Keeping the Peace, Life

Words of Inspiration For 2018

I gave up on resolutions. They seem to always set people up for disappointment with their lofty and sometimes unrealistic goals that are also rarely reached. What happened to that whole saying everyone likes so much about baby steps? Maybe I’m the only one that has been over resolutions for a while now. I kind of like to chip away at my issues a little at a time, for however long it takes, don’t you?

A few years ago, I started choosing words that would inspire me and help me grow instead of resolutions that would make me feel like a total loser when on day two of the new year I had already screwed up and did what I resolved not to do. But then I discovered all the areas I needed to work on and realized one word just wasn’t going to cut it. I had to decide where I wanted to be better and do better in the immediate future. I think narrowing that down would probably be difficult for most people since most of us have lots of room for growth. So my solution to my “no lack of areas to work on” has been to pick a few words each year that speak to what kind of life I want to create for myself.

This year I found four words that encompass the things I’ve really been striving for in the last few years and the life I want to lead from now on. Sounds pretty permanent, I know, and I realize life happens. I’m aware we don’t have control of much more than our attitude, and even that’s a stretch some days. I know exactly who has the wheel on my minivan called life. But when you discover what is meant for you, you work hard at making it happen, for as long as it takes. So these words, in some form or another, have always been part of my personal goals. I just think I’m realizing the priority they have in my life an how they all really work together for my greater good.

So now that I’ve served you up some really deep thoughts on my life’s path, let me share the words with you and maybe, just maybe, they will also resonate with you and your new year’s goals.

Space This word is at the top of my list because it has a huge and direct effect on the other three words. I know every one of us lives very busy lives. We’ve made a pastime of fitting in as much as possible. I have personally lived by my calendars. Some weeks and years there has literally been no room to add anything else on a page because the calendar has been bursting with activities and commitments. Over the years I realized that I was sick of the constant rush, of feeling like I could never say no, of the jam-packed schedule and just busyness in general. There was never any downtime or room for me and my people to just be together as a family, let alone for any me time. I just wanted to wipe the calendar clean. It’s been years in the making, but my efforts to free up our schedule and the space it has created for my family and I to spend more time together has been so worth it! Little by little more space is being made for the most important people and the most memorable experiences.

Things are also taking up less space in our home. It’s been an ongoing process, but minimizing stuff in our life has been so rewarding. Purging junk and really identifying things that are the most useful or that mean the most has been so freeing. Space has truly been one of my favorite words yet! So I’ll be continuing to make more space in our calendar and in our home so that we can enjoy life more and we can stop surrounding ourselves with so much unnecessary stuff. Basically, my theme song for now will be “I’ve got a blank space baby…”

Simple I’ve always loved the saying “Do less and be more”. When you decide not to jam pack your days and leave time for just being, it simplifies life so much. Remember K.I.S.S.? Let’s pretend the last S stands for Silly, okay? Keeping it Simple really allows you to be more intentional and present in those special moments. It helps you learn to not complicate things or situations. When things are simple, there’s no room for over-analyzing (something I’m excellent at). When things are simple, there’s no room for a whole lot of excess stuff you don’t need. A simple life needs space because if you don’t have room to focus on what is truly important in life, things can get complicated. Simple is not stressful. It’s relaxing, it’s easy going, and it’s steady.

Steady You’ve probably ready about my journey to peace. It’s what got me back to writing and starting this blog. It’s something I have worked hard to find. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time. But in the last couple of years I have learned how to cope with it and now I have tools in place to help me be at peace. There are still hard days, but they are much fewer and farther between than they use to be. I still need to work on not letting things get to me or ruffle my feathers, things that could potentially affect my anxiety. My mom always says I should do better at letting things roll off me “like water off a duck’s back”. So learning to be more steady and not so bothered by things is something I need to continue to work on. After all, mom knows best! Plus making space in my life and keeping things simple definitely helps to keep me steady. Win win win!

Freedom The first three words all help to give me more Freedom. When you have more time, life is simple, and you are at peace, you are freer to pursue your purpose and your heart’s desires. The work that I’ve done these last eleven years has all led me to a place where I can create a life and space that works for my family and I. Freedom affords me flexibility, something that I have come to really love and value. I’ve become accustomed to it in my daily schedule and for our family life. I hope to continue to have freedom in those areas because it has helped my family and I create a life that we all enjoy. To that end, I’m opening myself up to other opportunities and pursuing other interests. Stay tuned world!

It’s time to get on with 2018. What words are your driving force this year? Whatever you choose or even if you haven’t chosen anything, create the kind of life you really want to live. Life will be hard, that’s a given. But there’s no reason why you can’t strive for things in your life that will help to make it a little easier sometimes. Remember K.I.S.S.

Keeping the Peace, Life, Photography

Appreciating The Now

I can’t wait until this is over! How many times do we all say that every year or maybe every day??? We’re always looking to what could be and should be in our minds instead of being grateful for what is right this second, right now.

We’ve all been there. Maybe it was a job you were less than fond of. Maybe a relationship that went sour. It could have been pain or discomfort you were suffering. Sometimes it’s just a particular situation you were in that was a complete headache. Maybe it was the school year. There are so many things that we’ve all complained about, wished away and have prayed to end.

I’ve been majorly guilty of this one recently, wishing things and even people were different than they actually are. So much of our life is spent letting our thoughts about people or about life sadden or scare us. I’ve let my thoughts rule my head more times than I care to admit. That is basically where my anxiety came from. But peace can’t exist inside if you don’t accept what is and only worry about what could or should be.

I just finished reading Loving What Is a book by Byron Katie that teaches you how to do “The Work”. This basically entails turning your thoughts about things and people around and fixing what’s wrong in you and your thinking. This really helps you to see and accept reality without any judgement or anger, instead of letting fear take over because of how you are thinking about something.

