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Life’s Big Questions

The question “What are you longing to do? was posted in the August issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. It’s all about taking risks and conquering fears. I have to tell you that this was right on time for me. It got me thinking of what I am longing to do with the second half of my life. I am actually in the midst of a big life shift. If we are friends in RL or on SM you may already know that I just quit my job as a high school counseling director to move back home for my husband’s new job. Change is always a little unsettling, but also very exciting. I grew up in a military family and we moved every three years. While I have to admit that I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now, what I did understand was that a new place meant another chance to reinvent yourself.

“What are you longing to do?” was a question I have often asked myself, but as I turn 45 which is certainly midlife, now it looks a little different. The question seems more critical. I have so many encouraging people in my life now and they keep telling me that my future is so bright, and while I also believe that to be true, the how to get to that big bright future part is a little more complicated.

I remember sitting with a bunch of amazing women last summer at a dinner table on an Oprah cruise and everyone was sharing what they wanted to accomplish. “I want to be an influencer who gets opportunities to test drive cars and try new appliances…I want to be published…I want to be a travel blogger…I want to write about single motherhood in a way that feels authentic to me.” Now, I am paraphrasing here, but the bottom line is that each person was able to easily rattle off their big goal. When it came to my turn, I couldn’t come up with what I thought was an acceptable answer.

Who’s this girl?

I already had a career that I loved and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t searching for the next great thing. I was married to my closest friend, I had great co-workers, My children were grown up and I was proud of them. I had written the book I had been trying to write for years, and I was just embarking on an amazing new journey as an O Mag Insider. “I have no idea,” I said, “I just want to inspire as many people as possible”. My answer felt lame. It wasn’t an actual job to just inspire people. It didn’t seem like a real tangible goal. The question would be posed many more times during that trip and I always felt like the newbie who hadn’t quite figured it out. That was out of my comfort zone for me, as I was always the goal driven person who could tell you exactly what I wanted to do.

Finally, after another “I don’t know…” answer from me, a wise woman seated to my right said,  “Tonya, you know exactly what you want to do. I have heard you say it many times. You, my dear want to inspire people.”

It Finally Makes Sense

I walked around with that thought for a whole year not quite knowing what to do with it. It sounded like the result of a goal, not an actual goal… until I listened to Grit by Angela Duckworth. Angela explained that what I had was indeed a top-level goal. That was the BIG goal I was looking for and all the stuff that I would do to make that happen would fall underneath it. I had never looked at it like that before. So I want to share that with you. If you have something that you are longing to do, think of ultimately what you want to achieve as your high-level goal and then list lower level goals underneath to show how you would get there.

So for me, it might look like this…

Inspiring as many people as possible

  • Writing another book/blogging
  • Empowerment coaching
  • Content Creating
  • Finishing my LPC
  • Speaking engagements
Now it’s your turn

If you are like me and still trying to work it all out here are some things you can do.

Journal– Write down your big idea even if it seems abstract. Then jot down all of the things you would like to do if the world was your oyster, because…well it is. Then circle the things that actually align with your big idea.

Research– This sounds like a no-brainer as we are all quick to turn to google, but sometimes we don’t spend as much time thinking about our long-term goals as much as we do researching the hot summer shoe trend. Research can be traditional or you can do it as easily as putting in a hashtag and discovering someone who is doing exactly what you want to do.

Put it out there– Talk to your friends about it. Ask for information. Someone might be able to put you in touch with someone else already doing that very thing. I recently posted a question on FB about getting my Ph.D. and the response was overwhelming! So many people reached out to me privately offering to meet with me or phone conference with information.

Shadow or interview someone already doing your dream job– I’ve had lots of people reach out to me about interviewing or shadowing me as a school counselor. I am always happy to oblige.

I’d love to hear about your big ideas and the steps you are taking to get there!

Until Next Post,

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An Insatiable Hunger

I’ve always been a reader. I gobbled down non-fiction as a child like most kids do sweets. Each read was tastier than the next. I couldn’t get enough. I remember how annoyed my mother would be as I lost myself in a book during my youth. Her annoyance was not because she didn’t want me to read. Of course she did. She just couldn’t understand my need to only read.  I would become so immersed-so sucked into the story that nothing mattered until I had consumed the entire thing. As I’ve gotten older I’m still a consumer of the written word, but the focus has shifted. I no longer solely desire to live the delicious lives of the characters that pulled me into their stories, I now feed myself books that inspire me to live my best life.

Malcolm Gladwell in his masterclass introduction said that “You don’t read nonfiction the way that you chew gum or watch the Kardashians. You read it because you’re in search of something powerful and fundamental about what it means to be a better person.”

A Few to Feast On

Here are a few good reads that I feel are powerful, fundamental and will leave you feeling full.

