Mar 272012
 

I was in a BIG BOX Store the other day, hauling 4 kids (something I don’t recommend), trying to quickly get in and out, when the 6 year old decided he wanted to touch everything he passed.   Since he was successfully grabbing everything, his little brother thought it would be cool to PUSH everything he saw.  Things were flying off shelves faster than I could give them the “MOM LOOK.”  You know the LOOK that sends shock waves of fear, without having to say a word!

In an effort to ease tension and keep us from being thrown out, I delegated pushing the cart to my 10 year old with the baby inside, while I grabbed 2 little boy’s hands and gently guided them down the middle aisle, quietly threatening their lives if they touched one more item; when a woman walked up, (you know, the kind walking slowly toward you, but you’re not sure why).  She smiled and said:  THESE ARE THE BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE.

Now let me pause . . . because my first thought, was NOT Pretty!  An Attitude of CRAZY wanted to rise to the top.  As I slowly regained my eye sight, it was more like, Where’s the Roof, I May Jump.  If this is THE BEST . . . I mean,  The BEST, then we’ve got a problem.

I was hoping more for:  “Hang in there, it gets better.”  If someone dangles a carrot of hope, I can keep going, but telling me this is IT:  We have arrived at the station! These are the BEST Days, left me exiting the store, like a deflated balloon.  I could have walked across the street, never seeing oncoming traffic, thinking this IS IT?  I’ve heard horror stories of rebellious teenagers; heck, I was one myself.  But hearing,  These were the Best Days, left me in a state of despair.

As I lay in bed, in the dark hours of the night, pondering what she meant, I began to access my life, our situation, the crazy, loud life of raising a gaggle of kids so close in age.  I couldn’t help but laugh.  I couldn’t help but review my circus-filled life of my 2 year old flapping her little chicken arm, trying to do an “arm fart” at the kitchen table, something she had seen her 3 brothers do.  I laughed at the thought of my 4 year old playing the violin, still wearing his bike helmet or my 6 yr old writing the words:  Left and Right on the top of his new tennis shoes with a SHARPIE Marker, so he wouldn’t forget.

If we redefine what is GOOD in our lives – these are good times, if we see it for what it is, and not the unrealistic expectations of what it could be.  If we understand that our house is probably going to look like 12 people live in it, then our mindset will change.

Instead of taking things too seriously and always seeing the bad, the negative aspects, we need to lighten up and think, what would we do if the kids weren’t here?  Ok, Italy comes to mind, but for the long haul, this journey we’re on:  leading, guiding, loving; this adventure we’re on, eventually leads to them leaving the nest.  Embrace the good, the bad and the loud; so the next time you are walking the aisles, gaining attention of judgmental eyes – smile and whisper to yourself:  These are the Best Days of My Life, because they are MINE!

Here’s to Living the Best Version of You.

 Posted by at 7:40 pm
Mar 202012
 

happiness

When I was five years old, my birthday landed on Easter. There was an egg hunt at my uncle’s and the prize was a Golden Egg.  My heart was racing with excitement as I gazed every area of the yard, looking for the prize.  Suddenly it appeared, and I was presented with a $5 bill.

You would have thought Publisher’s Clearing House had shown up to my door with a big check.  Stephanie, you are the winner of. . . drum roll please, FIVE DOLLARS! Taaa Daaaaa! I saw confetti, in my mind, that day.

I carried my golden egg (eh hem – boiled egg dipped in gold paint) around in a little tin bucket and took it to bed with me. Not long after my birthday, however, I discovered that in the middle of the night, ants had made their way up the wall, like a little army, and had destroyed my perfect golden egg which sat on a bookshelf. At the time, this egg represented my happiness and just like that – snap – it was gone!

Webster’s defines happiness as “a state of well being or contentment.” They didn’t sayanything about a golden egg.  Often times, we carry our happiness around like it’s this fragile object that can be taken away at any moment.

Hello, my name is “Surface Happy,” a “fly by the seat of my pants” friend.  It’s that (wear it on your sleeve) shallow happiness.  With one blow of a car horn or conversation with a rude customer service rep, everything goes to hell in a handbasket.  The minute someone “bumps your happy” – BAM! – happiness leaves the building and crazy takes its place.

