Category Archives: WOW (Words of the Week)

Each week we start out with the WOW (Word of the Week) video message!

Acceptance, Rejection (and the New WOW)

I am on a quest for self-acceptance – warts and all.

Concurrently, I’m becoming more and more clear about what I will NOT accept.

Unkindness.  Disrespect.  A callous disregard for my feelings.  Injustices perpetrated against myself (or those I love.)

I’ve discovered a new fight in me!  Brenda 2.0 is feisty!  She’s not buying what you’re selling (unless it is anti-aging serum, of course!) and she’s not afraid to tell you want she wants.

Which means that some new friendships have a short shelf life.

I have become a careful observer of behaviors that previously slipped under the radar screen.  For instance, I welcomed  a new friend to town and invited her as my guest for lunch.  The second time, knowing she was finding her footing, I took her to lunch again.  The third time was coffee…and she didn’t even attempt to pay her way.  The fourth visit – at her request – was another lunch.  When the bill came, she made no moves to her own pocketbook.

Here’s the thing:  I LOVE being generous.  But I do not love feeling taken advantage of or taken for granted.

And it’s not just about money.  Another new friend started a challenging position and was dealing with a host of nerves.  Each time I saw her, I’d encourage her and ask how it was going.  I delighted to hear about her progress and how what started as a source of angst had become a blessing.

When we recently ran into each other, an impromptu meeting turned into a half-hour conversation.  A completely one-sided conversation; a running diatribe about her position, her boss and her sales.

Not once did she ask how I was.  I don’t even think she knows what I do for a living!

I took a careful mental note.

Is it me, or is everyone completely self-consumed these days?

I used to be perfect fodder for narcissists because I was a captive audience with such self-esteem and acceptance issues, it never occurred to me that I was being bamboozled.

No more.

Now, we all fall into the trap of selfishness sometimes.  I love my other new friend, who admitted that in a recent conversation I wasn’t allowed to get a word in edge-wise.

Yes, I left the conversation considering if we would ever have another – after all, this is NOT the phase of my life where I’m going to waste time on one-sided friendships.

Then he called to apologize for running away with the conversation.

The point isn’t being perfect, but it is being humble enough to see how our behavior affects each other.

What are YOU accepting that is beneath you?  More on this (and the new WOW):

Oh, well let me praise my SISTERS and BROTHERS, because I am RICH with their love and kindness.

My real friends?  We FIGHT over who will pay the bill.  We always check in to see how each other is doing and usually have to be FORCED to talk about ourselves.  These precious gems are fail -safe cheerleaders, humorists, supporters, confidants…and truly the family God has given me.

This week, I will not retreat into my ever-ready shell.  I’m callin’ on you, sisters and brothers!  I can’t do this life without you, nor would I want to try.

Who comes to mind when YOU think of a sister or brother of the heart?

xoxoxox

Brenda

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Sweet Release, True Riches (and the New WOW)

Have you ever noticed how tension precedes release?

That’s probably why we shouldn’t freak out so much over stressful situations. They never last forever (though yes, it can FEEL like forever.)

Alternately, those moments in time where we sense liberty and benevolence from the universe? These, too, are fleeting little buggers.

In this week’s video, I talk about how completely sure I was that after my experience in Costa Rica, I would never feel tethered to the base feelings of life again.  I was soaring!  Floating!

And I was wrong.

How come?

Well, LIFE happens.

We don’t have the luxury (nor would we really want it) to escape to an island where other peoples’ drama can’t affect us; where the news reports can ‘t jolt us; where a bad tamale can’t  give us indigestion.

Angst, upset, nausea and all the other feels are just part of the package of the human existence.

The key for me is what to DO with all those feels so they don’t bring me down for too long and I can get back to sweet release.

For me, the process involves sitting in my grandmother’s chair.  I call it my thinking chair.  Just the act of planting myself in that seat says, ‘It’s get real time, Brenda.  Talk it out with yourself.”

And I do.  And yes, I talk back.

I’ve learned that having regular conversations with my soul is not only not crazy, it helps keep the crazy at bay.

In these self-chats, I peel back the layers of falsehood that inevitably try to masquerade what’s REALLY going on.

Keeping it real, I’ll refer to last week’s message about surrendering STUFF.

Turns out, the Holy Spirit wasn’t just talking about my house.

My friend Anita joked with me that I’d come back from Costa Rica renouncing fine dining and eschewing my propensity for the Ritz Carlton, fake eyelashes and my tendencies for glamorous creature comforts. I emphatically countered that I was quite happy to savor the finer things in life and planned on continuing to do so.  It’s how God made me.  And, by the way, harrumph!

I protested too much.

Turns out, this week I was faced with an awareness that I had, indeed, become too focused on getting; that my psyche had been led down a path in which being “flush” equaled success. I bought the lie that I needed to “make up for lost time” and fill my coffers to ensure…that I was valid.

My circle only included people who could easily pick up the tab; who looked and sounded like me.

Then I met a man who has nothing.  And I discovered that he is the richest person I know.

You’d never figure we’d make good friends.  He is completely out of the mainstream and doesn’t even make small talk.  He lives in senior affordable housing and has limited calling on his government-provided cell phone.  We met in the airport on the way home from my Costa Rica trip, and I was struck by his jewelry, his colorful gypsy clothing, his self-possessed persona and aura of joy and peace.

