Feb 232012

Woo woo, don’t we all want one of those. Well, they’re out there, and one of them could be yours.

When I was a kid, my grandparents had a farm and that’s where we spent most of our time. We gardened, bottle fed the calves and celebrated at the end of the day by jumping from hay bale to hay bale drinking a coca-cola.

From tree climbing to making bike ramps, life was good, because we earned it. My parents taught us responsibility. We had to help with the dishes, the laundry and vacuuming the floors. We were a part of a team and it felt good. It was all for one and one for all. There were times we would see a friend with a new bike or hip jeans and wanted them so badly. Which is fine. Wanting and demanding are two different things. It’s all in the tude, the attitude, that is, of how we conduct our wish.

Selfishness is like gaining weight. If you do nothing, it will come. It’s a fight to stay humble. Webster’s dictionary defines self-ish-ness as lacking consideration for, concerned mainly for ourselves.

In an effort to turn Selfish into Selfless, it’s important to show our kids what it looks like. You can talk about it all day, as we live in our little “bubble of life” going to and from soccer and ballet practice, where everyone seems to have enough money, enough food, plenty of jobs and resources at their fingertips.

But within a 20 miles radius, if you look for it, you’ll find homelessness, children going to bed hungry, (can you imagine) and parents frustrated they can’t provide for their family.

Have your kids volunteer at a shelter, a charity where they see first hand, ordinary families like you and me, that fell on hard times. Take them to a foster care facility and let them take goodies they bought with their own money. Have them play with the kids. Self-LESS-ness takes the “me” and turns it into “we.” The “me, myself and I” mentality becomes a community, a team effort.

Don’t you appreciate the items you bought or the activity you enjoyed much more when it’s earned, rather than handed to you? An action verb carries much more weight than a passive verb. Mary drives a car. Mary is driven. Wouldn’t you rather be driving, jumping, providing clean water for / or building a house with Habit for Humanity. Let’s get out there and be the action verb in someone’s life today.

5 Steps to SELF-LESS-NESS: {T.E.A.M.S}

T Team Spirit. (It’s all for one and one for all.)

E Early Arrival. (Being late is selfish. You think the world should have to wait on you?)

A Ability to show empathy. (Put yourself in their shoes. What must it feel like to need help and have to ask for it?)

M Money, give some away. (Invest your money in worthwhile causes / charities that make a true difference.)

S Stubborn – don’t be. (Take Responsibility for your mistakes. No excuses. Own it and move on.)

Kids do what we do, not what we say. They are little reflections of us. If we act conceited, self involved, always argumentative and placing our needs over those around us, we’re leading them down the same path. They mimic what they’re taught. Turn those self-involved attitudes into team players that make a true difference in this world. Now go find your version of a hay bale and start jumping.

Here’s to Living the Best Version of You.

 Posted by at 1:41 pm
Feb 212012

by Stephanie Pletka

I met up with a friend today. You know this friend – she’s the one who makes your life greater for being in it. That’s her, my new friend Niki – Mom extraordinaire, an incredible photographer, a sister to four brothers, a daughter, a wife, a friend and mom of two.  She’s 38, and one of those creative types that seem to splash the world with color and imagination everywhere she goes. When I first met her at a Christmas party a couple of months ago, I noticed her look:  edgy, funky, could wear any hat and make it look fabulous. I mentioned how much I loved her shorty-short blonde hair and how few could pull it off, when I discovered HER STORY.  Everyone has one, you know…

Up until January 3, 2011, life was cruising by for Niki. But it all changed in a split-second.  Those things that seemed to matter – everyday life, paying bills, juggling schedules – all came to a screeching halt when doing a self-breast exam. Having just flown back from a Caribbean vacation and in the best shape of her life, she found a lump the size of a small bb. After a mammogram and ultrasound, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma; it had already spread to her lymph nodes.

