Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lovin', and Huggin', and Kissin', and Squeezin'

I grew up with a skewed sense of touch.  I was never hugged as a child.  It wasn’t that my parents didn’t hug their children, my mother couldn’t hug my brothers enough. Perhaps I was an odd child and didn’t allow the interaction on the onset, because she never hugged me. I spent so much of my life angry and hugging just wasn't an acceptable affection.  Everyone that knew me noted my reluctance, earning me a few nick names.  I didn’t trust people, especially enough to let them touch me. 

In school, I was the same way with my friends.  While many of them hugged each other, (I thought it seemed odd to me the way girls were always going around hugging each other) they didn’t hug me, nor did I hug them back.  I’m sure that was also some unconscious decision on my part. I’ve purposefully tried to change that habit over the years, especially since getting published and going to signings and meeting fans. 

I don’t like to be touched on a regular basis.  It took me years to get okay with the people at church, especially here in the Deep South who have no concept of personal space and without permission would just wrap their arms around me and squeeze, to always hug me on greetings and salutations.  Well, quite honestly, I've never become okay with the action.  I just tolerated it because I understood it was the custom.

I don't have to worry about hugging at work, because I an a professional, and professionals shake hands. That’s usually my first response when I meet someone – to push my hand out there.  It serves as both a greeting and a barrier to protect against an invasion of my personal space.

For the twenty years I was married, my husband was a gentle, caring man, but we rarely hugged and never kissed. Yet, he knew the boundaries and knew what forms of touch would calm me.  He had this way of sitting next to me and gently rubbing my arm.  It was a small amount of touch, but it had a huge result, because it would calm me, reassure me everything was going to be okay, and let me know he cared.  There were times I was afraid, and all I needed was that little bit of contact, and my fears would go away. 

When my children were little I covered them with hugs and kisses and told them I loved them all the time.  We used to have these early morning sessions before school where they fought over who got to be beside me and who loved me most.  But as they grew, I apparently taught them to hold back when it came to touching me or showing affection.  Sometimes this hurts my heart.  I know they love and care for me, but somehow I still managed to build this barrier between us. They don’t hug, kiss, or touch me, nor do they tell me they love me. When they do, it's awkward.

I don’t believe I’m opposed to being hugged, touched, squeezed or told I'm loved, but I sure do make it hard. I dream of it often. I desire to be kissed, to be caressed, and to be cherished, to be romantically persued. My fantasies are most often very simple, surrounding the act of being held. There are so many nights I curl into a tight ball and hug myself because I’m scared, lonely, and physically ache for human contact. I have wonderful friends who are always quick to give me words of encouragement when I’m down, and I love them for it.  But the ones I love most can’t put their arms me when I’m scared.  The ones I trust most can’t hold me when I’m hurting.  The ones I desire most are very far away.  Part of me wonders if that too was a subconscious decision. I’ve only ever felt comfortable and trusted one person’s touch, surely there’s another out there.

I know there is something special about human contact.  There’s something special about lovin’, huggin’, kissin’, and squeezin’. I just haven’t found the key to making it a reality, yet. I'm very comfortable being on my own now, and know that I don't need anyone in my life to be happy.  I WANT someone in my life... to hold me. If you have someone in your life you can wrap your arms around, do it, and be thankful.

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Being Debt... Free.

So, I went online to check out my credit score and I got a "low" grade, being just shy of 700, a good auto insurance score of 864, and a good home insurance score over 850.

First of all... I didn't know there was an auto insurance and home insurance score.  And second of all... I don't care that I've got a low grade... I smiled bigger than you could believe when I looked down their report and saw:
·         Open credit card accounts: 0. 
·         Open auto loans: 0. 
·         Open home loans: 0.
·         Open other loans: 0. 

On my report card they gave me a "C" for my total accounts, but my grading system is a little different than theirs.  I think having no debt is a good thing.  Being debt-free is something to be proud of. 

I used to live on credit cards, car and mortgage loans, and student loans... and it made me a slave to the world's system. I worked hard and sacrificed a lot of wants, desires, and dreams to get free from all that debt - and right now all I have to worry about is surviving from day to day with providing for my basic necessities.

I liquidated a lot of "things" to be free, and gave up a lot of creature comforts… like driving a new car, monthly hair and nail appointments, seasonal shopping sprees, and buying what pleased the eye – to pay for later.  Now as I go forward, I work for what I want, chase what I desire, and sacrifice for what I dream.  A lot of times I have to say “no” to what pleases my eye, save up for months to do one special thing, or learn to hunt for bargains and sales. But, I now have a deep appreciation for the things I do get to enjoy.  My priorities changed… and adventures, not stuff, make me happy.

Being debt free didn't make it so I didn't have to work just as hard as the next guy.  We ALL have to work hard, and those who think they don’t have to work and have everything given to them, shame on them and their selfishness.  They're not free; they just often don’t realize it.  Nothing is free. But, the difference in the feeling of working by choice and working by force is something I can't express in words.

I hope I’m able to continue to be free. I’m finding just trying to provide the basic necessities of survival hard in and of itself.  I didn’t mind giving up that freedom for a time when I had a family to take care of, but it’s just me now.  I don’t have to be sensible, I can take chances.  Who knows the adventure that waits for me? 
Yeah, yeah, yeah… In my mind’s eye I can see all the Practical Sam’s out there pointing their fingers at me and lecturing me on responsibilities, duties, and retirement plans. I know I can fail miserably and end up in a homeless shelter… but I could also fly.