Within moments of engaging in conversation, I discovered that he was a practicing Buddhist, and we engaged in a lovely conversation filled with the richness of spirit.  I gave him my card, and he was kind enough to check that I made it home safely.

Over the course of just two weeks of texts and phone calls (limited, due to his limited minutes!) Roger Mayberry became an important person to me.

Then I got the call that he was in the hospital.

I visited my new friend and observed that within minutes of being admitted, he had charmed every person on his floor.  Doctors, nurses, technicians, random passersby – they all couldn’t help but smile at his pure, childlike joy.

He says it himself, “I’m the richest poor man you’ll ever meet.”

When he first said that, I said, “Roger – stop defining yourself as a poor man!”

Yes, there is some truth to avoiding the sticky tape of speaking out words, for they have power.

However, it never occurred to me that being poor could ever be a good thing.

Stay with me on this, friends.

Roger is so not connected to the drumbeat of performance.  He is not tethered to this life. He is an otherworldly creature; a student of the spirit who can talk and listen for hours…and you WANT to hear what he says. Further, when you speak, you feel HEARD.

Spending time with him has caused me to ask this question:

What ARE the true riches of life?

No, I’m not saying I’m taking a vow of poverty. However, I am conscious of a shift from the oh-so-seductive material world to the priceless beckoning of the Spirit.    

These recent months have been, for me, devoted to not only self-discovery but also a quest for truth.  Stripping away the veneer fear has built over the years has surprised me.

What a thing to realize that, at some point, I began to equate the car I drive and the bag I carry with my own self-worth.

Me!  A self-professed spiritual person!

It broke my heart (in a good way) this week to see that I am being called to a new humility.  Instead of the constant drumbeat to scale up and have more and better, I find myself drawn to a simpler life.

When I finally called it by name and acknowledged what was going on inside of me, I cried tears of release. Repentant is a turning from one thing to another.  True repentance isn’t about beating yourself up; it’s simply an “Aha!  I was wrong and now I can be right!”

This awakening to how I had veered on to a shallow path brought sweet release, because I know now I will not waste more time accumulating stuff.

The one with the most toys is NOT who wins.

People like Roger win.  His bank account is overflowing where it matters most.

More on RELEASE and a beautiful new Word of the Week, coming right up:

By the way, the good news is Roger’s out of the hospital and on the mend.

Hooray! I intend to continue to plague him with questions and pick his brain and heart…all the while thanking him for shifting my view of life by his very existence.

This week, I want to ACCEPT people beyond face value.  I want to ACCEPT what is and relax in the knowledge that the universe is unfolding exactly as it ought.

I ACCEPT that who I always thought I was may not be who I really am, and choose to release those old constructs born of fear and insecurity.

How about you?

xoxoxoxoxox

Brenda

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The Hardest (Yet Kindest) Thing I’ve Ever Done (and the New WOW)

My trip to Costa Rica was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Yes, it was purposefully planned to hit the pause button on my life and to shine a light on the deep places in my heart.

But I didn’t realize how difficult such honesty would be.

I thought leaving my church and leaving my marriage were the hardest things I’ve ever done.

But nothing prepared me for the stark reality of coming face to face with ME.

When I left my marriage, I knew that I had embarked on a new phase in my life – but by no means did I enter into a celebration of freedom.

It broke my heart to leave a man I loved – and for whom I will always have love.

Our story is not for public display; I will only share my journey in the hope that it may help you, too.

Though my life was in upheaval, my spirit was resolute: To embark on this new chapter of my life in a healthy way, a spiritual path – an awakening – was needed, and a key question cried out for an answer:

How did Brenda fall in to a toxic church relationship and jump from that into a marriage fraught with similar toxic patterns?

This answer, I believed, was needed to avoid jumping into any other alliances. And I sure didn’t want to waste any more time sleepwalking into relationships.

After many tears shed, I knew I needed help getting to the root.

Through this very blog (a reader contacted me), a path forward presented itself and was confirmed by my dear niece, Deena, and my sister, Shirlee.

There is a place in Costa Rica, the Iboga Wellness Center, that uses what Americans deem unorthodox methods to address deeply-rooted hurts.  The week-long, psycho-spiritual retreat has been purported to produce the effects of 10+ years of therapy.

People I love and respect affirmed that they were truly set free.

Freedom – and answers – were what I longed for.

I booked the trip in June and in the three months leading up to the retreat, was weaned off of Zoloft.  Iboga is an ancient medicinal root that originates in Africa, and it does not mix well with pharmaceuticals.

It fights and weeds out toxicity.  The first treatment focuses entirely on removing toxins from your body – and following that first dose I was flat on my back for an entire day.

It was hard.  This was no spa resort.  For much of the time it was me – and my bed – and a pail to catch vomit.

That first recovery day, I had severe panic attacks and considered fleeing.  There were no distractions; I was face to face with ME for yet another five days.

Midway through the journey, a river cleansing ceremony was held. Imagine Eva Gabor on Green Acres, trekking down a slippery 15 foot embankment in a pounding rain.

