Why take Total Control? A stronger core, pelvic floor and more satisfying sex!

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” – Zen proverb, Theosophists’ thought

When I see the commercials on TV for Always Discreet, Poise and Depend, I feel sad people think they have to accept – or live with – a loss of bladder control. You shouldn’t have to put on absorbent underwear to dance at your daughter’s wedding or laugh at lunch with your friends.

Do you want to keep spending your money on disposable pads or invest in a program that offers preventative benefits, as well as the tools to make lasting changes that have been proven to reduce or alleviate incontinence symptoms?

It’s time to stop the madness and stop suffering in silence!

Loss of bladder control is not something women talk about openly among close friends, with their sisters or moms, or even with their doctors. Women cope an average of six or more years with symptoms before seeking care, according to research by Women’s Health Foundation in Chicago.

Even worse, many are wearing menstrual pads to hide leaks, which can lead to odor, infection and irritated skin.
Ladies, this is no way to live!

There is help in West Michigan – a natural way that does require effort but is an alternative to medication or surgery or done in combination with clinical treatments. Total Control is an evidence-based exercise and education program offered exclusively in this area through Mercy Health Bladder Clinic.

Research shows integrating Total Control exercises into a workout regimen has a trifecta effect: Better bladder control, a stronger core and more satisfying sex.

Few fitness programs focus on pelvic floor conditioning, yet it’s much more important than the size of your biceps when it comes to quality of life. And there are many reasons to take Total Control beyond a desire to stay out of diapers. Maybe you want to be able to pick up your toddler without leaking, sit through a movie or run into your 50s without wearing a pessary.

Developed and tested by experts in UroGynecology, physical therapy and fitness, Total Control has been proven in research and clinical studies to improve incontinence symptoms; in some cases, it even totally alleviated the “laugh, cough, sneeze” leaking known as stress incontinence and the “gotta go, gotta go” leaking related to urgency and/or frequency.

It’s effective for women of all ages – from high schoolers to seniors – and fitness levels and offers numerous benefits:
• Helps reduce trips to the bathroom, leaking and nighttime urination
• A flatter tummy and increased core strength
• Better posture, alignment and back mobility
• Improved sexual function and stronger orgasms
• Better body awareness and connection to feminine energy

So what exactly do we do in class?

We start with an educational topic each week so women have a better understanding of their female anatomy and pelvic floor and how it impacts bladder control. We also cover behavioral and lifestyle changes that can reduce trips to the bathroom. Many foods and drinks are bladder irritants; what you eat and drink does matter.

The class also includes guided imagery to help participants make the mind-muscle connection and encourage correct muscle activation. You will learn how to isolate, engage and strengthen some of the deepest muscles in your core, back and pelvic floor, which all work together for optimal bladder and organ functioning.

We don’t break a sweat, but the class offers an energizing and effective total body workout. Each week, we add and incorporate exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor and yoga and Pilates-inspired moves to stabilize and lengthen your core, lower spine and pelvis. We do pelvic floor contractions in a variety of positions – supine, side lying and standing. We plank. We do bridges, static wall sits, gentle stretches and resistance-band arm toners. We work on balance and our gluteus medius to help stabilize the lower back and prevent falls.

As the saying goes, “Use it or lose it.” The pelvic floor muscles need exercised and strengthened like any other muscle, especially after traumatic events such as childbirth and surgery. Some women have reduced sensation due to surgery and other complications, but I honestly feel my pelvic floor squeezing and lifting. I also leave class feeling like my pelvic floor is more taut and lifted.

By strengthening muscles that support the pelvic floor and making a few painless lifestyle changes, like reducing caffeine and “just in case peeing,” women can minimize leaking and regain a sense of independence and self-esteem – not to mention feel feminine and sexy again.

Exercising pelvic floor muscles regularly helps improve sensitivity and blood flow to the vagina – meaning more powerful orgasms and a healthier, happier sex life. What woman doesn’t want that? There are many benefits to regular, orgasmic sex. It can have explosive benefits on your hormones, metabolism, stress levels and sleep. And you might as well enjoy it.

My hope is that women leave feeling more tuned in to their bodies and find ways to take the information and exercises and incorporate them into their daily lives. Maybe they stand a little taller, wait a little longer to go to the bathroom, or feel like their pants fit better. Or they find themselves doing Kegels while washing the dishes or engaging their core during a walk.

It’s also comforting to commiserate, and share successes and setbacks, in a confidential, friendly, noncompetitive setting. We laugh. We talk. We Kegel against gravity in child’s pose.

The program is offered at select sites nationwide. Check the Total Control Licensed Facilities for availability in your area.

West Michigan women – I hope to see YOU in class!

Beat the winter blahs and party in your parka

“People don’t notice when it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.” – Anton Chekhov

One of my goals for 2015 is to be more positive, especially about where I live.

It’s no secret I’m open to relocating, preferably to a warmer, sunnier locale with a better job market and friendlier people, but my significant other appreciates having steady work and the seasonality of Michigan, including boating in summer and snowmobiling in winter. I don’t mind the boating, or the beach, and I keep reminding myself I moved here willingly. So I’ve been left to build a freelance writing career as an unsuccessful job search continues (despite news reports Michigan’s economy is once again booming).

A couple of successful travel writers said to start promoting hot spots and hidden gems in my own backyard. Maybe this will make me feel better – to focus on the attractions that draw tourists to vacation – and will end up as a spinoff of the column I used to write for the Muskegon Chronicle highlighting cool happenings in the community. Who knows if it will be regular (paid writing comes before pleasure writing), or what I’ll cover? Maybe event promos, exhibits, concerts, festivals, dining deals, new breweries, reflections on a walk in the woods or a day on the boat. I’m open to suggestions.

Since it’s winter, it seems smart to start with a truly unique winter attraction in West Michigan, actually in the entire Mitten – Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. It includes one of only four luge tracks in the nation. Yes, the entire NATION, where five time Olympian and two-time Olympic medalist Mark Grimmette learned to luge as a youngster.

The Winter Sports Complex will celebrate its 30th anniversary and Michigan’s 178th birthday in style with a Party in Your Parka celebration all day Saturday. Admission is free to enter the complex, but rental and activity fees apply. You’ll also need a state park sticker to park. The all-day event features plenty of winter sports, family activities, live music, and Michigan art vendors, food, beer and wine and local craft favorites. There will even be mind-melting LED hoop light shows. Muskegon didn’t get its Beer Tent Capital title without perfecting the art of the beer tent and hosting them in every season!

