Five things I’m grateful for: Bloganuary Entry #9

Gratitude, as defined, is the quality of being thankful.

And it is truly the key to life.

I love the current movement towards finding reasons to be grateful and ways to express gratitude daily. Sometimes I feel like it’s all too easy to forget that there are so many things in every single day that we should be grateful for. The simple act of waking up every morning is a gift. It’s an underappreciated gift. It’s a gift that is often taken for granted, and sometimes it’s not even acknowledged at all.

Last year, I bought a gratitude journal. Every entry was devoted to the things in that day that I felt gratitude for. I felt like it was super easy to think of every bad thing going on around me, but I truly needed to see the brighter and bigger picture, and I needed to realize that I had so much to be grateful for. Sadly, I was hot and heavy with my entries in the beginning, but things slowed down over time. So I’m happy that this prompt came up, because it’s a great reminder to get back to acknowledging everything that I have to be grateful for. Which is a lot.

So here is what would be in my gratitude journal entry today. Today I am grateful for…:

Medical care: I could go on and on about this one. Reliable, affordable, competent medical care is just hard to quantify or even explain, so all I can say is that I’m extremely grateful to have it.

Supportive and loving family: My family is just awesome. I am grateful that I feel this way about my family, because not everyone is able to say that about theirs.

My devoted partner: Whew chile! After what I’ve been through the last few months in addition to the pandemmy, lockdown, and the craziness of the last couple years…he has both driven me crazy and kept me sane all at the same time. And I legit would not have it any other way. I am so extremely grateful for him.

Delivery services: I cannot say enough about the way that delivery services has gotten me (and the world) through the past two years. USPS, Fedex, UPS, Amazon, food and grocery delivery, and any of the shipping partners that aren’t mentioned…they have truly stepped up in these crazy and scary times. I could go on and on and on and on about their sacrifices and their hard work in a time when things are uncertain and terrifying.

Animals: I don’t currently have a pet, but that doesn’t mean that animals have not been therapeutic in my life. I swear, I can watch animal videos all day if you let me! They brighten my day, make me laugh, and just bring me entirely too much joy.

So now that I’ve made this post and this list, it’s time to pull out my journal and get back into the practice of making sure I fully acknowledge all of the wonderful things, big or small, happening around me each day. There is entirely too much to be grateful for, and when it’s super easy to talk about what’s wrong in the world, I need to just as easily remember the good things around me.

If you had to pick something that you are grateful for today, no matter what scale it’s on, what would it be? I’d love to hear it!

Favorite Toy: Bloganuary Entry #3

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

I should be more embarrassed about this but I’m not…lol. One of my favorite toys growing up was a portable chalkboard. You could write on the top, then the top flipped open and inside was a place to hold things like papers and chalk and erasers. Which means for fun, I played school.

My dad, to this day, loves to tell the story about how a friend of his came over one day, and his son was about my age. So we went off to play. I asked the son if he wanted to play school and he was completely and utterly disgusted. “PLAY SCHOOL!?!?! YUCK!!!”

But me…I loved handing out papers, and writing on the board, and having a fake grade book. I would line my stuffed animals up and discipline them, which is weird because I never got yelled at in school or anything. I don’t think it’s that I wanted to be a teacher, but this is what I considered a good time back then–handing out homework assignments, bossing my animals around, and washing the chalk board.

So that’s it…the geeky kid me loved pretending I was in school.

Did you have a favorite toy? Does it uncover any embarrassing childhood secrets…like…for a good time, you played school? Let’s hear it!

My Sermon Notes for Goal Setting

This week, I heard a wonderful sermon. If you’re like me, the best sermons are those that give you immediate action items, or contain a message that you can immediately apply to your life. If you’re also like me, the sermon doesn’t have to be overly-religious and doctrine-heavy for it to touch you right in your soul.

A quick little backstory. I attended a ceremony this weekend because my uncle was installed as the pastor of a small church on Saturday. It’s been a looooong road and it was only further complicated by restrictions related to COVID. But after a multi-year process, he was selected, relocated from overseas, and installed this weekend.