Don’t allow those individual circumstances – the kids scraping a little paint off your car door with their bike handles – to define your day.  Happy needs deeper roots, like an oak tree planted firmly along a rushing stream.  Don’t let instances beyond your control steal your happiness.

With all the places we go and the things we do, we’re constantly in-and-out of nice and not-so-nice moments.  The kids make you breakfast (ah, how sweet!), a parent calls you out on something (ugh, I’m a bad mother).

Of course we’re going to feel things in the moment, but we can’t allow occasional negative instances to determine the path of our entire day.  Don’t carry the isolated incident to the next situation; we have to separate it into its own box and see it for what it is.  Learn to quickly slosh off the junk and embrace a sturdier, hardier, healthier happy that can’t easily be bumped, destroyed or stolen.

Your happiness is no golden egg, rather an oak tree not easily moved.  Walk in deep-rooted “happy” today and when there’s a bump in the road, see it as just that: a bump.  If you can hold on to being “happy in life,” you’ll feel as though Publisher’s Clearing House made you a winner, and may even see confetti in your mind.  Taaa Daaaaa!

Here’s to living the best version of you!

Stephanie Pletka is the creator of the blog Spit-up & Heels and is also a columnist for NorthFulton.com.

 Posted by at 2:00 pm
Mar 192012
 

My husband usually calls on the way home from work and asks if I need anything from the grocery store. 95% of the time I try to say no, as I understand he’s tired and would love to arrive home sooner, than later. But not this day. It had been on of those “Crazy, Can’t Take it Anymore” kind of days that only God and chocolate could fix.

It started at 6:30am when the kids came running down the stairs like a herd of cattle, with one hollering “Mom, I’m in a skit today and need a trench coat.” Uh, as in right now, you couldn’t have told me this, YESTERday?

One kid left his lunch box 3 days in a row on the kitchen counter and the other came home with a note that he spent $20 on chocolate milk and owes the cafeteria $1.38. What? Is that possible?

One forgot to turn-in his homework and the other forgot his book report. I read their class journals and discovered notes the teacher’s had written: one slept in class and two couldn’t stop talking. I think I passed along the talking gene. Perhaps it’s not really their fault.

As I picked them up from the bus stop, the kindergartener said a curse word he heard at school, in front of all the neighbors. That’s when you feel like you’ve failed as a parent. Dear God, what else can go wrong? I shouldn’t have asked. At that moment, I get a call from the neighbor, that our dog is in their yard. As we pull along the street and get out of the car, my 8 year old opens the minivan door and hollers: Mom, where do baby comes from?

As I ring the door bell, I hollered across the lawn: from your belly, now get back in the car. As the lady is introducing herself to me (and the door is closing on his face), he yells: No, mom, my friend say they come from down H-E-R-E. Cue the “Look of Death” cause that’s what I gave him. It must be their mission to embarrass us to death. I threw the muddy dog into our newly detailed car, dropped off one child at a friends, put the dog in the house and headed back across town to drop off yet another kid at Art class.

As I’m unloading 2 more kids at Home Depot, (wait, how many kids is that), to buy more Electric Fence line, I noticed a missed call from a neighbor saying: We have your dog. Seriously? Is this an old voice-mail? Can it be, that my dog is a magician and escaped our house, again?

Turns out, the kids left the back door open. Nice. So here we go, back across town to pick up the dog at a house that has already called us once before. I felt like I owed the neighborhood an apology. Do you ever have one of those days? If not, you should be feeling pretty good about yourself, right now. I’m sure our neighbors are dreaming of seeing a “For Sale Sign” on our lawn one day. They are probably thinking we’ve met our maximum capacity for kids, dogs, gerbils and skateboards left on the cul-de-sac.

So here’s to spouses willing to stop by the grocery store on the way home from work – and having days, that no matter how bad they become, you know God and chocolate are on your side.

Here’s to living the Best Version of You.