While the credit companies give me a "C"... I give me wings.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Soul-Searching on a Tuesday Morning (Re-Post)

You know, I really wish I had everything figured out, I knew the answers to all my problems, the direct path to fulfill my dreams, the key to finding and keeping love, and which door truly leads to peace and happiness.  Come on now, I can hear many of those automatic responses popping into your head as you read this blog post, because you do the same thing.   But, every day I’m learning more and more I don’t even know the questions, much less the answers.  I convince myself, almost on a daily basis, of what is the right thing for me to do.  But at the end of each day, I feel like I’m keeping a journal of all the wrong things to avoid, having experienced them first hand. So, here I am once again soul-searching on a Tuesday morning. Once again, I’m totally lost.
Knowing I can’t trust my emotions and decision-making process, I turn to a few varied sources; people I trust and admire and books that stretch my understanding and test my faith.  I’ve chosen four inspirations this morning.  Let’s just hope I can make some kind of sense out of all this turmoil.  I’m so tired of being lost and afraid.  I’m exhausted, frustrated, and just spent.  Please let me find an answer, or at least something to hold onto with a tendril of assurance.
I’m a woman of faith.  You can’t tell it by most of the decisions I’ve made in my life recently, not if you’re looking on the outside.  But it’s by my faith, and through my love and relationship with my God that I first learned to love myself.  In loving me, I’ve made some bold moves to find me.  Unless you’re on the same journey as me, my actions seem detriment to most faiths.  Everyone has an idea of what a faithful servant looks like, but I’m finding most people don’t look past an image, behind a mask, beneath the flesh, and right into the heart.  We lie to ourselves, expecting our blind obedience to bring a life of prosperity and easiness, yet that’s never been the promise.  I find myself constantly saying, “I’ll be happy when…”  NO!  I must be happy right in the middle of my chaos.  If I let hardship, fear, loneliness or anxiety steal my joy, take away my faith, I’ve already lost.  If I can’t smile, even as these tears streak down my face and I shake with fear, then what’s the point? 
Ecclesiastes 12:1 – “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; while the sun and the light, the moon and the stars, are not darkened, and the clouds do not return after the rain…”  We’re not taught in Sunday school such days lay ahead for us, not for the faithful and the obedient.  No, for us awaits rainbows and sunshine.  I have come to know these dark times intimately, I’ve known them most of my life, yet I still hope and believe.  Keep in mind, I did tell you at the beginning of this post I don't know the answers.
My next source of soul-searching comes from a book that was given to me on my birthday by a dear friend called, “Finding Your Own North Star” by Martha Beck.  I’ve been studying the chapter titled The Disconnected Self.  Ms. Beck explains there are two halves to each of us (our essential self and our social self), and having balance of these two halves is detriment to us discovering our own North Star, our true purpose in life, our life design, our fulfilling existence.  I immediately recognized my own imbalance, well really I’ve been aware of it long before being given this book, but Ms. Beck helps me identify just how and why I’m unbalanced. I’m a results-driven person. 
My value has always been wrapped up in my performance and productivity.  It’s been rewarded and punished, given and taken based on my achievements and accomplishments.  I could always answer… “I’m loved, appreciated and wanted because …”, and then fill in the blank.  Not loved, appreciated and wanted just as I am; strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments and failures, etc.  There’s always an excuse why - “I’m just not attracted, it’s just not the right time, if things were different, if I wasn’t, if you weren’t …”  My father used to tell me, “There’s something about you that brings out the best and worst in me.  I hate how you make me feel.  If you do this to everyone else, no one will ever love you all the way, because you make them see themselves for who they are, and nobody likes who they really are.”  His words have always haunted me, made me feel responsible for being a disappointment to everyone, always setting impossible standards no one can fulfill, not even myself. 
“Today, the Melvins (results-driven) of the world are being downsized out of the very careers for which they sacrificed their essential selves.” ~Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star.  I remember the years of busting tables, wiping asses, living paycheck to paycheck, and climbing the ladder with doing whatever it took to succeed - late nights, overtime, two jobs, and endless sacrifices for family and friends, fighting for the days when all the struggle would pay off - …after the degree …after the first paycheck …after the next raise …after the mortgage is paid off …after the kids are grown.  Guess, what? After never came.  I sacrificed so many moments in pursuit of achievements I thought I had to have to be loved, wanted, needed and desired.  Here I am now with nothing and alone, all those things I sacrificed for, all those people I tried to please… where are they? The true treasure I lost was me.  I chose me, and all those things (money, career, prestige, success, relationships) disappeared.  I have to start over, but this time will be different.  This time is for me.
My last two inspirations come from two very special men who have come into my life this past year.  The admiration and respect I have for them is so abundant it’s overwhelming really.  Because the things I truly admire about them aren't anything tangible, but in how they show the world to me through their words, their writing, their friendships, and their gifts.  It’s like our souls connected on a higher plane.  Well, their souls connected.  I still feel sometimes like an observer, not really worthy to be in their company.
I read an article this morning titled “Bruce Lee’s Grave” by Jeff Suwak.  The story is about a man who wanted to visit the grave site of his hero, Bruce Lee, and give him a quick prayer of thanks for being an inspiration in his life.  Instead of finding what he expected, his journey through a graveyard brought him face to face with a fundamental truth about himself and the reason for his visit.  The way this writer sees the world blows me away on many levels.  He’s not without flawed views, as the rest of us, but he’s one of the most honest I’ve ever met.  It’s such a breath of fresh air to see that in this day and age.  With the advances in our technology and communication devices, we as a people learn to hide behind more clever and permanent masks.  We used to only wear temporary ones when forced to be in public.  Now that the world has been brought into our homes and every aspect of our lives, we wear continual masks that become so comfortable we forget about them.  Here’s a writer who refuses to wear a mask.
The other inspiration comes from a brilliant man, Christian Fennell, who questions the system, fights against the social norms and dares to dance outside the lines of conformity.  I admire him on so many levels.  He’s a devoted and loving husband and father to his family and a mighty warrior in the literary world for his passion. He refuses to be put in a box.  He has a set of short stories that he collects under the heading “On My Way to Sunday”.  I asked him this morning what that byline meant to him and he answered, “I love Sundays.  They will always be associated with fishing and hanging out with family, big dinners, etc.  I write every morning, but Sunday, ‘cause I’m fishing.  So it means I write all those damned stories On My Way to Sunday.”  It seems Mr. Fennell has learned to balance his essential and social self.  He has not forgotten the world is in chaos, but has apparently found his peace in the middle of it.  He doesn’t wear the masks of conformity, but keeps an eye on what’s truly important.  I have no doubt he will one day make it to his ultimate Sunday.  Through these four inspirations, I hope I can do the same.
  Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