So as you can imagine, it was a really joyous occasion. There were quite a few speakers, and one pastor spoke a message that I had to actually whip out my notebook and jot down notes about. It was motivating and relevant in so many ways, particularly when it comes to me and my goals. So here’s my take-away from that sermon, and how I plan to relate each point to my goals this week.

1 | Do Not Look Back

When you look back, you have to take your eyes off of your target. Taking your eyes off your target keeps you from moving forward. The best way to continue progressing towards your goals is to use the knowledge gained from your past to propel you forward, but do not dwell on what is done. Keep focused on the target you’ve set, and maintain that forward progress.

2 | Look to the East

This one hit me particularly hard. I am past my quarter-life crisis, and haven’t quite hit my mid-life crisis, but there are times I feel like life is passing me by. While I know there is *hopefully* a lot of life to live, I also know I’m no spring chicken. It can sometimes feel like setting new goals is pointless. But this sermon reiterated that no matter how many sunsets have passed, new goals and adventures await. Instead of looking to the west at sunsets past, look to the east for new horizons. No matter what age or what station you are in in life, there is work to be done, goals to be set, missions to be accomplished. It’s very important not to lose sight of that.

3 | Stretch Forward

We all do this. We all question our decisions. We question how we got here. We question if we’re doing the right thing and we worry about what we did wrong. Like a runner about to cross the finish line, it doesn’t matter how you started the race; what’s important is how you finish. Fix your eyes on where you want to go, set your sights on your goal, and stretch towards the finish line. Don’t give up. Finish the race.

Whew! When I tell you this message hit me in my soul, IT HIT ME IN MY SOUL!!! I did not really expect anything more than a few church formalities this weekend. And quite honestly, the sermon was not even for me. It was a motivation speech directed towards my uncle from a pastor mentor of his. But I could not have been more motivated and more blessed by his encouraging words. I was ready to run home and start planning! Of course I couldn’t–I still had family duties. lol. But I definitely jotted down thoughts for later.

Do you take notes during sermons? Or do you absorb the word in real time. I struggle between being present mentally during sermons or making sure I don’t forget what was said so that I can review and reflect on it later. Somehow I always wind up reaching for my notebook to take notes. Maybe one day I’ll try to keep it all in my head. These tidbits were too good to risk forgetting.

Adult Orthodontia: Five Things to Consider

I have never shied away from a smile.  I’ve always smiled big and boldly, never hesitating.  Even though, up until I was 35, I suffered from a severely overcrowded bottom row and a poked out top row. Some teeth were turned all the way around, and others leaned to the side and fought for space.  

I sucked my thumb until I was 16 years old. It wasn’t until high school biology that I realized exactly how gross it all was and stopped immediately.  But the damage had been done by that point.  My teeth were a wreck. 

It never occurred to me to be bashful about smiling.  I never really thought about it.  Until one day I laughed heartily about something, and my mother looked at me and said, “I always regretted not being able to get you braces.”

The comment wasn’t meant to be hurtful, and honestly, I didn’t take it that way.  But it did make me a little self-conscious.  We were really starting to enter the age of social media and taking selfies and photographically documenting every moment in life became the norm.  I started noticing more and more that I would filter pics so much that you couldn’t detect any crookedness at all in my teeth.  Though people may not have noticed it in pictures, they definitely saw it in person.  After mulling it over for the better part of a year, I eventually found myself on the quest to get braces. 

I did my research, visited a few dentists and orthodontists.  I consulted friends and family, and sometimes I even got a lot of unsolicited feedback from people that caught wind of my plans.  I actually had someone ask me why I was bothering with braces when I’m already so old.  I was floored!  I was 35, I wasn’t dead! 

But what I was at the time was broke. Or at least broke-ish.

I was at a point where money was tight, and it was hard to fathom paying for something so costly.  Especially something that was NOT a necessity. I had some plotting and planning to do if I wanted to get this done.  There were a lot of factors to consider, and I wanted to make sure I did my due diligence before I got started.

Quite a few things factored into my thought process. Here is a list of my top five things you should consider if you are thinking about adult orthodontia. 