You know how you sometimes read something that is right on time in your life? Thank you to my friend that suggested this book. I definitely believe God puts things and people in our paths and his timing is perfection. This book was exactly what I needed right now. When you’re going through a transition in life, it’s very easy to get scared and let your thoughts of who you should be and what you should be doing consume you instead of appreciating the moment you are in. My life and the people I’m surrounded by changed drastically in the last seven months. I’ve judged those people and myself. I’ve lost loved ones, changed jobs, questioned my path and purpose, and I’ve been stuck in fear, too afraid to move forward. The funny thing is that I’ve told myself many times over the years (without even realizing it) that fear will propel me into action. I convinced myself that if I wasn’t stressed or upset about something, I wouldn’t take action. I never realized that being at peace with what is would motivate me so much and liberate me at the same time. Peace is actually a catalyst, not stress! Who knew?
As Byron Katie says in her book “The truth sets us free, and freedom acts.” In embracing my reality I gave myself the confidence and the peace to take action.

When you come to the realization that it is what it is and not what you thought it was, it changes your perspective completely about everything. I’m still learning, but I hope to start applying this with my kids. Regularly I tell them they should clean up their room. What parent doesn’t?!?! Yes, they should learn that responsibility, but is telling them twenty times a day making them want to keep it clean or am I really telling them to do it because that’s what I like to do and what I want to see? I’m better off doing what I like to do and maybe they will see my example and pick up on it. Now I’m not saying our kids should be lazy and not have to do chores. On the contrary, I think it’s so important. But it’s also important that they desire to do better and be better on their own, without me hounding and forcing them. The reality is they like cleaning up, but they don’t love it. That’s their truth and they are perfectly at peace with that. Mine is that I love to organize and clean (sad but true). Living in our truth instead of our thoughts is freeing and when we’re free, we’re at peace.

If we are at peace within ourselves, we can help bring peace to others and our world. Sounds like a stretch probably, but that’s where it starts. It’s the power of one person and all it takes is to live in what is and not in your thoughts of what is. So much fear breeds in our thoughts and causes us to be angry, react negatively, and judge. We see it in our world today. There are so many that teach fear and use it to try and hurt others. But what we tell ourselves and create in our minds is doing damage too. We can all be good examples of and teachers of peace if we make peace with ourselves, make peace with our thoughts, and live inside that peace.

I’m in “The Work” now and I’m making progress. I’m living in the now and working with what is, without anger or judgement. I’m trying to appreciate and be at peace with where I am now whether that’s on my computer writing, on the phone making work calls, questioning my next path or sunning on the beach. Peace is a process, but leaning more toward it has motivated me to make some major changes, serve my purpose, and follow my dreams. Now is what really is and all we have. We must always be grateful for the season we’re in because it is all so temporary. This season is actually taking me on an exciting path and I can’t wait to see where it leads!

I’m thankful for this time and where I am in my life. Yesterday the school year ended and I could have easily started counting the days until school starts again (any mom that has lost their sanity between school years knows exactly what I mean). Instead, I’m soaking in my now with my family and I hope it’s the longest summer of my life! I’m opening myself up to opportunities to learn and grow. Doing the work everyday is choosing peace and I’m all for that. So right now…right now I’m going to go get started on an amazing summer with my kiddos and appreciate that. I hope you’ll appreciate your now too, wherever you’re at.

Keeping the Peace, Life, Photography

How a Decade of Mommying Made Me a Better Me

This year my first born turns ten years old! It’s hard to believe I’ve been a mom for that long now. Kids teach us a lot about themselves and a lot about parenting. Sometimes the lessons are about how parenting is the toughest role in the world, but the majority of the time they are about how rewarding it can be. One of the more surprising things being a mom of two kids has taught me is how to be a better me. Granted there is still plenty of room for growth. It’s definitely a sort of continuing education that never ends. But being a mom for almost 10 years, while challenging at times, has truly made me a better person in so many ways.

First and foremost, I definitely have way more patience. It may not seem like it some days, especially when I’ve had to raise my voice after repeating an instruction for the 10th time. But hey, that’s an improvement. I would have cracked after the third request in my early mommy days. Progress, right?

I’ve learned how to live more in the present and be more intentional with my time. Sometimes you just have to stop whatever you are doing and spend time with your littles while they are still little and still want to spend time with you. When you understand our time is short here, you don’t want to waste a moment.

Being a mom has made me so much more peaceful. Sure it has also driven me completely nuts at times and has brought my anxiety to a whole new level, but it’s because of the challenges we face as parents, and my two extraordinary children that I have found a better way to manage my stress and anxiety. Now I can live more in peace than in chaos.

My children have also taught me how beautiful I am as a person, inside and out. Sure I have my flaws and weaknesses, as we all do. In the past I would focus on those more instead of looking in the mirror and seeing a beautiful, unique child of God. When you realize you’ve helped to create and have given birth to two beautiful children by God’s grace, then you know that same love and grace is what made you. Watching your heart walking outside of your chest on a daily basis forces you to realize your own beauty and the love that created it. I know my kids are watching how I talk about myself. So I am as kind as I can be to me, so that when they realize the beauty they possess they will also be kind to themselves and others.

I never knew how tough I was until I became a mom. I seriously feel like Wonder Woman on some days when I think of how resilient I have been and what I’ve been able to accomplish. I think about the challenges we’ve faced and how I have become stronger because of them and I haven’t let them break me. Mommyhood definitely exercises all your muscles and helps you to grow a pretty thick skin. It can also turn a once doormat girl into quite the assertive lady.