Monday, February 24, 2014

What You Tell Yourself

I’ve read some inspiring articles lately about how, as the poster above states, what you tell yourself every day will either lift you up or tear you down.  I know this to be a deep existential truth. It’s what’s holding me together at this particular and scary moment in my life.

The world is a harsh place filled with disappointments, broken dreams and heart aches, but it’s also full of accomplishments, adventurous successes, and great love stories.  I’ve asked myself a million times how one gets from one end of the spectrum to the next, from dreaming to the realization of those dreams, from surviving to enjoying life, and I’m learning the key is attitude and having a positive mindset.

According to both of the articles listed at the end of this post, we should remind ourselves of three unique and positive things about ourselves, and list what three things for which we are grateful. No, the world won’t just magically align itself and every wish comes true at the onset of this positive turn, but it’s a beginning, and one I’d like to do today.  According to my faith, I should write my vision down and keep it before me, because if I can see it in my mind, I can achieve it.  So, here I go.

Three positive things about myself:
1.    I’m honest. Honestly is a rare today.  The world is full of lies and liars. My honesty often costs me.  I’ve lost nothing to honesty that wasn’t worth losing in the first place.  I make mistakes, but I have no regrets because they’ve been honest mistakes.  I’ve seen what dishonesty does to families, relationships, and self esteem.  Deception destroys a person from within, and liars always get caught.  Nothing good comes from a lie.
2.   I’m beautiful.  I’m not a supermodel, an actress, or have a body that would stop traffic or make men drool, but I love the hard work I’ve put into my body. I’m healthy, I’m active, and being that way makes me happy.  Being happy puts a smile on my face, and that smile makes me attractive.  But, my heart, though having been broken, abused, and abandoned many times -yet still chooses to love and not become bitter in spite of it all - makes me beautiful.
3.   I’m a dream chaser.  I don’t let the world dictate to me who I am or what I do, or what I should be. I have dreams and hopes, and no matter what anyone else thinks or says, I do my best, sacrifice what I must, and pay whatever cost, in order to chase my dreams. Believe me, it’s cost me dearly.

And now for the three things for which I’m thankful:
1.    I’m thankful for my children.  They are the treasure of my heart. I love each of them in their own way, and being their mother has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.  I’m not the perfect mother, but I love my children with a perfect love, and they love me.
2.   I’m thankful for the opportunity to chase my dreams.  I love writing.  I can’t imagine my life without it.  I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to pursue my dream of publication and have had that dream realized now several times, and know there will be so much more to come. I’m so thankful for the friends I’ve made in this industry.  Writers are unique people, a peculiar lot, and only they can truly understand my passions, my sacrifices, my frustrations, my goals, and my dreams in this area.
3.   I’m thankful for my friends.  I know they love me and without them I would be completely lonely.  Someone recently told me that I should become completely independent and get to the point where I don’t need anyone. I’m already there.  I depend on no person for anything – financially, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.  However, I choose my friends. I choose to love them and to want them in my life. I don’t need them and would be just fine without them, but without them I would be lonely and I would miss them greatly. I love them and want them, and am so thankful they have chosen me to share their life.

So, what three positive things can you think about yourself, and for what three things are you thankful?  Come on, I’m sure it won’t take you long to figure those out.  Then, once you do, remind yourself daily of those things every day and watch your world begin to transform into a happier, more successful life.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Changing Your Attitude by Tanee at From Fat to Fit Chick -

Three Good Things by Jeff Suwak at The Prague Revue -

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Beautiful Run

Have you ever looked at a flower and just found yourself lost in awe?  They're not just simple things. They're not composed of a few lines and colors like the way we draw them with our little elementary school hands.  If you really look at them, you will find they are each a divine work of art.  These natural beauties are filled with complex details, extraordinary designs, and  brilliant colors.

The phrase “stop and smell the roses” takes on a deeper meaning for me today.  I have been so busy going back and forth in my daily life, fulfilling goals and responsibilities, that at times it has overwhelmed me.  I became the center of my universes, and like a workhorse, put on my blinders as I pulled my cart down rustic back roads, greenbelt trails, and tar-streaked highways. 

What are the roses in my life?  What are the beautiful things, the complex things, the intricately designed things available to me, placed in my path to make my world a more beautiful place? After reading an article by one of my closest friends, Three Good Things by Jeff Suwak, I got a glimpse of that beauty. 

There were so many parts in this one article that pushed and pulled me in so many different directions, I've had to read it several times and have only begun to see it's complex, deep, moving message. After I wiped the tears from my cheeks, and got a good night's sleep, the fog of stress, fear, and depression are beginning to lift, allowing a ray of golden sunshine to fall on me. It is a thin beam, but enough to start melting the ice wall I'd built around my winter's heart.  Of course, it's not pretty when walls fall.  My first instinct is to panic when the ground starts to shake and the thunderous crashes boom through my silence. I get scared, I get defensive, I cover my ears and curl into a ball.  But, I am grateful.

