Bad Ass, Hard Core & Beast Mode

Women’s fitness is nothing new. Workout trends have come and gone for decades. But now, more than ever, it seems the popular direction points toward excelling in extremes. Endurance sports, elite fitness and ultra adventures are earning recognition and applause for tough, conquering she-beasts. This is both fascinating and frustrating to me.

Fascinating because of the sheer strength, courage and perseverance shown in their accomplishments. Frustrating because many women will never achieve this she-beast status society exalts. Similar to the exposure of models with perfect bodies and flawless beauty, this hard core, bad-ass mentality drapes a cape of insignificance around those who should otherwise earn the title of Super Woman.

While chasing adventure, improving bodies and exceeding limits is definitely something to be proud of, so are the often overlooked character qualities of other brutally efficient women. Women whose enduring strength enables them to accomplish daily challenges, often with no finish line in sight. Patient and persevering young, sleepless moms earn no bling after an ultra-exhausting night with sick little ones. The hard-core tough-loving firmness of the mom raising her teenager holds no podium recognition behind a slamming door. The continual care of elderly parents, chronically ill or disabled loved ones offers no trophy or bragging rights for the lonely weariness involved. The extra load of maintaining household, family, work and school for the single woman, military wife, and those with absent fathers or spouses with addictions, are all too often unsupported, forgotten and rarely high-fived.

Enduring, elite and ultra events are worthy, exciting and challenging goals. The journey of pushing yourself beyond perceived limits holds great personal reward and growth. It should be celebrated, recognized and applauded. But there is another journey, for many, punctuated with struggles, obstacles and continual heartache. We must be the aid-station in life for these women, the support crew providing relief, cheering them on, refueling their efforts and sharing our life’s lessons with tender advice. At the very least, we should acknowledge their toughness and fortitude with encouragement and praise.

If you are that extreme athlete, congratulations! Be proud. Enjoy the admiration, the recognition, the celebration. But be careful that a self-absorbed ego in the success of your own accomplishment  doesn’t overlook or worse, diminish the equally successful achievements of another type of hard-core, bad ass, she-beast holding a personal record in a field you may know nothing about. Strength isn’t only measured by pace, risk, muscle or miles. Some of the world’s strongest women have never pinned on a race bib.

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Goals, Gifts & Grief

There are three qualities I’ve recognized in those who’ve made life better for themselves and others. They are the heroes (and she-roes) who inspire, overcome and rise above hardship, challenge, loss or monotony.

The first is goal-setting.  Inspiring people wake up with a goal – big or small, challenging or habitual, infrequent or ongoing. The goal does not have to be monumental.  It may cause excitement, personal challenge and sleeplessness or it may simply be something that gives them a reason to crawl out of bed in the morning. Goal oriented individuals look forward to each day with purpose and productiveness. They persevere without hesitation. They plan without procrastination. And they prepare without reservation.  Short term, day to day, week to week goals and long term monthly calendar planning lends direction, motivation and hope for those with intentional goals. (And although leisure, recreation or rest may be a day’s goal, laziness is not).

The second is gifts – as in talent, ability and passion. Everyone has something to offer others. Everyone has been blessed with at least one gift, talent or ability. Those who make a difference in life are givers.  Abundant resources and champion talents are not necessary. Givers with plenty are often generous, humble and quiet about their giving. Their secret outpouring brings delight, relief and hope to others. Givers with little find a way to share, inspire and encourage with simple gestures, often costing nothing but a little time and thoughtfulness.  Knowing your abilities and talents can help you determine how/what you can give to others. What are you good at? What makes you excited? Passionate? Unique? When you share with others the fruit of your specialties both the giver and the receiver enjoy the blessing. Use your unique gifts to meet needs, bring joy, provide relief, encouragement or understanding to those around you. For the giver, giving  is a way of life, a first thought, planned or spontaneous. The unspoken questions they continually ask themselves is, “What can I do?” “Who can I help?” “How will my response improve this situation?” The giver eagerly and often searches for opportunities to bless others.