Over these years of being a mom, I’ve also discovered a lot of the little, less important details about myself. For instance, I love to cook for my family and wish I could do more of it. I’m an avid reader when I can find the time. When the kids are reading, I have to pick up my book too. I really enjoy having privacy at times and just being with myself (I’m not saying I get this often, but I never knew how precious it would become). I like to play with home decor and design. I’ve become pretty darn crafty. I love both coffee and wine equally. I’m obsessed with photography. Peonies are my favorite flowers. I am passionate about writing. I’m pretty particular about where things go around the house (that’s all I will say about that). I have a pretty positive outlook on life.

I’ve also learned that I need to keep working on being more flexible, more uplifting, more grateful, even more patient, even more positive, more loving, and even more faithful. That’s in no particular order, but they are all equally important because I always need to be the example to these two little blessings that have taught me a lot of what I know.

I know I am blessed with a wonderful husband & two great kids that were put in my love and protection. I pray every day in thanks for that.

I know I can bend without breaking.

I know how to be a bucket filler and not a bucket dipper.

I know that we have so much to be grateful for, even the smallest things we someties take for granted.

I know that saying “hurry up” doesn’t need to be in my vocabulary.

I know I can get more from being sweet than being sour.

I know a positive mindset is key in every struggle.

I know there are never enough hugs, kisses and I love yous.

I know that I’m never alone, no matter the challenge.

But the most important things I have learned from my kids over these many years are that I have a purpose in this world. Part of what I was called to do is be a mom to these two gems. And by being a mom, I have discovered many other ways I am here to serve. I am called to support our autism community. I am called to share God’s love and be a beam of light to others. I am here to share our story in a way that it may help others. I am here to advocate for and educate on autism, anxiety, peace, safe and healthy self-care, and above all I’m here to love.

Because loving these little people unconditionally for a decade really gives you a small idea of how much we are each loved by our creator and our own parents. It has taught me that love conquers all and that we are here for one main love and be loved. I hope that I can teach these two beautiful souls about this part of their purpose so they can be even better adults some day too.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there who continue to learn and grow along with their kids and who live a purpose full life every single day!

Much Love,
Darlene xo

Special thanks to Courtney Studios for capturing this wonderful moment between my kiddos and me. The best gift for a mom is always a piece of art centered around her family and Courtney always nails it!

Beauty, Keeping the Peace, Life, Photography, Shop

13 Ways Moms Can Retreat To Refresh

Ever feel like you just want to hit the refresh button on your life? I know sometimes things go awry and you just want a do-over. Mondays can be like that (especially coming off of spring break). Some weeks it can feel like you need a refresher every single day!

Retreating in recent years hasn’t always felt refreshing. It felt more like I was trying to escape my reality or find peace anywhere I could, since I could not find it here. I was feeling stressed all the time and needing a daily refresher that I thought I could only get from being away from home. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking things are better and more peaceful in a different place, in different shoes, and outside of our comfort zone. But the truth is the only place we can find peace is inside ourselves, no matter the location.

We all need to refresh sometimes and there’s nothing like getting away for a little bit and just decompressing. I don’t think anything can compare to a vacation away and out of your life’s little picture. It’s even better when it’s a getaway with no schedule, no specific plans, and no preconceived notions of what it will be like. We just came back from a week like that at the beach and I dare say it was practically perfect!

Most of us can likely get away for a day or two at least, even if it’s in our own backyard. But it’s not always affordable or practical for everyone. As moms, we are busy taking care of everyone else and rarely put ourselves first. We are in major need of regular breaks and we wait for the first opportunity we get as a family to escape instead of taking some time alone. But there are things we can do to retreat to refresh without breaking the bank or even leaving home. Here are 13 things that I enjoy when I need to take a break and get some me time:

1. Read a book. Escaping into a story can take your mind to a different place and away from whatever personal things might be weighing on it. Wild is the emotional journey of Cheryl Strayed, but also quite the adventure if you’re up for one.

2. Grab your favorite colored pencils, crayons or markers and draw or color. It’s very relaxing and really helps you focus on something else.

3. Light a candle and put on some jazz or classical music. Guaranteed to put you in a mellow mood. The Pure Candle is a staple at our house.

4. Run a diffuser with your favorite essential oils. Lavender and citrus are a couple of my favorite ones for relaxation and for a happy mood.

5. If you don’t already know how, learn to crochet or knit. It’s a very relaxing pastime. Don’t worry about how long it takes to complete the project. Just get to needles moving.

6. Draw a bath and soak in it. I love to use a great scrub to soften up my skin while I’m soaking. This sugar body scrub in Lemongrass from Beautycounter is by far my favorite. Plus it safe and free of any toxins and void of any of the 1500 plus ingredients, most of which have been banned in the US and EU. Make sure to have a glass of your favorite vino on hand. Peace of mind and wine…now that’s relaxing!

7. Make a photo book. If you’re into traditional scrapbooking, by all means, but you can get a lot of enjoyment from doing it digitally. Forever has a great software you can use to design beautiful books and store photos online. Going through the memories will take you to a place of peace and getting them off your phone or computer will be an extra relief.

8. Write a letter or journal. Snail mail and writing are not a lost art and getting your feelings down on paper is very liberating. Keeping a gratitude journal can also help to let go of stress and worries.

9. Give yourself a mini spa day. Do your nails, pamper your skin, and do a special treatment for your hair. Even doing a face mask a couple times a week and misting can relax and reinvigorate. Try this brightening mask, oil, and mist from Beautycounter, just in time for summer!

10. Practice mindfulness and meditation. It can really help you to detach from distractions and helps you to concentrate on being nothing more than still, you and your breathing. There are some great apps like Headspace that I love that will walk you through it. A positive mindset is always peaceful and the mind needs vacations too.

11. Get outdoors and take a walk in the park or take a hike to explore nature. Being outside in the fresh air can definitely give you peace and perspective.

