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Call Me Irresponsible

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Given the stress and frenzy that visits many of us during the holidays, I thought I would share this post from my “Flower Bear’s Garden-Growing A Life,” blog,  from last December. It is as relevant now as it was then, maybe even more so. I will share a writing assignment at the bottom of the post, along with the link for the Flower Bear’s Garden blog site.

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If you were to ask any five people who have known me for a while what some of my best qualities are, I would bet that every one of them would have “responsible” somewhere on their list. I am the person who shows up early to church to make the coffee and set out the treats for coffee hour. I’m the person who volunteers to set up and tear down for meetings, programs, and parties. I am the first to volunteer for whatever the group is doing. In short, I see a need and I fill it.

This is certainly not anything to be ashamed of. On the contrary, it is commendable to be responsible in an age where so many people and institutions refuse to do so anymore if in fact they ever did. It is also a wonderful example to set for the younger generation … except …

…except when you let it take over your life. Somewhere along the line my sense of responsibility began to become obsessive. I started taking responsibility for everything without allowing anyone else to step up and do their share. My mother’s words, “if you want something done right, do it yourself,” became my mantra. And as everyone knows, the more you become Fallback Position #1, the more people will just assume that you’ll keep being the one to do it all, and that not only keeps them from taking responsibility themselves but eventually wears yourself pretty thin.

The other day I finally had enough. I totally refused to be responsible for anything. I stayed in my bathrobe all day. I left a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. I let the laundry go for another day (I live alone and figure as long as I have enough undies and outfits for four days of work and church on Sunday, I’m good). I put on Christmas music and dragged out the Christmas decorations. When people called me to see if I was available for this or that, I politely refused and told them that I was taking a Mental Health Day. I also advised them that I was confident in their talent and ability to do it on their own. I drank spiced tea and ate shortbread cookies and hugged a teddy bear. It was the best day ever.

Today I came across this post on my Facebook page. It was written by author and Angel Therapy guide Doreen Virtue:

1. Release the belief that you’re responsible for everyone and everything.
2. Let go of perfection.
3. Ask for help and accept help from others.
4. Focus on what’s important, and the rest of the day will take care of itself.

That sounds like a pretty good recipe for life to me. How about you?

And so it is.

 

Our writing assignment over on the Home Page this week is going to ask you to get really honest with yourself about the last time you gave yourself a break and let go of control. As always, have fun with it and remember to just keep writing.

P.S. Here is the link to “Flower Bear’s Garden-Growing A Life” which is now in its 6th year:

https://flowerbearsgarden.blogspotcom.

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The Right Gifts For The Right Reasons

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Dear Santa,

Hi, it’s me again. Sorry I haven’t written in a while. I have been working very hard trying to create the best, most authentic life that I can and sometimes it can be downright hard. Like now. I have to come clean with you and tell you some truths that I’m not especially proud of, but, really, who can lie to Santa Claus? So here we go.

Santa, I haven’t been a good girl all the time. I mean, I’ve been good most of the time, but there have been moments when I have not only strayed from my chosen path of kindness, compassion, and understanding, but plunged headfirst into the jungle of criticism, judgement, nastiness, and, yes, even moments of prejudice.  I know, doesn’t sound like me, does it? I do my very best but whenever I see someone being inconsiderate, or mean, or harmful – especially if it involves kids or animals – I just want to “take them out behind the barn” as my Dad used to say. I want to give them a dose of their own medicine so they can feel what they are inflicting on others. But, I know deep down inside that responding with the same actions that fueled my outrage in the first place won’t help the situation. If anything, it will only inflame it. So this year I am asking for things that can’t be wrapped in a box with a pretty bow, or put in my stocking. This year I am asking for the following:

  1. I am asking for more understanding, especially towards the people I disagree with, or who I feel are harming others. I have never walked in their shoes, and they have never walked in mine. Perhaps their upbringing was filled with things like poverty, war, discrimination, or hatred. Perhaps they have been fed lies about people like me just as I have been fed lies about people like them. No wonder we don’t understand each other. Help me to look beyond the cover of the book and read what’s inside before I condemn them.
  2. I would also like to have more courage to walk my talk. Sure, I talk a good game when I’m spouting about what others should be doing, but am I being totally honest with myself about how I’m acting? Am I behaving in ways I would want my grandchildren to act? Am I just all talk and no action? Help me to take a thorough inventory of my own actions and commitments before I point a finger at what others are or aren’t doing to help.
  3. Finally, I would like to learn how to use my gifts to help what’s going on in the world. There is so much hatred and division. Mother Theresa often said that she would never attend an anti-war march, but she would attend a pro-peace march (I’m paraphrasing). Show me how to take my experience and talents to advance the causes for good, peace, harmony, prosperity and joy instead of rants on social media condemning the opposite.