The third quality I’ve noticed, held by productive, happy people lies in their ability to confront, manage and cope with grief. From small disappointments to major loss, suffering and grief are familiar to everyone.  Though love and music ‘they say’ are universal languages, able to cross all cultures, suffering and grief rank right alongside.  No one has escaped the troubles and heartache of life. Certainly some endure greater loss than others, but the emotion has struck us all. How you handle disappointment, loss and suffering have much to contribute (or detract) from your happiness, your outlook and your worldly view, all of which determine your level of productive, purposeful and positive living. Regret, resentment and self-pity are the greatest enemies that take (and keep) captive those who are unwilling to set themselves free from grief. Emotionally healthy, happy and productive people find the key, use the tool and summon the power in order to relinquish the pity and pride associated with grief. Though to a degree, the pain, the memory, and the loss remain a permanent part of their life, it does not (negatively) dictate their present behavior. Though it defines their past it does not determine the outcome of their future. And although it brings tearful recall, they will somehow muster enough strength to use their loss in order to help others manage their own grief as well.

Setting goals, using gifts and overcoming grief are just three qualities I’ve recognized in others who’ve earned my respect. These individuals have learned to live each day with intention and purpose. They understand and accept who they are and happily share the gifts they possess to uplift others. If offered a choice, they’d rather give than receive. They’ve decided against granting selfish pride one more day of this short life we’ve been given and have chosen to make a difference in the lives of those within their sphere of influence.

Goals, gifts and grief. Few enjoy the freedom of mastering all three. Some (like myself) strive, search and struggle.  Others remain captive with hard, unteachable hearts. Today, set a goal; share your gifts; grieve your losses with forward motion and enjoy the life you’ve been blessed to live.

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

We are conditioned to believe that the more choices we have the better quality our lives. Never before in history have we been  faced with such an abundance of variety and resources.  You might think that is a good thing but when confronted with too many options we become susceptible to ‘decision fatigue’. Whether (seemingly) easy, to life changing, our mental decision-making energy is at risk of  overload. When overloaded we are likely to make hasty, unhealthy, unwise and even dangerous decisions with regrettable consequences.  Here are a few ways to avoid decision fatigue:

  1. Don’t overthink the trivial. Too much contemplation is unnecessary, time consuming and tiring. Inconsequential decisions should be effortless and quick.
  2. Know your priorities. When your priorities are firm and clear, the decision making process becomes easier.  If the options do not support your priorities, the choice is simple.
  3. Protect your vulnerability. Poor choices are often made when we’re overly tired, sympathetic, guilt-ridden or pressured.  Learn to say, “I’ll think about it.” And reconsider when emotions are not part of the equation.
  4. Eliminate excess. Too many options simply create more choices to ponder.  If there are thirty outfits in your closet, it will take you longer to figure out what to wear than if there were only ten.
  5. Delegate when possible. Choose to relinquish control over everything. You may be surprised when others rise to the occasion simply because you trusted them enough to share the load.
  6. When in doubt, trust your instincts. Decisions come in three colors: black, white and gray. Follow your gut feeling when facts, figures and futures are unclear.
  7. Learn from experience. Remember your own lessons but seek wisdom from others with even more experience than you.  You don’t have to make every mistake yourself. Learn from theirs as well.
  8. Pray. Find your quiet place. Seek Divine wisdom and learn to listen for that still small voice.
  9. Guard against popular opinion. What’s right for you, for your job, for your family, for your finances, for your future, may not match the majority. In fact, it may not even come close. That’s okay.
  10. Once decided, act quickly.  Making a decision, telling others you’ve made a decision or imagining the outcome of your decision does not complete the decision making process. Action is required.
  11. Forgive yourself. You will make some bad decisions. You will  avoid making important decisions. You will experience the pain of hindsight and regret. Learn from it. Live through it. Leave it where it belongs. Life goes on.
  12. Protect the white space on your calendar. Taking care of business at work or in the home can be all consuming and serious. Take time for lighthearted days where your hardest decision is choosing your favorite flavor of ice cream or which park to enjoy a picnic lunch.