12. Take at least 10 minutes a day to practice yoga. You don’t have to worry about doing all the harder poses that require a little more experience or signing up for Bikram. A few stretches and the basic poses are all you need to open up your breathing, elongate the body, and relax the tension. If you are a Peloton rider like me, try one of the Beyond the Ride Yoga Classes. They’re awesome and you don’t have to be a yogi to do them.

13. Get off of social media. Sure the whole world is on there these days, but disconnecting from the constant feeds and information overload can give you a much needed retreat from the busyness of the world. Even doing it for just a few days can help. You won’t miss anything. The only thing that you will be passing up is a little less chaos in your life.

There are a lot of ways to get yourself a little break without leaving town. Just make sure you take the time to be alone and feed your soul. Because we all need to hit that refresh button…and often.

Darlene xo

Keeping the Peace, Life

Awareness Until Different Is No Longer Less

I would like to think people have become a lot more accepting of differences. We’ve definitely progressed over the years. But the truth is there is still not enough acceptance in the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of amazing people that get it. Our family is surrounded by them every day. They get that while we are all uniquely made, we are also inherently the same and should be treated equally. They get that we all have strengths and weaknesses. And because they get it and they are aware, they accept and they include. They do what they can to love and support. They know that different isn’t less.

I don’t watch the news of late, but all you need to do is turn on a tv to see that we still have a long way to go as a world in loving and accepting all people of any kind. When you have a child on the autism spectrum, this is a scary thought. More than anything we want our children to be understood just like any child. We want their differences to be accepted, just like anything else that makes a person unique. Chances are you have met someone with autism or have a friend or family member with autism. There’s definitely a lot more awareness than there use to be. But unless everyone in the world chose to open their hearts to differences like autism,learn about them, and accept them, there will always be a need for more awareness. When the whole world gets it, I’ll be the first to say we no longer need any awareness of anything, even autism, because different will no longer be less to anyone.

So here’s the thing…I’m no expert on autism. Even after almost seven years of living it every day with our daughter, I still don’t have all the answers and I’m pretty sure I never will. I could be right next to someone with autism and not have a clue because the autism spectrum characteristics are as vast as the spectrum itself. I know what my own daughter is like, but that’s the only thing I really have a decent grip on. As the saying goes, “If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism”. Most people can’t “recognize” an autistic person because they are all so different and because they are expecting them to look a certain way. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard “But she looks so normal” in reference to my own daughter. What does that even mean? What does “normal” look like?

But back to my point and I promise I have one. Awareness is so important because it’s what leads to knowledge about something, which helps with acceptance. You see when people are made aware of something, it means you are conscious of it. According to Webster’s Dictionary conscious “implies that one is focusing one’s attention on something or is even preoccupied by it”. So far, it doesn’t seem like enough people are preoccupied by autism. Another synonym of aware is sensible, which basically means someone is showing good sense or sound judgement. We already know by the “But she looks so normal” comment earlier that people aren’t always sensible. So thinking they know all about something like autism, when in actuality they don’t, does not really make them aware. The word “alive” is also associated with “aware” and it adds to the word “sensible” (according to Webster’s) “as the implication of acute sensitivity to something”. If that’s true, then we seem to have a lot of people sleeping at the wheel because we could definitely use a lot more sensitive insight when it comes to autism and any other differences. Again, check the news. It seems like we are in need of a constant stream of awareness on all fronts because different is still considered less.

Ultimately, if you’re not aware of and can’t accept differences, then what will inspire you to ever make a positive impact in this world? How will you be able to love and support those who need it if you don’t know how? How can you even begin to understand what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes if you’re not aware of what they are dealing with and don’t have an opportunity to learn more about it? Whether it is someone with autism, a caregiver, someone with anxiety, or any other challenge someone is dealing with, there’s one thing that can help you help them. Knowledge is power and the more you have, the more you can lend an ear, a shoulder or a hug to those who need it.

We have a lot of awareness months for different causes and organizations. April just happens to be the month set aside for autism. If you think about it though, as much as some of us know about autism being immersed in it daily, there’s still so much for us to learn and so much we have to teach others. Is autism challenging? Absolutely! But the more we all know, the more we all grow. And when you’re learning and growing, it’s more likely you will share what you know with others. The more you know, the more you will feel called to help. A month is not nearly enough to educate people so that they are compelled to take action. It takes a village to love and support kids like ours, so the more people we can enlighten the better. We need as many people advocating for people with autism as possible, so that we make sure they have the opportunity at an equally awesome life as any other person.

So I’ll keep spending this month helping to propel awareness. I will keep advocating daily for my daughter and all people with autism by openly sharing what it’s like for her and for us as a family, so that all people can better understand. I’ll keep giving myself an education so that we can continue to grow and learn more about her disorder as a family. And I will keep hoping that we can all learn to accept any and all kinds of differences because no matter our uniqueness, we were all created equally, by and for love. I will embrace any and all awareness for as long as it takes, until different is no longer less.

If you’re reading this blog, you are making yourself more aware, so I thank you for that. Now when you’re ready, go out there, share your knowledge, and make a difference in any way you can. The world needs you.

Darlene xo

Keeping the Peace, Life

Testing Is Still My Nemesis

It’s that time of year again. The time when our kids have standardized testing. This year I have a third grader taking the Reading portion of the FSA over the next couple of days. It’s weird to be a spectator watching your kid go through it. I’m keeping it together for her, but inside I am cringing and totally feel her pain.

I was never a good test taker. Even when I was a child, it was a lot of pressure for me. I remember getting very nervous, especially for anything that involved reading comprehension. I was an avid and excellent reader, but comprehension and I struggled, especially in a timed test. The stress of testing was just hard to handle and the results were never an accurate representation of my academic performance.

I always got honor roll in school and was in all the honor societies. My grades were always very good. I think having some extracurricular activities that I regularly participated also helped me to do well academically. But testing was not my strong suit and I guess I made up for that in other areas that contributed to my grades. It even took a combined SAT score for me to get admitted to the university I wanted to attend. My point is, I did well in school, I attended college, and became a valuable member society despite testing.

Fast forward many years later and now my 9 year old daughter is faced with her first major test that counts toward promotion. Now I’m nervous about tests for a whole different reason…testing…ugh…it’s still my nemesis! Even so, I’ve kept it cool in front of her and not led on how I feel about it. Ironically my worry is about her worrying about it, not her performance. She already deals with a significant amount of anxiety as part of her autism, but now she is notably stressed because of testing. She doesn’t seem to be sleeping well and her stomach has been upset. The other day we were in a restaurant and she became ill. Now I don’t think testing made her physically sick (although it wouldn’t surprise me), but her first thought after puking was that she was afraid she would miss school and then miss her FSA test. Granted the test is important, but when a kid doesn’t feel well and is more concerned about missing a test than feeling better, what are we teaching them?

It seems like testing causes teachers undue stress too. They spend their year trying to prepare our kids for testing and on top of that, they do their best to make sure our kids are learning all they should be at their grade level. The thought has crossed my mind that our teacher could use a good bottle of wine when this is all over. Total Wine here I come…one bottle for her, two for me. It’s just too tense for everyone involved!

The truth is it will not matter when they are adults. It won’t scar their record or keep them out of college. If my kid wants to be a scientist one day or even if she wants to be the President of the United States (she has toyed with politics, bless her heart) it won’t keep her from reaching her dreams. It won’t even be a blip on her radar years from now. She’s still going to be awesome, no matter how she does and she will still get to fourth grade.

So today we’ve had some swim class, a healthy dinner, a quick viewing of Science and Me (Thanks Molecular Mike), we’ve said our prayers for peace tomorrow and we’re in bed nice and early. We’ve got a healthy breakfast planned and hubby got the coffee pot programmed so that WE ALL can make it to school on time. One of my friends even made her some essential oils to help her to focus tomorrow. We’re as ready as we ever be and she’s going to rock this!

Good luck to all of our super friends testing tomorrow, especially those who are up against their adversary “Testing”. I’ve been there and I know how much anxiety it can cause. Just don your cape in the morning, do your best and remember that Testing will not be the ruin of you or your future. It’s not something that is a requirement for you to be good at or that you even need to live a full and successful life. Worrying about it only takes away your peace. Now peace, that my friends, is a super power you will always need.

Peace Be With You,
Darlene xo

Keeping the Peace, Life

What Lauren Graham and 3 Latin Words Taught Me About Life

In Omnia Paratus. Three little words I learned thanks to Rory and her experience with The Life and Death Brigade at Yale. It means “prepared in all things; ready for anything”. It’s a great mindset to have in life, but easier said than done when life gets complicated or the unexpected happens.

I started watching Gilmore Girls the same year I moved back up to this busy city for work, after going back home to live in my small town of Islamorada for a couple more years. I remember I was trying to get over a very painful and destructive relationship and when an opportunity came up for me to start fresh and be on my own again, I couldn’t wait for the chance to have a clean slate. The show was a bright light for me during a dark time. Once I saw the first show, I was hooked and from then on, it always had a special place in my heart.

If you have never watched Gilmore Girls, stop what you are doing right now and start watching it! (I mean stop reading, seriously, and just do it!) Netflix was invented for series like these. Actually, even before Netflix I saw the series many times (more than I care to admit), but being able to stream the show whenever I want now has been so convenient. Sometimes there’s not a lot of great quality shows on tv, and as I said in a previous post, getting rid of cable was seriously one of the best things we ever did!

But back to the show. I fell in love with the mother/daughter relationship between Lorelai and Rory right from the start. It reminded me of the friendship my mom and I have always had. The characters really spoke to me and the small town reminded me of home. Lorelai and Rory’s quick wit, sharp intellect, sarcasm and fast talking convos have always made me laugh and straight up want to be best friends with them. Friday night dinners with the family were always interesting and the loving, yet tense relationships between the characters were so easily relatable. Luke, well Luke is just my favorite guy and no matter how many times I see the shows, I still hopelessly fall in love with the anticipation of him and Lorelai finally making it work between them. Of course, a man after my heart (much like my adorable husband) he supplies endless amounts of coffee, which is A ok in my book. And the coffee drinking!!! Two girls after my own heart, drinking coffee round the clock, although personally, I can only drink my coffee if it’s drowned in creamer, but still…we are kindred coffee spirits! I love all the characters, including all of Rory’s love interests, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jess, the “bad boy” who’s had a few bad breaks. He’s a writer, a poet, and deep down, a good hearted guy (much like his Uncle Luke) and IMHO, has always been the best fit for Rory. I liked all her loves, but it always seemed like Jess really got her and hey, he may not be completely out of the picture even now, wink wink…more on that later. May I add that he, Milo Ventimiglia I mean, is also a lead in my new favorite program, This is Us. Yep #TeamJess all the way!!!

In the beginning of 2016 I was having some health issues. I was definitely not prepared for this setback. I struggled to get out of bed most days. I wasn’t sleeping much. I was unable to work. It was uncomfortable, demotivating and depressing. It took me 9 months to figure out it was my anxiety that was effecting me and to an answer to my discomfort. I could have felt like I had lost a lot of time. Truthfully, some days I did. I mean let’s face it, I could have basically been preparing to give birth to another child during that time. But most days I tried to look at it as a blessing. It was a call for me to slow down and take care of myself. No one, especially a mom, is able to be and do her best for anyone else if she’s not putting that oxygen mask on herself first. So, since I had a lot of down time, I rewatched all 7 seasons of Gilmore Girls at my leisure and relived every fun, witty, sweet, emotional, sarcastic moment that I have loved so much over the years. It really brought me so much joy. It also prepared me for the release of four short movies Netflix put out last November to revive the much loved series. The shows, appropriately called Gilmore girls: A Year in the Life, takes you through Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall in Stars Hollow. It starts with Lorelai’s first whiff of snow and ends with a crisp fall and four sweet words that I won’t reveal in case you actually take my advice and watch it all from start to finish. Let’s just say I’m pretty much counting on a second revival.

Gilmore Girls fandom is like no other. I live with three other movie fanatics of Star Wars and Harry Potter, and I’m one myself. So maybe it’s not to the level of something like those movies, but it’s pretty darn special! But it’s the characters and the quaint small town of Stars Hollow that are all so unique and have created such a following. I was already out of college when I started watching the show, so I couldn’t relate as much to Rory and being in high school. Personally, I was and still am a huge fan of Lauren Graham and her character Lorelai, and ever since I watched the first episode of Gilmore Girls, I knew that if she ever did another series, I would have to follow it. Who knew that 10 years later she would be cast in a show that would include a family that would someday mirror ours in such a huge way. It wouldn’t be until a year after the show started, that our daughter would be diagnosed with autism and the storyline in Parenthood would become ever so real to us. I recently rewatched this series too. Just when you think you can’t learn any more about autism, you see that you’re now almost 10 year old daughter is very similar to Max who has Aspergers. Then you envision her as an adult, while watching Ray Romano play Lauren’s love interest, who discovers he has Aspergers as an adult. Lauren Graham has basically brought me a ton of joy as an actress. As Lorelai she kept me in stitches, and I enjoyed laughing and sometimes crying with her. As Sarah, I could relate so much to her as a family member of someone with autism and as someone who fell in love with a person with autism. It really taught me so much more about acceptance, something that we could always use more of. In both roles she wasn’t always prepared for what life threw her way and didn’t always handle it well or make the best choices, but she always tried her best. At the same time, she was always ready for an adventure! Again, she’s like my soul sister!

Lauren Graham recently published another book, Talking As Fast As I Can (From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything In Between). It was a fun read and I can totally see why she portrayed both of these characters so well. It’s witty, honest, and fun-loving, just like her characters. If you’re a fan you should definitely read it! It was great to read her story and find out how Gilmore Girls came to its fruition. In my dreams, Lauren and I have coffee together and my fast talking and wit matches hers!

As I was punching out clovers to use in a craft project with my kids, I was thinking about how lucky I was to discover Lauren Graham when I did. First in Gilmore Girls a long time ago and then to get to experience her talent again in Parenthood, another one of my all time favorite shows. Both roles came at times in my life when I was struggling and not really prepared for what was happening. I didn’t have anyone to turn to that had lived the same experiences. So I’m so grateful to have had those shows during those times and to be able to replay them on a cozy, lazy Sunday afternoon when I want to lie in bed and experience a show that not only I can relate to, but really gives you all the feels. Acting might not mean much to some, but I’m thankful that arts like acting and these kinds of roles exist to show the world the joys and struggles other humans experience in this life. It’s very easy to live in our own little bubble and get caught up in our own problems. Many times we forget that everyone around us carries burdens of their own. It reminds people that they aren’t alone. Many of us know that we’re never alone if we have our faith, but it’s helpful knowing we are also not alone in our experiences.

So a big thank you to Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls, and Parenthood for entertaining us and for creating something special on television. Thanks for being a comfort to me and a source of laughter in trying times. Leaving the clovers in the picture seemed fitting (although actual shamrocks with three leaves would have made more sense to this next point, but just go with it). It’s like a little homage to Lauren’s Irish ancestry and a symbol of the trinity in my faith. Maybe they are also a subtle reminder to me of how lucky I was to stumble upon these series when I did. All people’s stories need to be told and I believe it helps us relate more to each other as God’s children. It’s a blessing to have art imitate life a little and have it help you a little to make your way past the pain.

I do believe though that life doesn’t always prepare you for every experience you encounter. Sometimes you learn from real people you encounter every day and sometimes you learn from people playing real people. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you just have to try your very best to be ready for anything, just like the latin phrase. So I’ll be working hard to apply In Omnia Paratus in my life thanks to the Gilmores.

Blessings to you,
Darlene xo

Keeping the Peace, Life

Minimalism and 10 Ways To Make Less Truly More

You’ve heard the saying Less is More before and I know it rings true for many. But in our society where there is a huge focus on more money, more stuff, and more of basically everything as a pathway to happiness, it may be difficult to think you can be happy with less. Of course, sometimes having more money can help you solve certain problems and give you more freedom to do so, but in itself, it definitely doesn’t make you happy.

In the last few months, I’ve been going through a bit of a transition. So many changes have been happening in my life and in our family’s life. It has really caused me to dig even deeper inside and reflect a lot on what is most important to me. Along this road of self-discovery I’ve been on, I knew I wanted to continue to strengthen my faith, get healthier, pursue my passions, and simplify my life. It sounds like a lot to accomplish, I’m sure, but it’s a process. Nothing ever happens overnight and there have been several experiences that have really enabled me to improve on each of these things. One of the hardest and what will possibly take a lifetime to accomplish is simplifying my life and that of my family. It’s a tall order for anyone, but minimalism has been something that I’ve really aspired to for a long time.

I recently watched the documentary Minimalism featuring Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who are known as the The Minimalists. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it. You can find it on Netflix, but here’s a preview. Some of the things that people did to simplify their lives may be a little unrealistic for me and our family of four, but so many things are truly attainable. In a way, I’ve been in the middle of this process for a while. The documentary was a game changer though and now I feel called more than ever to pursue this lifestyle because it lines up with all of the areas in my life where I want to grow (check out my intentions for the new year in January’s post). Minimalism is more than just letting go of a lot of stuff (and I look forward to continuing to purge), it’s mastering the art of letting go in general. As someone who deals with major anxiety, learning to let go is a huge part of gaining more peace. A room full of clutter can be just as debilitating as holding onto anger and fear. So living in minimalism can only help me in that process.

It’s a lesson we have always tried to teach our kids, but not always the easiest to implement. I think a little viewing of the film may be in order for them as well or maybe if we made a contest for which one of them can get rid of the most stuff, we’ll get a good response? Right now, mom and dad are winning! In all seriousness though, our kids are growing up in an age where children feel very entitled to things and are constantly on a mission to obtain more. It’s difficult to go against the grain. It feels like an uphill battle sometimes, but wouldn’t it be great if we all concentrated more on being kinder, giving more, having experiences, and spending more quality time with each other in order to bring us joy instead of buying more, taking more and being selfish? It’s our duty as parents to teach our kids that being good people is the only thing that will make them happy and that having more stuff will never fulfill them. As I say this, I’m thinking about our Lego collection that could fill a small museum, but remember, it’s a process. Truth be told, kids need a lot less to entertain them than we think and bonus, we get more space!

Most importantly for our family, today begins the Lenten Season, starting with Ash Wednesday. Our ashes are a reminder to us that from dust we came and to dust we shall return. That life here is temporary and that we should put our focus on eternal life, not of the things of this world. We also fast, but it’s not just that we don’t eat meat or eat only one large meal a day. We also try to do more good, strengthen our faith through prayer and reading the word, and fast from things that are not good for us or for others, things that can lead to sin. So for the next 40 days I will be giving up a few things that I’ve had way too much of and concentrating more on my faith. One of these things is facebook and while I’ll be working on my regular blog posts and sharing through instagram to The Peace To My Puzzle‘s facebook page, I will not be spending all day on an off that particular social media platform. I will be taking a much needed getaway from fb posting on my timeline or reading the news feed. For those who love to see what we’re up to, I’ll share a pic through IG now and then and you can always follow The Peace To My Puzzle on Instagram. I will still be conducting needed business, but it will not be the place to contact me if you want to reach me quickly. Lent is giving me a much needed push toward minimalism, by reminding me of what is important and helping me let go of my attachment to my device. So, if you want to give up something for Lent, consider meeting with people in person, calling them on the phone, or even texting them and sending smiling photos of yourself instead of losing so much valuable time on social media like I have.

If Lent isn’t something you celebrate and you’re looking for some ways to get started,
here are 10 easy ways to start living your own life of minimalism:

1. Write down all the things, feelings, situations and even people you need to let go. Then toss the paper into your fireplace (If you live in Florida, this might require some creativity. Keep it safe)

2. Get rid of stuff every day, even if it’s just one thing. It will add up and little by little you’ll be clutter free.

3. Set up 3 baskets for donations, recycling, and trash in your garage. Make a goal to fill them weekly or monthly.

4. Don’t overcommit yourself or your family. This can cause undue anxiety on you and them. Do your part and stay active with your family, without filling every single moment with “doing” something. We all need time for “being” too.

5. Collections are great, but keep them to a minimum. If you collect books, then consider doing away with something from your handbag collection. I’m not speaking from personal experience here at all…wink wink

6. Make simple meals that require only a few ingredients and eat out of bowls so that you can monitor portions. That way no one overeats or wastes food.

7. Get rid of any clothes or shoes you haven’t worn in a year. Chances are you’re not that big of a fan of those items. Wearing things multiple times in a month (so long as they’re fresh and clean) is not against the rules and really, why should you care what people think anyway? Stick with just your very favorites and the pieces that are interchangeable.

8. Think about what your family and friends might love that you have and gift it to them. I’m not talking about a regifting of the sweater you despise that you got from your mother-in-law at Christmas kind of situation here, but more of a “I read this book and think you would love it” kind of scenario. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?

9. Get back to the basics of family living. Shared meals together, bike rides, board games, coloring, gardening, or whatever floats your boat. Getting rid of cable was the best thing we ever did! When TV and devices are off it can really free you up to engage more with each other.

10. Cultivate your minimalism. Remember it is a process. If you work on it daily and help it grow, you will see how freeing it is and how much peace it will bring you.

The thought of not hanging onto anything is really so liberating. When you can understand that it’s all stuff or at least that it’s not important in the grand scheme of life, you will be able to live with a lot less. We all want and need the basics in life; Love, food, clothing, and shelter. But beyond that, there’s not much else we truly have to have to live a happy and peaceful life. There are so many that have way less than even that. Let’s stop being people who continuously consume and hold on to things and bad feelings and start being people who are constantly giving, letting go, and sharing light and love with all people.

There’s beauty in the simple things. Make sure to let go of what you’re holding on to, so you don’t miss it all.

Mountain Farm Museum at Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Peace & Blessings,

Darlene xo

Keeping the Peace, Life

New Year, New Look, But The Same Peace Full Purpose

Over the last year I’ve been making a lot of changes. Some of it has been about pursuing passions and some changes have been out of pure necessity. If you read my last post, you know that 2016 taught me some tough lessons. You can read more here about where I’m trying to grow in this new year. I’ve been really getting clear on what I want to do with The Peace To My Puzzle blog. I’ve always loved to write and blogging has been the perfect creative outlet for me. I’ve always had a dream to write books, so it’s a great way to exercise my writing muscles. I also thought it would be a great way to reach other people like me who may struggle with anxiety, who might be a caregiver of someone with autism, or who are just on a similar path toward peace. Let’s face it, we all have a lot more in common than we know and it helps when you can relate to someone or know that you’re not alone on your journey. This blog has so much potential to reach so many people and hopefully serve as a beam of light, so I’m working on my mission so that I can serve our readers in the best way I can!

In the spirit of getting clear on things, I’ve been working on giving the website a new look that’s in line with my style and what I will be doing on the blog. I’m excited to reveal it to you today! Thanks to my friend Lynsey Jones from Party Plan Divas, I have a whole new look that I love! She was the brains behind my update and has really been vital in helping to bring my vision to life. If you’re looking to update your website, she is so easy to work with and does a fantastic job. If you have a small business, especially if you’re in the direct sales industry, you can truly benefit from all of her great programs and services. Follow her on Facebook at Direct Sales Training – Party Plan Divas and check out all her offerings. I am also lucky to be surrounded by fellow creatives that contributed to the new look of my blog. Jessica Schwartz, a friend and calligrapher, created The Peace To My Puzzle’s new logo. She makes some beautiful calligraphy pieces for your home and if you have little ones, she has some fantastic teething toys she designs that are safe, non-toxic, and just beautiful! Make sure to follow her and Bug and Bear Design Co. on Instagram. Courtney Ortiz has been my friend and my family’s photographer for many years now and really knows how to capture the heart of our family. Courtney Studios is located in Hollywood and she’s my go-to-girl for headshots and family portraits. At the end of last year she took some of the most amazing and memorable pictures of our family. Every shot is a piece of art and it’s such a joy to see her work on the walls of our cozy little home. I look forward to doing individual features on each of these lovely ladies and business owners who have been a great support and have really inspired the new look and feel of my blog.

This is going to be a place to come for inspiration in so many different areas! First and foremost, I hope to give you lots of ideas for bringing more peace to your life. I’ve found that while for me, there is only one thing that truly brings me peace, there are many things that can add to that peace and help to ease my anxiety. I’ve been able to pursue some of my passions and devote more time to things that bring me joy and tranquility. I’ll share those things here, from my favorite crafts/DIY, recipes, and home decor to my favorite products that give me peace of mind. You’ll even be able to shop for some of my favorite things! Last, but most definitely not least, I will give you a window into our family’s life and that includes autism. It’s an important part of my purpose to advocate, create more awareness, and share our experiences with our autism community and the world. I hope that I can shed some light on some of the challenges we face, but also share the amazing joy we experience as a family!

Thanks for stopping by for our 2017 reveal! Come back to see all the upcoming changes to the blog and for your own little peace of inspiration!

Darlene xo

Keeping the Peace, Life

More Than Words

It’s hard to believe we are already half way through the first month of the new year. Normally I would already be feeling as though I’m behind in more ways than I can count and beating myself up about it ad nauseum. But it’s the 19th of January and I’m cool with this post being 18 days “late”. A new year holds so much promise, but there’s also that mountain of things you want to do, to be, and to get done that seems insurmountable and can potentially stress you out. So thanks to a somewhat difficult 2016, I’m taking it all in stride this year.

This past year was challenging for me in a lot of different ways. Of course, there was also so much to be grateful for (there always is). As a whole though, I felt pretty beat up by 2016. I still kinda do. I think it put a hurting on a lot of us. For me, a lot of things in my life that I thought I had a good handle on, felt like they were unraveling. There were harsh realities that set in about myself and even the people around me. A lot of things started changing and I struggled rolling with those changes.

I think the last year we experience inevitably shapes what kind of new year we want to have. While 2016 was a bit rough, it served its purpose. It called attention to the areas in my life where I need the most growing. It showed me that I needed to find the parts of me I had lost along the way. It shined a light on what I need to focus my attention on.

That’s where resolutions come in, which use to be practically a requirement. In theory they’re great, but if you’re me, the fear of possibly breaking them by January 2nd is enough for you to completely dodge them. If I can skip going down anxiety road, I will. So I had to take a different direction.

For the past few years I’ve been setting my intentions for the new year by choosing a word or words that inspires me. It gets harder and harder each year for me to narrow them down to just one word. Despite feeling like I’ve learned a lot over the last year, it seems like the more I learn, the more I still don’t know. It may seem silly to some, but it’s more than words that you are picking just because they may sound good. In my mind, I’m choosing an area where I need to grow more. Lately it seems like I’ve got A LOT of areas I need to work on, which means there’s potentially enough words to fill a novel!

To start with, I have a repeat word this year and it felt like it needed to be at the center of everything I do. I picked the word “grace” again because at the end of a year there are always tings to forgive people for, but no one more than yourself. I want to always try and remember to give myself grace and not expect myself to never make mistakes. Once we can forgive ourselves for our shortcomings in the past (and the mistakes we will make in the future), it’s easier to move forward and make an effort to grow wherever we need to.

Then there are the many, many growth areas. But hey, I tried to narrow them down. The other words I chose for 2017 are Minimalism, Fluidity, Rise, and Surrender. Minimalism is a big one because it is something that I want to apply to all parts of my life. Less is truly more. So there will be a lot of purging of things that are not necessary. Remember that rolling with it thing I’ve struggled with? Well that’s where Fluidity comes in to play. I’m learning to be more flexible and be open to change. If there’s one thing that life is, it’s unpredictable and you have to be able to go with it. The third word, Rise, is just a reminder that when people or situations disappoint me, I need to lift myself up, stay positive, and go high. Nothing good ever comes from lowering yourself to meet negativity or from letting a situation completely bring you down. The last word, Surrender, serves as a daily reminder to me that most things in this life are out of our control. Surrendering means letting my faith guide me and trusting completely in the fact that I’m never alone. It’s giving up those fears and embracing the peace that comes with letting go.

This year I have a lot of growing to do, but I’m excited about where that growth will take me. I’ve made peace with 2016 and now it’s time to continue to peace myself together in this new year. What are you doing to grow this year? Remember it’s not about the words themselves, but the lessons they help you learn about yourself, this world, and others. The lessons that will continue to shape you as a person. So choose whatever words inspire you to do and be better and don’t forget to give yourself grace if you don’t get it done in January. Every day is a good day for positive changes.

Peace Out 2016!

Darlene xo