Big Magic-By the author of Eat Pray Love- If you have a desire to embrace your creative side for pleasure or passion this is a great read. Elizabeth Gilbert inspires us to push past our fear and embrace our desire to create something magical. “What keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (self-doubt…)” Gilbert inspires us to step into who we are meant to be.

Heart Talk- My daughter sent this book to me. It is full of poetic wisdom that makes your heart smile. It’s a quick read but the type you can nibble on. Little bits of wisdom with a sassy two snaps and a twirl feel.  It makes a good gift for women of all ages. Wade reminds us that we “become the stories that we tell ourselves.”

The Seat Of the Soul– This isn’t for the novice non-fiction reader. It is heavy, profound and enlightening. It’s the kind of book that makes you reread a sentence to let it sink in. Certainly not a quick read, but a life changer if you’re willing to challenge yourself. Both Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey tout it as a game changer. “The Seat of the Soul changed the way I see myself,” said Winfrey.

Grit– This book spoke to me literally and figuratively. I listened to it on audible and while the concept of tenacity, perseverance, and success in overcoming lifes challenges isn’t new, the research Duckworth shares about those she calls Gritty people is eyeopening. Everyone should read (or listen) to this book. Find out what sets gritty people apart. If you’re already gritty it’s reaffirming and if you want to grow your grit it will show you how. Angela Duckworth explains that “Our potential is one thing, what we do with it is quite another.”

Next on the menu

The Sun Does Shine– I just received this memoir and I am so inspired by the author. Hinton was falsely convicted and subsequently spent 30 years on death row. In his interview in O, The Oprah Magazine, he said that he started a book club for the men on death row because he knew that “If the mind could open, the heart would follow”. I can’t even tell you how much that tugs at my heart.

I also saw him on Oprah’s FB live interview and I was so impressed by his ability to embrace humor in spite of his dire circumstances. Anyone might be able to muster a laugh while sitting with Oprah on her gorgeous and famous porch in Maui. Can you even imagine how beautiful that must be? But to hear him tell stories about laughing and joking with his best friend Lester every weekend during his prison visiting hours for 30 years tells me everything I need to know about this man’s character. I can’t wait to dive into this one.

I would love to hear what you think about these books and I look forward to your recommendations on other inspiring reads as well.

Until next post,

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*Outfit sponsored by @lovechicos

Have camera phone will travel

While this falls a little outside of the kind of life advice I usually give I still believe in sharing life hacks to make your life easier and while no one HAS to take photos for Instagram or any other social media platform the reality is most of us do. In the rare case that you don’t do the social media thing, but maybe you just want good pics to send to family and friends highlighting an amazing vacation or some other milestone, I still want to share my tips with you because I get A LOT of questions about who takes my pictures and what kind of camera I use. Although I don’t think my photos are all that amazing (I can certainly point you to some accounts with killer photos- @squarepearls, @moreturquoise and @JanetGratefulGardenia are some of my faves) I do think my photos are pretty good for mostly ametuer shots. I don’t typically use a professional photographer with a fancy camera and out of this world editing skills, but I have worked with two of my favorite local photographers on occasion. But again, the bulk of  my photos are taken with just an iPhone by my youngest daughter, although I have to admit that  she does have a pretty good eye!

Oh shoot…

Here’s my layman’s advice on getting get shots with just your smartphone

  • Always face the sun. In order to get natural lighting right, you or your subject should be facing the light. Not the person holding your camera.
  • Set up the shot. I like to shoot quickly and there is nothing more disappointing than taking a ton of shots just to realize the lighting doesn’t work or there is something weird about the background. I always ask my partner to stand in for me and I take the first shot. This way I get to see what the shot will look like. Expecting another person (unless they are a pro) to know what you want might be asking too much. Always take a test shot.
  • If you are photographing a person or (being photographed) take the shot low. I sometimes forget this in my haste and you can definitely tell. I am 5’3 and I like to look as long and lean as possible. Shooting low elongates you. Ever wonder how Kim and Kourntey look so good in those full body shots? My new intern took my featured shot and I love how it turned out. Thanks Sammy!
  • Look for an interesting backdrop or scene to make your shot pop. I was totally oblivious to this and would often walk right past a great place to shoot. My daughter would literally  have to grab me by the hand and say “Mom look at this wall!”
  • Ignore the people around you-in the nicest way possible. This was the toughest thing for me. As much as I post, I’m not really a look at me kind of person. I don’t mind being noticed but I don’t like asking for it. So it felt very weird to have a mock photo session in public. Luckily for me I have been able to spend time around other bloggers who have showed me how it’s done. My friend @frostedevents took great video while walking down a crowded NYC street. She’s definitely IG story goals. Her confidence inspires me! My older daughter always reminding me sternly not to worry about the people around me helps too.
  • Use an app like Snapseed or VSCO-to help with lighting. I don’t do this as much as I should but I’m trying to remember to use it more.
  • Only post your best shots-I took a picture of a friend and coworker a few months back and after I snapped the picture she walked away. Later when she looked at it she said “I don’t look good.” You’re the only one who always looks good in photos!” I told her that I did think she looked good but she only had one shot to choose from. I never take only one shot. I have no problem being honest about that. I take SEVERAL pics but then choose the best of the bunch. There are plenty of pics that don’t make the cut. No one is photogenic ALL of the time.
  • When all else fails laugh-laughing at myself in photoshoots has produced some of my favorite shots. So if you aren’t into the stoic faced supermodel post then laugh a little or a lot and I bet you’ll get a great pic and a good belly laugh.
That’s a wrap

