like a three month old than a newborn.

Ten years later to the day, on May 29, 2005, after cancer, widowhood, and a few years of single parenting, I married my husband Tim, the man who had gotten me to smile again.

After grieving the loss of my first husband, my romance with Tim moved quite quickly. We met in August of 2004 and were engaged in early November. Sometimes you just know it’s right, and if I had learned anything it was that life is short and it is made to be lived. A chance at happiness should be seized, for you never know if it will be given again.

The original wedding date was not May 29. I think it was planned for sometime in April. But due to my parents declining health, we decided a venue closer to their home would be best. The original date was not available at the new venue, and being such short notice, not many dates were.

So May 29 it was. While I still look at this day as one of the happiest of my life for two separate reasons, I also now look at it as the anniversary of one of my biggest parenting blunders.

Out of the 365 days in the year, I had to pick this one? Choosing this date for my wedding took a day that should have been-always and only- about Kyle and made it about me and my happiness. I put my needs above his and I will always regret that.

Kyle lost his father at the age of 7. He handled it by turning all of his feelings inward and pushing them down inside himself. I took the stoicism as resolute acceptance and saw what I wanted to see.

When planning the wedding, we included his birthday in the celebration, singing “Happy Birthday” to him during the ceremony. The poor kid looked like he was hoping the floor would just open up and swallow him.  The whole night, in fact, he looked like he wanted to run.

When I think now of how hard it must have been for him to see his mother marry someone else to begin with, not to mind on his birthday, I cringe a little inside at my selfishness.

Fast forward 11 years…Kyle has grown up to be a strong, talented, funny and compassionate young man. He has grown close to Tim and both of his fathers have had a hand in molding him into who he is today. I hope my parenting successes outweigh the failures and that I have given him the necessary tools to be a success in all aspects of his life.

While I do wish that I had chosen a date other than Kyle’s birthday for my wedding, I have no other regrets. I was blessed to have found a second chance at happiness, and Kyle and my daughter Shannon have both benefited from living in a happy home with two loving parents. In this case, I suppose, all’s well that ends well.

The Definition of Me

cakes-20clip-20art-bday-cake-5-candles-black-and-white-mdToday is my 49th birthday. I have been spending a lot of time in recent weeks contemplating the direction I want my life to take as I head toward 50. While I have been given many blessings, there are also many things that need to be “tweaked” before I will feel that I am living my life to its fullest potential. I started this blog to help me with that.

As I began searching deep within, I realized that I have always defined myself based on circumstances or situations that were, for the most part, beyond my control. I was the baby that was given up for adoption, the widow at 35, the middle-aged woman stuck in a dead-end job. Defining myself in this way gave me an out and an excuse, because I never had to take responsibility for anything that was going on in my life, good or bad.

This mindset left me feeling powerless and sometimes hopeless. I felt like I never had the ability to choose the direction my life would take. Thinking like this got me nowhere. It created a victim mentality and did not empower me to make the changes that were necessary for me to be happy.

I now realize that if I want to thrive in the next chapter of my life, I have to be the one to write it. No one is going to transform me into the strong, sexy, successful woman I know I am meant to be except me.

I took the first step late in January when I dedicated myself to daily workouts and clean eating. I have seen tremendous changes in my body and mind as a result. I no longer feel like a victim to the middle age spread. Taking control, sticking with a plan, and seeing results have increased my confidence and self-esteem, which in turn increased my happiness. Succeeding at something I never thought I could do has given me the courage to find ways to make  other changes in my life.

I have a self-imposed deadline of my 50th birthday to turn the lofty ideas floating around in my head into some sort of reality. I know this may not be completely realistic, and that happiness and contentment are not static. What makes me happy now might not necessarily make me happy 2,3 or 10 years from now and I will have to rethink my game plan. But, instead of scaring me, that now excites me. As corny as it sounds, I really am the only one in control of my destiny. And that is a very powerful feeling.