 

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Facebook: Narcissistic or Altruistic?

Several years ago I started a Facebook page in order to stay connected with my sons – the youngest in the USMC and the oldest living out of state. Eventually my friends’ list expanded and included a news feed of positive posts and encouragement. Though I’m not on social media for hours on end, I’ve developed a habit of checking it daily. Over the last week I gave it up and this is what I discovered:

I miss posts and pictures of my family in PA, OH and HI.
I miss sharing in the accomplishments and celebrations of those I can’t be with in person.
I miss reading and sharing inspirational quotes, words of wisdom and clever sayings.
I miss seeing pictures of places where others have travelled.
I miss silly pictures and funny scenarios of pets and children.
I miss seeing and sharing pictures from trail running – of my partner, sunsets, animals, landscapes, lakes and even swamps.
I miss discovering previously unknown perspectives and priorities of friends.
I miss new recipes and craft ideas.
I miss the encouragement from others, (especially on PSKeePSeeking fb page).
I miss logging in with a cup of coffee early in the morning.
I miss looking back through pictures and remembering good times.

I don’t miss political rants and insults (or rants/insults of any kind for that matter).
I don’t miss unnecessary drama and negativity.
I don’t miss invitations to play Candy Crush.
I don’t miss vague posts by those with a chip on their shoulder.
I don’t miss attention seeking status’ fishing for sympathy, compliments or validation.
I don’t miss detailed descriptions or pictures of injuries, stitches or lost toe nails.
I don’t miss being tagged in unflattering pictures.
I don’t miss the childishness of unfriending friends.
I don’t miss the Facebook memory feature reminding me of difficult seasons in my life.

Facebook is a tool. Like any tool, it can be used to build-up or tear down; connect or separate; create or destroy. It is a form of communication. Just like conversation, it can uplift or degrade; boast or praise; inspire or discourage. Our profiles, posts and pages reflect the difference – self absorbed, or compassionate. Timelines may not rank high in the whole scheme of life, but the impact we make on others certainly does – especially in person and yes, even on social media.

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Christmas Memories

You could hear the needle on the record player finding its groove to the next Christmas song – Mommy Kissing Santa, Silver Bells, Silent Night, Frosty and the poor kid needing Two Front Teeth. The aroma of cookies in the oven and cooling on the counter filled our Pennsylvania home with appetizing warmth. Garland and twinkling lights wound through the staircase railing to the hutch in the hallway displaying the nativity.

Setting up the nativity was my job. Each piece was wrapped in old tissue and the box stuffed with yellowed, straw-like paper. Though I had unpacked it year after year, it seemed brand new to me each time. I had forgotten about the wise men with their gifts and crowns, the shepherds, their sheep, the cows, that one camel with a chipped foot, the hovering angel and the little nightlight poking through the back of the stable wall. Opening the nativity box was almost as exciting as unwrapping presents.

Halfway up the staircase you could sit on one of the steps and through the lace draped window, watch the snow falling, transforming tree branches, bushes, sidewalks and roadways into a wintry wonderland. At night the street lights either caught swirling snow in their blustery chaos, or soft, silent flakes falling in peace. Either way the performance entertained those willing to notice, wonder and dream.

‘Candle’ lit wreaths glowed in every window. Their brown extension wires, unleashed from the cellar hooks, hung down each wooden sill, crawling along the baseboards, rounding corners and mingling at times with dust or cobwebs. They seemed like part of the decorations to me, and I used to imagine how glad they must be to come up from the cellar and help light up the house.

Shoveled, salted sidewalks led to the front porch where snow drifted onto a frozen welcome-mat near the red-foiled paper wrapping our front door. Strings of lights, with screw-in bulbs of every color shone through the snow smothered bushes in the yard, beneath crystallized icicles clinging to the spouting above.