I would like to purchase a nice camera and take a photography class in the near future as I do believe there is a difference in quality, but until then my iPhone will do. I just ordered a Socialite selfie light ring for my iphone. I will have to update you on how well that works. Do you have photography tips or questions? If so please leave them below.

Until Next Post,

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Ready For Change

If you are friends with me on any form of social media (Instagram is my favorite btw) you have probably seen me sporting waist length braids for a little over a year. You might also realize that I finally took them out last weekend. I recently posted the change to facebook  and the response was overwhelming. Friends enthusiastically commented letting me know how much they liked the change but they were probably just too polite to say “About time Tonya…”

The Backstory

Braids are a protective style and they are meant to be worn intermittently to protect hair from styling damage and give your hair a break, but for me the term protective style took on a new meaning. I first got my braids during the hardest time of my adult life. Yes, that includes: my 13 year single mom journey and even that time I got so sick in grad school that they thought I had an autoimmune disorder. Turns out it was probably just stress, but I digress… The toughest time in my adult life was last spring when my dad lost his battle with Pancreatic Cancer.

I had just made the decision to go natural, meaning no more hair relaxers to straighten my naturally coily kinky hair. I felt kind of overwhelmed by that process. I had a great beautician who was helping me with the transformation process, but it was stressful nonetheless. Believe it or not, I hadn’t seen my natural hair since I was 12 and we certainly needed some time to get to know each other again, but when my father became ill, hair appointments were the last thing on my mind. As I rushed to Virginia Beach to see him, I cancelled my standing appointment with no idea when I would be able to reschedule. As I sat in ICU for the third day wearing a baseball cap while greeting his visitors, I thought “I have to do something about this”. I called on a family friend and former hairdresser who lived in the same area that my parents did and she and her mother met me at my parents house so that we could get the braids done as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to leave my dad’s side for long.

I returned to the hospital a few hours later sporting a new do. “I like your hair” my aunt said enthusiastically as I walked in, but my dad just looked away. My heart fell just a little, but I already knew he wasn’t fond of braids and was probably exercising his if you do not have anything nice to say rights.  My dad had a very strong personality (just like me) and lots of thoughts about all sorts of things. We loved to debate. His stoic rational take would often go up against my new age bright-sided views. Most often with me convincing him to give into the sunshine just a little. However, this wasn’t up for debate and I am sure he didn’t have the energy. I wasn’t looking for approval or interested in convincing anyone anyway. I knew that I had made the right decision.

I actually feel my most authentic self in braids. It just takes all of that hair worry away and I am free to just be. Each day I was by my dad’s side, only leaving the hospital for very brief periods of time. I spent the nights sleeping in a chair and chatted with visitors, or read the bible (the only book I had) to him during the day.  We’d spend almost three weeks there before he passed away in that hospital, and while my hair had always been a thing I had to care about, the way you would an unruly child, I could have cared less about those new long interwoven strands hanging from my head. They were like older responsible teens now, doing their own thing. Still attached… but no longer in need of constant care. This meant I really didn’t have to think of me at all. Thankfully my brothers reminded me daily to eat. “Just eat something” they chided each day with worried eyes and I’d force something down to satisfy them, not my hunger, which had apparently taken a sabbatical.

After my dad passed away I still didn’t take out the braids. I would get them redone but always in the exact same style. I couldn’t part with them, they were really my protective style. They had kept me safe from all of those pesky hair thoughts that had plagued my life for decades. They’d given me time to focus… first on my dad and then on my grief.

It’s Just Hair Right

It sounds silly I know. It’s just hair right? But so much of our identity is wrapped in the strands of hair that frame our face. It becomes so much of a thing that it often seems to have a life of its own. I didn’t have room to worry about make believe lives in that time and space- just my dad’s and eventually my own… The braids became self-care for me. They allowed me to focus on healing and I would vow silently to wear them until I felt somewhat whole again, no matter how many people wondered to themselves whether or not I would ever let them go.

So, I am now ready to finally to say goodbye. Not forever, but I do feel whole enough again to start the process of taking care of something so insignificant, yet so all encompassing. I am still into wearing protective styles but I am symbolically and physically removing the braids for a while. I am ready to start caring a little more for my hair. I still haven’t totally embraced my natural hair state but I am working towards it.