Just making it down to the river was a victory for my psyche. The ceremony itself was powerful – my hurts were named and seemed to wash off of me as the rain poured down. Next, my intentions and dreams were also voiced.  The river took them, too and I sensed that the current would take them to fruition.

I cried healing tears.

And was ready to go home.

My body didn’t want to face another Iboga ceremony.  I reasoned with myself: “There’s a hurricane coming; I need to get home to prepare.”  I questioned the process, “How much more can I look inward?  I’ve gotten some release – I want to get back to my soft bed.”

Yet I knew there was more, and I wasn’t about to let fear talk me out of what I traveled there for.

The second journey involves a guided meditation.

All I can say is that I came face to face with little Brenda; the child who so didn’t want to upset anyone that she kept all of her fears and hurts locked up.

I had a bird’s eye view of my soul, shrunken down and diminishing with every passing year.

I saw that because my true feelings were never expressed, they lied dormant, unfulfilled. To cope (and not upset the apple cart), I learned over the years to suppress feelings of anxiety, depression and insecurity because they were “bad.” I became adept at psyching myself up into a false optimism.

This worked for a while, and I even enjoyed some success – but the false front is not sustainable.  Eventually you crack.

The church had built on this faulty premise, teaching that feelings were bad and you couldn’t give them any credence.  It was a sin to be sad.

And my soul continued to die inside of me.

The performance that became my life – surviving the church, trying to present an image of the happy marriage – mostly, trying to present the image of a happy Brenda, nearly destroyed me.

All I wanted to do was make everyone else happy.

And I realized I couldn’t.

Happiness or not is a choice we all make individually.  No winning the lottery or taking exotic vacations can shift a person’s paradigm from dark to light.

Least of all, mine.

As the facilitator guided me back through my life, I SAW me…little me…crouched down and crying soundlessly.

I recognized her and my heart welled up with such love for her.  I held her in my arms and said over and over again, “I love you.  You matter.  I will never silence you again.”

My soul is now free to feel. Decades of feelings are now validated and by doing so, I no longer need to look to external sources for validation.

I am valid.

Am worthy.

Beautiful.

I am whole.

If saying those words out loud to yourself is uncomfortable, I pray for your own healing.

We are destined to have a great love affair in this life…and it is with ourselves.

How can we enjoy a healthy love with anyone else until our own souls are restored?

Yes, I took drastic measures to have a drastic change in my life.

And I got what I went to Costa Rica for.

I recorded this week’s video before my trip. I look forward to what comes out of me in the future, now that I have had a major life healing.

When I feel un-moored, I am so grateful to now have practical tools to get me back to ME.

My thoughts on Kindness and the new Word of the Week….

Ah, SURRENDER. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to let go, yet so freeing to open up to something beautiful and new.

By the way, if any of you have questions about my week at the Iboga Wellness Center, please ask.  What I’ve written here is a condensed version, but there are volumes more to tell.

I wish for each of you the freedom that comes from healing the little soul on the inside so she (or he) can grow up into maturity and strength and power.

You deserve that.

xoxoxo

Brenda

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Will the True Brenda Please Stand Up? (and the New WOW)

In my recent Toastmasters speech, “Dance Like No One’s Watching,” I referred to the 80’s as my heyday of dance while acknowledging that my persona wasn’t a true reflection of Brenda.

The decade, for me, was all about image. Sky-high hair that defied gravity (thank you, Aqua Net) and four-inch Candies’ spike heels made me feel invincible when I entered the club. Combined with three layers of makeup and pronounced charcoal black-smudged raccoon eyes, I perfected my Philly tough-girl persona.

I wanted to look tough.

The victim of vicious bullying throughout my high school years, my reinvention intended to keep away those who would dare tread on my heart.

A dark haired Madonna, I looked like the Material Girl.

In truth, I was Like a Virgin.

The disconnect between that sassy chick on the dance floor, and the word-nerd, old-fashioned girl at my core led to a multitude of brief and failed romances.

The guys at the club dug the unattainable disco queen, but when the lights came on, they soon realized she was the kind of girl you take home to Mom. And skedaddled to the next conquest.

All those years of wishing and hoping someone would fall in love with the true ME, it never occurred to me to…well, BE me.

An exhausting and destructive pattern had been established.  I went from the club girl Madonna to the church girl (aka Joyce Meyers or fill in your favorite Tammy Faye-ish) preacher.

DISCLAIMER: This is not to say I wasn’t sincere in my ministry, because I was. But the church became yet another stage on which to perform.  Because of its toxic nature, on the rare occasions that I dared to allow my true self to emerge, the leaders brutally punished/counseled/scolded me.

Oh, and then I got married.

I think back to my wedding day and am so grateful that it happened.  I always wanted the handsome man at the end of the aisle; a church full of people applauding my dream come true; the dance party scripted to my specifications.

I loved my wedding day.

Because of the toxic and backwards nature of the church, though, I rarely had alone time with my husband prior to the wedding.  He often joked that our first “date” was the night we got engaged.  And it wasn’t a joke.

We were two strangers who were crazy about each other and thought that would be enough to make it work.

And, to do so, I did what I do (or did) best.  I performed the hell out of it.