Muskegon has another claim to fame – the invention of the Snurfer. In honor of this early take on the snowboard, the Snurfer Classic is set for 1 p.m. down the road at the Block House. The Luge Lounge opens at 6 p.m. and will host a dance party 7-11 p.m. featuring DJ Jef Leppard, concessions and live entertainment. My good friend and former Chronicle co-worker Kendra Stanley Mills will be shooting photos, so make sure you show off your best parkas, smiles and dance moves.

If you’re a bit of a thrill seeker, the luge is actually a fun thing to do in the winter. It’s amazing to me how many people have lived here their whole lives and never tried it. Initially a little nervous, I figured if a 10-year-old kid can do it surely I can.

The fine folks who run the complex put on an annual media luge race, complete with medals and free food and beer, and I participated a couple of winters when I worked at the paper. The complex also holds a Tuesday night luge league, and I competed on a Jaycees luge team in 2009. The one stipulation is you need health insurance. And people travel from throughout the Midwest to try it, so it’s smart to call and schedule a sliding time. You receive a short lesson before they send you down the luge. Wear warm, old clothes because they can get ripped if they catch the edge. Keep you hands and feet in. And prepare for a cardio workout as you climb up the stairs with luge sled in hand.

As much as I love to complain about the cloudy weather and lake effect snow in winter, the Winter Sports Complex always proves to be a good time. If you gear up and get out there, it’s a great way to get some exercise, fresh air and enjoy some winter sports.

Don’t we look like we’re having fun!

If you can’t make it Saturday, the property is off Scenic Drive in Muskegon State Park and stays open through March, weather permitting.

The 1,200-acre complex also features the longest lighted cross-country trail system in the Midwest and more than 15 kilometers of groomed trails. The terrain is mostly flat with a few challenging options for the advanced skier. The trails wind through the woods, so the trees and scenery are beautiful after a fresh snowfall.

There are three separate trail systems for snowshoeing or snow hiking that serve all skill levels and allow you to explore a variety of Muskegon State Park’s natural features, including the Lake Michigan Loop and Lost Lake Trails with more aggressive terrain and spectacular views.

The facility also added an adaptive luge track to accommodate people with disabilities, which is open on weekends during the summer months. It’s the only accessible wheeled luge track in North America. Yes, I’ve been fortunate to do it as well.

The complex encourages family fun with hockey rinks, a family skating rink, a quarter-mile ice skating trail, a cozy lodge and even a yurt for overnight outings. The lodge includes equipment rentals, concessions, restrooms and a lounging area that surrounds an indoor fireplace and offers views of the skating rinks.

We were actually planning to visit last weekend and check out the ice skating trail through the woods, but the weather warmed up to the point they had to close the rinks.

That’s the curse and blessing of the complex. Its success each season truly hinges on the weather. Mother Nature is the refrigeration system. So employees – and winter enthusiasts – pray to the snow Gods for temps that stay below freezing and snowy weather for a steady three months. The Polar Vortex obliged last winter, bringing extreme cold and record-setting snowfall, which helped the complex set its own records for attendance and luge runs.

I can vouch organizers know how to throw a good party! So get out and enjoy winter before it’s gone! Feel your heart skip a beat at the splendor and beauty of a fresh snowfall.

Not just an “old lady” problem: 1 in 4 women over 18 experience episodes of bladder leakage

“Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously.” ― Og Mandino

In my early teens, two of my best friends gave me the nickname PB2.

It was an inside joke, one we laughed off, but it also carried a lot of shame and embarrassment.

Yes, back before cell phones, home computers and the Internet, we found enjoyment playing in a box in my friend’s garage one weekend. I remember it was a dryer or washer box. Sure, we were around 13, but we had a ball trying to fit three people in it.

So much so I got to laughing and peed my pants. Not just once – but TWICE! Hence the name PB2, short for pee in the box twice.

I remember another incident around the same age. I was playing hide and seek at another friend’s house. Sure enough, once again I started laughing and lost control of my bladder outside in the dark.

I’m not sure why these two incidents stand out in my mind, other than I was at that awkward age of puberty, trying
to fit in and make new friends after experiencing relentless bullying in grade school. Luckily, my friends didn’t make fun of me beyond some innocent teasing.

I don’t remember if I had other “accidents” growing up. Maybe I blocked them from memory. I don’t recall wetting the bed in elementary or at some unusual age. Looking back, I do feel like my bladder has always had control of my life. I’ve always worried about laughing too hard and losing control, about how long I could hold it on a car trip or being stuck without access to a bathroom.

Even on a study abroad trip to London a few years ago, I was the oldest student – in my mid-30s – and the one always asking if we should go to the bathroom, going “just in case” even when I really didn’t need to (a bad habit for your bladder), or worrying I would be caught on a field trip and have to hold it until it hurt.

My mom said the doctor pushed and pushed on her stomach during labor, pretty much forcing me to come out. She doesn’t know if that trauma maybe injured my pelvic organs and bladder. I also had two hernias as a toddler – and two operations. One was repaired with mesh, and I have to wonder if maybe my internal organs didn’t get properly put back into place (and why I believe I’ve never had a flat stomach), which puts pressure on my bladder.

There are a several organs that sit in a tiny space in the pelvis – bladder, uterus and rectum – and the pelvic floor supports them. There also are three openings in the pelvic floor – the urethra, vagina and anus. I’ll discuss the pelvic floor and organs more in-depth in the future.

I’m not writing this to embarrass myself further, but to say that I’ve been there. I understand the worry and insecurity that comes with urge incontinence, that “gotta go, gotta go” feeling, and stress incontinence, leakage when you laugh, cough or sneeze. I’ve experienced both.

And it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one. As a Mercy Health Bladder Clinic Total Control instructor, I now realize this is a major health issue for women.

Much more than an “old lady” problem, loss of bladder control is an embarrassing, depressing and isolating condition that affects women of all ages. Yes, I’m talking to you with teenage daughters who play high-impact sports, new moms, women going through menopause, hardcore athletes and running fanatics.

Many factors can weaken a woman’s pelvic muscles, including childbirth, menopause, pelvic surgery or prolapse, diabetes, obesity, neurological conditions, race, voiding habits and nutrition. Repetitive pounding and pressure on the pelvic floor, say from running or “bearing down” while trying to poo, isn’t good. Gravity isn’t our friend, either.

More than 65 million Americans experience bladder leakage. And nearly half are under 50. And those stats come from a Depend ad.

