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I called my mom today...which isn’t different than most days.  But today I called  for a very specific reason: I got my mammogram.  She calls me when she gets hers, too.  You see, we carry a gene we wish we didn’t have.  But that gene does help remind us to be grateful for this day, for the gift of life.  And by calling each other, we keep each other accountable.  My mom’s sister, Sheila, lost her life to breast cancer while I was so young that my memories of her are few and fleeting.  I never got to meet my mom’s mother, because she lost the fight with breast cancer when my mom was still in high school.  Devastating.  And although I never had the opportunity to develop relationships with these ladies, they are still my family, my roots, my gene pool.  This isn’t just another cause to me.  This is part of my story.

Because these branches of my family tree suffered from breast cancer, I’m at high risk.  I can’t control if I ever contract breast cancer or not, but there are still things I can do — things you can do, too.

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You’d have to be blind not to realize October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Pink is everywhere, which is snazzy, because I love pink.  But it’s even more fantastic because so many companies, brands, teams, and everyday people have gotten in on this fight against breast cancer.  We can buy ourselves everything from pink New Balance running shoes to a bottle of pink glitter edition One Hope Chardonnay (it’s not too good to be true, there really is wine with a cause).  I even got an email from my mechanic with the subject line reading 'Brakes and Breasts'no lie.  And if you’re feeling extravagant, you can even get a hot pink Punch Buggy—too cute!  And with each purchase more money goes toward helping researchers find a cure, once and for all, for this life-stealing disease.

But there’s more we can do.

Something more personal than MLS (Major League Soccer) players wearing pink cleats and kicking pink balls.  Something more powerful than eating pink M&M’s.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all M&M’s and enjoy the pink ones extra bunches...I also get a kick out of seeing macho athletes wearing pink.

But there are things we can do that start with us, that begin with caring for our true reflections.  We can eat right and exercise, because both of those things reduce the risk of breast cancer by 20-40%.  Wow!  Pass the whole grains and my gym shoes (maybe some of those New Balance ones), please.  Not to mention eating right and exercising reduces the risk of a lot of other nasty diseases too.  If you’re over forty-five or have a family history (raises hand), please get your annual mammogram.  And, I know it’s uncomfortable and awkward to talk about, but we have to do our breast self-exams, girls!  When you’re old enough to wear a bra, you’re old enough to do self-exams.  We know our bodies better than anyone else.  We are the ones most likely to discover a lump.  We’re the most likely to know when it’s different than a bump or a bug bite—to know intuitively that something is out of sorts or out of place.

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I can’t control if I contract breast cancer, but there are still things I can do — things you can do, too.

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How will we know?  Because if we check ourselves monthly, we figure out what normal is.  We’ll know what our breasts are supposed to feel and look like.  So if they’re a little off, we can hightail it to our doctors and have things checked out.

You are beautiful.  God made you.  Take care of that amazing body you were given.

Eat well, exercise, moderate your alcohol consumption, avoid extra hormones, check yourself, and get your mammograms—so hopefully one day your granddaughters and nieces will know you, will laugh with you, and share your stories.

 

  1.   October 05, 2016
  2.   Wellness

According to the U.S. Justice Department, one in four women will be raped before they graduate from college.

One in four.  Did it happen to me?  To you?  To your best friend?  Your worst enemy?  Your sister?  Your mother?  Your daughter?

I hear the statistic of one in four and think back to my college roommates.  I lived with three other girls.  Numbers say one of us was raped during the time we lived together.  I have two daughters.  Will they be safe?  Or will they become living, breathing statistics?

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Every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.

I hear the frequency and look at the clock.  Every two minutes?  Who is it right now?  How about now?  And how can I help?  How can we stop this?  What does she or he need?

We need to understand what’s going on here.  We need to start talking about date rape, and not sliding on our sunnies as if nothing ever happened.

It did happen.

It is happening.

To you or someone you know, and love, and care about very much.

Ever try bringing up date rape at Starbucks?  A party?  At spin class?  If so, you’ve noticed people coughing, looking at their shoes, checking their phones, anything but looking you and the subject in the eye.  But there it is staring back at us—whether it’s a party with All-American football players on a college campus, or a girl sitting at the dinner table across from you, who you’d never suspect because she’s too afraid to tell anyone what happened.  Date rape does not discriminate.  It happens to girls and guys who put their trust in people who don’t know what the word 'no' means.