Christmas tree decorations were Mom’s choice and varied from year to year. I recall Dad suggesting blue lights every season and over hearing their discussion – apparently, blue was not mom’s favorite. And so the blue Christmas conversation became a holiday tradition with shaking heads, winking eyes and loving smirks. It was decades later Dad got his wish, knowing Mom, looking down from heaven, was most certainly shaking her head, with a smile.

The ruffled bottom of my flannel nightgown graced across our carpet with pink fuzzy slippers leading the way. Cold Pennsylvania winters made it hard to crawl out from under the covers in the morning, but if timed just right, you could race down the stairs when the furnace kicked on and stand on the floor register in the hallway, filling that long flannel nightgown till it puffed full with warmth. I so wished I could sleep standing up.

For me, memories of Christmas have so little to do with gifts. Though, I’ll admit, as a kid, I loved the anticipation of presents and surprises. But looking back, as an adult, it was more about the energy, the music, the food, the visitors and the traditions. It was the warm atmosphere of a loving home that now fills my heart with thanks and my eyes with tears. But, that was Christmas past. I am happy to say Christmas present holds new and wonderful memories for me, as well, memories worthy of reminiscing one day in another Christmas future.

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Bare Cupboard, Empty Fridge, Jar of Pennies

We’re taught to say it. We expect to receive it. We write cards to express it. And our prayers should include it – giving thanks. When was the last time you said it? When was the last time you meant it? Saying ‘thank you’ is a polite habit. Being thankful is a way of life. It is a perspective, a revealing picture of character or the lack of it. The thankful person has either learned to appreciate the smallest blessing through observation and practice or through desperation and uncertainty.
My first real memory feeling sincere thanks takes me back to elementary school – St. Michael’s Catholic school, the home of the fighting Irish. Shamrock tee-shirts for the spirited students were on sale, but Mom said there was not enough money to buy one. My disappointment summoned unstoppable tears – not bratty, selfish tears, just sad, heart-broken tears. Later, when Dad got home from work and Mom explained my sorrow, he took my hand and led me to the hallway closet where on the highest shelf was a jar of coins, mostly pennies. We counted enough to buy the shirt and the next day I happily carried baggies of coins to school. I was thankful.
Years later, when my children were small, their father traveled extensively in the only vehicle we owned. Before he would leave on a 10-12 day business trip, I would grocery shop and stock up on everything we might need in his absence. The garage freezer was full. The pantry, packed. The refrigerator, stocked. And I was thankful.
When hard times came and business suffered, when bills stacked up and the cupboards emptied, generous people from church arrived with grocery bags overflowing and Christmas cookies stacked inside plastic snowman containers my boys still remember to this day. And I was thankful.
When routine screening required additional tests and declared healthy results, I was thankful. When my teenagers’ choices delivered stressful circumstances, yet a way of escape, I was thankful. When the marine son returned home, safe and sound from a war zone, I was thankful. When relational heartache found new happiness I was, and still am, thankful.
The level of thankful emotion often depends on our degree of desperation. Near accidents, escaped illness and financial relief certainly move ones heart with more emotion than a polite thank-you to the cashier or bank teller, no matter how sincere.
The secret to living a joyful life lies in the level of thankfulness we acknowledge each day, when there is no desperation, when there is little struggle, when life is moving along without overwhelming uncertainty. Those giving thanks for whatever is good, for life, breath, nature, family, friends, work, purpose and love anchor themselves to a spirit of undeserving attitude, knowing full well relief doesn’t always arrive, healing isn’t always enjoyed, suffering may linger without answers and life’s tragedy still strikes.
The thankful person is not arrogant or presumptuous. She is not critical or envious. She rarely overlooks the good stuff in life because her heart continually searches for it. She finds blessing, discovers the good and appreciates the simple with deliberate intention. She recognizes hidden beauty in people and circumstance, like radar detects its target, and she gratefully intercepts their appearance, pleasure and purpose.
Thankfulness interrupts monotony, rids envy, silences pity and transforms uncertainty into the energy that sparks hope and fuels a blessed and happy life.  For that, I remain thankful.