Here’s the one big lesson I learned while I was grieving behind the braids

People will show up for you– I spend my life investing in other people-As a mom, wife, daughter, sister, school counselor, empowerment leader for girls, and as blogger/content creator- striving to help women look and feel their best. I am comfortable in the role of being there for others. But I am really not the kind of person who calls someone and says “I need you to be there for me”. However, I do believe you reap what you sow, so when I did call out for assistance, not only did my hairdresser show up, but my friends/co-workers drove 2.5 hours after work to hug my neck for 10 minutes in a ICU waiting room.  My best friend also jumped on a plane and flew from the west coast to the east to be by my side at the funeral. My adult daughters spent their days in an ICU waiting room. The oldest with her newborn, though she knew she shouldn’t have him there, and my husband spent his birthday sleeping in a chair watching over my parents so I could sleep in a real bed even though we had amazing seats to see the new Chris Rock Comedy Show that night.

The list goes on and on because love is so big and so strong and really does overcome adversity. I’ve also learned that where there is love, the true kind that cracks through the darkness with it’s light, you will always find your way back from the depths of your grief. And when you are ready you can show that transformation to the world in a physical form by simply changing your hair. That is, if you want to…

And that my friends is my true hairstory.

Do you have a hair story? If so I’d love to hear it.

Until Next Post,

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I received free credit to try this service as a content creator collaboration but all opinions expressed here are as always my own. 

Eat More Plants

Have you tried a meal delivery service? I have actually tried a few and let me tell you why Terra’s Kitchen tops my list. Many of you may know that I have been a vegetarian for over 20 Years. I realize that this lifestyle might not be right for everyone, but I agree with Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food) who said that we should “Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Plants”. So I am on a mission to introduce my family to more plant based meal options.

Because I have been doing this so long I don’t really think much about it for myself. I eat pretty simply and don’t mind a salad loaded with veggies everyday for lunch, but for someone used to more traditional meal choices the idea of another salad might be daunting. To be honest, I am so busy working as a school counselor, running my household and blogging/content creating that I don’t really take the time to scour the web looking for plant based recipes my family might be open to, even though I should, so when Terra’s Kitchen offered to collaborate I was indeed interested. Let me tell you the real reason why…

Spreading sunshine, no shade

First I am not big on throwing shade. My tagline is spreading sunshine but I am going to be honest with you about what I didn’t like about the other meal plans I tried. I tried a couple of others with the same thought in mind-to offer my family plant based options that we’d all love so that I am not left creating two separate meals. The other plans I sampled were heavy on pastas as their vegetarian options and used eggs a lot as the protein source. Now, I love pasta but every long standing vegetarian will tell you that the pasta primavera option offered to vegetarians when there aren’t veg entrees on the menu can get a little old after awhile, and I am just not big on eggs (never have been)  and certainly don’t see them as a main source of protein, so when I found out that Terra’s Kitchen was based on the Mediterranean diet (one of the healthiest diet options in my opinion) I knew we’d see REAL whole food, plant based options. You know how much I love being real right?

Sign me up!

The sign up process was easy (they typically are) but choosing options was so much better with this service. There were tons to choose from and everything looked so good! This go round my problem was narrowing my choices, not choosing a few that might work. Terra’s Kitchen even has snacks, salads and drink options!

When my delivery arrived in the  reusable climate controlled vessel I was super excited. Yes, I love food! If you have been following along you know I am a self-proclaimed foodie. You can watch my unboxing video on my highlighted Instagram story. There’s also a bonus cook with me video there too.

Here are 3 things I loved about Terra’s Kitchen

Everything was very convenient-Including delivery and pick up- you just unpack the ingredients and peel off a return label and place it outside for an already pre-scheduled pick up. Most things were pre-chopped. I am a busy mom and though I cook most weeknights I am not interested in peeling and chopping a large butternut squash on a Monday night (one of the things I didn’t like about the other meal delivery kits). Terra’s Kitchen had most of the items pre-chopped or diced, including onions and squash. I did roughly chop fajita veggies but even they were already pre-sliced! Why, thank you Terra!

The recipes were easy-I collect cookbooks. I love them all but I rarely use any of them. Weird right? There are so many steps in most of the recipes and I don’t want to keep harping on my lack of extra time, but I just don’t feel like going through a 20 step recipe every night. I like that the recipes didn’t take a ton of prep and didn’t take you through too many steps. The recipe cards come hole punched too, making it easy to put them into a binder to create your own cookbook!

The recipes were delicious-My husband is a steak guy but he raved about the black bean sliders and I could eat the Chipotle Sweet Potato and Black Bean soup every day, all day! The veggies were all super fresh thanks to the climate controlled vessel and everything I made came out just right! Even my 16 year old bonus son enjoyed the meals. Mom win!