Here are a few other staggering facts from Women’s Health Foundation (and these are from nearly a decade ago):

• 1 in 4 women over age 18 experience episodes of urinary incontinence
• 1 in 3 new moms experience chronic loss of bladder control sixth months after childbirth
• 30-50% of childbearing women over age 40 develop a chronic, out-of-control bladder
• 1 in 4 childbearing women report symptoms of fecal incontinence by age 40
• 1 in 5 women who participate in recreational sports like running and soccer change or drop their sport
due to urinary incontinence or leaking
• Nearly 20 percent of women over age 75 experience daily incontinence
• 50 percent of nursing home residents have urinary incontinence and/or fecal incontinence
• Urinary incontinence ranks second and fecal incontinence third for nursing home admission
• $26.3 billion in total healthcare costs, greater than uterine, ovarian, cervical and breast cancers combined
• $1.3 billion spent in the US for adult absorbent products

And that’s why I love the Total Control program. It empowers women through exercises and education to improve their bladder health rather than accept a life of wearing pads. It’s a great preventative program for women of all ages and offers a natural alternative to try before medication and surgery, or as a companion program to medical treatments and recovery following vaginal delivery and pelvic surgery.

Loss of bladder control is NOT a natural part of aging. And the good news is 80 percent of women with urinary incontinence can reduce or totally alleviate their symptoms to regain a sense of independence and improve quality of life.

Plight with pelvic pain leads to journey of self-discovery, teaching Total Control

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

While life has dealt me my fair share of trials and tribulations the last few years, and I no longer believe everything happens for a reason, I suppose there is a bright side. The last three years involved a series of events that led me down a path of learning more about myself, my body, my femininity, and my own bladder woes.

I’ve become much more knowledgeable about nutrition and a passionate proponent for natural health alternatives and women’s health issues. As a pelvic health educator and holistic health advocate, I believe in the body’s ability to heal itself under the right conditions and the importance of diet and exercise to maintain optimal health, promote total-body balance and honor the mind-body-spirit connection.

This journey of self-discovery has given me so much insight and awareness of my own body, and I truly enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with others. I’ve become a faithful follower of the fertility awareness method, a sponge for knowledge on natural health remedies, and much more conscious of what I eat and drink.

I also believe in the Law of Attraction – that like energy attracts – and the Universe does open the right doors when you are ready.

One bright spot over the last three years has been learning about Total Control and becoming an instructor for Mercy Health’s Bladder Clinic. I never imagined I would be teaching women to do coochie exercises and much more, but it’s turned out to be a perfect fit and something I genuinely enjoy.

I believe in the program as a preventative strategy for lifelong bladder and pelvic health. It’s also been proven in research and clinical studies to reduce incontinence symptoms. It can improve your bladder control, prevent symptoms from getting worse and reduce or totally alleviate leaking and full-blown accidents if you keep the exercises up.

As someone who has personally struggled with an overactive bladder for most of my life, I can testify to the benefits and can tell when I haven’t been teaching – the urge to urinate becomes stronger, trips to the bathroom increase, and I feel that sinking feeling that my bladder is once again taking the driver’s seat.
A lot of the women in class ask me how I became a Total Control instructor. It’s a national program developed by Women’s Health Foundation in Chicago and West Michigan women are lucky to have access to this unique, medically based fitness and education class.

You have to be pretty frank when talking about how to properly do a pelvic floor muscle contraction, or Kegel, and the various issues around incontinence, and I’ve always had a tendency to tell it like it is.

So here goes. Mind you, this is only part of the story; I’ll have to cover what has been a lifelong battle with my bladder in another post. It’s not a pleasant tale, but I do feel grateful my own health problems led me down a path to listen to my body and seek out help.

After more than a decade of being on oral birth control, I decided to go off the pill around age 30 to make sure I had a regular menstrual cycle. A female relative had many reproductive issues and problems – cysts, infertility, endometriosis and a hysterectomy in her 30s – and I wanted to make sure my period was normal, on time, and without pain or irregular bleeding.

I didn’t know about the nasty side effects of birth control pills at that time, which is now why I personally cannot take the pill (more on that in another post as well). Birth control actually proved to be very effective with minimal side effects throughout my late teens and 20s. But I took for granted I never really ovulated or experienced a true period. In essence, the pill puts your female organs on autopilot.

Finally, after several years of being single, I found myself in a relationship at age 35 and decided it was wise to go back on the pill. But this time I experienced a host of side effects. I’m not sure if it was my age, changing hormones or changing formularies for generic versions of the pill. I tried several over the course of a year or more, but let’s focus on the first one and what landed me at Mercy’s Bladder Clinic.

I started back on the pill in October 2011 and I remember going out on Halloween. I also remember laughing and having a minor leak. Thankfully, I was wearing a miniskirt and it wasn’t anything major, but I had an internal momentary freak out. It was enough to make me think, “Oh no, something is up.”

Before long, I started to experience excruciating pain with sex. So much pain it made me want to cry. Needless to say, that wasn’t the best way to start off a relatively new relationship. They always recommend giving a birth control pill a try for three months, so I stuck it out and dealt with the pain.

When I went for my annual exam in early 2012, I told the male gynecologist my issue. He thought I had Interstitial Cystitis, a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder wall with recurring pelvic pain, pressure and discomfort in the bladder and pelvic region, and recommended a special diet and to lay off sex for a while. Great!

I went to a different doctor and asked to try a different birth control pill. Through talking about my health woes, my counselor recommended making an appointment at Mercy’s Bladder Clinic. She said the clinic offered an IC support group and it might help.

So I made an appointment in February 2012 and met with Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Mosher. I have to say, the women who work at the clinic are very understanding, empathetic, thorough and really do all they can to help address your issue. But after an initial appointment, Jen didn’t think I had IC. She thought I had a tight pelvic floor and my muscles were constantly spasming.

That began weekly visits to the Bladder Clinic for biofeedback and eventually E-stim (electrical stimulation) treatments. Biofeedback involves an electric probe in your vagina; it is hooked up to a computer monitor and you do Kegels, or pelvic floor muscle isolation exercises, so you can see how well you are doing them. Sensors relay readings of your muscle contractions to the biofeedback equipment as you watch on the screen. The biofeedback shows you and the clinician if you are exercising correctly, how strong your contraction is and how long the contraction lasts. I highly recommend it if you aren’t sure you’re correctly doing a Kegel.

When we started, my resting level was at a 10. It should have been around a two. Jen also prescribed special Valium suppositories to help ease the internal pain during sex and estrogen cream to help relieve the redness and pain on the outside.

I then had weekly E-stim treatments, which involved the same electric probe, only this time electrical currents signaled the pelvic floor muscles to contract or relax. This device exercises the muscles electronically. The clinician can adjust the level of electrical stimulation based on comfort level. It’s not painful, but you definitely feel it. In my case, I needed to work on relaxing my pelvic floor muscles.