So, today I celebrate everything that has brought me to this point. Forty nine years of experience has given me the tools I need to move forward and show the world who Sheila Gray really is. Because, in my opinion, she’s the definition of special.

How To Keep a Toxic Person From Poisoning Your Life

poisonSometimes in life we are forced to deal with toxic people. There are negative co-workers, family members or friends that seemingly live to bring their misery down on all those around them.  Sometimes you can distance yourself from these people and others times you are forced to deal with them head on.

How can you keep a toxic person from becoming a poisonous force in your life?

  1. Remember that it’s them, not you. 

Although it might be easy to go tit for tat with a toxic person, lowering yourself to their level never works. Toxic people are adept at turning the tables and making their victim into the villain.  Always remember that they are the one with the problem, not you. They will never admit they are wrong or that they are to blame for anything, so you are better off not arguing with them, which leads to number 2….

2.  Take away their power.

Toxic people like to make everyone around them miserable, so the more you fight back, the more they win. It drives these people crazy when you will not engage with them, and they will usually give up after a few unsuccessful tries at drawing you in.

3.  Stick to the issue at hand.

When you are forced to deal with a noxious person, always stick to the facts. They will bring emotion into play and everything you have done in the past will be fair game. Leaving emotion out of it and sticking to the current issue gives you the advantage and takes the wind from their sails.

4. Remember that this is only temporary.

Unless the toxic person lives in your house (if this is the case, you have bigger issues and need more than a blog to help you), this confrontation is temporary.  Whether or not the outcome is in your favor, you will be able to walk away from it and back to the people that actually bring joy into your life. Hence the saying, “This too shall pass”.

And finally….

5.  Give in.

I saved this one for last because it is the least desirable way to keep a toxic person from poisoning your life, but sometimes it is the most effective and quickest way to end a conflict. If the issue at hand becomes more of a battle of wills rather than something you really are passionate about, as Elsa says, “Let it go!”  Let them have their way and save your energy for the next time, because, as anyone who regularly has to deal with a toxic person knows, there will always be a next time.

 

 

Feed It and It Will Grow

I have a green, leafy plant that was a gift from my mother in law when I returned from my honeymoon in 1990. I had married my college sweetheart just before my 23rd birthday. We were young and broke, and my in-laws had turned their third floor into an apartment for us. When we left for the honeymoon, the place was in chaos from the renovations. When we returned, my wonderful mother in law and one of her friends had turned it into a tiny little newlywed oasis. The plant was one of the many treasures we found there.

plant

I am now almost 49, and I have had that resilient little plant for 26 years. Since it came to live with me, I have lost a baby, had two healthy babies, lost a husband, been given a second chance at happiness with a wonderful second husband, had another baby, welcomed 3 dogs, lost two parents, gained two more parents and 5 siblings and moved 3 times.

As I look at the lush green vines and leaves, I think about not only my own history but that of the plant. It has not always been as healthy as it is today. There have been times that I have neglected it, and it has withered and decayed. Just in the nick of time, I realize that it needs care and I nurse it back to health.

Doesn’t that sound like a marriage? There are times it is beautiful and healthy and the leaves grow and reach for the sun. There are other times that it is disregarded and sits in darkness, yearning for attention.

Living things need sunlight, water, and food to thrive. So, too, does a marriage. We crave the warmth of our partner’s touch, thirst for their attention and hunger for their love.

Several years back, the plant had shrunken down to a single vine, the dry leaves curling and turning brown at the tips. Taking a closer look, I found that it had become completely detached from its roots and was nearly dead. I cut the healthiest leaf I could find, stuck it in a glass of water and put it on a sunny windowsill. Within a few weeks it had sprouted new roots and started to grow again. A few more weeks went by and it was ready to be replanted. I got fresh, healthy new soil and tenderly tucked it into its new home. I watered it and fed it and made sure it got plenty of sunlight. Before long its roots were stronger than they had ever been.