So what now?  How does the healing begin after this tragedy?  Where can a victim or their friends and family start?  What resources do they have?

'One questions what it is going to take to convince people that rape on campuses is serious when the siren has been on for 25 years,' said Mary Koss, a public health professor at the University of Arizona in an interview with the Huffington Post.  ‘However, the numbers suggest that the alarm is louder today.’

Yes, ladies.  Let’s keep that alarm sounding loudly.

1) Name It

Merriam Webster defines date rape as the crime of forcing someone you know to have sex with you, especially while on a date.

Easy enough.

To define anyway.

1. It’s a crime.  That means the person who did this is at fault.  It’s their fault.  Not your fault.  They broke the law.

2. They knew you.  I like the ‘especially on a date’ part, because even the dictionary knows we all define 'date' differently these days, so to avoid the semantics of was it a date or not, they just say 'especially,' meaning sometimes, but not always.  But the part that always holds true is it was someone you know.  And for the record, about half of all people who are raped know their attacker.  Scary, huh?

3. They forced you to have sex with them.  The definition doesn’t say they tied you up or that they had a gun.  It just says, 'forced.'  As in they made you do something sexually you didn’t want to do.

If you said, 'no' and someone had intercourse with you anyway, then you were raped.  Period.  It doesn’t matter what you wore or what you drank or how much you liked them or even if you loved them.

2) Communicate

If this happened to you, talk to someone you trust—a best friend, an aunt, a pastor, your mom.  Someone you know will listen, who will hold your hand, who will hold your heart.  If someone dear comes to you saying they were raped, listen to them.  Don’t judge.  Don’t ask what they did to try to stop it or why they were there.  It doesn’t matter.  A valuable person (that’s all of us) was violated, and they need support.

3) Get Help

This is too big an issue to tackle on our own, whether it happened to us or to someone we know.  Fortunately, there are amazing organizations out there who know how to help you.  RAINN, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.  Go to their website.  It’s packed with resources, research, and advice.  Cities throughout North America have local foundations set in place to help, like RVA (Rape Victim Advocates) in Chicago, the YWCA in Vancouver, and DARCC in Dallas, which all offer crisis intervention, medical and legal advocacy, and counseling services for anyone in need of support.  To find the center nearest you, click here.

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If you said, 'no' and someone had intercourse with you anyway, then you were raped.  Period. 

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4) Spread Awareness

Keeping quiet doesn’t solve problems.  So use your voice.  Follow RAINN on Twitter and retweet their posts.  Attend local events that support victims and educate the public, such as Chicago’s annual Soiree in the City or your local RAINN day events.

National RAINN day is on Thursday, September 15.  This has nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with raising awareness and fighting against sexual violence on college campuses, high schools, and in local communities.  Check out what RAINN day events are going on near you and see how you can pitch in.

Sexual assault is real and even though it frightens us and sickens us, it is affecting you and the ladies you care about.  But there is help—help for you, help for someone you love.

Name it.  Confide in someone.  Tap into great resources.  Then spread awareness.  Do this, and you can remind yourself and help others to get through this painful journey, and to remember their value, their worth, and who they were made to be.

 

Laura L. Smith writes real stories for real girls. She is the author of several popular fiction books, including the Status Updates series and the False Reflection series. As a mother, blogger and sought-out speaker, she emphasizes the importance of embracing true beauty and longs to help others discover their true reflections.

 

  1.   September 15, 2016
  2.   Relationships

Let’s be honest – travel wears a girl out.  Overnight flights, train rides, crowding into hostels or strange hotel rooms, long days of working, exploring and walking; plus late nights making sure you don’t miss one single thing all add up to longing – craving – aching for a cup of coffee.

But no worries!  Coffee is abundant and decadent everywhere you go (even abroad).  You just need to know what you’re looking for, and how to order it.

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First, when you’re on the road, ditch your Starbucks habit.  Now don’t raise your fingernails at me in a cat hiss.  Few things make me happier in the morning than a venti dark roast with a shot of mocha and a splash of milk.  However, when in Rome, or Paris or Nashville or Atlanta, embrace the local culture!