A life-changing trip with my girlfriends in 2016 (and a mini-breakdown from emotional exhaustion – performing sucks the life out of you!) revealed that I was burning myself out while trying to be who everyone wanted me to be.

In the process, I had lost ME.

Mind you, if my performance-based approach to life had been working for me, I would have kept it up.  It took 50+ years for me to realize that no matter how beautifully I performed, it didn’t make anyone else truly happy.  

Least of all, me.

What follows is a bit vulgar and not language I normally use in my writings. To those who might be offended, I apologize in advance.

Concurrently, I’m not apologizing for using this photo. Because this is part of the TRUE me! I find this to be funny!:

I remember seeing this card and laughing out loud.

It’s true.  Not so much the “F word” part, but the things I say and do today are far different from Brenda 1.0.

Discovering the true me – and the true you – is the quest of a lifetime. It takes honesty, bravery, and huge doses of unconditional self-love. 

But this is my one shot to be Brenda Viola. For the first time since my early 20’s I finally have given myself permission to be her.

I hope you like her, but if you don’t, that’s okay too.

Sometimes I don’t like her!

But I always love her.  And I hope you love the true YOU, too.

Parting thoughts on AUTHENTICITY and the new WOW, coming up!:

What a beautiful word to embrace this week!

Be KIND to you and others.

We can never have too much of that, can we?

xoxoxoxox

Brenda

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My Stage Name is Gypsy: A Lesson in Inspiration (& the New WOW)

When I recently hit an emotional sink hole, I decided to make a plan to get inspiration flowing again.

Sometimes all you need is something happy to anticipate to jump-start your joy.

Music activates something deep inside of me and, in the last decade or so, finding music I liked that was compatible with my partner’s limited my concert-going.  Silly, actually.  I could have made solo plans – but I was always hoping to cultivate “together moments.”

As a result, my love for old school R & B went on the back burner.

Getting back to making a happy plan, as fate would have it, an alert that the Isley Brothers would perform at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg – just an hour away – made my heart jump.

For as long as I have loved music, the Isley’s have spoken deeply to my soul. Ronald Isley’s voice goes right to the core of my heart. Even covers of other peoples’ songs, like Summer Breeze (Seals and Crofts) or Hello, It’s Me (Todd Rundgren) get transported to an entirely new level by his vocals.

Instead of mulling it over, I clicked and purchased tickets. (This is also part of my new way of life. #JustDoIt.) Since it was a Sunday night concert, I made plans to arrive in the city on Saturday, discover St. Pete and enjoy.

Yippee! Rather than moping and dwelling on the past (which is unproductive, because I am not going backward), I had a date on the calendar to inspire me.

So let me cut to the chase about Gypsy.  My excellent, third-row seats had me almost levitating with joy. I began chattering with my left and right seat neighbors, warning them that when “Who’s That Lady?” or “Fight the Power” was performed, I may begin annoyingly screaming and step on their toes from dancing.

I hate those type of people at concerts, but I knew I might be one of them for this one.

The lady to the right was dressed to the nines in a sparkly black jacket and rhinestones on her glasses. We discussed the Isley songbook and which were our favorites (hers, Summer Breeze; mine, Let Me Know.)

I said, “What’s your name?”

She said, “Gypsy.”

Hmmmmmm, I thought.  That’s cool.

After talking some more, I felt it wouldn’t be too intrusive to ask a follow-up question.

“Is Gypsy a nickname or your given name?”

“It’s my stage name.”

A stage name!  How exciting!  She’s a performer!

“Oh wonderful!” I exclaimed. “Are you a singer? Or an actress?”

“No.”

I looked at her quizzically.  She replied,

“My real name is Shirley, but I say Gypsy is my stage name because all the world is a stage.”

Preach, Gypsy!

I learned that when she is at work or church, she goes by “Shirley.”

But when she is out with her man for a romantic night – or whenever she wants to put on a sparkly hat and her alter-persona, she’s Gypsy.

She inspired me!

All the world IS a stage that should be embraced as an opportunity to show up and give it all you’ve got.

(I did tell Gypsy that I have recently given up performing at life because it was simply exhausting, but that I loved the idea of living as the world being MY stage.)

Gypsy may never perform on a literal stage or receive a standing ovation – but she sure is a star.

I’m so glad she shined on me.

All that and the band threw a rose to me!

As we close out INSPIRATION as our Word of the Week, never forget that the world is your stage. And make a happy plan to jump-start your joy!

Goosebumps!  What does AUTHENTICITY mean to YOU?

For me, it is continuing to strip away the layers I created to numb and protect myself from what I have feared.  Whether avoiding a confrontation or walking on eggshells to avoid angry outbursts from others – it’s time to drop the facade and just BE.

How about you?

oxoxoxo

Brenda

 

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Clarity is Not for Sissies (and the New WOW)

This is NOT a manifesto against anti-depressants, but tells of MY journey to true clarity and the role that Zoloft (Sertraline) played in clouding matters.

You know that close to four years ago, I stopped drinking.  Haven’t had a glass of anything since November 11, 2013.  (Note:  It gives me goosebumps that I quit on 11:11, which is a power number. It seems the universe parted the waters that day, making a clear path for me to exit tipsy-land.)