Marriages have to weather many storms and droughts. When cared for properly, they survive,  thrive, and become stronger and healthier than ever.  Unfortunately, it is so easy to get caught up in the bedlam of daily life that sometimes we forget to do the small things that keep a marriage hardy.

Take the time every day to let him know how much he means to you. See the crinkles at the corner of his eyes and remember the laughter you have shared. Think of how he looked the first time he held your newborn baby.

Tell her she is beautiful with no makeup on. Sneak up behind her and kiss the back of her neck when she’s helping the kids with their homework. Remember all the things that first made you fall in love with her.

These little gestures are what will make getting through the rough patches easier. When you treat each other well in good times, it becomes second nature and carries over to when things aren’t so good. The times when holding a grudge seems better than forgiving, or when giving up seems easier than going the extra mile to make it work. If your marriage has strong roots, it will survive anything.

I don’t always follow my own advice. Sometimes I can be crabby and let the little things drive me crazy. From now on, I plan on taking care of my marriage the way I do my little plant, by giving it love and attention as I watch it grow stronger and stronger.

Gotta go now.  I need to find my husband and give him a hug .

 

Like a Kid at Christmas

Take a trip back in time. Think about how it felt to go to bed on Christmas Eve as a kid. Remember the anticipation that was so great you could barely contain yourself?

Now try to remember the last time you had that feeling.  The last time you felt so excited about something that you had butterflies in your stomach, your heart was beating out of your chest, and you couldn’t sleep with the anticipation of it all. Can you?

I can. It was a few weeks ago. I had written my second blog post, “The Hidden Cape”, and was about to publish it. I felt a heady intoxication unlike any I had experienced in recent memory.

I had finally found my passion. I had long felt that I had a story to tell but until now lacked the voice to tell it.

As women in our twenties and thirties, we tend to put our families and careers first.  Activities that bring us true joy, those that help us connect to the deepest parts of our selves, are left on the back burner.

I have found as I move through my forties that my priorities have shifted. My job is just a place I go so I can pay the bills. Family will always come first but I have learned that taking time for myself  contributes to the wellbeing of my family rather than diminishes it.

Since I have been blogging, I have a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I have a purpose, a goal, and an outlet for my creativity. I realize that I am not going to win a Pulitzer Prize or change the world by blogging about my mid-life crisis, but it fulfills me, and hopefully it can help others along the way.

I urge everyone who reads this to find SOMETHING that brings you this kind of joy and gratification. Maybe you love cooking and experimenting with exotic ingredients to concoct something completely new. Perhaps your passion is gardening or riding motorcycles or singing. You don’t need to be the next winner of The Voice to achieve success. Maybe all you need is an open mic night at a local club to give you that rush, that “Santa’s coming!” feeling. Step out of your comfort zone and into the world. It’s yours for the taking.

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The Time of Your Life

time15

  • According to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the average American spends 40 minutes a day on Facebook.
  • The New York Post states that adults aged 35-49 watch more than 33 hours of television per week.

Every year during Lent, my church gives out “Virtue Stones”. They are stones (obviously), each inscribed with a different virtue. The purpose is to IMG_3810contemplate and improve on that virtue during your Lenten journey.

This year my stone says TIME. I had never really considered the concept of time as a virtue. Hmmmm. What I do know about time: We never have enough of it, we waste it, squander it, lose it, spend it, don’t know where it went, can’t find it, and try to make it up. The statistics above are pretty scary.  Do you want to spend that much of your precious time every day on Facebook? Couldn’t you catch up on the important things, the updates of your close friends and family, in half that time? I know I could. Skipping the videos of kittens and quizzes of all kinds (Do you really care which Friends character you are?) adds 20 minutes to your day.

As for television, I am guilty as charged. I grew up in front of the TV. The Brady Bunch, The Love Boat, Family Ties. Watching M*A*S*H and Hawaii Five-O with my dad and The Young and the Restless and Guiding Light with my mom. I am still obsessed, now with all the “Chicago”s and Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and Fixer Upper. I get the shakes just imagining a life without the glowing box in the corner of the living room.