I ended up being a regular, weekly visitor to the Bladder Clinic for nearly sixth months. All this without health insurance and before the Affordable Care Act or Michigan’s Healthy Michigan expansion! I will be eternally grateful for Mercy’s Financial Assistance Program, which was based on your income at the time. I didn’t have any income because I was finishing my master’s degree, so I also carried a lot of guilt about being an uninsured charity case.

My symptoms improved and my pelvic floor did start to relax. As summer approached, I was tired of feeling bloated from the birth control pill and I decided to go off it. I also decided to listen to my body and put two and two together. Sex was a pleasurable experience prior to going on the pill. That was the one thing that changed. Could it be causing my problems?

Sure enough, my delicate vaginal tissue – and sex – returned to normal soon after stopping the pill. It took some investigating and Googling, but I learned the pill can cause a whole host of side effects, including painful intercourse!

About the time I decided I no longer needed treatments, Jen said the Bladder Clinic was seeking new Total Control instructors and recommended I take part in training to become certified. At least it’s good to know I’m a good Kegeler. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to teach other women how to Kegel correctly!

But Total Control is much more than a Kegel class. Stay tuned for more information about the program, or visit Mercy Health Bladder Clinic Total Control.

Educate yourself: Download, read and share “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink”

“She is one missed paycheck, one sick child, one broken down car away from losing it all.”Maria Shriver

We are 42 million strong. The number of women living on the brink – on the edge of a financial meltdown. I am one of them. I am the face of poverty. I always have been, and at this rate, I may always be.

I am not ashamed to admit it, because it has shaped who I am. I hesitate to say being raised by a single mother and understanding what it means – what it feels like – to live paycheck to paycheck, even into adulthood as a single, child-free woman with a college degree, clouded my world view in a negative way. I like to think it has impacted who I am in a good way, giving me the capacity to be empathetic, to relate to the plight of the poor and struggling single mothers, and the ability to see that there are many factors that lead to, and perpetuate, the cycle of poverty.

It is what has made me a good journalist and a relatable, compassionate human being. It’s why I consider myself a social activist and social change agent, a passionate advocate for social justice and women’s equality issues.

Maybe it’s also why this video makes me cry every time I watch it: Click here

Maria Shriver’s groundbreaking report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, is available free until Wednesday. Time is running out! Download your copy today by clicking here.

The 400-page report takes an honest look at the millions of women who are doing it all – trying to go to school, hold down a job and put food on the table – and barely scraping by, struggling to provide and parent in a political climate that shames them, an economy that discriminates as far as equal pay and family-friendly workplace policies, and a competitive culture that continues to pit women against each other.

As the report highlights, one in three people in the U.S. endures the stress, struggle, and anxiety of financial insecurity every day. More than 100 million Americans either live near the brink of poverty or churn in and out of it, and nearly 70 percent of them are women and children. The brink refers to the economic line separating the middle class from the working poor and those people living in absolute poverty.

For the millions of American women who live this way, I would have to agree with Shriver: the dream of “having it all” has morphed into “just hanging on.” And it’s a scary place to be. I can attest it takes a special kind of resiliency, determination and grit to want to keep going – and I don’t even have a child to worry about.

Yes, even with a master’s degree, even graduating third in my high school class, even earning scholarships for academic accomplishments for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I am today’s face of poverty. Perhaps, because of many of my early childhood experiences, I chose a different route than most of the women I know – the route of earning an education, pursuing a career, taking pride in supporting myself, and being very pragmatic about the pros and cons of marriage and childrearing.

I’ve never bought into marriage, much less having a baby, as an easy out for solving my economic troubles. Quite the contrary. I’m not ashamed to say it: The thought of being trapped in a bad marriage, or constantly stressed out and tied down with a child whom I cannot support, petrifies me. People seem to forget that children don’t feed and clothe themselves. Not to mention, they are a lifetime commitment.

In a baby-crazed culture that makes you feel like something is wrong if you don’t feel the mother bug, I’ve stood strong in my convictions and made the conscious choice to delay having children, with growing certainty that I will likely remain child free. Still, that doesn’t mean I have contempt for the women who long to be married and have kids, or love the role of homemaker and mother, or that I cannot relate to the women Shriver highlights in “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.”

We all get to choose our path in life. And our life experiences shape the path we take.

I wrote about being raised by a single mother in scholarship applications and my application to graduate school. Yes, my dad was in the picture, but he always fought her on paying his fair share of child support, and we lived on the brink. We didn’t have designer clothes, we drove a junky car and our house was pretty average. Yes, my mom owned it, but she also owned rentals, and those seemed to cut into our standard of living due to something always needing repaired or someone not paying rent. But those people were living on the brink, too, so my mom tried to work with them.

All in all, I am grateful we didn’t move around a lot and attended the same school and always had a place to call home. We had a good meal every night. And our utilities didn’t regularly get shut off, but it was a childhood fraught with financial uncertainty and even secret embarrassment when it came to measuring up materialistically at school and among friends. I never had braces, a class ring, senior pictures or other things that are common for most kids who grew up with married parents and two incomes.

I give my mom a lot of credit for working hard to raise two daughters, not taking government assistance for food or school lunches. She even had a decent job as a housing inspector for people who received subsidized housing, but she never made more than $10 an hour back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When I cleaned the house, I would come across unopened utility bills. I always thought it was odd, but I guess it was her way of not dealing with the reality there wasn’t money to pay them. And I believe it is why I have always been hypervigilant about paying mine as an adult.

I’m not writing this to embarrass either of my parents. They did the best they could. These are the reasons poverty and women’s equality issues are deeply personal to me.

Watching my mom struggle to make ends meet pushed me to pursue higher education. I always thought if you worked hard, earned good grades and had the self-determination to see a goal through to completion that you would be rewarded. I believed that degree would be my golden ticket to the good life – with or without a husband. And while my bachelor’s degree did open the doors to a rewarding and successful career as a newspaper reporter for more than a decade, it never opened the doors to the economic opportunity to both own a house and have a car payment at the same time as a single woman.

Now, as a 37-year-old woman with an advanced degree who cannot find a job and currently lives in “poverty,” this issue hits even closer to home. I have had to make some very personal and very tough decisions in the last two years due to my financial situation. I am confident I would be back living with one of my parents without the support of my boyfriend. It’s been humbling, depressing and eye opening to say the least. I tried to do everything right in hopes of being a contributing member of society. In the last few weeks, I’ve even found myself trying to pacify a female business owner who wanted to haggle over $10 an hour and give me unnecessary grief.