If you’re in a new town, find the local coffee shop the one with the menu handwritten in chalk on a blackboard.  Ask the barista, ‘What’s your specialty?’ and observe the locals.  Are they all drinking iced coffees?  Maybe you should try one on this hot summer day.  Is there a house specialty, like the chocolate monkey at JoZoara in Nashville?  Then you’ve gotta try one!  It’s like a chocolate, banana, peanut butter milkshake with your daily dose of java all swirled into one.  Phenomenal!  At Kofenya, in Oxford, Ohio, the house drink is a Lumberjack Latte sweetened with maple syrup.  They might know something you don’t.  Why not give one a try?

If you’ve wandered further away from home, embrace the coffee in your new land.  Most of the world drinks coffee too, but usually everywhere else it’s strong!  Order café in France, Italy, or Spain, and you’ll get a shot of espresso in an itty bitty tiny white porcelain cup.  It’s strong, robust, and will wake up your taste buds...and then your brain.  If you’re used to a venti back home, you might want to order two, or drink one first thing, and another later in your journey.

Me?  I’m a ‘with milk’ kind of girl.  So in France I order a café au lait.  In Italy I get a cappuccino.  When in Spain, my daily order is a café con leche.

I also prefer a little sweetness.  Don’t look for Splenda, Equal, Stevia or Sweet N Low though – cause those chemicals are bad news, and hard to find in foreign lands, perhaps for good reason.  Use sugar: it’s natural and it’s sweet.

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Girls on the go need their cup of joe.  Here’s how to enjoy your java all summer long no matter where you’re headed or where you end up.

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Next, consider your budget.  In other countries, order your coffee to go a emporter (in French), porte via (in Italian), para llevar (in Spanish).  You’ll save a small fortune, and maybe even be able to afford coffee again tomorrow morning.  

If you absolutely can’t stand a plastic cup or need a minute to look at your map, reapply your lip gloss, or text a friend, then order your coffee at a counter, or while standing up at a café table.  Don’t be fooled by the charming waiter pulling out a chair for you.  He may think you’re cute, but he also knows that if he gets you to sit, you’ll pay two to four times as much to drink your coffee.  Who knew sitting was such a luxury?  And on the days when nothing sounds better than sitting at a table for an hour to people watch, read a book, or let your mind wander, splurge and sit.

We’re all a bit like coffee.  Some of us are dark or light, tall or short.  Some of us are strong or sweet or hotheaded or cool.  God created sassy versions and frothy versions, and simple and dependable versions of people.  But we’re all delicious.  Don’t forget that.  Let your true reflection shine wherever you go, and in whatever kind of coffee you drink.  Now that you know how to do it, go and open your eyes and taste buds to the rich, frothy sensation of a coffee, wherever you’re traveling this summer.  Sip.  Enjoy.  Repeat. 

 

Get a FREE copy of Laura L. Smith’s novel, It’s Complicated, when you sign up for her blog at www.laurasmithauthor.com.  It involves lots of coffee drinking--some of it in Paris!

 

  1.   July 21, 2016
  2.   Lifestyle

When I graduated from college I felt like a teenager in line for a roller coaster—the thrill of my upcoming adventure was bubbling up inside of me, while nerves flopped around in my stomach.  With my degree in hand, I was ready to leave small town Ohio for the vibrant, thriving city of Atlanta.  But as it goes with all major life transitions, there were some things I just wasn’t prepared for—some things I wish someone would have prepared me for.

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Here are five (and a half) tips I wish I would have known as an eager new graduate entering the workforce:

1) Be open to adventures. 

This new season in life is a brand-new playground.  Embrace it.  Enjoy it.  Moving from California to Colorado?  This is your opportunity to learn how to ski.  Maybe this is your chance to see Shakespeare in the park, go to a crawfish boil, witness bull riding, hear a new band, or ride the subway for the first time.  Seize the day!  There is a huge, beautiful world out there waiting for you to take advantage of what it has to offer.

2) Observe your new work environment. 

This is not a lesson on conformity or becoming a cookie-cutter version of others.  This is a strategy to help you find your niche at your new job or internship.  On day one you want to arrive before the official workday begins with a lunch packed and dressed in a conservative business-casual (unless told otherwise) outfit.  Then the detective work can begin. 