This one’s for you

Have you ever thought about trying a Meal Delivery Service? I am all about life hacks and this is a good one. Terra’s Kitchen has great meal choices and whether you are a meat lover or a tree hugger like me, I believe you’ll enjoy the Mediterranean Style options. I am providing you with a code REALCHIC that will give you $35 off any order of $72.99 or more. The pricing is flexible-another plus! As you can build your own kit. I am looking at trying the Three Day Fresh Food Detox next! You can visit Terra’s Kitchen here.I’d love to hear your thoughts and your feedback should you give it a try.

Until Next Post,

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Making Lemonade Like Beyonce

The other day I had the pleasure of attending the advanced screening for Life of the Party.  You won’t find any spoilers here but I am always looking for a good theme and you will find what really resonated with me.

Life of the Party stars Melissa McCarthy as Deanna, a 40+ mom whose only daughter (played by Molly Gordon) is finishing up her senior year of college when she gets the devastating news that her husband (actor Matt Walsh) wants a divorce. In true Beyonce fashion, Deanna decides to make Lemonade out of lemons.  She has spent the last two decades as a stay at home mom and after receiving the news that her marriage is over, she realizes that she has let her dream deferred sit in the sun way too long. She decides to return to college to finish up her senior year as well, right alongside her daughter. Hold your high fives, there is so much more.

High Five to This 

Although this is certainly a comedy, this movie touched on so many important themes for me. If you have been following along on the blog you’ve probably heard me talk about getting Bolder, not Older and how women are living their best lives at midlife and beyond. This movie embodies that sentiment and manages to make a really serious issue for many women, hysterically funny yet still very relatable.

Here are three Life Of the Party themes that stood out

It’s Never Too Late-We all know someone who went back to college to finish up a degree (if you don’t know someone I can be that person for you). I also went back to college after getting a divorce so the idea that you can go back to school and finish what you started isn’t a new one, but Deanna actually GOES back to school, like full throttle rocking college tees and living in a dorm room college. But, the best part isn’t just her going to college to pursue her degree, it’s pretty much about her finding a way to crush her goals. Even though there are some bumps along the way, Deanna proves that if you want to reboot your life you can and more importantly you can do it at any age.

Bolder Not Older-There seems to be this idea that young women are the only ones throwing on pink hats with kitty ears and standing up for all of the important issues that face women, but the reality is that 40+ women are leading that charge. In this film you watch Deanna embrace her youthful side but she never lets go of the ideals that really impact all women.

Women Need Girlfriends– I have written about this before in my Why Women Need Best Friends Post and this film truly embraces the #WomenSupportingWomen movement. Maya Rudolph plays the very loyal and super funny best friend role of Christine. It’s very clear in this movie that Sisters before Misters is indeed a thing. The great part is that McCarthy plays the kind of woman that other women can get behind. She quickly grows her girl squad by being encouraging, compassionate, and uplifting. She’s certainly someone I’d want on my team.

You’re My Favorite

This movie was hands down my favorite Melissa McCarthy comedy. I literally laughed until I cried, but the funny thing is, I saw it with my 23-year-old daughter and instead of her being embarrassed she was laughing just as hard. This is a great mother-daughter or girls date movie. Perfect for a Mother’s Day weekend release.

I can’t wait to hear what you think about Life of The Party! What’s your favorite Melissa McCarthy movie? Please let me know in the comments below.

Until Next Post,

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Waiting For It…

I have to tell you that I wondered if Spring would ever rear its beautiful head. I sat around waiting like a kid at Christmas. It seemed like a very long winter. Let’s be clear I don’t mind winter. I love the time to slow down and relax a little bit, but to be honest, this winter was busier than usual which meant I was out in the elements more, and not nestled by the fireplace like winters of the past. So, I was ready for the weather to warm up again and keep up with all of my ongoings.

If you read my The Sweetest Reward post you know I had a nice taste of spring on my vacation last month, and it was amazing! But after my spring break escape, we landed back home and there was still snow on the ground in April, so all of those Is Spring Going To Come Through Or Nah memes certainly resonated with me.

Hooray! She Came Through

Just when I had given in to winter’s hold, because there was no need fighting it, Spring pushed through with such a fury she felt more like her sister Summer, but I’m not complaining. I’ll take it. So, before we go full swing into summer I’d like to highlight a few of my Favorite Spring Things.