Beyond that, I am tired of this Conservative/Republican political agenda that tries to convince people that welfare moms are lazy, people who don’t want to work and just want to suck off the system. The truth is, most working moms make minimum wage or work other low-wage service sector jobs in health care, retail or food service. They will qualify for food stamps, Medicaid and government housing assistance. It doesn’t take a genius to do the math. Even at $10 an hour working a full-time job, that translates into an average $300 paycheck after taxes and not counting premiums for health insurance or child-care costs.

Sure, there will always be free riders in society. There will always be people who cannot work due to physical and mental disabilities, but it is simply a myth and a lie that most welfare moms – or most people living in poverty – do not want to work. Just read The Shriver Report.

Here are some other statistics from the report:

• 1 and 3 women are financially living on the brink. Many of these women feel they are just a single incident – one broken bone, one broken-down car, one missed paycheck – away from a serious financial crisis.
• Women are nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in the country.
• More than 70 percent of low-wage workers get no paid sick days at all.
• 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income.
• The median earnings of full-time female workers are still just 77 percent of the median earnings of their male counterparts.
• Women with only a high school diploma are three to four times more likely to live on the financial brink than those with a college degree.
• America is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee mothers paid leave to care for a new child, and one of only a few countries that doesn’t guarantee workers a right to earn paid sick days.
• This is the first post-recession recovery since 1970 in which women have continued to lose jobs while men have gained more than 1.1 million jobs.

Stop passing judgment, speaking with an air of superiority, and spouting off half truths. Start educating yourself. Learn a little empathy. This is your mother, your sister, your neighbor, your employee, your colleague, your friend. This issue of women and children living in poverty and living on the brink is everyone’s problem. And based on the current economy, it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

And ladies, it’s time to stand up, push back, own our power, and, above all, support each other.

When you escape the bucket, be prepared for crabs

“Whatever you want in life, other people are going to want it too. Believe in yourself enough to accept the idea that you have an equal right to it.”Diane Sawyer

“Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”Janis Joplin

It’s funny. I’ve known several young, hip, unmarried, child-free people who have left West Michigan recently in pursuit of new adventures, new opportunities, a real arts, culture and music scene – even just a change of pace or because they could not find a decent job to support themselves and wanted to pursue their dreams. Trust me, I had planned to follow suit two and a half years ago … But, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

Oddly, they have been bashed and “hated on” for having the guts to pack up and start a new life in a new place, which, anyone who has done it knows is no small feat, and speaking the truth about Michigan’s economy, Muskegon’s crime and a pervasive mindset of accepting the status quo. Could these people be jealous? Insecure? Have an inferiority complex or feeling a little regretful they have spent their entire life in the same place? Perhaps they have struck a nerve, or, to recite a cliché saying: “Sometimes, the truth hurts.” Plus, why do they care so much about what some other person chooses to do with their life? As an outsider, but someone who has lived in West Michigan for more than eight years, I feel qualified to offer my “outsider’s perspective” on this area. But that is for another post.

This is for all the people who seem to be struggling with change, or feeling push back from friends and family for charting their own course, or for those who want to live with more purpose and passion. People get tired of all my “deep thoughts,” but I feel one of my purposes in life is to serve as a messenger and use writing to help people live more deliberately and consciously. Whether it’s with money, relationships or career choices, it seems far too many people live on autopilot and just go through the motions – or make rash decisions – without carefully considering the ramifications or long-term consequences. The other half are frozen with fear and choose complacency over stepping out into the unknown.

There is this theory called Crabs in a Bucket that really changed my view of “haters” and how to handle them. In short, if crabs are put in a bucket and one tries to escape, the other crabs will pull it back down. Applied to life, it means that most of the people you know, including family and friends, will be supportive to an extent, but they don’t want you to get too far ahead or find too much success or happiness. Perhaps it’s envy, or their own fear, or their own unhappiness.

Here are a couple of good blogs about it:
Rita Perea
Crab Mentality

The rest of this post goes back to a prior post I wrote last spring. To read it, Click here

Dr. Phil explains his process and passion for writing “Life Code” in the introduction. He started by creating a sheet for every single jerk he had encountered in his own life – people who had sought to hurt, betray and take advantage of him and his family – and identified commonalities and patterns. Lying, “grooming” behaviors and manipulation made the short list. He also did the same thing for people who he admires. They have succeeded, overcome, conquered, and contributed to this world despite coming under attack by people who wanted to destroy them. Just like the formula for spotting the “bad guys” is knowable, the formula for success for the “good guys” is knowable. Success is created, and once obtained, must be managed and protected, he says.

Dr. Phil realized that to “win in the real world, these people I studied became ‘street smart’ and didn’t take any ‘wooden nickels.’ They didn’t sell out their integrity, they didn’t settle for what they didn’t want, and they played to win.” Here’s his Sweet 16 Success Tips for turning your life around:

1. Have a defined image of your character.
2. Create a perception of uniqueness.
3. Play big, not just long.
4. Learn to claim and accept praise, and acknowledge it in a gracious way.
5. Become “essential.”
6. Know your real currency.
7. Always have a plan.
8. Keep things “close to the vest.”
9. Always be investigative.
10. Stretch your way to success, even if it feels like you’re “faking it until you make it.”
11. Always keep your options open.
12. Master the system and figure out a way to make it work for you.
13. Create a passionate nucleus of supporters.
14. Deal only with the truth.
15. Recognize and use the ego and greed of others to create a path to success.
16. Pick your battles and never let your opponent have control.

“The difference between winners and losers is winners do things losers don’t want to do,” Dr. Phil says. “You’ve got to stop whining and start doing.”

In this economy and job market – not to mention this Facebook-infused world where people tag themselves at the airport and brag about their new job, their great relationship, their awesome vacation plans – it’s easy to be competitive, jealous or feel like you are somehow losing at the game of life. In many cases, it’s an attempt to present a phony façade to the world and make their life look better than it really is.

People will always want what you have, and vice versa. Perhaps they are living in a big lake house while you are eating Ramen noodles in a studio apartment. But maybe you have managed to maintain your weight through a lot of hard work, exercise, self-discipline, and eating healthy, while they cannot seem to find the will or the way. You might think they have the perfect job, while they are envious that you have freedom, flexibility and are brave enough to go after your dreams rather than be stuck working for the man. They might broadcast their great vacations, while leaving out it’s on credit. And they might be jealous that you get to go boating every weekend in the summer. It might appear someone else has a great relationship when they brag about the lavish gifts they receive from their spouse or partner, but it might be to make up for an affair or because they hang out at the bar or travel a lot, while you have the things that really matter – a partner who makes you laugh, accepts you for who you are, and comes home to you every night.