  1. Know your insurance options.  When I first began this voyage, many dental plans did not cover adult orthodontia. A few plans were just starting to cover adult ortho up to 50%, and many plans did not even do that.  Some required you to be a plan member for a year before they would cover adult ortho. Others covered adult braces the first year you enrolled in their plan.  If you are considering braces, do your research when your open enrollment period happens. Talk to the plan representatives, read your materials, and get a full understanding of which plans cover what costs.  Another thing that helped financially was enrolling in a flexible spending account (FSA). This allowed me to use my pre-tax dollars to reimburse myself for medical expenses.  It’s really important that you make your benefits work for you as much as possible.  Ask questions. Know your options.
  2. Shop around.  Every orthodontist does things differently.  Some orthodontists do Invisalign, some only do traditional braces.  And believe it or not, there are other options in between.  In my case, I visited three orthodontists prior to the one I selected.  They all wanted me to get several teeth pulled before they’d put the braces on.  I had no interest in doing that.  It involved more money, more pain, and coordinating between an oral surgeon and the ortho.  When I finally met my ortho, she told me about something called fast track braces.  They moved the root and tooth simultaneously (whereas others move the tooth, and then the root moves after the tooth moves…WHAT???)  She also told me that she wouldn’t need to remove any teeth because there are different facial profiles, and as an African American, my facial profile is a little wider around the jaw than a Euro or Caucasian facial profile.  She told me that she could move my teeth without making space first, and thus, no teeth needed to be pulled.  The downside was that she didn’t do Invisalign so I would be a very noticeable metal mouth for the duration of my process.
  3. Do what’s best for you and no one else.  When I was confronted by the naysayer who asked why I was bothering getting braces “so late in life”, it almost discouraged me to the point of reconsidering.  But my orthodontist told me something: “The years are going to pass regardless of whether you do this or not.  Why not have a pretty smile at the end of it?”  She was so right.  I knew this was something that I wanted.  I was paying for it, I had to deal with how my smile looked, and it was not up to anyone else whether I did this or not. If that person thought I was too old, that was on them. I knew I had plenty of life to live, and I wanted to do it with a smile that I loved.
  4. Commit to the entire process.  I cannot stress this enough.  Do everything that your ortho tells you.  Stay on schedule with your appointments.  Stay away from foods that will cause damage to the braces or your teeth.  Clean, floss, use mouthwash, all of it.  Braces cost entirely too much to do the process half way.  As an adult, you have better appreciation for what you are spending your hard earned money on and what you are sacrificing to get the work done.  So make sure it’s done well and done right. Do your part to ensure a successful outcome, and make sure that your money and time are not wasted.  And the most common advice from everyone that has ever had braces…wear your retainer.  The process is not over just because the braces come off.  Wearing your retainer afterwards is crucial to making sure your teeth don’t slip back into their old formation and that you haven’t thrown money into the trash. 
  5. Realize that braces are more than just a pretty smile.  Getting braces, for me, was not just a cosmetic issue.  Getting braces improved my overall oral health.  First and foremost, the process helped me get serious about my cleanings, dental procedures, and keeping my teeth healthy.  I became diligent about flossing, and I make appointments at the first sign of any issues such as cavities or other discomfort.  I had previously developed a habit of waiting until issues got bad and resulted in costly, painful procedures.  Getting braces made me change my overall mindset about my oral health.  Getting rid of the overcrowding in my teeth helped reduce my near bouts with gingivitis and gum disease.  And honestly, I love going to the dentist now.  Having regular appointments and establishing a rapport with my ortho made me feel a level of comfort when I walk in the office.  Now when I go in for visits, I am excited.  I want to chat with the people there, and I want to show my dentist that I’m sticking to the things she’s asked of me.

Even when it was painful, I enjoyed the process of having braces.  I embraced it for all it was worth.  I got the colorful rubber bands, and I got them changed every month.  I had people hit on me because they thought I was much younger than I was, and it cracked me up every time. 

I have always loved laughing and smiling.  And now I love looking at my selfies. I don’t try to cover up or whitewash my teeth with filters.  Even in my worst picture, my smile makes me smile. And I love that. It was worth every penny spent and every pain endured.