At any moment I have access to a lifetime’s worth of beauty and contemplation and wonder. The deluge of crap that modern media makes available can make us forget all of the beauty, all of the high achievement of the human spirit and intellect, that is available to us at the press of a button. That is something infinitely worth being grateful for.” ~ Jeff Suwak

As I ran the trails, many words from that article kept rolling through my mind, especially about seeing the beauty in such an ungrateful world, and that's when I saw my first flower.  I nearly tripped over my own clumsy feet trying to divert my direction.  Sometimes I act before I think, and in this instance, after having been running for 2 miles, I was in a rhythm.  So while my reactive mind said “oh, a flower” my feet were screaming “keep moving”.  I managed to stay upright, but pulled a muscle, which made the last mile of the run excruciating.  But, I didn't let the pain stop me from enjoying those wonderful works of art.

 The first flower was actually a weed, but one of the most beautiful and complex weed I've ever seen.  It's something that brought me so much joy as a kid. As I knelt down before it, to get that perfect shot,   it seemed to whisper to me, “Your winter is just about over”.  I nearly started crying.  I took my shot and then hobbled down the path.

I only got a few hundred feet when I saw the next flower.  This one was brilliantly colorful, a bright spot among a brown world.  It seemed to softly speak to me, “A new season is coming.”  I felt tension release in my shoulders.

It started to rain and I still had a good quarter mile to go. But, I didn't let the cold drizzle steal the beauty from me. I limped some more and came upon another flower, almost hidden among a pile of  damp leaves. This one was very small and purple.  It seemed to laugh at me as it spoke to my heart, “You've only just begun to grow, there's so much more to come.”  My heart felt lighter, my future seemed a bit brighter.  Though it was raining, I laughed in the rain.

In a winter wood, filled with leafless limbs and dead leaves, I literally stumbled upon another flower as I came around a sharp corner.  I didn't see it until I had reached the center of the turn.  This one was very delicate, but intricately detailed.  It seemed to shout at me, “You can't see all the details from afar and behind obstacles.  But if you keep your eyes open and get close, you'll become amazed.  Pay attention to the details.” 

My leg hurt as I climbed the last big hill, bringing me back to the start of the 3 mile trail.  I felt relief as I spotted my car parked in the parking lot.  As I passed the restrooms and exited the greenbelt, I noticed a  little flower garden by the curb, filled with various colorful plants.  I hadn't noticed it when I started this run, knowing I passed right by them.  I shook my head and thought about how amazing it was that I couldn't see what was right in front of me - what had been in the open, I had missed.   

What beauty have you missed seeing?

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

Three Good Things - Jeff Suwak

Here's the latest article by North Star author Jeff Suwak in today's edition of The Prague Revue.

Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.                                                                                       –Andre Gide

   Writing in the modern age is a strange and often sleazy affair. So many voices are out there vying for attention that writers feel compelled to say outrageous, angry, and controversial things, things that provoke political disagreement, things that lower other people’s dignity in the name of comedy.  The masses’ appetite for all of those things is apparently endless, and the writers who get the most eyes are usually those that can find ways to provoke shock, enrage, and disgust.

   But, here’s the deal: I was just notified that I have a deadline to finish an article tonight, and I haven’t even started it, yet. What this means is that there is no time for bullshit. There’s no time for me to find snarky things to say about subjects that I don’t really care about. There’s no way for me to find a way to provoke a political witch hunt. All I’ve got time to do is to shoot the straight truth about what’s on my mind, and I’ve got some heavy stuff on my mind, tonight, my friends.

   The straight truth on this blustery Pacific-Northwestern night of the soul is that I’m in the midst of one of the lowest, dog-shit-eating stretches of my life. Nothing in particular has happened. I don’t know exactly what the problem is. It’s just been one of those stretches of days where I feel miserable, talentless, and unloved. I’m just tired. Really, really tired.
   Thing is, when you get stuck in these pessimistic ruts, you get tunnel vision. All that you can see is the misery of the world. The negativity builds and builds upon itself, and then you step into the internet and become dog-piled with all the triviality and superficiality and selfishness of the world.

   The thing is, there’s just so much nastiness out there that I just don’t want to add to it tonight. I can’t change the world. The one thing that I can do is to choose between spreading more negativity or adding some sort of positivity. This might seem insignificant. It might seem melodramatic. But, tonight, it doesn’t feel like any of those things to me.

For the rest of the article, please visit The Prague Revue here: Like, share, or comment on the article and let Mr. Suwak know what you thought of his article. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Work Your Way Out

There are so many times I’ve been down, feeling beaten, uninspired, unproductive, and sometimes question my purpose and worth.  This is part of the human psyche and something everyone experiences.  Then, of course, there’s depression, which only magnifies those feelings exponentially. 

I believe most artists suffer from depression most severely because we are passionate, and just as much as we experience the beauty, magic, and wonder of life, we equally see the hardships, ugliness, and passionately feel the pain. 

We are individuals, unique in this universe.  Though we have common interests, experiences, and desires, there is no one else on this planet that has lived our lives as we have. In MY life, in my journey of climbing mountains, I spend just as much time navigating valleys.  For ME to find my way back up another mountain, I have to work myself out of whatever I’m struggling with, or I’ll become stagnant and slowly die on the inside. 

I have dreams, goals, and things I want to accomplish in this life, and those things do not just fall into my lap or happen on their own.  I have to fight for them.  Part of that fight includes working my way out of the slumps I find myself wallowing through.  When I can’t write and my mind won’t focus, and my motivation is almost non-existent, I buckle down and write anyway.  Yes, it is shit and stuff I’d never show anyone, but it gets me angry, gets me moving, gets my imagination going, and eventually gets me back to writing like I should be.  It is taking steps through the valley toward the mountain.  I can’t make it to the mountain without moving. I’m not going to float there and the mountain surely isn’t going to come to me.