Rather than feel threatened by someone’s success, remember there is enough to go around. Count your blessings. Open your heart to abundance. Ask for like-minded souls to come into your life. Stop assuming the worst. Don’t take things so personally. Think positive. Smile and say hello to strangers. If you hear of a friend landing a good job, getting married, or otherwise accomplishing or doing something you want, feel the envy, let it pass, and then wish them well. Because we all know they will need it.

There will always be naysayers and haters. Sometimes you just have to put blinders on. Stand tall. Be proud. Trust yourself and keep doing your thing. Stay focused on your dreams, desires and goals. And give people the boot who try to deter you from reaching for the stars.

Go With Your Gut – It’s Your Inner GPS Guiding You

“I know that because God loves me I can do wonderful things. I can try great things, learn anything, achieve anything.”Maya Angelou

The above quote comes from a card I bought years ago and keep front and center on my refrigerator door. Maybe the picture of a woman and a dog walking along a beach spoke to me as much as the message. I think I bought it for someone else, but ended up signing the inside to myself while grappling with a major life decision: “I love you Marla! Stay true to yourself. Love, Me! 6-21-08. P.S. Had this card since February.”

There is another article I keep on my frig, a “What I Know for Sure” piece on intuition by Oprah. I’ve long been an Oprah follower (could it be because she’s an unmarried, child-free, Aquarian journalist like me?) and really believe in her message of raising one’s spiritual awareness rather than blindly believing religious dogma. You can recite Bible verses, find Jesus and faithfully attend church and still be disconnected from God and yourself. Just look at the epidemic of debt, obesity, workaholism, divorce and addiction in our country. For me, learning to connect with Self and Soul and Source is the path to living an authentic, joyful, deeply spiritual life.

A few excerpts from the article:
“What I know for sure is that if you were going to buy only one issue, ever, of O, this would be the one. Learning to trust your instincts, using your intuitive sense of what’s best for you, is paramount for any lasting success. I’ve trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t listen.”

“How many times have you gone against your gut, only to find yourself at odds with the natural flow of things? We all get caught up in the business of doing, and sometimes lose our place in the flow. But the more we can tune into our intuition, the better off we are. I believe it’s how God speaks to us.”

“And I often tell friends: When you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Get quiet so you can hear the still, small voice – your inner GPS guiding you to true North.”

So this card I keep on my frig goes back to a time I had planned to move to another state and temporarily stay with a friend and her husband until I found a job and an apartment. The date has significance; it was about a month before I was supposed to be moving. And I wasn’t planning to go anywhere. In her mind, I know she thought she was doing me a favor. But the troubling reality is this person kept telling me she was unhappy.

Out of respect for her, I won’t go into the details. Let’s just say it didn’t sound like a good situation to get myself into the middle of, and deep in my gut, I kept getting a bad feeling. Her husband liked to put me down, as well as where we grew up – “Rebels” on the south side of town. And, besides the fact she had introduced me to a couple of bad habits as a teenager, she was already making plans to play matchmaker with one of his friends, walk and train my dog, and start me on a fitness regime. I was just beginning to learn to set healthy boundaries with people and worried my needs and wants would get washed away by the tide of her overbearing personality.

Still trying to heal from a mentally and verbally abusive romantic relationship that had ended, I became frozen with fear at the thought of being around another domineering person who had long tried to run the show and tell me what to do. I’m sure some of it also stems from being a person who doesn’t like to be dependent on others. And a person who grew up feeling controlled, criticized and never able to express my feelings or what I wanted. I just couldn’t sell myself on giving up my stable job, even though it was making me unhappy, and life for something unknown and potentially ending up in the middle of a tumultuous situation.

Unfortunately, I handled the situation poorly when it came to telling her I wasn’t going to come. It got pretty far in the process and I started dodging her calls and never really told her. I told a mutual friend who was going to help me move out there. I can admit it was rude, and I acted like a jerk, but I had my own reasons. I didn’t want to be pressured into doing something I didn’t want to do.

There were four of us who used to run around together, and a couple of years earlier, they all came for a girls’ trip to visit me in Michigan. These two “friends,” the one who was going to help me move and the one who was going to take me in, stood in my apartment and yelled at me and the other friend – I mean in our faces yelling at us – until we took off and left them there and went dancing. Needless to say, the fabulous foursome we were in our 20s slowly started to deteriorate and actually became dysfunctional and toxic. And I had reason to fear how the confrontation would go down. A few months later, when I tried to explain myself, a huge fight ensued over the phone. We haven’t spoken since.

In my defense, I also spent the next year or more trying to ask for her forgiveness. I apologized in letters and cards, but never got a response. Calls were never answered or returned. A Facebook friend request got ignored. So, I stopped groveling and decided to move on with my life. And it’s okay. I don’t wish her any ill will, and wish her well, because for many years of my life she was a very dear friend.

There are several morals to this story:
• Female friendships can get pretty precarious as you get older, especially if each person changes in different ways and the friendship doesn’t evolve or you cannot find some common ground to connect you.
• Go with your gut. Trust yourself and the still small voice within. If the thought of doing something makes you nauseous or your heart race, that is probably a good indicator not to do it.
• Be a big enough person to own your role in the problem, act like an adult and have a discussion. Sometimes, minor conflicts left to fester can snowball into huge meltdowns and arguments.
• Not all friendships need to end; some just need to change and can change if both people are mature enough to talk it out and not force their position or agenda on the other. Others do simply run their course. Mourn the loss of the relationship like any other. Be grateful for the good times.
• Realize you are better than acting pathetic and begging someone to be your friend. Go find yourself a new one or learn to be happy doing things alone.
• If a person does not want to accept your apology, that is their right and also their issue. They may have their reasons, and there are always two sides to every story. I have forgiven a few people and never spoken to them again.
• Don’t take it personally or beat yourself up over what happened. Stand in your truth and know who you are. Remember the fun you had and cherish the memories. Learn to go on and have a fabulous life.

One thing I know for sure: Take good care of you – do what is best for you – even if it means someone will be mad at you or hurt. You may lose a relationship, but it beats losing yourself. There are times I have missed the friendship, but I have never regretted not moving.

And remember this advice from the inside of the card: “As you journey on the path the Creator has made for you, may you continue to walk in goodness, in gratitude … in joy.”

Learn To Be Your Own Best Friend

“This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go, too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soul mate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”Marilyn Monroe

The older I get, the more I have realized you have to learn to be your own best friend. You have to learn not to be blown about by every wind, every loss, every person that may not like you or what you have to say. It takes knowing yourself, coming into your own, and developing a strong sense of self. A sure sign you have arrived: Being called a bitch. No, it’s not always a bad thing to be. It means you have a backbone.