So there you have it, Santa. These are the things I want for Christmas this year. I don’t need any of the other stuff, especially all those Christmas cookies and the chocolate Santas … although I would still like some fruitcake. I seem to be the only one in my family who loves fruitcake! And if you could possibly manage it, could you put a little package of all the things I’ve asked for in everyone else’s stocking as well? Who knows? Maybe we can start a new tradition … filling everyone’s stockings with the things of love.

Yours forever and ever (no matter how old I get),

Barb xxxx

This week over on the Home Page, I bet you can already figure out what your assignment is going to be (I only have the smartest students, after all). As always, have fun with it and remember to just keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

Reclaiming Christmas

 

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Over the past few years I have been writing about creating our authentic lives. My goal has always been to create a life that I can claim as my own, with no pressure to adhere to how the culture tells me a woman “my age” should live, or what I should buy, or who I should support, or a dozen other beliefs and limitations. I want my life to be in alignment with my own likes, dislikes, dreams and goals. To me, authentic means real, and I have reached a point where, among all the other days of the year, the Christmas season is about as unreal as it gets.

Over the last decade or so, families have been hard pressed to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with family and friends without being bombarded by Black Friday commercials screaming at them from the TV and internet. Now retailers don’t even wait until the day after Thanksgiving. Stores began opening on Thanksgiving Day itself and the poor employees are pulled from their Thanksgiving meals to go to work on what had been a day for family and friends to be together. Then, of course, there is Cyber Monday. To sum it all up, Christmas is no longer Christmas. It is a retail phenomena, the biggest push of the year to get you to feel even more badly about yourself than you do the rest of the year if you don’t buy the biggest, the best, and the most presents for your loved ones.

Last year I made a vow that I was going to reclaim Christmas. I wanted a Christmas that I was proud to call my own, that reflected my values, and that brought back the love and magic of the season. I started with the tree. I got rid of the old Charlie Brown-looking tree with all the over-sized ornaments and flashy lights, and traded it for a small woodland-looking tree, one that was flocked with white and looked just like something you might come upon if you were hiking in the woods on a snowy evening (unfortunately, I can’t have a live tree because my daughter is allergic to fresh-cut trees). On its branches I hung only small, handmade ornaments, ones made by my kids, their kids, or ones I picked up at craft fairs and church bazaars, like the little crocheted stars and tiny felt stockings. I hung no lights on this tree. I put a small table lamp close enough to it to illuminate it as the moon might, coming up and over the treetops. On top of this tree, I placed a teddy bear angel.

Gifts last year were either homemade or purchased locally at small shops and craft fairs. There was no Black Friday mad rush, or hours spent on the Internet to order gifts that were overpriced and would be shipped hundreds of miles using up precious fuel. The only energy I needed to provide presents were my two hands working a crochet hook or knitting needles, or my two feet walking me to a local shop. My time, spent lavishly and without grumbling, was my currency. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the presents I gave were oohed and ahhed over just as much as if they had cost a fortune. There was love in every stitch and every purchase.

This year my plan is to repeat last year’s vow, perhaps looking for ways to make Christmas even more me. I’m handwriting cards again, something I haven’t done in a while. I’m hunting secondhand shops for those hidden treasures that others no longer have a need for, like a beautiful, hand-painted plate, or a sweet Santa (I found an Irish Santa last year that my daughter loved). I’ve got my hooks and needles ready, my pattern books stacked next to my chair, and my virtual fireplace crackling on the TV screen. On December 1st, and not a day before, I will put up my tree and decorate my little home. Cozy, loving, simple, authentic … me.