The Spring Favorites list

Jersey Pants-If you know me you know I’m partial to dresses, but I love a relaxed Jersey pant. Especially when they come in a gorgeous print like these silky soft ankle pants from Chico’s. I’ve added a few to my wardrobe and love the relaxed but still dressy feel that these pants give you. 
Mini Backpacks-Spring is a time to pick up the pace for me. Whether it’s a Spring break vacation, a  trip to the park with the family, or just a shopping trip with the girls I feel a certain pep in my step and don’t want anything holding me back. A mini backpack is perfect for the woman on the go. I love that this one from KylaJoy is made of beautiful grosgrain leather and sports a gorgeous gold chain that makes it so easy to go from day to night. If you don’t know this brand you should check it out. I consider the owner a friend of mine and he has the best spirit! These handbags were created with his daughter Kyla in mind and all the joy she has brought to their lives. Their tagline is Live the Life you Love and this couldn’t be a better motto for spring.
Colorful Statement Earrings-I have to admit that I have to push myself to wear statement earrings. I love them on everyone else but I’m usually more of a diamond stud kinda girl. Easy and classic is my go to but I also know that a great earring has the power to transform an outfit, so when I want to glam up a look I know that this is the easiest and quickest way to do it. I’m loving the bright colors for spring. If you’ve been following along on Instagram you know I am all about embracing color. Something I haven’t done as much in the past but as my 45th birthday approaches I’ve decided to start Dressing in My Outside Voice (a tagline from The Chico’s How Bold Are You Campaign) and I love it.

Rodan and Fields Mineral Peptide Powder– I absolutely love this stuff.  I rarely wear foundation unless I am actually shooting photos or attending some sort of event. In my everyday life, this has me covered. It’s actually a tinted powdered sunscreen, that works for all skin types and even absorbs excess oil. My only complaint is that I wish it came in a larger container.


Janelle Monae’s New Album-On heavy rotation in my office. I am loving the vibe of her new release Dirty Computer. This beauty is so talented and so authentic that she inspires you to lean into the truth of who you really are and be unapologetic in that truth. Her album makes you want to stand up for something… anything actually! It’s a reminder of our collective and individual strength. All that and dope beats? Umm..yes, please.

Janelle Monae Dirty Computer album cover

Wait there’s a bonus…

Say What?

GOATS– And I don’t mean The self-proclaimed Greatest of All Time. I don’t actually mean goats by themselves either. Although they are super cute and I wanted to take these home from our fall festival but, what I am actually referring to is Goga or goat yoga. Now before you start thinking I’ve gone too far left check it out. I haven’t actually done it yet, but I hear it is all the rage. People say it brings them even more calm than a regular yoga class can deliver. Apparently, even those who have depression or are grieving have touted its effectiveness. As a school counselor who has used therapy dogs to assist students in destressing over the past two years, I can tell you that contact with calm loving animals really works. I personally love animals and yoga, so hey, I might have to give it a try. For now, I am just obsessed with all the photos of other people doing it.

Check it out here

I’d love to hear about your spring favorites. Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Until Next Post,

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Wait…first let me give thanks

Before I even get started on this spectacular movie I just have to tell you how much I love doing movie reviews of films. As a writer, a movie buff and a HUGE Disney/Marvel Fan this is a dream assignment. I’ve been reading movie reviews for as long as I can remember and I’ve often thought about how amazing it must be to the combine the love of film and writing!

This movie is one of the most anticipated of the year so I had very high expectations and let me tell you, I feel so very fortunate to be able to be the one providing coverage for all of you. Gratitude list checked. Let’s delve in.

The Basics

The film stars Robert Downey Jr. as the sarcastic and tech-savvy Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo as conflicted/ nice guy Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk), Chris Hemsworth stars as The God of beauty… I mean..thunder -Thor, and the rest of the Avengers-including my new personal favorite-Chadwick Boseman who stars as The Black Panther.

The Avengers once again come together and unite to battle an old enemy-Josh Brolin who stars as the evil villain Thanos. Thanos is on a quest to collect 6 powerful Infinity Stones by any mean necessary. Without giving away too much (you won’t find any spoilers here) I will just say that the fate of the Universe rests in the hands of the Avengers and their new comrades-The Guardians of the Galaxy. The film is visually spectacular, hilarious, and nail biting!

Okay, here we go…

Here Are Three Themes I loved In Avengers Infinity War

Collaboration over competition-Put a bunch of superheroes in one film and you’re bound to have some egos the size of small planets, but what I loved about the film was that although there was plenty of good-natured ribbing, the movie was all about powerful forces coming together for the common good. I think that many of us could use this lesson in our workplaces, community organizations, and even some of our relationships. Instead of competing, one-upping and trying to be the hero (no pun intended) those on the bright side once again joined forces in a feat against the dark side.

Sacrifice and heroism-One of the reasons I love superhero movies so much is that they remind me of the good in the world. Though we know that superheroes are fictional characters, we all know those real-life people who are willing to sacrifice for others. Whether we are talking about a good samaritan risking his or her life for a complete stranger, a teacher who consistently goes the extra mile, or a single mom (or dad) working hard to make ends meet, we realize that neighborhood heroes live among us.  The idea of sacrificing for love, the planet, and humanity runs on a loop throughout this film. It’ll make you reflect on what you value and what risks you’d be willing to take for someone or something you care about.