When I’ve hit a plateau in my workout routine, I keep exercising.  In fact, I increase, change up my routine, try something new, but I work my way out of the slump. 

When I get tired of eating the same things day in and day out, I don’t revert back to the unhealthy foods that harmed my body and mind because I don’t see the desired results, I work my way out by discovering new foods, new tastes, new textures. 

So, if you find yourself in a gray place, neither black nor white, neither hot nor cold, and you want to get out – don’t retreat, don’t give up, don’t hide your head in the sand – work your way out!  Do the very thing that has you blocked.  At least give it a try.  It might not work for you like it works for me. 

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

This blog post has me thinking about a song by Lucy Spraggan called “Mountains”. For my friends and those I love who find themselves down... this is what I would say to them: 

“I know what you’re scared of - I used to feel it too. You’re not scared of climbing mountains - you’re scared that you can’t make them move. I would move them for you.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Healthy Art

Healthy eating doesn't have to revolve around specialty diets, calorie counting and earning points. Those are all good and I couldn't have changed my culinary lifestyle had it not been for all those years of learning, acknowledging, and discovering the nutritional (non-nutritional) value of the foods I consumed. I spent most of my adult life yo-yo dieting, not understanding where I kept failing. I tried so hard to apply a healthy menu to a unhealthy mindset and the two just didn't get along. When my resolve broke down, my patience wore out, and my taste buds revolted, like an addict (because I had yet to change my mindset) I reverted back to what was comfortable, what was familiar, and alas - what was detrimental to my health and fitness. Feeling like a failure is our biggest adversary in the battle for our health. I developed a love/hate relationship with food.

I am still on my journey and will never fully achieve my ultimate health goal, because I understand now that this battle isn't a temporary fight, but a livelong adventure. I had to switch gears and begin to look at the whole picture with new eyes, new understanding, and a new perspective. I stopped setting goals for myself and threw out all my diet plans and started from scratch. I took an inventory and made a list of what were 'healthy' foods and what were 'trigger foods' that led to my temptation to over-indulge, binge, or consume to feed my emotions. I did not make a list of “good” or “bad” foods, because I'm beginning to understand there really aren't good or bad foods, just good or bad preparations and portions of the foods we eat.

I stopped seeing food as the enemy. “I” was the enemy. How I ate, prepared, and used food led to my unhealthy eating practices. So, I made an honest assessment of how I used and reacted to food, and those were the things I changed. Then I started dating food, looking at it with new eyes, seeing it's possibilities, understanding it's function, and then allowing my creativity to take over, thinking of ways how I can turn it into something beautiful, artistic, and fun . I experiment with color, texture, and flavor. Other than a few dietary allergies, there's now NOTHING I can't have or can't use to make a good meal. 

I don't diet – I create healthy art, and I love every delicious morsel.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Monday, February 17, 2014

Get Up! Go on!

Okay, it’s the middle of February and we’re approaching the biggest point where most people who set new goals for themselves at New Year’s usually falter and fall right back into their bad, unhealthy habitual routines.  But, don’t give up.  Get up.  Speed it up.  Dig in a little deeper, because you’re about to hit to a good milestone, reach a transformational point, and see some progress. 
Diet and exercise require a lifestyle change to be effective, period.  Temporary practice only produces temporary results. In the same manner it took to develop the unfit and unhealthy habits, so too will it take just as long to create new ones. It can be done.  It can be accomplished.  You can change your life.
I don’t diet and exercise anymore.  I did when I started out, because essentially both required a major shift in my normal practices, the biggest being my mindset.  I now live more active and healthy.  When it comes to food, I used be concerned about calories and fat content, but now I concentrate on taste, convenience, cost, and enjoyment.  I no longer look at my ‘diet’ as being filled with foods I can’t eat, but turn my focus to those varied healthier choices and consider ways to make them tastier and artistic.  I don’t look at exercise as something that I have to do if I’m going to lose weight.  I hardly weigh anymore, because I’m reaching the point where my weight doesn’t matter as much as my strength and ability to participate in various activities. I now seek out adventures that are exciting, thrilling, and less inhibited because I’m healthier and more energetic. 
But, I didn’t get this way by some miracle pill, divine miracle, extreme surgery, magic shake, or expensive training.  I’ve lost more than 80lbs this last year, built up my lungs and muscle activity to run a mile, and took up the art of gourmet cooking through a lot of hard work and determination.  Every time I thought of quitting and returning back to what was easy and comfortable, I’d think about all those things I was too unhealthy to do, how I felt about myself, and how much my friends and family worried about me and my health, and then I would push myself a little bit harder. 
Yes, it hurts.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, at times it feels like that next goal is just always right out of reach.  Yes, you will have weak moments.  Yes, you will stumble at times.  But - YES, you can do it. Yes, you can get up. 
Encourage one another.  If you have a friend or family member that you know who has set a goal for themselves to get their bodies healthier by eating better and exercising, please be a cheerleader for them and let them know how proud you are that they’re taking a stand for their life.  Help them, don’t tempt them.  Send them a note of encouragement and celebrate with them even the tiniest of accomplishments.  A long line of tiny accomplishments make up major achievements. I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for a few of my friends who constantly pushed me, encouraged me, and celebrated my achievements with me. 
Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

Whether you have a sweetheart or not, take time today and tell the people that are precious in your life that you love them.  Don't be afraid to shower those you love with affection, even if they're grumpy old curmudgen's who gripe and complain about how stupid this holiday is.  They'll get over it.

I don't care if it's stupid, I'm going to always tell those that are important in my life how much I love them.  We should always celebrate love and express it as often as we can.  You never know when you might not get the chance to say it again.  There are too many people I've lost in my life that I wish I could have just one more chance to shower them with love.