Let me re-think the use of the word “tipsy.”  It is a euphemism, as is buzzed, to describe an altered state that numbs you from the pain of life.  

Such words make you feel better about being a drunk.

I quit alcohol because every bad decision or regretted remark or action in my life emanated from a booze-fueled state. Tired of being embarrassed, I no longer wanted to be voted “Most likely to break something” at every party. Some major falls led to a serious reckoning with how simply dangerous it was to navigate steps and life with a high blood alcohol content.

For me, clarity came when I heard in my spirit “If you keep this up, this is how you will die.”

Gulp.

So 2013 marked a new phase of clarity in my life.

Clarity is not for sissies.  You begin to observe things that didn’t bother you before; overlooked slights now hurt.  Suddenly, there’s fight in you, because you start to believe that you are worth better.

Sobriety and self-respect go hand in hand. As my self-worth grows, my capacity to tolerate disrespect shrinks.

Wait, Brenda – I thought you were going to talk about anti-depressants?

I am.

Sobriety fueled my recent life decisions.  What may have seemed to outsiders as a crazy, “Where did THAT come from?” action when I left my marriage, those who know me know I’ve never been more in my right mind.

But that action was just a beginning.

I’ve been on a quest for HONESTY.

As I continued to ask myself the questions necessary to peel away layers of dishonesty, I kept returning to a nagging question mark: My 10-year affair with Zoloft.

In the beginning years of my marriage, we went to Christian counseling.  The only thing I got out of it was a prescription.

Truly, that first 50 mg pill seemed like a magic bullet.  Perhaps psychosomatic, nevertheless, I felt instantly happier, more able to cope, less irritable and more tolerant.

When entering menopause, the script increased to 75 mg. When we moved to Florida, my new doctor upped it to 100 mg.

Patients should obey their doctors, right?

I visited my sister last year and one of my little blue pills fell on the bathroom floor.  She found it and, with trepidation, asked me what I was on.

I thought nothing of telling her – after all, my healthcare provider prescribed the drug!

The counselor had drawn a little cartoon that showed how serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) would build a little bridge to my brain, helping the happy feelings get back where they belonged.

Shirlee, unimpressed by the analogy but without judgment, encouraged me to read about the impacts of these drugs and to consider weaning off of Zoloft.  It took many months, but for me, the evidence was clear.  If I didn’t get off, I’d be on this drug for the rest of my life.

Thus began Brenda Clear Phase 2.0.

My doctor, knowing of my pending divorce said, “Do you really think this is the best time to detox?”

Taking control of my own body and decisions that affect it, I said, “Yes. This is the very best time.”

Since early June I have been on a steadily-decreasing prescription of Zoloft and last week, went to zero.

Clarity is not for sissies.

My body revolted angrily against the disappearing drug. Irritation has returned, flu-like symptoms, aches and pains, sleeplessness, headaches, cramping – yep, it’s been a real joy ride. But here’s the flipside: I FEEL again.

Yes, the difficult feelings were numbed, but so were the GOOD ones.  I now laugh more, cry more, and am more deeply touched by music and words and people.

I am alive.

Eventually, the physical symptoms will disappear.  It’s worth it to plow through them to get to the REAL ME.

I’ve missed Brenda.  It’s wonderful to get to know her again.

Here are my parting thoughts on CLARITY and the new WOW:

Hot diggity! (Wow, there’s a first-time use of THAT phrase.)

Let’s be INSPIRED this week.

Oh, and if my anti-depressant story has tugged at your heart, let me add that you should never cold turkey SSRIs.  There’s a careful way of weaning that your doctor can guide you through.  If INSPIRED to make a similar decision, I’m rooting for you.

And if you are not, please do not feel judged.  Everyone is on a different journey.  Some people have experienced great relief in temporary use of these drugs to get over a rough patch.  However, in my case, I found myself ten years later using the drug as an emotional crutch.

After finally ditching the crutches, I am learning to walk – and I hope to eventually fly.

xooxoxox

Love,
Brenda

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New Joys (and the New WOW)

What I love about life is that there is always something new right around the corner (if you are open to it) that can bring you an unexpected jolt of joy.

It has always been important to me to stay up-to-date on what the cool kids are doing.

That’s why I subscribe to my Entertainment Weekly magazine.  Even if I don’t read all of those recommended books, download the top songs or Netflix and chill with the latest TV, I at least don’t have a befuddled look of someone out of touch with the present day.

Now that I no longer share a TV (silver lining of living alone!), a whole world of pop culture has opened up to me. No, I’m still a Game of Thrones virgin, but I am completely caught up on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, fell in love with The Good Place and out of the blue, a dear friend sent me a CD that had me sobbing juicy, snotty tears.

I love a good cry, don’t you?

Believe me, I’ve had plenty of BAD ones.  Good cries bring the same kind of release that a sweaty Zumba class offers.  The last two pop culture cries that really “did it” for me were The Notebook (zero makeup left by the end of the film) and The Art of Racing in the Rain. (Best. Book. EVER.)

My friend, knowing that I was facing a challenging time, sent me Moana.  Are you familiar with this Disney animated film?  Well, you should be.  Not having given birth, Disney is not usually in my wheelhouse, but my beloved friends Anna Coker hit the ball out of the park with this gift.