Inclusion (aka”you can sit with us”)-This film was a total mashup of so many of our favorite Marvel characters and I love that the list was so inclusive. It’s evident in this film that Marvel superheroes don’t fit a standard mold. Women, men, teens, robots, and even plants (who doesn’t love Groot?) were all well represented here, and there really were no sidekicks. Everyone was on equal footing and the characters were so diverse that I’m sure you’ll see a little bit of yourself or someone you love in one of them.

Avengers Infinity War opens this Friday at your local theaters (but you already knew that) and I have to tell you; you’ll laugh, cringe and hold onto your seat. And, I’m confident that you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. I had a reader leave a sweet comment on one of my blog posts a few weeks back that said “Your posts always make me feel like I can do anything!” I think that’s what draws me into these films. You always leaving feeling a little more like your very own superhero!

I’d love to hear about who your real-life heroes are too! Let me know in the comments below!

Until Next post,

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A little Slice of Heaven

If we’re friends on Instagram (I sure hope we are) you know that I spent spring break in paradise. Well, it was really a resort in Mexico but it might as well have been a little slice of heaven. I’ve been to the Caribbean a few times and I know that a lot of people either love it or hate it, but the chill vibe of Jamaica is typically my jam. However, I’ve never been south of the border before and I’m not exaggerating when I say it looked and felt like a tropical paradise.

The Backstory

Again, if we are friends on social media you’ve probably seen me using the hashtag #OMagInsiders. And you may or may not know that I am one of a select group of Brand Ambassadors for O, The Oprah Magazine with the O Mag Insider program…which leads me to how I landed in Mexico just last week.

When I first began the program last year (I’ve actually just been selected to carry on for another year and I couldn’t be more pleased) we had a group call where they laid out what we would be doing as Insiders (you can learn more or apply to the program here). We were also told that there would be a possibility of winning awards for our work.

To be honest that went right in one ear and out the other because there were so many amazing things that they shared on that call including the possibility of attending Oprah’s Favorite Things.  However, I think the real reasons I didn’t focus on the award much was that 1. I never win anything and 2. there were some really big bloggers and Influencers in this program and then there was little old newby me. I was just happy to be at the table with all of these fabulous people, I wasn’t even thinking about winning anything.

Now, I could ramble on about how awesome this year has been with this program, but for the sake of time I’ll get to the good stuff… I did indeed end up winning the O-verall Partner Award! So although I never set out to win, I do believe in always doing my best and I guess in this case the universe rose up to meet me. When I received the email that began with You have been unanimously selected… I squealed. What an honor to be recognized for doing what you love to do, which is to simply share the things that I love with my friends and followers!

The Vacation Destination

Mahekal Beach Resort was our vacation destination. I was informed that I could bring a guest and we could go whenever we wanted. Somebody pinch me. So hubby and I pulled out our calendars and decided that since we are both educators spring break would work perfectly for both of us.

When we arrived at the resort it was even more beautiful than the pictures. We were shown to the cutest bungalow room with hammocks on our front porch. Little did I know that these would be my favorite resting spot. Hammocks are surprisingly more comfortable than they look. Who knew? Probably everyone… except me.

The rest of the resort was lush with coconut trees, gorgeous tropical flowers, and palm plants. Everything is open and breezy, the pools look like magazine ads brought to life, and there is even one that actually looks like it runs right into the ocean.

My Favorite Things

Here are the top three things I loved about Mahekal Beach Resort not necessarily in order (except for number 1 which is always my number one).

  1. The Food- People always seem surprised by this because I am a vegetarian but I am a self-proclaimed foodie. I love a good meal. The food was amazing. There are three restaurants: Las Olas where we had a fabulous breakfast buffet everyday which consisted of traditional breakfast options and mexican delicacies. We even enjoyed a smoothie station, and quesadilla station! Umm yes please… Cocina was our typical dinner destination where the buffet changed nightly from appetizer options, a seafood dinner, and even mexican street food. Everything got high marks here and there were always vegetarian options. Fuego restaurante Y Cantina was always on fire! This restaurant rivaled many of the 5 star establishments I’ve visited in my favorite food city -NYC . We had a couple of meals here  including my husband’s favorite Fresh Catch Night where they literally pulled a boat up, carted off the fish and you got to claim your very own fresh catch, which they cleaned and filleted for dinner. It was also our go to morning coffee spot where we sat in our favorite open aired place with a spectacular view of the ocean.
  2. The ambiance (aka the vibe)- there was so much attention to detail put into this resort. I’ve been to a few really nice ones but they are usually more like large, fancy hotels. This one was so unique in that there were actually individual (or two or three level) bungalows, the gardens were so beautiful and well maintained and the whole vibe gave off that relaxing welcome to paradise feel. Everything is inspired by Mayan Architecture. The spa was even complete with a whirlpool bath in a high ceiling hut. I am all about a theme and I loved that this place delivered without feeling corny or forced. The people working at the resort were super friendly and helpful too. You felt safe and secure and relaxed and free at the same time!
  3. The surrounding area-I loved that we were actually smack dab in the middle of Playa Del Carmen. We were able to walk right out of the resort and a block up to the famous 5th Avenue which started out looking like your typical tourist area with Mexican vendors and beautiful handmade goods and ended up looking like any US big city shopping area. As we walked further down there were remnants of home: Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, Sephora, American Eagle… you name it. We even biked through the surrounding city one day and stumbled upon a Walmart. We also had the best pizza and pasta I’ve ever had in a restaurant three blocks from the hotel. Solento came highly recommended by two couples we met from Chicago and though they raved about it it still managed to exceed my expectations. It was fabulous! Who knew you could have the..
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A post by Courtney Imade