 Posted by at 8:41 pm
Mar 092012
 

The Happiness Project

Has your life’s exclamation point . . . become an exasperation point?  The highlights of life can be sabotaged by discontentment, discouragement and frustration.  Sometimes we have to re-arrange the way we do things, in order to boost the energy we need to catapult us to greatness.

When I worked in public relations, every day was crazy, exciting, unpredictable – full of “pats” on the back or “kicks” in the rear; one way or the other, you knew where you stood.  I’ve worked from home, in the office, worn the heels, gone from suits to sweats and am now somewhere in the middle.

On any given day, I find myself researching a new business venture, catching up on laundry, planning girls’ night out, conferencing other parents to discuss a class party, meeting deadlines, all the while thinking about how I’m going to cook chicken for the third time this week.  Then it occurred to me:  Is this my life?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy, the deep kind of happy that a few bad days or set of circumstances can’t steal.

But my life needed a tune-up, like a musical instrument.  I love my husband; he’s very supportive, loving and fun to be around. And as a bonus, he’s good-looking, too.  I have a small core of really good friends.  I have four kids that are loud, fun and interesting.  My life is full, but I knew with the tools and resources I had, things could be better.  I sat on the bed one day and just explained to my husband how I felt.

Without fear or threat that perhaps he had not provided a good life for us, he did a little research (another great quality of his: thoughtfulness) and by morning handed me a book that has taken me on quite a journey, to fine-tune my happiness from mediocre to deep contentment, where people want to know why you’re smiling.  My quest began with The Happiness Project, written by Gretchen Rubin.

I’ve heard it said:  When a student is ready to learn, the teacher will appear.  Happiness is a state of mind.  Per Webster’s dictionary, happiness is a state of well being, a feeling of contentment, joy, satisfaction or pleasure.

I felt this, but not to its fullest capacity.  My mom is always reminding me that my calling here on this earth (no matter what position I hold in or outside the home) is to invest in the hearts of my children.  It’s not about recognition, fighting for a position on the corporate ladder, the need to feel appreciated by the outside world or add another gold star to my collection, but about devoting time and energy into raising healthy, well adjusted children that will go into the world with confidence, knowledge, and a sense of community; all the while, living the best version of me.

But in order to do this, Mom needs to be happy!  And if she ain’t happy, well…you get the gist.  The first category in The Happiness Project is: Boost Your Energy.  To be honest, I’ve never been so tired in my entire life.  Before kids, I trained for a marathon, raced in triathlons and had endless energy.  Now, it’s a different story.

The Happiness Project lists four things that are needed to “Boost Your Energy”:

1) Go to sleep earlier

2) Exercise better

3) Toss, restore and organize

4) Tackle a nagging task early

I don’t know about you, but my entire life, I’ve gone to bed late, put exercise on my to-do list (and only half the time crossed it off).  I allow that pesky task to haunt me all day (hoping it will just go away – of course it gets bigger and steals my joy).

It’s like a perfect storm – just as the kids are saying “Mom I’m Hungry” (after they just ate), you open the closet – and out springs jackets, scarves and a skate board into the floor, about the time the door bell rings and unexpected company has arrived.  You feel conquered, overwhelmed and under pressure.  Then comes the guilt . . . I’m a terrible mom, how will my kids turn out?

First Month’s Challenge

1) Sleep Earlier:

I began going to bed earlier. Can you say hard.  I stared at the ceiling and noticed all the blinking lights in the room, from the phone to the clock to my lap top, it was like the Las Vegas Strip.  Some people count sheep:  I was counting loads of laundry.  Your body has to be reprogrammed.  But with my next challenge, sleep came earlier and easier.

2) Exercise Better:

I’ve never liked waking up early.  My dad always said “the sunrise is so beautiful.” I figure the sunset looks much like the sunrise, so I’m OK with that.  But, in order to exercise better, I began taking the kids to school, so I could just keep going – head downstairs and begin working out.  The first week, I didn’t like it.  I felt angry, tired.  The workout guy’s voice on the DVD annoyed me.  But then I created my favorite playlist on my iPod for better motivation.  Now that I’ve created this routine, I enjoy the time for me.  Plus, when 6:30am rolls around, my eyes just pop open.  Your body gets use to what it knows, getting up and working out.