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Pine Needles, Green Apples & Chestnut Trees

On North High Street in a small western Pennsylvania town was a modest, two-bedroom carriage house with the basement built into a hill, somewhat underground. Old stone steps led up the front hill from the driveway to our humble home where my first childhood memories began.
The hill out front made mowing a challenge in the summer but invited snow-sliding fun in the winter. It even proclaimed a number of ‘kings’ who were able to maintain their position upon it. It was the perfect spot to view the 4th of July fireworks from the park far across the road and beyond the railroad tracks.
The living room picture window proclaimed each Christmas with a tree decorated in any and every color but blue. Dad loved blue lights but they weren’t mom’s favorite. It wasn’t until decades later that she must’ve smiled from heaven to see he finally got his way. The kitchen was small but the home-cooked aromas invited the hungry and impressed the curious. The wooden hallway floor skated us to our bedtime with comforting nightlights for those fearing the dark.
The living room transformed each night for my parents who shared the sofa-bed so my siblings and I could have the bedrooms. They enjoyed a window a/c unit and an accordion-style door for privacy. We had small double fans in our windows to pull in the cool summer night’s air and hide the light of the rotating beacon from the town’s small airport.
My sister and I shared a room with ballerina wall-paper and often tried to imitate the dancer’s perfect positions in our pink sequined tutus. I vaguely remember the football player wall-paper in my brother’s room but I suspect he rehearsed their positions as well.
The house was our home. It was not big or fancy but cozy and lived in. Though my memories in it are happy and treasured it was the back yard (and beyond) that deserves reminiscing.
It was the swing set where I flew high enough to make the posts pop from the ground while singing silly songs and old hymns. It was Gidget the fastest unleashed dog chasing freedom any chance she had. It was the sliding-board I sat on top of for hours until my brother rescued me from the death slide I refused to make (and the ladder I was too afraid to climb down).

It was where my dad grew his garden. We tended it together – planting, carrying water buckets, digging up potatoes and praying the yellow garden spiders wouldn’t crawl up our weed-pulling hands. We followed him up and down each row barefoot and dirty as he explained how the fruit cellar would eventually house the juice, sauce, pickles, potatoes and onions during our cold Pennsylvania winter.
And it was beyond the garden, a favorite spot, on one corner of the yard, where the pine trees grew in rows. Beneath the trees lay a pine-needled carpet of aromatic softness. This became a nature’s club house for my sister and I. There was no house really, but it was our space and no boys were allowed. There we rocked our baby dolls, played dress-up, had tea parties and for hours on end did whatever our imaginations might think of.
The field beyond the pines was separated by a ditch that flowed like a river during the rainy season. Green apple-trees for high climbing invited the adventurous kids from the down the street. I was not the tree climbing type but I was smart enough to know not to eat too many of the sour-green apples. A little farther toward the woods were the Chestnut trees. The chestnuts grew inside round, brown husks with hair-like spines. When the chestnut ripened the husk cracked and fell to the ground. The porcupine-land beneath the chestnut trees was painful and dangerous to the barefooted. During the holidays Mom oven-roasted the chestnuts and Dad packed brown lunch bags full and sold them alongside the road.
The last bit of land before the woods where the neighbor’s barbed wire fence divided the adjacent property was …the big-horned bull. We tiptoed, at first, by that fence hoping to go unnoticed by him. My worn out red sweater was the main attraction, according to my older brother which made me run for my life whether it saw me or not. The lucky ones, who made it out alive, were greeted by the tree line to the big, shady, mysterious woods. I don’t think we owned those woods but we sure did tromp around in them a lot. If you explored deep enough you’d discover the little waterfalls, deer, poison ivy and black snakes that hung like branches from the trees-tops in the Fall.
Those early childhood years discovering the world outside our cozy home and exploring the farthest perimeters of our parent’s boundaries (and a few beyond) have left an indelible mark in my life.
But the sun is setting and I think I heard Mom ringing that cowbell out back. If I’m not there before dark, I’m going to be in big, I mean, BIG trouble.

PollyStrouse©2015

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