I don’t take decisions lightly, especially since I turned 30, and especially major ones that involve uprooting my life or permanently altering it in some way. Maybe it’s because I made too many dumb ones in my 20s, mainly regarding men, but I also think many women in their 20s simply don’t know who they are and bounce around trying to make everyone else happy or fretting that they are somehow losing at the game of life.

The 20-something decade is fraught with bad boundaries, shaky self-esteem, body image issues, career insecurity and, of course, doing senseless things for the sake of having a man in our life. We try to impress bosses, job hop or move around in hopes of getting a promotion, or at least a raise and some semblance of job security. We invest way too much energy in trying to find a man, or revolving our life around one, hoping we will get that ring and start a family before other friends do.

Although I have been fortunate to have good female friends at different stages of my life, and hopefully they know who they are, sometimes you just need to let friendships go. The 20s seem to be the decade where you learn who your true friends are or you simply outgrow friendships and find yourself with maybe one or two real ones – if you’re lucky. I mean the kind you know you can reveal your darkest secrets to and they won’t judge you, and they really have your best interest at heart and want to see you happy and successful. I guess that is why I am a fan of finding a good therapist, and keeping them on standby, so you can vent and ask for advice and it’s confidential. It’s also why I used to hang with the guys, and my boyfriend is now my best friend. They are simple, usually drama free, and there isn’t the undercurrent of phoniness and jealousy.

Some childhood friends end up being lifelong friends. Great! But just because someone slept over at your house every weekend in elementary school, or you were inseparable in high school, doesn’t mean you still have the same values or interests at 25 – or 35. For some reason, maybe because women tend to suffer from people-pleasing and second-guessing-themselves syndrome, you find yourself holding on to friendships that aren’t all that healthy or fulfilling because they seem safe, comfortable, and you know each other’s history.

Maybe you rarely see the person, they live in another state and are settling down, while you might be doing the career and dating thing. You get tired of hearing them rag on their husbands, and they get tired of you recalling dating horror stories. They offer unsolicited advice and pass judgment, and you believe somehow they know more about relationships than you do just because they managed to get a ring on their finger. Yet, you know they are miserable, or at least they sound like it based on what they tell you. In all reality, you may not even really like each other all that much, but “breaking up” seems too daunting.

Or friendships become an unspoken competition filled with jealousy, envy and passive-aggressive digs, especially among two single women out on the prowl together. But you grin and bear it because you surely cannot show up alone at bars or parties. The worst: Catty, backstabbing copycats, also known as frenemies. Comparable on the spectrum of toxicity: The fake work friend who buddies up to you and invites you to happy hour, only to steal your ideas or pump you for personal information, then run and tell bosses and coworkers in an effort to undermine you or make you look bad. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Guess I prefer originality and authenticity. If you have “friends” in these categories, trust me, it’s better to cut your losses and roll solo.

I love the above Marilyn Monroe quote. The one line I might dispute is that sisters can make the best of friends. Some sisters truly do grow up BFFs, sharing everything and supporting each other. But, in many families, same-sex sibling rivalry and competition can be unspoken and ugly. One of my sister’s unfriended me on Facebook several years ago. No, we’re still not friends.

One of the trickiest friend dynamics: When you have been friends for so long, the person feels they can boss you around and tell you what to do, because that is what they have always done. And, for whatever reason, you have let them, because they were always the leader of the pack and that is what kept you friends. It really doesn’t help if you grew up being bullied and yelled at and struggle with low self-esteem and not trusting yourself. It actually leads to the perfect bully dynamic, but with someone who is supposed to have your back and be a solace from your dysfunctional family. Again, this is where a therapist can come in handy. There’s no shame in consulting with a trained professional for an unbiased opinion on whether it’s really healthy.

The trouble is: No one gives you a friendship breakup manual. In the best case, some superficial relationships just fizzle without a big blow up. And if you lack communication and conflict resolution skills, a confrontation can become as heated and end as badly as any romantic relationship on the rocks. Just watch “The Bachelor.” Cat fights can get nasty.

Since everyone’s attention span is miniscule on the Internet, and since I’ve already written twice the standard blog post word count, stay tuned for the sequel …

Dark Days Do Lead To Brighter Ones

“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”Jordan Belfort

This time of year always puts me in a reflective mood. I’m not sure if it’s the change of the seasons, leafless trees, cloudy skies and, every time I look out my window, mentally preparing for at least four months of snow, cold and days hunkered indoors. Perhaps it’s the lack of daylight, and even sparser sunlight – the joys of the lake effect in winter. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact my late ex-husband died right before Christmas at far too young of an age, and every year when the anniversary of his death rolls around, I have a twinge of regret. We hadn’t been together for years, or in touch, but one always wonders if reaching out to a person in emotional distress might have made a difference. It also doesn’t help that the day of his funeral, which I couldn’t attend due to living out of state and no vacation time, I found out the dog we had together and I took care of for 10 years was dying and had two weeks to live.

Make no mistake: The Universe connects us in mysterious ways. It also sends us signals about what is working and not working in our life.

Four years ago at this time, the only career I had ever known – one that many would perceive as prestigious, one that had landed me in West Michigan, one that provided a steady paycheck doing something I loved – also was coming to an end. I never entered or stayed in the newspaper profession to feed my ego. It was more out of a sense of passion and purpose and the opportunity to make a difference. But, after 11 years, it had taken its emotional toll.

Super unhappy at the time, I indulged in self-destructive behaviors as a way to cope for several months leading up to being laid off. Due to a series of circumstances that had been building for a few years, work had started to suck the life out of me. Literally. I was sick, stressed, negative, and generally not myself. I struggled to drag myself out of bed in the mornings to go to work. I started doing things that weren’t in my character because I felt hopeless and helpless to change my circumstances. When you are a single woman who has to support yourself, when you live four hours away from your family, when you feel like you don’t have many options, life can become very overwhelming and exhausting.

It got so bad I took leave for two weeks so I could regroup and figure out my next move. I knew layoffs were coming, and I willingly volunteered to be the first in the newsroom to get pink slipped. People thought I was crazy at the time. Luckily, I didn’t have kids, a mortgage or other big bills to worry about. I also knew it was that or quit, swallow my pride and move back with one of my parents before I lost my mind.

I also remember praying. Really praying. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve gotten down on my knees and pleaded, asking God or some Higher Power to deliver me from my job and change the course of my life. I remember crying and hibernating and trying my damnedst to trust that the Universe had a plan – that it would all work in due time. And I did have a plan post-layoff. Take some time to rest and heal. Qualify for unemployment and the No Worker Left Behind program and go to graduate school. It worked out for the most part, in many regards better than I could have expected – other than I have yet to land that amazing full-time job I thought would be so easy with a master’s degree. I never expected the economy would be this slow to recover; it would come down to who you know, not what you know; that there would be age discrimination at age 37; or so many people afraid to hire someone because they perceive them as a threat to their job.