3) Toss, Restore and Organize:

My bedroom closet had become Central Station for things that didn’t have a name, a home or description.

I had a hard time letting go of those 80s concert t-shirts or giving away the red shoes I’ve never worn, but am waiting to find a fantastic dress to match.

I found parts to toys I didn’t know we had, books I’d never read, snack wrappers, gifts that had never been given.  It took three days to cleanse my closet, but in the process , it cleansed my mind.  I found 10 incredible outfits to choose from and it felt great!

4) Tackle a Nagging Task Early:

Between emails I needed to write, bills to be paid, calls yet to be returned or a mess still needing cleaning, it haunted my thoughts all day.  It drove me crazy.  Now, I wake up, conquer the the task and feel good about the victory, early on.

Want to boost your energy?  Start with you!  You are the family’s “hub of communication” – the CEO of your household.  Take charge, girls! In cleaning those closets and exercising for you, you’ll feel Accomplished, Organized and Victorious.  Rid your life of exasperation points and make them exclamation points to your happiness!

Here’s to living the best version of you!

Please click here to see more articles by Stephanie Pletka.

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

 Posted by at 12:35 pm
Mar 022012
 

be fearless

The dictionary defines “fearless” as: Brave, courageous, bold, adventurous. The opposite of fearless is, well “fear” – worry, doubt, anxiety and apprehension.

When I was eight, I spent the night at my grandma’s farmhouse. She lived in the middle of a 100-acre hay field, with creaky doors and tall seven-foot windows from floor to ceiling. The light switch was a dangling light bulb hanging from a six feet cord over the bed; the kind you have to stand in-the-center of the mattress and search for, in mid-air.

At bedtime, during a huge electrical storm, I tried walking bravely to my room, but lightening struck and so did my fear, right into my throat. I leapt from the door to the bed in two jumps. Lying there, I noticed what appeared to be something large at the foot of my bed. I stared it down. It just kept looking at me. I didn’t move. It didn’t move. Finally, I flew under the covers, hiding, where I remained for half an hour, sweating as I pondered its presence. I peeked over the blanket and to my dismay, it was still there. The audacity! I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t move. I was being held prisoner by the unknown.

When I could no longer take the fear (or the hot blanket for that matter), my courage rose and I jumped straight into the air, grabbing for the dangling light bulb overhead, prepared to fight for my life. The bulb swung this way and that, before I wrestled it down and pulled the cord. To my amazement, I was being held captive by a trench coat and hat someone had hung on the bed post.

We imagine the worst in life: watch CNN and the economy is taking a nose dive, terrorism is in our backdoor and our country’s debt is spiraling out of control. Will our kids go to college, how will we pay the bills, should I take another job, downsize my home?

We form ideas based on fear, creating self-fulfilling prophecies that life is not going to turn out like we thought. Maybe it’s not.

Suze Orman, in her book: The Money Class said it best: “Perhaps the American dream as we knew it, is dead. It’s time to take the dream back into our hands and reshape it.” Maybe we need a new dream. Who said it needs to be a family of 4 with 2.3 kids, a 9-5 job, with a two-hour commute and a white picket fence?

How awesome would it be to live life outside of the box? If instead of being scared, living on the cusp of what ifs, you channeled fear into something positive and started your own business, telecommuted to work, changed jobs, downsized your home, created a blog, wrote down your bucket list and began conquering it? Fostered kids, adopted more, climbed Kilimanjaro, took a missions trip, built homes in Haiti with Compassion.com, helped with clean-water initiatives in Africa, with 410Bridge.com and changed the world!

Shake it up a bit and live a life worthy of the calling, a life you can truly look back on and say: You lived it. You grabbed fear by the horns and wrestled that trench coat to the ground with light bulbs swinging.  Share with us, what’s holding you back.  We’re in this together, girls!

Here’s to the living the best version of you!

Stephanie Pletka is the creator of the blog Spit-up & Heels, is a contributor to http://www.women.com and  is also a columnist for NorthFulton.com. She lives in Alpharetta, GA with her husband John and four children, Jack, Will, Andrew and Ava.

 Posted by at 1:54 pm