Does your boss always come in early?  You should be there when they arrive.  Do all of the sales managers a level ahead of you wear dresses to work, or jeans with snazzy tops?  How short are their skirts?  Are leggings a no-no?  How high are their heels?  Does everyone pack lunches, eat at the company cafeteria, or go out to the closest café?  Do your co-workers sit at their desks to eat or out on the lawn?  Does anyone go for a run at lunchtime?  Are there elliptical machines in your building?  

Again, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) be like everyone else, but you do need to figure out what is and isn’t acceptable, so you’ll show respect to your employer.  Take a few days to really pay attention to your new culture, and then decide how you can best insert yourself into your new work habitat.

3) Cling to your best attributes. 

As Dr. Seuss says, ‘There is no one alive who is youer than you!’  This is true.  You were created uniquely and specifically, with all of your strengths and gifts in one amazing package.  This is something you can take with you wherever you go in any and every stage of life.  For example, if you love to play soccer or practice yoga, find a pick-up game at the local park, or take a class at a new studio.  Just because your old team or class is miles away doesn’t mean you have to stop exercising.  If you thrive in the outdoors, find new trails to hike or bike in your new town.  In other words, don’t give up the things that make you youer than you.

4) Plug in. 

No matter if you’re headed to a new apartment a few blocks from home, or a new city across the country for your new job, internship, or grad school, you’ll want to get connected.  When I graduated, I joined my university’s alumni group.  I instantly met others who shared a similar college experience.  We knew some of the same people, liked some of the same restaurants, and had some of the same professors.  We had an instant launch pad for conversations and interactions. 

Find something that makes sense to you.  Like to play sports?  Find an intramural athletic league near you.  Are you spiritual?  Join a local church.  Into outreach?  Volunteer at a soup kitchen in town.  Love to read?  See if your local library or coffee shop hosts a book club.  You’ll not only meet new friends to help anchor you in your new adventure, but you’ll also start to feel like you are a part of your new community.

5) Find nutritious friends. 

Wherever you head after graduation, it will be filled with new people—at work, at the gym, at a club you’ve joined, or in your neighborhood.  Making new friends is always a process.  But even amongst the people you click with, be aware that there are two kinds of friends:

The junk food kind—hilarious and exciting at first, but will eventually give you a stomachache with their poor taste and bad decisions.

The nutritious kind—not always as flashy or eye-catching at first, but kind, reliable, genuinely funny, nonjudgmental people.  These are the ones you want to surround yourself with.  As we all know, there’s nothing wrong with a milkshake or French fries every now and then.  But spending every day with people who gossip or put others down, who cross boundaries you’re not comfortable crossing, well, they’ll eventually make you feel sick (just like all-you-can-eat fries).  Don’t pressure yourself to make instant friends.  This takes time.  A general rule is to meet as many people as possible and to be friendly with everyone you meet.  The more people you eat lunch with or chat with in the hallway, the more you’ll be able to weed out the ‘junk food friends’ and focus on those who bring out the best in you.  They’re the keepers.

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Grow roots in your new environment, stay true to your self and find companions who will bring out the best in you!

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5 ½) While we’re talking about relationships, do not, I’ll repeat, do not flirt with or date someone from your office.  There are some exceedingly rare exceptions, like at Google where there are approximately 8 zillion employees.  Almost anywhere else this is frowned upon.  That hot, charming guy you chatted it up with on the elevator might not end up being your soul mate.  And if it ends up as anything less, one of you might still end up working with, or even worse, working for one another, which only translates as awkward. 

Graduation is a doorway to a whole new world.  There are adventures waiting for all five of your senses, new places to explore, flavors to savor, and people whose stories will blow you away.  To fully embrace the new opportunities in store for you, grow some roots in your new environment, stay true to your beautiful self, and find companions who will bring out the best in you!

 

Laura L. Smith writes real stories for real girls. She is the author of several popular fiction books, including the Status Updates series and the False Reflection series. As a mother, blogger and sought-out speaker, she emphasizes the importance of embracing true beauty and longs to help others discover their true reflections.

 

  1.   June 17, 2016
  2.   Lifestyle
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