But, just like I did four years ago, I have to trust that it all unfolds in divine order. I am grateful I have learned to make hard decisions, listen to my inner wisdom and stay true to myself. Maybe another corporate, high-stress job is not in the cards for me – at least not right now. I talked to a woman recently who retold a similar experience. She was a successful divorce attorney, but she was miserable and found herself $50,000 in debt even with a good income. She started taking trips to Sedona, Arizona, to work with spiritual guides and practitioners.

During those sessions, the answer kept coming back that she needed to quit her law practice or she was going to die of cancer like her mother. She didn’t know how her life was going to unfold, but she trusted the Universe to make it happen. Now, a decade later, she runs a successful business in Sedona that plans customized spiritual retreats for people. She told me that we will never be shown everything, just bits and pieces. But if you honor what you are being shown and pay attention to what the Universe is trying to tell you – and act on it – the right path will continue to be revealed.

Although that period four years ago – I was off work this very week if we go by calendar date – was dark and painful, I consider it one of the defining times of my life. It’s not been a cake walk in the four years since. My life is definitely not perfect and not entirely what I thought it would be. Now $20,000 in debt with student loans, currently being deferred, I also qualify for financial assistance through the local hospital because my income is so low and I have no health insurance. I am still living in West Michigan – a place I planned to escape as soon as I graduated.

But I am so grateful I am facing my fear of failure and fear of the unknown. Maybe they were life lessons I needed to learn. Sure, there is some comfort in a steady paycheck and health insurance, even when the job is making you sick. Yet, I can attest there is a sense of calm and peace that comes from carving out your own career path, too. I cherish having freedom and flexibility, along with feeling passion and purpose. I am improving my organizational and time-management skills by planning ahead and meeting deadlines of my own accord. I can sleep late, work when I want, say yes or no to assignments. Even better, I don’t have a boss or office politics to deal with, no commute on snowy winter days, and am back to meeting interesting people, telling their stories and learning something new every day.

I also have a renewed sense of self-confidence because, yes, I am doing what I feel is my true calling. I don’t live in a big house or have a new car in the driveway, but I don’t live on credit, either. And I finally feel happy. Along with writing, another job I didn’t get led to becoming a certified Total Control Wellness instructor. Teaching women how to improve bladder control with exercise and lifestyle changes energizes and excites me every time I teach a new session. I have become passionate about researching and writing about women’s health issues around hormones, birth control and other taboo topics.

Simple abundance means you realize your blessings don’t come from material things and you learn to be content with what you have – knowing it is more than enough. Whether you want to call it God, the Law of Attraction in action or connecting with your higher self, life is pretty good when you operate from a place of authenticity and honesty and trust the voice within.

Karma, Kool-Aid and the Guy Who Grounds Me

“Keep your heart open and love will always find its way in.” – Jane Seymour

Hopefully, when you run into your ex, you can hold your head up high and know you weren’t the one with the problems – and it makes you grateful for your current relationship. Such was the case for me on Saturday when I saw mine at a distance. I actually ran into him in late summer, doing community service. Talk about feeling a little karma, but I’ll spare the blog bashing.

This is about the man he could never be.

I don’t normally brag on my boyfriend because we live in reality rather than FB/internet land, and he thinks Facebook is stupid, but I truly believe he is the love of my life. I am not sure why it took 35 years to find the right guy; all I know is I am grateful I finally did. It’s not all been peaches and roses. What relationship is? But he doesn’t like drama and taught me a lot about sticking it out. He’s loyal, faithful, caring and kind. He makes me laugh, feel safe, and accepts me for me. He’s a pretty simple, humble guy. He’s not a “look at me,” let’s brag about everything we’re doing type.

He’s actually quite private … kind of funny he fell for a writer who has a tell-it-like-it-is nature and might be guilty of TMI at times. He rarely yells or complains, gets up and goes to work every day, and works hard – so hard he doesn’t really take a vacation or have time to sit on Facebook – and has paid most of our household bills and all of our entertainment for the last year and a half. And people wonder why we aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to having kids? Money is one of many reasons.

I think women who grow up spoiled expect to be spoiled by a man. I am used to the guys who don’t want to work and use and take from me. Heck, in my 20s, I bought boyfriends cars, let them move in with me and use my credit because they didn’t have any. Cheap Muskegon douchebags wouldn’t pay for a date. I have never been one to “need” a guy. I’ve gone long periods without one, including four years before I met my current beau. I’m usually with one because I truly love them – douchebag, drug addict or loser, or not.

I actually ran off at 19 and married my high school boyfriend and first love. We only lasted a couple of years, but as someone who tattooed my name on their chest, he always held a special place in my heart. He unfortunately passed away at far too young of an age and the upcoming anniversary of his death also has been on my mind. It may sound odd, but during my recent single years, I started carry his Navy picture in my wallet … maybe he is one of my Angel Guides. I always figured he would want me to find a nice guy, someone who would take care of me, not yell at me, and make me laugh.

Reflecting on defining moments in my life these last few days, I believe there was a reason I met my current boyfriend. I had prayed to God/Universe/Creator, whatever you want to call it, and was so tired of dating jerks and being alone. If I would have moved in 2010 after I was laid off, or even in 2008 when I planned to pack up for Colorado (another instance of listening to my intuition that will be discussed in another post), my life would be totally different. It makes me sad to think of life without him. He truly has changed my life for the better.

This Thanksgiving was filled with a few of my favorite things – and another example of being true to me. After sleeping late with my boyfriend and Sugar Bear, who initially woke us up at 8 a.m. to watch birds and squirrels out the window, we drank coffee and watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. There was no traveling, visiting, drama, cooking or cleanup. We ate so much at The Lake House’s Thanksgiving Buffet we left with stomach aches and spent the afternoon in a carbohydrate-induced food coma. We drove by the Big Lake and enjoyed four inches of fresh snow. Then we napped and read the Black Friday ads with no intentions of shopping.

We may never get married. I don’t mind. It fits with my independent Aquarian spirit; and he’s a Pisces. I would rather us be free to be in a relationship because we want to be rather than because some contract forces us to be. We may not last forever, but I will always be eternally grateful he has financially helped me through this self-employment transition, chose to love me during a low point of my life, and stayed strong when, due to my insecurities, childhood issues, and depression over not being able to find a job, I tried to push him away and even threatened to run away a few times.

His love and friendship doesn’t have a price tag. And I feel so blessed, proud and grateful to call him mine.

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