I hope that you take a moment to ask yourself what kind of holiday season you really want, and decide to reclaim it for your own. There is not only authenticity in doing so, but a feeling that you have given yourself a gift as well.

This week over on the Home Page, your assignment is going to ask you to get real about your feelings about the holiday season. Be bold, be honest, and remember to just keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

Words Of Thanks

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No Man Is An Island 

No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man’s joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own.

We need one another,
So I will defend,
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend.

By Joan Baez

Tomorrow we come together, around tables in homes, in church basements, and schools, to give thanks for the bounty of this earth and in our lives. Traditionally we take this time to think about what we are grateful for in the year that is coming to a close. Today I would like to express my thanks for the people in my life, my family, friends, loved ones, and everyone whose lives touched mine in some way. Being a lover of words, I would like to use specially chosen ones to express what I am feeling … words of thanks.

  • Thank you for loving me even when I was not acting very loveable, either to myself or others.
  • Thank you for supporting my dreams even when they sounded silly or downright crazy.
  • Thank you for respecting my choices, especially my choice to go vegan, even if you didn’t agree and it meant you always had to make a special meal just for me.
  • Thank you for championing my creative endeavors, sharing them with others and singing my praise.
  • Thank you for taking care of  me when this old body of mine decides to remind me how old I really am and I’m too proud and stubborn to ask for help.
  • Thank you for giving me the honor and privilege of being your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.
  • Thank you to my fans and readers for sticking with me these last 6 years. You are the reason I pick up a pen every day.

Tomorrow as you come together to give thanks for your meal, take some time to share some words of thanks to the folks sitting around the table with you, and with those far away who could not be there in person but who are with you in spirit. No man, or woman, is an island. We can’t do this thing called “living” all by ourselves.

May you all have a beautiful, blessed Thanksgiving.

P.S. There won’t be a writing assignment this week. This is my Thanksgiving gift to you for following this blog and having the courage to create your own authentic life. Instead, take some time to come up with your own “words of thanks” for the people in your life. Peace and blessings.

 

I Remember …

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With the holiday season approaching, it is only natural to find our thoughts wandering back to memories of past holidays, of wonderful smells coming from the kitchen, decorating the house, and the childish excitement of secrets and gifts. Often these memories, and the feelings we attach to them, are what keep us following family holiday traditions. For others, the memories are not so wonderful, yet they still have the power to guide our actions. Perhaps holiday time meant family dramas and confrontations, or a blatant reminder of lack and the inability to celebrate the way other kids did. Whatever the memories, we have a choice in how we frame those memories and what we learn from them.

There is a technique I have used in the past called reframing. Using this technique, we take an honest look at the memory and ask ourselves these questions:

. Is this what actually happened, or is it my perception of what happened?

. Just because this is what happened in the past, does it have to be what happens now?

. What can I learn from this memory?

. How can I take this and make new memories going forward?

Once we recognize that we have the power to create new and loving memories, the sky is the limit. We can create holiday experiences that are filled with love, generosity, kindness and blessings. Our lives are not written in stone. Always remember that we are the authors of our own stories, and we get to write a happy one, the kind that makes for beautiful memories.

Our writing assignment this week over on the Home Page is going to ask us to take a walk down memory lane and do a little investigating. As always, have fun with this and remember to just keep writing.

Peace and blessings!

Tell Me A Story

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“I believe in parables. I navigate life using stories where I find them, and I hold tight to the ones that tell me new kinds of truth.”

Barbara Kingsolver, “Small Wonders”

Everybody has a story. Actually, we have lots of stories. We have stories of triumph, stories of failure, stories of dreams realized and dreams dashed. We have stories of our own knights in shining armor, and stories about how those knights fell off their white horses big time. We have stories that illustrate a point, that plant seeds of imagination, and that move people to action. Stories are the food of life.

People have been using stories as teaching tools since the beginning of time. Before the written word was invented, elders told stories to the next generation about their history, their exploits, and parables that taught them about right from wrong. To this day, we use stories to drive home our point of view or give examples of what does or doesn’t work. Stories are the seeds of dreams to come.

Some years ago while working in an office setting, as part of a team building exercise, we were each asked to write down what we liked best about each of our co-workers. My list contained some very nice comments about my being kind and caring, and having a good sense of humor, but most of them all commented on the fact that I was a storyteller:

Barb has a story to illustrate everything. She is a walking wisdom keeper. I learn something new every day from her. 

We never know how far our ripple goes out into the world. Yes, I was the oldest one working in that particular office so, yes, I had a lot more “real world” experience than most of the younger women there (and being a writer at heart, I could never miss a chance to test my storytelling skills). However, it wasn’t just about telling a story as much as how I told the story … was I the victim or the victorious heroine?

We are the authors of our own stories. We can choose to write an adventure story or a horror story. We can be the villain or the hero. We can choose to tell the truth, and the lessons we learned from that – good or bad – or we can tell a fairy tale. Personally, I would rather be authentic and honest when I tell a story even if it doesn’t put me in the best light. Hey, we’re all human, we all make choices we wish we hadn’t. The great thing about telling our stories is that we all learn something for the next time we are faced with that particular type of challenge. We are all still writing our stories, and we get to choose our “happily ever after” endings.

So, I ask you now, what kind of storyteller are you, and what kind of ending are your planning to write?

Our assignment for this week over on the Home Page is going to ask you to put on your storyteller hat and tell a story that only you can tell. As always, have fun with this and remember to just keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

Thank You, Mr. Thoreau

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Dear Henry David Thoreau,

I apologize for not writing this letter to you sooner. You are, and have been for the better part of my adult life, my hero. That I have not written and properly thanked you before this is mostly due to the fact that I took your advice to heart to: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, and live the life that you have imagined.” I can honestly report that, for most of the last 25 years, I have been doing just that.

Mr. Thoreau (may I call you “Henry David?” It’s what I call you in my mind when I think about you), could you even have imagined the impact you’ve had on entire generations when you chose to go off into the woods and live deliberately? I can only speak for my own generation, the so-called Baby Boomers, when I say that countless thousands of us, if not more, took your words to heart and walked away from the rat race, the quest for money and power, the materialism that ruled our world, and found our very own Walden Pond, if not in actuality, certainly in spirit. At the age of 42, what the business world would call my “peak earning years,” I packed up my car and drove to the country in search of myself. While I ended up on the shores of a river rather than a pond, the experiences and benefits were no less valuable. I learned more about what is important in life, and how to live as an authentic human being, while watching the seasons change, the beavers busy building, the geese sweeping across the sky, and the clouds sweeping across the land right in front of me, than I ever could have stuck in a cubicle surrounded by people who also: “lived lives of quiet desperation.” In fact, I had a page of your inspired quotes hanging right next to my writing desk that reminded me every day :

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

Things do not change. We change.

Not all who wander are lost. 

How vain it is to sit and write when you have not stood up to live. 

So I stood up. I lived my life my way. It was not always popular with those close to me, and there were certainly moments when I doubted myself, or felt badly for what I thought of as letting others down, but in the end, I would not have traded these years for all the jewels in the world, or a lifetime of wealth and acclaim.

As you read this, wherever you are now (I picture you on the banks of your own Heavenly Walden, in your sweet little cabin), know that your words are still being read, and taken to heart, and inspiring countless young lives to “live the dreams that they imagine.” Could you ever have imagined in your own wildest dreams that your words would live in the hearts and minds of folks forever? That, my dear Henry David, is the work of a true hero. Thank you.

Forever in gratitude,

Barb Parcells

*This week over on the Home Page our writing assignment is going to ask you to sit down and think about the heroes in your own lives. You may find that a thank you note is way overdue. As always, have fun with it and remember to just keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

What You See Is What You Get

 

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Creating the authentic life we want starts from the inside out, but if the life we are portraying to the world does not match who we really are, then our lives are not only far from authentic, but we are not living in our truth either. Let me give you an example.

If you have followed either of my blogs or read any of my books you know that I am all about yoga, exercise, long walks, herbal remedies vs pills, and healthy, plant-based eating. One day over the summer I ran into someone at the store that I had not seen for years. We recognized each other at once and a big smile crossed my friend’s face until her eyes traveled to the cane I was leaning on as I walked over to her. She looked from the cane, to my face, and said, “What happened? I thought you had healed from that fall and were back to doing yoga and stuff?” She said that she had been following my blogs all along and knew that I had fractured my left hip four years ago where three pins are now holding things together, but that because I had already been working on myself for some years prior to the accident, I had healed quickly and was even back to doing some gentile yoga. There was something in her voice that seemed to be asking me a different question than the one she said out loud: “Was what you wrote in your blogs about how healthy you are true, or was it just something to impress people?” After we parted company and went on our separate ways, I started asking myself the same question: “Had I been truthful about how I presented myself to the public, to my readers, or was I hiding behind my social media  avatar and some clever words?” 

We have become a nation of people who live vicariously through the lives of others. One has only to spend a few minutes on Facebook to see that everyone else is living a glorious, prosperous, and exciting life. Not wanting to be left out, we start posting our own fictional accounts of our lives so as not to be thought of as “poor, pitiful me.” It doesn’t matter how much work we’ve done on ourselves, from inner work to outer work, instead of being proud of our accomplishments, we look to see if we’ve managed to measure up yet to the rest of the world … as presented by others who are doing the same thing. Regardless of how much we put into building the authentic lives we want, if we are not living in integrity from the inside out and vice versa, we might as well be writing fairy tales.

What I told my friend that day was that, yes, I had made great progress since my accident and, yes, I was doing very well for a time. However, I only made the decision to take charge of my health at the age of 52. Prior to that, I had led a very sedentary life, was dangerously overweight, smoked like a chimney, and had the eating habits of an 18-year-old. While I managed to rid myself of all those bad habits and adopted a healthier lifestyle, 52 years of abuse were not going to disappear overnight, nor was the wear and tear already done to my body. My inner health was great: blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, bone density, etc., were more than good, according to my doctor. What wasn’t great were my joints which, between the extra weight I carried for so long and the natural wearing down that comes with age, were starting to give out. I was probably going to be looking at repairs or replacements some time in the future. I told her I thought of my body as a house; the inner workings of the house, like the electrical, plumbing and furnace were all working great, but the foundation was crumbling and needed to be shored up!

We all have moments in our lives when we wish we were someone else, or when we have what we perceive as failures that we prefer not to share with the world for fear of being seen as weak or not good enough. The truth is that when we are living in authenticity and integrity, what you see is what you get. We can love and accept ourselves for who and where we are in life, or we can continue to post fictional selfies of fictional selves. I am still proud of the work that I’ve done even though it took me 52 years to get the message. A few new parts aren’t going to change that.

This week over on the Home Page, our writing assignment is going to challenge you to come clean about how you present yourself to the world. Getting real takes courage, and this is your chance to be bold! As always, have fun with this and remember to just keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

Finding True North

 

 

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One Sunday afternoon when I was a child, we were visiting some family friends who had a son in the Boy Scouts. His dad was a Scout leader and was demonstrating how to use a compass. He told me: “All you have to do is find true north and you’ll always find your way home.”

I spent the first 42 years of my life looking for my “true north.” I was born and raised in the Big Apple, the most exciting place on earth … New York City! Frank Sinatra wasn’t wrong when he said that this city was open 24 hours a day. Who wouldn’t want to grow up surrounded by all that excitement and entertainment, by museums, art galleries, The Met, Broadway and more. Well, believe it or not, I didn’t. Just like folks who swear they were born into the wrong families, I was certain that I had been born in the wrong place. Sure, I loved the arts and all that other stuff, but I would have given it up in a heartbeat for living in a small town where everyone knew your name, and your family, and you cheered the high school football team on a Friday night, and everyone came out for Homecoming Weekend, and when you said “home,” everyone knew what you meant. Somehow the writer in me was released when we visited relatives in the country in the summer time and I could roam the fields with my cousins. Then in high school, and again in college, I read “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, and the dye was cast (actually, I think that book is responsible for more soul-searching journeys than any book ever written). So I made myself a promise that I would keep searching for my true north if it took me forever.

When I did find it, as is usually the case, it was seemingly by accident. I was traveling up from Pennsylvania where I was living at the time to visit my sister who lived on a farm in Upstate New York. Also on my agenda for that weekend was finding a store I had seen advertised in a teddy bear collectors magazine that had one-of-a-kind handmade bears for sale. When I asked my sister if she had ever heard of the town where the store was located, she replied with what everyone in her neck of the woods always said when asked for directions: “Oh, that’s just 10 minutes down the road.” So one hot, August afternoon in 1991 I got in my car and headed north in search of teddy bears and, unknown to me, my forever home.

Oddly enough, my sister was absolutely right. The store was really just 10 minutes down the road. In addition to teddy bears, the store also sold crafts and decor made by local folks. It was Americana at its best. I zeroed in on a bear with dark, curly fur and a lacy crocheted collar around its neck. With a bright red ribbon to finish her adornments, she was aptly named “Holly,” for she was a Christmas bear. It was love at first sight. Our eyes met and we both knew that there was no going back … she was mine.

As we left the store we realized that the temperature had gone up while we were inside. “I know a great place for ice cream,” my sister said. It’s just … you guessed it …10 minutes down the road.”  So my sister, Holly and I piled back in the car and road some of the most beautiful back roads I had ever seen on our way to the next town over. The road led us into a sleepy little town on the banks of a sleepy little river,  along a road where the trees formed a cool canopy over the houses, and people sat on their front porches with ice tea and passed the time of day. One house with a spectacular view of the river caught my attention. For some reason, and quite without even thinking about it, I said to my sister, “some day I’m going to live in that house.” Seven months later I did. Actually, it was a two-family home and I moved into the upstairs apartment where the spectacular view of the river was joined by an even lovelier view of the hills beyond.

Why am I telling you all this? Because creating an authentic life can’t happen if the idea of home doesn’t match up with the reality of where you are now. Home is your safe haven, your port in the storm. It’s your soft place to land. It is where you can be who you are. It is where you can laugh, cry, rant, rave, jump for joy, or hold your very own pep-rally-for-one. Home is how you feel inside about who you are and about what really matters. It’s the place where, when you’re there, you soul is at peace.

I don’t live in that idyllic little town any more. Circumstances has forced me to move to a slightly larger town not far away but closer to people and the services that I require. I have, however, found a perfect little apartment with another spectacular view, and when I walk in the door, my soul is at peace. Home isn’t what’s outside, it’s what’s inside.

This week over on the Home Page our writing assignment is going to be about where you are on the inside as well as on the outside, and what makes your soul smile. As always, have fun with it and remember to just keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

The Sound Of Our Own Voice

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It happens to all of us sooner or later. One day something will come out of our mouths and it hits us: “Oh my goodness! I sound just like my mother!” Personally, as the mother of two beautiful, adult women, I would silently give my own mother in heaven a virtual high-five when I heard them not only quote me, but quote her as well!

While I certainly celebrate the idea that, yes, our kids were actually listening to us all of these years, there comes a time when we all have to find our own voice as we grow into adulthood. Sadly, as I watch my country continue to be torn apart by voices of separation, hatred, divisiveness and anger, my prayer every day is that people decide to silence those voices which, if they would just look back at their own lives, don’t really even belong to them. They belong to their parents, their peers, their teachers, their culture. With all of those voices competing to be heard, very often our own, authentic voices are drowned out. Pretty soon we don’t even know what our own voice sounds like.

I can remember, when I was starting out as a young writer, reading over and over in the rejections letters that I received for work I submitted, that I needed to find my own voice and write from it. At the time I was trying to emulate the voices and styles of the writers I admired instead of letting the uniqueness and authenticity of my own voice ring out on the page. It has taken me many years (and enough rejection letters to paper an entire room), to not only find, but recognize my own authentic voice in every area of my life, from writing, to politics, to my own spirituality, and especially when I witness injustices and intolerable situations.

It takes courage, my friends, to separate yourself from the crowd and decide that you will no longer let the “herd mentality” speak for you. The first time that you raise your hand and say, “No, I can’t agree with this, ” or, “No, I can’t and won’t let this continue,” you will recognize that voice as your very own. Nothing feels more like freedom than when you own your voice and the words that come out of it.

This week on the Home Page our writing assignment will ask you to find one idea or subject where you finally broke away from the herd and found your own voice. We can’t build an authentic life if we don’t first embrace our authentic voice. Go for it, folks, and remember to always, always, just keep writing.

Peace and blessings.