How to Embrace Your Inner Glow

Last year I gave birth to my first son on New Year’s day. I returned to work full-time 8 weeks later, and then when my son was nine months old I found myself unexpectedly pregnant again. Being a Mom to my adorable son Mason has brought me a lot of joy, but  there have been times that I’ve struggled to balance motherhood and pregnancy, work, being a wife, grief (I lost my grandfather who I was very close to last year after his valiant struggle with pancreatic cancer) etc without feeling very overwhelmed. I’m sure many women can relate. Whether you’re single without kids, married, a new mom, or a seasoned mom, we as women tend to take on a lot. I realized that I needed to make some changes in my life to bring more internal balance and harmony, because no one can do everything perfectly but I’m the best version of myself when I’m not feeling depleted.  

Embracing my inner glow

On Instagram I stumbled across some women who are embracing the “goddess” lifestyle. This lifestyle advocates for radical self-care (and the idea that taking care of yourself first sometimes isn’t selfish, it’s necessary). It includes being more in tune with nature, making your health a priority (both physical and mental), communing with other women, and recognizing that as women we are special beings endowed with unique gifts and divine qualities. I love any movement that recognizes how amazing women are, and found this one particularly intriguing because I think we could all use a little more self-care in these busy and stressful times. A couple of the advocates for this movement that I’ve been following are Latham Thomas (author of Own Your Glow, doula to the stars, and founder of Mama Glow) and Deborah Hanekamp (Healer and founder of Space by Mama Medicine- a unique space in Soho, lauded by Vogue, that offers workshops and events focused on holistic health). I’ve been learning a lot about embracing my inner Goddess and becoming more grounded, and think other busy women can benefit from these practices.

Here are 4 steps to embrace your inner goddess and get your glow on:
  1. Practice radical self-care– Whether you’re balancing work, family responsibilities, or other potential stressors, sometimes the best way to deal with the overload is to just take a step back from it and focus on yourself. Anyone who depends on you benefits when you’re pouring from a full cup instead of an empty or half-empty cup. Practice radical self-care by doing things that relax and restore you often. Soaking in a hot scented bath, taking a relaxing walk alone, enjoying a glass of wine with friends, getting a massage or going to the salon, and drinking a cup of hot tea over a good book are all examples of self-care activities. Whatever it is that helps you to de-stress from your schedule, make it a priority, not an afterthought or a once in a blue moon activity. Pencil it into your schedule often, and make everything else wait while you take care of yourself. The world will still keep turning, and the benefits to your mood will affect everyone around you.
  2. Meditate- Sometimes the best way to quiet a busy mind is to block everything else out and tune inwards. Meditation is a great tool for this, and doesn’t require any expensive equipment or special skills. Some goddesses enjoy using tools to aid meditation. I’m personally a huge fan of meditating with crystals, and you can find a lot of how-tos and instructional videos online. It’s also a great idea to journal about your life goals (and how your plan to implement them) after every meditation session.
  3. Focus on what you’re putting into your body– Not only does this include embracing a healthy diet and lifestyle, it also means getting out to enjoy fresh air and sunshine while communing with nature as often as you can. Sunlight, air, and exercise do wonders for your mood and mental health.
  4. Commune with other positive women (goddesses)– It’s important to connect with other goddesses and feed off of each other’s positive healing energy. Spend time with other women whose company you enjoy, invite them to practice self-care with you, maybe work out or take a yoga or meditation class together. This can be family or friends, but if you need help connecting with other goddesses try enrolling in a class, checking out a local meetup, or joining an online group for one of the activities that you’re interested in. Lately I’ve even seen a lot of meetups and retreats geared specifically toward women taking place in major cities.

These are just a few steps that I think are important for embracing your inner glow, but what steps do you take to stay positive and grounded in daily life? 

XO,

Courtney

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