I'm one of those that don't particularly care for the commercialism of this holiday, and I hate even more the demanding expectations that are placed on sweethearts.  In my opinion, that's no more than manipulation.  In a perfect world, we'd shower each other with love and affection all the time, but we are imperfect beings and sometimes need a reminder. 

I'm a hopeless romantic.  I also know I am a fool, because I still believe in love, though I see very little of it in my life. I know it exists and someday I'll find it, because I've recently found it in me. I believe in a great, passionate love.  I believe in a deep, moving love.  I believe in a faithful, enduring love.  I believe in God's love.  I believe in mankind's potential to love one another.  I believe love is the most important thing in this world, because it is what inspires us to see one another, care for one, to help one another.  It is our lack of love that kills us all.

Happy Valentine's Day,
~T.L. Gray

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Breakin' a Fever

The fever I'm speaking about this morning isn't from a sickness, but from a mental state of mind, which I suppose could be called a sickness - the elusive Cabin Fever.  I've suffered from this ailment before, but through this winter storm, I caught a really bad case.

Much of the United States has experienced wild wintry weather these past couple of weeks.  It was not long ago Atlanta, and most of the state of Georgia, was shut down due to a snowstorm.  We refer to it around here as Snowpocalypse. Just as quick as the storm came, so it went.  But there were a couple days I was stranded and couldn't leave my apartment and I caught a light touch of cabin fever.

Having seen the danger of what could result from being unprepared, the news stations flooded our airwaves, telephones and televisions with warnings and emergency instructions.  I have to say their dire attitude caused a bit of anxiety by using words like "catastrophic".  I had all kinds of fears of freezing to death, not being able to get help, and being stranded all alone.  The media spoke of two waves of danger.  First the Ice Storm of the Century, followed by a massive wave of record-breaking snow fall.  They spoke of all the roads being covered in layers of ice, and the weight of the ice and snow bringing down trees and power lines, plunging 100's of thousands into darkness and cold.  Nah, who's going to worry about such trivial things?  Well, the Ice Storm of the Century hit and it was every bit as thick as they predicted.

While the world lay covered in a glistening wonderland, I feared for my safety. In preparation, I pre-cooked a couple meals, blocked myself into my back bedroom, and stocked it with extra blankets and emergency items in case the power went out.  It was so cozy I hated leaving its warmth to rush to the bathroom or grab something from the kitchen. I made the mad dash mostly because I didn't want any of the heat escaping in case I lost power.  I still had 24-48 hours I knew I was going to be stuck, and I needed to preserve all the warmth I could. 

Needless to say, my fears had me more than I wanted to admit. I tried and tried to read and edit the various projects I've been working on, and thinking I didn't have to go to work for a couple days, I'd get ahead, but I couldn't concentrate.  I'd read the same chapter over and over, but hearing tree branches snap and crash outside my window, and my lights flicker on and off, I just couldn't concentrate.  Then, I received a huge scare when my soon-to-be new upstairs neighbor showed up and his footsteps above broke that thin line of bravery I had desperately clung.  I almost had a panic attack thinking someone broke into the house.  I felt relieved to see my housemate, because I knew that if a catastrophe struck as all the newsmen predicted, I would at least not be alone. Someone would know where to find me body. I felt so relieved, I cooked him one of my favorite gourmet meals.

My housemate left that evening in his 4-wheel drive in the lull between phase 1 and phase 2 of Ice Storm/Snowmaggedon 2014, and I was once again plunged into silence and uncertainty.  I barricaded and braced for the second wave to hit.  I tried to do anything that would take my mind off the unimaginable horrors of abandonment, falling trees, and broken power lines with no way to escape. Though I was once again isolated, I was never alone during this whole ordeal.  My best friends were with me through texting, sending me instant messages and silly stickers, bitstrips, sharing pictures and video chatting.  They may have been in different parts of the country and unable to help should one of these foretold catastrophes actually occur, but they helped to keep me calm, let me know I'm wasn't truly alone, and that there are really people in this world who do care about me and my safety. I fell asleep without worry or concern.

 I woke the next morning to a winter wonderland.  After a quick 7 am hike and taking a few photos of the fallen trees and snow cover, I slipped back beneath the covers and slept some more.  This was the most sleep I've had in a couple months.

When I woke a couple hours later and got dressed, I looked out expecting to see the snow gates to  my proverbial prison, but instead saw glorious sunshine.  You talk about getting excited.  I couldn't wait to get outside and hike among the melting snow and ice and feel the warmth of the beautiful sun on my face. I nearly skipped the whole time with a HUGE, huge, HUGE smile on my face.
I got so excited, shrugging off this bad case of cabin fever,  I called work and asked if they were open.  So, enjoy these next few photos, and thank you for letting me share my experience with you. 

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sensory Reminiscences

There's nothing I think more potent in transporting us instantly like sensory memories.  A certain smell, a certain scene, a certain song, a certain color, a certain feeling, a certain word or phrase, etc.  All these are able to instantly trigger a memory or a feelings in our minds and take us back to a connecting memory.

I'd love to say that one memory sense is more potent than another, but I'm finding that's just not true.  It depends on the measure of contact.  As a writer and working in literary field, I'm surrounded by words.  I work with words, I play with words, and I often dreams about words, so needless to say certain words, phrases, book covers, lines of prose, familiar passages of poetry are able to trigger different memories in my life at any given moment.  I've learned over the years to avoid certain types of words for that particular reason, because there's just some things you don't want to remember. 