Moana is a lovely little island girl with huge almond eyes and is destined to be the next island leader.  Her father, the Chief, guides her in the ways of the land – but warns her not to ever venture beyond the reef.  He paints the picture of danger and destruction and how she has everything she will ever need right there on the beautiful island. Why leave?

But the ocean calls her.  From the time she was a baby, she was drawn to be a wayfarer – to go to distant lands.

She doesn’t want to be a bad daughter, but she also wants to follow her heart.

If you’ve ever felt drawn to something MORE, but hesitated because you didn’t want to disappoint the people you love, you will LOVE Moana. 

I won’t tell you any more because you need to see it for yourself.  And have a good cry.

And when you do, this clip will make more sense.  It is now on repeat on my iTunes playlist:

If you have seen the film (it came out in 2016; where have I been?!), please let me know your thoughts.  Also, have you found something NEW that brings you joy?  Please share! My pop-culture “to do” list is growing by leaps and bounds, but it makes me happy.

Closing thoughts on JOY and the new WOW, coming right up!

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You are worth getting answers!

xoxoxox

Love,

Brenda

 

 

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Willing to Handle the Truth? (And the New WOW)

If you conjured up the scene from A Few Good Men where Jack Nicholson’s character screams, “You can’t HANDLE the truth,” that is exactly what I was thinking of when considered being WILLING and this week’s post.

For me, the focus on our word “WILLINGNESS” wasn’t so much about being open to trying new things (God knows EVERYTHING in my life is new these days.)

It wasn’t about stubbornly holding on to stuff, because the last few months have been all about letting go.

For me, it was about being willing to dig beneath the surface to uncover TRUTH about how I really feel, what I truly want, where I want to be, and why I did (or didn’t do) certain things in my life.

This awakening revealed that I had mastered performing the politically or socially correct script. I knew what “played well” with different audiences and rolled with THAT instead of considering what Brenda, at her core, honestly felt.

It’s shocking to realize how well we can become at adapting or chameleon-izing our behaviors to avoid conflict, rocking the boat or setting off another person’s explosions.

I’m tired of carefully tip-toeing through this world.

If bombs go off in my wake, so be it.

I’d rather have real than fake.  And I’d rather be fully me that a watered down version of me to make everyone else happy.

But it takes a WILLINGNESS to be honest.

That’s off-putting at first, but ultimately, so freeing.

And here’s the upside: When you are really YOU, the people you attract to yourself are keepers.  They’re not being swept up in a performance; they’re connecting with the REAL YOU.  Good, bad or ugly – it’s REAL.

I will always enjoy fake eyelashes, the transforming power of makeup and the invaluable support of Spanx.

But for the stuff that matters in life, I want REAL.

And I’m willing to be honest enough to get it.

More on that and the new WOW coming up!:

Yippee!

The word JOY always reminds me of my friend Krissie Vincent, who can sing like Janis Joplin but uses her gifts to sing in church, too.  She used to sing this song: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy…” and she milked it perfectly until it exploded into a jumping, rousing “Down in my heart!  Down in my heart! Down in my heart!”

You really had to experience it to know what I’m trying to say.

Joy is a jumping kind of emotion.

It’s when happiness spills over from the inside and activates your outsides.

Give me huge doses, please.

May we all jump for JOY this week!

xoxoxoxo

Brenda

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Don’t Trust a Gossip (but Trust the New WOW)

I read a great quote about TRUST this week and, considering my entirely new life and a whole new set of people in my world, it struck a chord:

I really don’t want to be anyone’s topic of conversation, so I am careful to not enter into conversations about OPB (Other Peoples’ Business).

When someone casually slips in a slight dig about a mutual acquaintance, it’s a red warning light for me.

Good people are too busy living their own lives to passively aggressively slander a third party who is not there to defend themselves.

And seriously, can we just focus on the motes in our OWN eyes?

Here’s a great place to be: I’m not needy.

I’ve got awesome, deep, loyal friends that would take a bullet for me.  I am rich with relationships and don’t crave any new ones.

Yes, I am open to making new friends.

But I don’t need them.

Doesn’t that sound a bit cold?

I think it sounds smart.

I do love my new community, don’t get me wrong. It’s a vibrant place with incredibly interesting, accomplished, funny and outgoing people.  Some may actually end up taking up space in my heart…one day.

But for now, my heart remains guarded – and that is a good thing.

When I was a silly, insecure girl, I wanted everyone to like me. In desperately seeking acceptance, I let down my guard and made excuses for bad behavior.  The bad behavior I observed ended up biting me on the #$@.  Not right away, but eventually.

Now – and this is SO liberating – I don’t care if you like me.

Because I like me.

And I like me enough to protect myself like I would any person of value.

Trust is earned. Friendship is sacred. And I’m not setting sail on this new life to anchor myself to negative people.

Do you remember the song, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead?  If you have any connection to the Philadelphia area, it was THE song in the 70’s.

It came on the R & B station this week and I immediately began shimmying (as I drove; it was quite entertaining for the car next to me at the stop light.)  I always knew the chorus, but some of the verses struck me as just brilliant:

There’s been so many things that’s held us down
But now it looks like things are finally comin’ around
I know we’ve got, a long long way to go
And where we’ll end up, I don’t know

But we won’t let nothin’ hold us back
We’re putting our selves together
We’re polishing up our act!
If you felt we’ve been held down before

I know you’ll refuse to be held down anymore!
Don’t you let nothing, nothing
Stand in your way!
I want ya’ll to listen, listen

To every word I say, every word I say!
Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now!
We’re on the move!
Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now!

We’ve got the groove!
Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now!
We’re on the move!
Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now!

We’ve got the groove!
I know you know someone that has a negative vow
And if you’re trying to make it they only push you aside
They really don’t have, no where to go

Ask them where they’re going, they don’t know
But we won’t let nothin’ hold us back
We’re gonna put our selves together
We’re gonna polish up our act!

Are you singing?  If not, click here and make yourself declare it.

I refuse to be held down any more – and that involves exercising discretion about who I trust and let into my circle.

If you feel “held down” – maybe it’s time to make a break with bad vibe people.

And love yourself enough to surround yourself with quality people who have earned your trust.

More on that and the new WOW!

I think a great way to approach the word WILLINGNESS is to ask ourselves, what are we NOT willing to consider?

And why?

I’m learning not to stay stuck on what I’ve always thought just because it’s what I’ve always thought!

Because maybe (sharp intake of breath) – I was wrong!

Willing hearts open doors.  May many open for you this week!

Love,
Brenda

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Meet a Fabulous Lady: The True Beauty of Edna Hartsell

It’s perfect that the week’s word, beauty, coincides with this planned post to honor my fabulous grandmother, aka Mom-Mom, on the week that would have marked her 111th birthday.

This is what I hope for; that, like my Mom-mom, my time on this earth would be so profound that over 100 years later it still warms the hearts of those I loved.

Edna Ernst Hartsell’s life was a tour de force. Long before independent women were in vogue, she was a career woman, and I still remember her lightening speed on an old, black manual typewriter, spitting out flawless pages (and making quite a racket!)

Edna Ernst was likely in her early 20’s in this photo, and my beautiful cousin, Tiffany, bears a striking resemblance to her.

Many weekends of my youth were spent at her home on Ewan Terrace in Vineland, NJ so my parents could have date nights. We loved learning how to clean (really pretty sneaky, Mom-mom, getting us to think cleaning was fun) and playing jacks or paper dolls on the huge front porch, which was a great gathering place for all of the neighborhood kids.

The best visits were when my sister Shirlee and me were joined by the Shaw Kids, my cousins Johnny, Eddie, Bruce, Debbie and my beloved Kimmy. (I was the baby of the bunch, affectionately called Brendie for many years until FINALLY, Tiffy and Pammie showed up.  By the way, do you see a trend?  Everyone except Bruce had an “ee” sound at the end of their name.  I wonder if he ever noticed that?)

On Friday night, it was pizzas and board games or those soft, snowflake rolls from Catto’s Bakery for perfect lunchmeat sandwiches and running around the perfectly coiffed yard to work off all of our carb and sugar-induced energy.  Because my Pop-Pop, the oh-so-handsome Robert Hartsell, was deaf, he didn’t accompany Mom-Mom to many outings (or maybe he just preferred to stay home and garden or cook amazing meals), so I was often her “date” for weddings as well as Tupperware parties, baby showers and a regular calendar of church-related events.

The Shaw kids! My dad and mom are the adults to the back left; my Aunt Joan to the far back right and Pop-Pop and Mom-Mom are in the middle back. Was that Tiffy she is holding? And did you guess that I am in the front right wearing those groovy rust colored bell-bottoms and thick leather belt? Boy, I wish I had never cut that long black hair…

On a road trip with Mom-Mom? You HAD to sing.  A long car ride felt like a Broadway show starring rousing hymns like “S is for Sunday School.”  There was the upbeat “Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul” and of course, “The Lord’s Army.” (These words are branded on my heart: I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery;  I may never fly over land and sea but I’m in the Lord’s ar-my.) Mom-Mom’s signature sound was to sing the base-line, “bum-bum-bum” style, adding a bit of sass and fun to our rolling revue.

Mom-Mom flanked by the two favorite men in her life, the dashing Bobby (my beloved Uncle) to the left and her husband, Robert L. Hartsell on the right. My mother, Edna Elizabeth (known as Bette) and her sister, my Aunt Joan is on the right. Movie-star gorgeous, aren’t they?
My Aunt Joan recalls that when my mother was born, Pop-Pop was on a Navy ship in California. Mom-Mom named my mom Dolores, a name she loved. A nurse came into her room at the hospital and asked what the baby’s name was. When she heard the answer, she gasped, “Do you want to bring sorrow to that child for the rest of her life?” Mom-Mom immediately sent out new birth announcements with the name Edna Elizabeth (her own name.) When Pop-Pop received the second notice, he thought they had had twins! He found out differently when he was able to call home.
But this does beg a question I wish to pose delicately: How could Edna be a better name than Dolores?
The name Edna is anything BUT beautiful. Yet because it belongs to my Mom-Mom, and my Mom, and my sister (thank you GOD not me), there is beauty in it.
Of course, my mom goes by Bette and my sister (Edna Shirlee) goes by Shirlee.  Can’t imagine why.
Getting back to memories, during World War 2, Mom-Mom would can everything in sight. Every three months, Pop-Pop would have a weekend leave and would tend to a huge garden.  The kids, Joan, Bette and Bobby, would weed it and the pantry would be stocked with green beans, peas, lima beans, corn, tomatoes, carrots and beets.  She would even make sauerkraut and grape and strawberry jelly.
Money was tight, but Mom-Mom always managed to take Joan, Bette and Bobby on outings like the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philly.  Recalls Aunt Joan, “We would get on the train in Lindenwold to Camden, then take the ferry across the Delaware to the foot of Chestnut Street. We’d walk up Chestnut to the Horn & Hardart restaurant where we could pick out anything for breakfast that we wanted. Mom would give us a handful of nickels and we would go hog wild in the machines. A whole breakfast back then was maybe 25 cents. One year my grandmother was in the hospital on Broad Street, so we went to visit her after the parade and went back to H & H for our Thanksgiving dinner. This was WWII so Pop-Pop wasn’t home. We went back to Camden on the ferry and went to see Snow White at a theater in Camden.”
There’s another post brewing about my wonderful Pop-Pop, who served our country in the Navy during WWII. Mom-Mom’s strength was born of necessity as the mom of three children whose father was often gone.

She continued that tradition of special outings with her grandchildren. Each year she’d take one of us to the big city, Philadelphia, to see the John Wanamaker’s light show.

No telling of Mom-Mom’s story could ignore two facets of her life: Her uncanny ability to coin a phrase and her staunch faith and loyalty to church on Sunday mornings.
If you’re ever at a loss for words, here are some Edna Hartsellism’s that perfectly say what you’re trying to convey: 
  • Need a nap? She’d say “I think you need a bipinsy wook.” (For the uninformed, bipinsy is pronounced BIP-in-zee.)
  • How to describe a sourpuss? “She looks like she’s wearing a turd for a breast pin.”
  • Her reply to, “What’s for dinner?”: Layover for meddlers and crutches for lame ducks.
  • Hot outside? “I’m sweatin’ like a bull.”
  • Bored with “Go jump in the lake?” Try “Go flop your tonsils.”
  • Caught farting? Reply, “Better an empty house than a bad tenant.”
  • Did you clean your dinner plate? I’ll call King William your uncle!” was Mom-Mom’s high praise.
  • Poor table manners, “I can’t take you to the Bellevue Stratford.”
  • Reply to “Where are you going?” “I’m going to Manayunk.”  (NOTE: We kids didn’t realize Manayunk was actually a real place; we just thought it was a funny word.)
  • Did something frustrating to Mom-Mom?  She’d exclaim: “Help me God!!!!”
  • Did you really frustrate her to the point of evoking a less than Christian response? “Now you made me sin my soul!”
  • Gazing upward to consider the answer to a problem? “You won’t find it in the ceiling.”
  • See someone lazy? They’re “Sitting there like the bells that never rung.”
  • What do you call the array of treats at a bakery? “Shleck.”
  • And, whenever you called for her, she would reply from somewhere in the house:   “WELL??”

Reading this list it is clear that Edna’s personality had a salty dose of sarcasm; however, her devotion to God and her church provided a sweet balance. 

For those of us who spent the weekend, Saturday nights were spent watching Lawrence Welk. We’d pretend her bathrobe was a ball gown like the Lennon Sisters would wear. She’d let us dance on top of her feet around her living room with our hair tied up in rags so we’d have banana curls on Sunday morning for church.

Church was non-negotiable. She was the queen of Sunday School (which meant we always got starring parts in the Christmas concerts.) When passing the collection plate she’d warn, “Thou God See-est Me.” This was meant to dissuade us kids from copping some of the coins when everyone else’s eyes were closed. Getting ready for church, she would take her pot of rouge and put red circles on her cheeks like clown make up. My cousin Pammy would giggle and she’d blend it in.

I remember wading in the ocean with her one summer and saying, “Mom-Mom, who owns the ocean?”

“God does.”

When my sister went to see The Exorcist and I couldn’t sleep, afraid the devil was going to get me, I called her.  “Mom-Mom, can I be possessed by the devil?”

“Not if Jesus lives in your heart.”

To this day, I remember how she would kneel beside her bed EVERY night to say her prayers OUT LOUD.  I’d always listen, to see if I could get any good dirt on the family (and to make sure she didn’t forget me.)

I didn’t…and she didn’t.

Her prayers completed, she’d groan to the upright position and finally climb into bed, saying, “Thank you GOD for this bed.”

I do the same thing now.

Not the prayers part (sorry, Mom-Mom.) But the exhausted sigh of “Thank you GOD for the bed.” And I think of my sweet Mom-Mom every night as I lay my head on my pillow.

I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I think she is pleased at how her brood turned out. Joan and Bette and Bobby turned into wonderful parents and raised amazing children, many of whom have children of their own (and beyond.)

Not one of us escaped the impact of her life, and for that we are all grateful.

Now for our regularly scheduled parting thoughts on BEAUTY, and the new Word of the Week:

I TRUST that we will have a beautiful week.

Love you!

Brenda

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