Have you thought about getting braces as an adult? What concerns do you have? What’s stopping you? I would love to hear from you and I will gladly share my experience!

5 Tips for Surviving a Family Vacation

I did it, yall. I went on vacation with 40 relatives, yes 4-0, and I survived!!!

Again…FORTY! lol. FORTY PEOPLE!

I’m an introvert, I love being quiet, I can spend large periods of time completely by myself not making a sound and not having any human contact whatsoever. So, this is key for introverts…we DO NOT thrive in large groups. The more, the merrier is NOT our motto.

When my mom said let’s do a family cruise, my first reaction was “oh dear God NO!!” I know, I know…it’s a horrible reaction, but listen to me…relaxation and large groups don’t always go hand in hand, and I know my limitations when it comes to this type of thing. I know I’m not alone on this. But my my thoughts were… what if there’s drama? What if they make me get up early every day? What if they make me do a bunch of stuff I don’t want to do? How are we going to coordinate a ton of people to do activities?? And then the vision of herding cats popped into my head.

With that said, I cannot tell you what made me agree to go on a cruise with a massive group of people, even if they were my blood (or the spouse/friend/companion of blood). But I did it. And I roped my boyfriend and bestie into going as well. You’d think having them there would be a relief, but this oddly just added to my cruise prep stress. What if someone in my family says something to one of them, and I spend the entire trip playing defense and running interference? What if Cousin So-and-So asks me to go to the pool, but my boyfriend wants me to go play shuffle board? What if my auntie gets too intrusive with my bestie, grilling her about her most intimate life choices? Will the group expect all 40 of us to do every single thing together? Will I be able to escape the group, boyfriend, and bestie to do my necessary introvert recharging? I didn’t know what to expect and the whole thing just made me nervous.

So cruise day approached, we met the group at the port, and the 5-day trip to Bermuda commenced. Hugs, introductions, and lots of reacquainting happened. We laughed, ate, danced, swam and soaked in the sun. And after five days together, I’m happy to report that the trip was not worth the stressing at all!

Let me tell you what you can do to make your family trip a success this summer:

  1. Start off with a good mood. Begin your vacation with the intentions of having a good time, not with the intention that all things will work out perfectly. Make the decision that your vacation will be relaxing, fun, therapeutic, revitalizing, or whatever you want it to be. Then make it so.
  2. Leave old family fights in the past. Or at least make the conscious decision to not bring them on vacation. Nothing will kill a good time faster than bringing up that argument about who took Grandma’s precious cloth napkins in 1963. Vacations are precious, time away from work can be hard, and trips can be expensive. Don’t waste precious time and money on drama that’s no longer important.
  3. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for all possible scenarios. This includes packing items for a contingency, and preparing your mind for the possibility that every day may not be perfect. If it may possibly rain, have a book on hand for the days you can’t go to the beach. Pack an umbrella or slicker, and have what you need on hand to be outdoors in potentially inclement weather. Don’t let a bad weather day stop you from enjoying your trip. The more you’re able to go with the flow, the less negative impact an unexpected occurrence will have on your vacation. We had a couple of rain showers…so those were good times for souvenir shopping or the indoor pool. For the day that the ship had a wind advisory cutting off our sunbathing, we opted for the casino and hot tub. Be ok with changing plans. Or better yet, don’t make plans and just go with the flow.
  4. Limit the number of activities that are done as a group. My mother was the group’s organizer, and she made it a point to say she wasn’t coordinating many things. She wanted people to feel free to do what they wanted, as too much planning makes people feel like they’re at boot camp, not on vacation. As a group, we took two group pictures, and ate dinner each night. My mother invited everyone to do certain activities each day if they wanted to join her, but nobody had any obligation to join her at all.
  5. Book your room away from the group’s room block. Now…this may or may not be necessary or even possible. For me, I figured it may be a good idea. For those moments when I wanted to absolutely get away, I could escape to my room on a different floor, in a different part of the ship.

While I was terrified initially, and I feared all things that could go wrong in a large group, my trip turned out to be a wonderful time, and I’m so glad I decided to go! If you have any tips, please feel free to comment!