This morning, however, it wasn't words that have transported me, but music.  I had one of the best adventures of my life last summer.  This morning my iPod was set to scramble and played songs at random and a song by MSMR came up in queue.  I was going about my business as usual when their song Hurricane started playing.  My body reacted before my mind was able to comprehend.  I froze in place, my fingers literally stopped typing, my mind jumped to a sensory memory of a particular moment standing outside an airport.  My breath caught.  My throat tightened.  I re-felt that moment of nervousness.  My stomach fluttered in anticipation.  My hands shook.  In the original moment, I had never been more excited and more afraid in my entire life.  In this moment, for just a second, I once again felt that sensation. Then, I couldn't stop the tears. 

The sad part wasn't remembering the wonderful scene, I cherish it and hope to remember it forever. What hurt was realizing how far I've retreated, how much I've stuffed a particular part of my life back into it's familiar and comfortable box. I had promised myself not to do such a thing. I've come too far to go back. I deserve to move forward.

I've set my iPod to play that album over the next few weeks, not so I can remember that beautiful summer, but to remind myself of the promises I've made, and I can once again start breaking down those damned walls. 

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Monday, February 10, 2014

Be Happy

I'm learning that the happier I am, the happier people I attract, and the happier people become around me. Happiness and joy are contagious. I feel better, stronger and am less afraid.  But also just as addictive are the negative depressives.  Another important thing I'm learning is that I don't have to allow these negative depressives into my life - it's okay to cut them out.

I'm not talking about beautiful friends who may be having a bad day, a hard time, or a moment of sadness, weakness, or depression.  Being a good friend is reaching out and being a comfort to them, lending a shoulder, a hug, an attentive ear - and doing all we can to be there and lift our friend out of the dark place.  Those are the best opportunities to share our happiness, be an inspiration, and be a good friend. I wouldn't be where I am today without the wonderful friends in my life who helped me.

What I am talking about are those who ONLY look at the world with negative dark-colored glasses, where they seek out all that's wrong with everything (yes, the world sucks and there's a lot of bad things going on - I don't stick my head in mud and pretend I live in a fairy tale), look for the bad in everyone, expects everyone to hurt, have manipulative intents and alternative motives.  I know.  I used to be that hurt, angry, little girl. It's not a nice way to live.  It ages and beats you down and crushes your spirit.

I'm becoming that irritating person who chooses to look for the silver-lining.  I show up to work smiling, singing and spreading positive platitudes, skipping through the day making all negative depressives want to stab me in the face. But I choose to still smile, because they have no idea what I'm going through, or that most days I'm fighting some of the biggest battles in my life, or that I walk around terrified and alone almost all the time.  My smile is my weapon.  An upbeat song in my heart, or playing in my ears through my iPod, is my armor.

There will be days when I'm going to need to be carried, because I've dropped my weapons and have been overcome by the shadows of depression - but those days are happening less and less as I become happier. 

Proverbs 16:24: "Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and medicine to the bones."
Proverbs 17:22: "A merry heart does good, like medicine.  But a broken spirit dries the bones."

Smile today, especially if you don't feel like it. 

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Carrollton the Beautiful

Those who know me, know I have recently developed a love for the Pacific Northwest, and I can't lie, it has stolen my heart.  It was the first place I ever felt at home, where I spent an entire eleven days with my eyes wide open and walked around in a state of awe, admiration, and wonder.  I've been to many places, and while I can see and find a beauty in any place I visit, there was just something different about Washington.

While my heart is in Washington, my reality is here in Georgia.  Had I the means and opportunity, I'd pack my things and head out first thing in the morning to go home, but I don't see that happening for a long time, or possibly ever.  I know how life interferes and makes plans for us no matter what we've planned for ourselves.  At least that's been the experience for me. I've watched too many dreams dissolve around me. I'm doing my best to take strides not to lose another one.

In the meantime, I'm not without appreciation of the beauty around me.  Because Carrollton also has piece of my heart and I really love this town.  I have many great friends here and the natural beauty and sweet charm of this place is like no other I've ever seen.  While Washington is my passionate lover, Carrollton is a my best friend.

Here is just a taste of that beauty I saw today on my hike.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Perfectly Imperfect

Perfection.  It's a novel idea, but it doesn't really exists; it's an illusion.  Even in things or people we think are perfect, that perceived perfection is only for a moment, at first glance, at first inspection. As we become more familiar, we begin to see the flaws, the cracks, and the imperfections.  The key is to maintain the same level, or even a deeper level, of affection for that person or object as these imperfections surface.

None of us are perfect.  None.  Not one.

Being single and Valentine's just around the corner, I've been considering the type of man I'd like to date.  At first my idea of the 'perfect' man popped into my mind, and boy my list of requirements was long.  But as I thought about it, it's the imperfect, flawed, and damaged man I wanted most.  Not a wreck, not unstable, just flawed. Let me try to explain.

I don't want someone who will do what I want, when I want, or tell me what I want to hear, obey my every command, or fulfill my every want and desire.  No, I didn't mistype that sentence. 

I'm a passionate  person, and passion is what gets my heart pumping and causes excitement to flood through my veins.  I'm passionate about love. I'm passionate about life. I'm passionate about reading, writing, marketing, hiking, exploring, being adventurous, being a friend, being a mother, etc.  But, I'm not passionate for these things because they're readily or easily available at my wish or command.  They're hard to acquire, participate, and procure, and require dedication, determination and devotion.  I respect them, admire them, and love how they affect my life, because they make me a smarter, healthier, happier person - a better woman.

A man who doesn't challenge me, doesn't push me out of my comfort zone, doesn't stand up to me, doesn't encourage me, doesn't inspire me, doesn't push my buttons sometimes, doesn't argue with me (not just to argue but stands for what he believes), doesn't earn and receive my respect, doesn't stir up my passions, doesn't make me want to be a better woman, so they're just not the man for me.