Think about this: How would your life  change if you spent 7 of those 33 hours a week working out in some way, doing anything that gets you moving? How about taking another 5 hours to volunteer in your community in some capacity? Another 7 could be used for reading, prayer or meditation. That would still leave 14 hours for TV! Your life would be so much richer for the new experiences you would be having each day that I bet you wouldn’t even watch 14 hours a week.

As hardcore a TV addict as I am, I have noticed that since I have made some of the small changes mentioned above, I WANT to watch television less. I would rather be doing something that nurtures my body, mind, and spirit,
greysnot numbs it.  I also feel more peaceful, happy, and in control of my life. Coincidence? I think not. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to know if Meredith Grey will ever love again, but I don’t think I will spend an entire Saturday comatose on the couch watching “Say Yes to the Dress” any time soon. Oh, and the ironic thing about time is, you never know how much of it you have left, so DON’T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED!

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Show a Little Love

GRAYce logoI have a love/hate relationship with social media. The displays of arrogance and vanity can be sickening (can you say Kanye West?). People feel it is their right to criticize, humiliate, and hurt others via nasty, hateful comments and judgments. Heck, there is a whole political campaign being run based on this premise. Though not truly anonymous, the perceived distance from behind the computer screen gives them a sense of security and allows them to say things they would never have the audacity to say in a face to face interaction.

There have been several times in the past few years when I have had to step away from social media for a period of time to clear my head and banish the negativity that was seeping into my being. When I am not in a good place mentally, seeing others post about their “perfect” lives makes me feel bad about my own. While I know that everything is not as it appears, (after all, I tend to only post positive things about myself as well and could be inadvertently making others feel the same way) I can find myself feeling jealous of others and hurt when left out of certain events or get togethers.

Despite the negatives, I am still drawn in to the world of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I love the light side of it all: the pictures of babies and puppies, the funny posts about what my friends kids have done, etc. I eagerly wait for the “likes” to start popping up on my phone when I post a picture or a witty remark. It’s ego crack. It makes you feel good when people are approving of you.

However, in my opinion, the most amazing and redeeming power of social media is its ability to lift up those who are grieving or in pain. The world is full of people suffering with their own private tragedies, and sharing these with others, even complete strangers, can bring solace and some measure of hope for the future to those who need it most.

The perfect example of this is the #DStrong campaign in support of Dorian Murray. He is a young boy with cancer who’s last wish is to become famous. And famous he has become, through the power of social media. The world has come together to rally around Dorian and his family. What more beautiful way could social media be used? I hope his family is comforted by the thousands of comments filled with prayers and encouragement that they receive every time an update on his condition is posted. I pray that every message Dorian receives gives him hope and strength as his journey continues. Whatever the future brings, the world will be there to embrace them, comfort them and hold them up in their time of need.

So, as you scroll through your Facebook feed and see the pictures of happy people on vacation and read the rants about politics and other polarizing issues, look for the posts that show the people who are suffering today, for whatever reason. Show a little love. Give a little support. It could change their world. And, I guarantee, it will change yours.

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The Hidden Cape

GRAYce logoRecently, I went to the doctor for my annual physical. As the nurse was going over my history, she said “Wow, your story is similar to mine.” She went on to tell me that she had lost her husband when she was 37 (I lost mine at 35) to brain cancer (colon) and had been happily remarried for many years (ditto). We chatted briefly and went on our separate ways.

If she hadn’t been looking at my history on her computer, she never would have known what I have been through, and vice versa. For the most part, we women don’t wear our scars where they can be seen by strangers, but hold them as badges of honor close to our hearts.

At the core of every woman you see who you think has it all, there is a woman who has struggled, fought and persevered through life’s challenges. No one escapes unscathed. I like to think of us all as superheroes. We raise families, hold down jobs and keep our houses, all while caring for sick parents or children with disabilities, coping with abuse, addiction, depression or loss. We find the courage and strength to get up day after day even when we don’t think we can, when we just want to bury our heads under the covers.

Eventually, the worst passes, the smoke clears, and we realize that we are still intact, in one piece. One stronger, tougher piece. We go about our days thankful for the normalcy, enjoying the cadence of the daily routine, not thinking about our superpowers. It is only when we glimpse the hidden cape of another that we begin to realize how remarkable we truly are.

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A Place for Everything…

GRAYce logoAt the times my life has felt the most out of control, my home has also been in a state of disarray. During periods of depression, the responsibility of keeping things neat and tidy just seems too overwhelming, and organization goes out the window. This becomes a vicious cycle, where the more down you feel, the less you do, and then you become more depressed because everything is such a mess and so on and so forth.

As part of my quest to gain inner peace, this issue is one I have been working on over the last several months. There are so many things in life that are beyond my control that making the decision to organize my home has led to a feeling of empowerment.

There is a difference between being cluttered and being dirty. My home is not dirty. I am fortunate to be able to afford someone to come in and clean every two weeks, so the floors are regularly mopped and the kitchen and bathrooms are kept clean. That being said, when I started this project, every storage place was disorganized, either filled with things that belonged somewhere else or stuffed far beyond capacity.

Once the decision was made to do it, the question was: How? I have tackled tasks in the past that were too big and ended up being quickly abandoned. I decided that I needed to start small so as not to get overwhelmed. I vowed to organize just one cupboard, closet or drawer each weekend. I work full-time and I just don’t have the time to make a commitment of more than that each week.

It has been working out well. I started in the kitchen and usually do more than one cupboard, but I don’t beat myself up over it if I can’t. It has been an enlightening experience to say the least. In one of my purges, I found a cake mix that expired in 2004! Now this is nIMG_3563ot only gross, but dangerous. The thing that amazed me about it the most is not that I had a cake mix in my cupboard that had expired 12 YEARS AGO, but that when I moved to my current home in 2009, I brought with me a cake mix that had expired 5 YEARS PREVIOUSLY!

Each week I feel victorious and accomplished. I have found it is easier to keep organized areas organized, because I can see what’s in them and put things away in their proper place.

As strange as this may seem, I have found a sense of serenity going through this process. On these cold winter days, I put on my music and go to work. In each space I organize, I find a small fragment of the authentic self I am putting together, piece by piece.

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Passages

988289_10200572850018922_1440819784_nThis week marks the anniversaries of both my parents deaths. My mom passed away on February 7, 2009 and my dad on February 12, 2010. It seems like just yesterday and yet a lifetime ago since I last saw them.

It is a strange feeling when you no longer have parents, especially when you grew up with no siblings. There is no one that was there from the beginning (or for me since the age of 2 months, when I was adopted). Childhood memories are now mine alone. Whether they are accurate or colored by time and wishful thinking, I will never know..

They were my biggest champions and cheerleaders. They had their share of difficulties, both suffering from debilitating health issues at various times in their lives. No matter the struggle, they never lost their faith. That is one of the biggest lessons I learned from them. I hope I am instilling the same values into my children.

There are times of great loneliness without them, especially around the holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions when I wish they were here with me. And to this day, when I am sick, I still want my Mom! But, for the most part, I try to remember the good times with them and try to live in a way that would make them proud.

Although I never considered myself much like my mom in most ways, there are days when I hear her voice coming out of me or catch myself doing something exactly the way she did. My kids roll their eyes when I turn on the Irish music but so did I when she put on WADK radio in Newport when I was a growing up.

My dad was as kind hearted a soul as you could meet who always said “I love you” before he hung up the phone. He was a six foot five teddy bear whose hugs matched his stature.

Although they are never far from my thoughts, this week I will be holding them near.

“May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

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Feisty, Fit and Fierce at 50

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