After a long weekend of waiting for a diagnosis, feeling as though she couldn’t wait another second, the doctor called.  He was quite upset to give her the report.  Yet oddly enough, her first reaction was to comfort and encourage him She explained there was nothing to worry about; it would all be OK.

The news was devastating.  When trying to Google someone exactly like herself who had gone through this very experience:  a 37 year old mom of two with breast cancer – Stage 2, she found only one person.  At that moment, she set out on a mission to be an example to other women by documenting every aspect of her journey.  So from then on, she had a camera or video following her around, documenting the entire process.

Breast Cancer Statistics (Source: BreastCancer.org)

  1. Cancer typically produces no symptoms when the tumor is small and treatable
  2. The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms starting at 40 years old and encourages self-breast exams for younger women
  3. 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer among women in the U.S. are expected in 2012
  4. Of those invasive cases, 85% will be ductal carcinoma
  5. Treatment may include radiation, chemotherapy, and/or hormone therapy

The Rush of Emotions Expected After Diagnosis

  1. Niki fought moments of fear and anxiety. How could this be?  At 37, she wasn’t old enough to meet the minimum age requirement for annual mammograms.
  2. What if she had not done a self exam?  She was shocked how fast the stages of cancer had grown from Stage 2a to 2b in a matter of two weeks.
  3. One minute you’re encouraged and emotions are stable.  The next you can be in a grocery store and have a panic attack, not able to breathe.  The world closes in.
  4. Anything can trigger a panic attack and you may not see it coming.  Your life flashes before your very eyes, wondering how long you have to live, will you get a clean bill of health, will it creep its way back in and spread unknowingly.

Upon hearing the news, she began the next step, notifying her friends via Facebook.  What would she say?   She wrote and re-wrote it, erased and edited many versions, then simply wrote:  “I HAVE BREAST CANCER.” and pressed SEND.  That’s when it became real.  When life felt dark.  The peripheral became a blur.  It was now time to stare the enemy in the face.

The Moment of Empowerment

She planned a “Hair-Shaving Party” after being assured by doctors that she would indeed lose all of her hair.  She invited 50 of her closest friends and blasted Katy Perry’sFirework, a song of empowerment, and donated her hair to Locks of Love, a non-profit that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the U.S. and Canada.  The black-and-white still shots documenting her journey were emotionally raw.  With each click of the camera, out came strength, vulnerability, tears, fear, inspiration . . . with hands held high.  She met it face-to-face and took back the power.

Her friends rallied and love came in the form of notes, food, flowers, prayers and personal conversations.  Her son’s football coach, parents and students made encouraging signs on Game Day, wearing pink wrist bands, socks and shoelaces to support the cause in her honor. They showed up . . . and they showed up big.

Her “Aha! Moment” came after six months of chemo and 33 rounds of radiation, where she had gained weight from the medications, began losing what little hair re-growth she had . . . hardly recognizing herself.  She discovered that while on the outside, her appearance wasn’t sexy and sassy as usual, she found a deeper place, where your soul comes to the forefront.  Your looks don’t define your core.  They’re just the marketing side of who you are.

Screen shot 2011-12-19 at 8.58.33 PM

Cancer doesn’t define Niki, it’s just a blip on the radar of her entire life. Like a tapestry, our lives are woven pictures, threads of ideas, stories filled with life’s ups and downs to create a brilliant canvas of our life from beginning to end.  This thread that found its way into her moment in time, created a platform for her to speak, share her story, empowering other women to walk through the storm.  On her last day of radiation, the song “Firework” began to randomly play in the doctor’s office.  With tears and perseverance, her journey to the finish line had come full circle. In wrapping up our three-hour conversation at the coffee shop, she looked down to see written on the wooden arm of her chair, read these words:  “Logic will get you from A to Z; Imagination will get you Everywhere.” – Albert Einstein

Here’s to embracing life when it strikes and imagining what it CAN and WILL be – a platform to share our “Tapestry of Life” with those around us.

Click here to see more articles on Women.com by Stephanie Pletka.

Stephanie Pletka is the creator of the blog, Spit-up & Heels. She lives in Alpharetta, GA with her husband John and four children, Jack, Will, Andrew and Ava.

 Posted by at 10:06 am
Feb 162012
COLUMNIST written for Northfulton.com

Attaining the Golden Handcuffs

Stephanie Pletka image

I was raised in The South and have an accent to prove it. Life was pretty simple growing up. All you needed was a good bike, fishing pole and a trampoline. Brushing my hair wasn’t a high priority, but tree-climbing was.

We lived in a modest house, but no one told me. Life was full of adventure, dirt roads and all the ice cream you could eat. I had parents who loved me and told me daily. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

My husband and I moved to Atlanta, bought a house that seemed way too big for a family of 3. Now that there are 6, it often feels as though we’re bursting at the seams. I love my house. It’s full of large windows, high ceilings and lots of character. But then we made a mistake. It was more out of curiosity, really. We visited a friend’s home exponentially more fabulous than our own.

We went to a party over the holidays and this house should have been listed in the “Parade of Homes.” When we got back to our house, disappointment set in. All of the sudden, my ceilings were too low, the TV was too small, the kitchen felt too tight and I was pretty sure the living room had shrunk! There’s always something bigger, faster, hotter, younger, wealthier, funnier, richer around the corner.

We are all on an upward spiral to attain the Golden Handcuffs, the dangling carrot, the top of the corporate ladder. When is the house big enough, the car styling enough, the corporate title impressive enough?

The problem with this “Pie in the Sky” mentality: There is no finish line. There is no race course with a flag at the end that says: You made it!!! Congratulations, you are Officially SUCCESSFUL! You can rest now.

Contentment is the state of being satisfied. It is A State, not An Estate! Finding satisfaction and keeping it, is a balancing act, with someone constantly trying to knock us off the “balance beam” of life. The grass is always greener, the schools we are not accepted to – are better, the tennis outfit she’s wearing is hipper. It’s a never-ending cycle that steals the joy of the moments we’ve worked so hard to attain. Life is never quiet good enough because we don’t have a finish line to know where “good enough” is.

Contentment comes from within. If this button isn’t fixed, all the upgrades in the world can’t repair or fill the void.

What really matters is the legacy we pass along. I’ve never read an obituary that said: His house was 10,000 sq. feet! Can you believe it? or she was the top realtor in town with 1 million in quarterly sales.

Instead, you will read words that describe their character . . the impact this person had on their friends, family and community. How they prayed big . . . helped big, loved big.

What is the most valuable item here on this earth, that if it were hurt, sick, bothered or taken, you would give your life to protect it? This should be your focus. A house can burn, a car can stall, a job can be lost . . .

Invest in things that matter, your family, your spouse, your kids. Value the time spent with them at the park, on a date, in the car, working on a school project; etch in your mind the hilarious stories and endless laughing you enjoy with your friends. The late night walks and meaningful talks. For tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Go back to the simpler days; have a picnic at the park, lay on a blanket with your spouse. Bring back date night. Write your friends a “hand written” note. Take your buddy fishing. Life is short. Let go of your search, like a heat seeking missile, for the Golden Handcuffs. For in it, you will find contentment and great satisfaction.

Here’s to Living the Best Version of You.

 Posted by at 5:18 pm
Feb 132012

Written for Women.com

Click here to see more articles on Women.com by Stephanie Pletka.


Have you ever been eating a fantastic dessert, holding an interesting conversation and then looked down and thought, “Who Ate My Pie?”

As I’ve raised kids, started and sold a business, worked from home and dealt with life’s struggles and juggles, I looked up and wondered:  “Where did my Sexy Go?”

I started looking for it.  Did someone steal it from under my nose?  Did I loose it on the way to having kids?  Did it get tired of seeing me wear PJs till noon during the baby years?  Had I not made room for it amongst soccer, ballet, deadlines and dishes?  Was there not an extra seat in my minivan?

As I began to search for my distant friend, I had to remember what it looked like.  Had it matured?  Could we still be friends?  Would we fit together with the ease we once knew?  Would we recognize one another?

Defining “sexy” is a bit ambiguous. Sexy is more than a little black dress, heels, red lipstick and a come-hither attitude.

Sexy is:

  1. Confident
  2. Strong / Independent
  3. Chivalrous
  4. It’s Quiet, it’s Loud
  5. It’s Smart
  6. It’s Empowered
  7. It’s Vulnerable
  8. It’s Courageous
  9. It’s Capable
  10. It’s Authentic

Sexy is an attitude. A mindset without a specific physical look.  Sexy is not whiny, needy, in constant longing of affirmation. It’s not weak.  It’s not crying over why your life didn’t turn out the way you expected.

Sexy pulls you up by the boot straps and turns your life around, makes changes you’ve always needed but hadn’t.  It’s the girl that realizes she’s the BOSS of her OWN life, the leading lady in her own movie, the conductor of her own train, the decider of her own fate.

With every decision you make and every word that comes from your mouth, choose to be confident and empowered. Sexy either lives here or it doesn’t and a little black dress is just one of its many outfits.

Here’s to celebrating the Empowered You – now that’s sexy!

Click here to see more articles on Women.com by Stephanie Pletka.

Stephanie Pletka is the creator of the blog, Spit-up & Heels. She lives in Alpharetta, GA with her husband John and four children, Jack, Will, Andrew and Ava.

 Posted by at 5:40 pm
Feb 032012

Did you know that love is work?  If you didn’t, it’s safe to safe you haven’t been in love.  Having clean dishes is work.  Having a car that smells good – is work.  Having kids that don’t fight is. . . well, that’s virtually impossible, but you get the gist.  Life can easily go from a dust storm to a full fledged F5 tornado in a heart beat.

The divorce rate in America is slightly over 50%, meaning one in two couples will divorce.

There’s a cycle of life, and while I’m making it sound quiet simple, it’s anything but.  For most, we go off to college, get a job, get married, have 2.3 kids, raise them, transition into empty nesters, enjoy the grandkids, travel, and the cycle continues. Sounds so simple. So clear cut.  But of course, each phase of life is complex: full of fun, fights, heartache, tough conversations and celebrations.  There’s personality conflicts, vet bills, hurt feelings, championships awarded, breast cancer survivors.

It’s all the stuff in the middle that makes staying in love a lot of work.  Love isn’t just the kisses and electricity that pulls you together when you first meet.  Love goes deeper.  Love washes the dishes for the other person, when they can’t take another step.  Love rubs their shoulders after a tired day at the office. All the outside activities:  taking the kids to school, paying the bills, working a 50 hour week, helping kids with science projects is the product of love.

Often times we forget the core of the family, Central Station – You and Your spouse.

It’s time to re-focus the attention toward each other, shake off the dust, let the other activities fade into the back ground and plan a date night, a picnic at the park, a vacation away, just the two of you. Discuss your dreams and goals.  Write a note, tell ’em what you like about them.   Do all the fun stuff you did before kids, before all the accountability and responsibility that life tends to throw upon you like a monkey on your back.

Love takes work.  It’s a fight to spend time together.  You’re fighting against kid’s schedules, your lack of discipline to make it happen.  Just like exercising and eating healthy, it’s a daily task.  Red lipstick and heels once a month is not gonna get it.  It’s arranging babysitters, asking your spouse to dinner, courting them, getting creative in showing your love and affection for one another.

Keep the “Crazy” at bay and find that spark.  Do what it takes to keep it alive.  So when life comes at you, full force, find each other in the eye of storm (the most peaceful place) and hold on.  You’re worth it.

 Posted by at 12:07 pm