I want a passionate man in my life.  I need someone to care about me as a whole person, because I'm a mess, flawed, broken, and shattered.  I don't need a man to complete me, to hold me together, to hold me up.  He'll just get tired of being my hero.  I need one that will help me put my pieces together so I can stand on my own, who can stand beside me, and together we fight the dragons of this world. I need to inspire, push, challenge, stand up against, encourage, and argue with him for the same reasons I need it for myself.  I need someone that will protect me, whom I can protect, a partner who I can stand back to back with... still fighting our own battles, but have each other for strength and support. Bottom line - I need someone just as passionate as me.  Not perfect, but perfectly passionate.

Till next time,
~The Imperfect T.L. Gray

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Keep Your Head Up - Andy Grammer

Wow, I really needed this song this morning and I'm so glad I heard it. I can guarantee I'll be playing this throughout the day on my playlist.  There's nothing better to pull me out of a bad thought, a moment of depression, or a panicked episode of fear than listening to a upbeat, positive, inspiring song - other than a kind encouraging word from a dear friend.

So, take a minute... listen to this song... keep your head up... and let your hair down... and smile.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Andy Grammar
Keep Your Head Up

I've been waiting on a sunset,
Bills on my mindset
I can't deny they're getting high
Higher than my income, income's bread crumbs
I've been trying to survive
The glow that sun gets right around sunset helps me to realize
This is just a journey
Drop your worries, you are gonna turn out fine
You turn out fine
Fine, oh, you turn out fine...

But, you gotta keep your head up
Oh oh
And you can let your hair down
Eh eh
You gotta keep your head up
Oh oh
And you can let your hair down
Eh eh
I know it's hard, know it's hard to remember sometimes
But, you gotta keep your head up
Oh oh
And you can let your hair down
Eh eh eh eh eh

I got my hands in my pockets kicking these rocks
It's kinda hard to watch this life go by
I'm buying into skeptics
Skeptics mess with the confidence in my eyes
I'm seeing all the angles thoughts get tangled
I start to compromise my life and my purpose
Is it all worth it? Am I gonna turn out fine?
Oh oh, you turn out fine
Fine, oh oh you turn out fine


Only rainbows after rain
The sun will always come again and
It's a circle, circling around again
It comes around again

I said only rainbows after rain
The sun will always come again
It's a circle, circling around again
It comes around


Keep your head up
Oh oh
And you can let your hair down
Eh eh

For more on Andy Grammer:
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2010 S-Curve Records

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Fit Life Transformation

Post by The Fit Life.

I know I already posted for the day, but when I saw this video, I knew I had to post it.
This is amazing.

Please take just a few moments and watch this.  You won't be sorry. Make sure you grab the tissues first.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Change Your Glasses; Change Your World

One of the best motivational books I ever read was "Battlefield of the Mind" by Joyce Meyer. While it's based on Christian fundamentals (which I don't understand when or how those fundamentals have become so wrong - some Christians and their interpretations maybe... but the teachings and fundamentals are sound - in my opinion) it started a change in my life, because I started to see how I thought about how my thoughts affected my reactions to things, and how things changed or didn't change in my life because of how I thought about them.

This book is filled with wonderful philosophical quotes that sometimes I'd have to meditate on for months because I really wanted to soak them into my very being.  Here are a few of my Joyce Meyer favorites:

“You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind.”

“Our past may explain why we're suffering but we must not use it as an excuse to stay in bondage.”

 “Asking for something is easy… being responsible for it is the part that develops character.”

 “Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”

These are some hard truths,  yet simplistic in their nature.

My biggest achievements have come when I've changed my glasses.  What I mean by that is  - things have changed in my life when I've changed my perception of the world.  I was angry and hurt for so long, all I saw was anger and hurt, the ugliness of life and society, the cracks in the window.  I failed to see the beauty outside the frame.  This reminds me of a phrase in a Jack Johnson song, "Breakdown".  (You can't stop nothin' if you've got no control of the thoughts of your mind that you keep in, you know.  You don't know nothin' that you don't need to know;  the wisdom's in the trees not the glass windows.) But, once I learned to breathe, my vision changed and my focus moved from the cracked glass to the beauty around me. 

I can't fully express, and I'm a writer, how that has changed my life.  Yes, there are still cracked window panes in my life and I'm not ignoring them or pretending they're not there.  But, I'm replacing those windows and spending much more time looking out beyond the frame.  One positive thought at a time, one idea of hope, one mustard seed of faith at a time is changing my life, changing my view, changing my world.  While not all will agree with me, especially those in my past who I've made a change to leave behind, I define these changes as progress.

What about you?

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Monday, February 03, 2014

Every Man is a Creature of the Age - Voltaire

Being a writer, having a degree in Marketing, and just naturally being a study of human nature, I completely agree with Voltaire about how every man is a creature of the age in which he lives.  The way people communicate with each other is heavily successful when there are commonalities between them.  While we may speak different languages, live in different cultures, observe different rituals, serve different gods, as long as we find common ground there is an opportunity for interchange, to learn from one another.  What amazes me is the fact that this opportunity is often lost between us because the participants involved do not have their minds open to learn, only mimic, therefore translation is lost, and we get stuck in a social cycle. We become products of our time, representatives of the loudest voices.  To me, it's like the world contracts the zombie disease - where no one thinks for themselves and everyone moves, acts, and responds like everyone else.  While we may look different, we are the same. 

But there are always those few who break away from the pact, who learn to think, think to learn, and forge a new path of enlightenment and can clearly communicate.  They are free thinkers, who as Voltaire continues, "…and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time."  These are the bridge builders, the ambassadors, and the dreamers.  They often flow against the social norms, are discontented with popular culture, not as rebels, complainers and naysayers, but as visionaries. 

Which are you? Are you a mimic of this age or a visionary who has risen above the ideas?

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray