Get Happy: Summer’s End and The Meaning of Unconditional Happiness

The frail elderly woman picked at her short curly hair with a comb, her back against her husband’s chest. “Did I get it all?” she asked.

“Yes, honey, but don’t make it too big.”

She laughed. “I had to wait until it dried.”

“Remember how wild and crazy it was when we were younger, baby?” He teased.

She laughed at the memory.

This went on for several minutes, cooing affectionately at each other on the aptly named loveseat.

When they were quiet, I couldn’t help but comment from across the small waiting room. “You two are too cute.”

They went on to tell me that they had been married 42 years and despite the wife’s bad health the last few years, they figured they looked better laughing than crying.

What better segway into my new six-week blog series on unconditional joy (Get Happy) than this couple who obviously lived happily together despite all of the obvious health problems and likely much time spent in waiting rooms.

What does it mean to be happy? For most of us, happiness is conditional, the circumstances all leading to or away from a feeling of joy or bliss. As a fiction writer, I get to create those difficult journeys for my characters, putting them through hell and back to a hopeful ending. In real life, I struggle as much as the next person, but I’ve come a long way, baby and want to share because I think that’s why we’re here. Happiness, connection and growth.

One of my favorite mantras since 2003 was “I shall not let circumstances dictate my joy.” That mature couple in the waiting room totally get this. People who have cancer or are dying yet are happy know this. Why can’t we know this now?

All year I’ve been blogging about getting real, including getting fit and getting out(side) and for the next six weeks I’m focusing on unconditional happiness, a joy that comes deep within, unfettered by the jerks or bad luck or cranky kids or tough work day.

I’m starting the series at a time of transformation for all of us, summer’s end, when the carefree feelings of sunshine and vacations and sleeping in are replaced by a new school year for kids. The seasonal shift to more responsibility with kids back in school, hectic schedules, and a “buckling down” mentality can add extra stress to our already busy lives.

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The great thing about unconditional happiness is it isn’t based on a beginning or an ending, but a knowing that life is good and worthwhile and precious despite what’s happening around (or to) us.

Like everyone, I struggle with moods and mostly with my “monkey mind” which I refer to as a squirrel circus. Because I have obsessive compulsive thoughts (which works GREAT in my work life for finishing projects and writing books), it can wreak havoc on my personal life, presenting as both worry and anxiety. I’m also extremely empathetic (and a little empathic) so I’m sensitive to energies around me as well as dealing with my own high energy. (My friend Carie’s fiance said she and I share that “hummingbird on crack” personality.) Well, it is what it is.

As Dr. Susan Campbell writes in Getting Real, we can’t be authentic if we aren’t self-aware, so knowing yourself is key.

Being self-aware, I’ve realized what I need to balance my energies, pay attention to ruminating thoughts and assess how I feel and adjust my attitude or actions if necessary. For me, I need a lot of physical and intellectual stimulus in a day so if I don’t work out every day and get some good input and output (usually reading and writing) then my day can feel “off.” I also know my mind is better off giving it a break with daily or twice a day meditation – getting in touch with my “spirit” and making sure the window to my higher self is at least always cracked open to get through. Keep track of your day and how you are feeling and see how you might need to adjust your schedule to help you feel energized and “optimally you.”

What about when shitty things happen?

Last week someone took a cheap shot at me via an email to someone I love. My first thought was, “How dare they?” (Ego) And then I felt hurt. (Ego) And then I felt my loved one’s pain at being on the receiving end of a spiteful remark. (Empathy) As a bit of time passed, my Ego calmed down and I knew THIS TOO SHALL PASS and later that evening, I was even able to smile about it, because really? Try this quote on!

Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer.’ -Scott Stratten

In a nutshell, those hard times just don’t bring me down and ruin my days/week/month like they used to. Better coping mechanisms and a more positive attitude + appropriate actions equals CHOOSING HAPPINESS (even while holding an opposite emotion like grief or sadness or dealing with ambiguity). It’s not easy and I wish I could do it as easily as blinking an eye, but it has gotten better with time/practice. More on that when we discuss Getting Real, a book I serendipitously found at a used book store in Maui. Amazing.

We simply can’t live authentically without getting real about our lives and the choices we’re making and what’s holding us back.

Here’s my list of 7 Keys to Getting Happy and I’ll blog about each of them in more detail in upcoming weeks.

1) Remove roadblocks to happiness

2) Change your attitude (as the song goes, “take your life from negative to positive”

3) Practice gratitude and self-care

4) Live with intention (on purpose) – which can begin with saying yes or no when we really mean it and setting intentions and sticking with them

5) Feed your passions

6) Take time for stillness/ be mindful

7) Be an adventurer. Stay curious. Play more. Be silly.

In addition to Getting Real, I’ll be discussing Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. If you’ve read those books, I’d love your feedback in comments.

Week One Get Happy Questions:

If you were honest about your state of “unconditional happiness” how would you rate yourself? Do you depend on other people or things going a certain way to “be happy?” What fed your spirit this summer? As summer ends, what are your intentions for autumn? What would you like to accomplish? Who are the people, places and things that make you happy? Review the list of 7 Keys and answer how you do or don’t do those things. Schedule how to make them happen and then DO IT.

Thanks for reading. Happy End of Summer!

xo,

Malena

Happy pics of the week:

A bee having lunch outside an office visit.

My GetFit challenge for myself was a SUP Bootcamp. I survived! And I loved the gorgeous morning on the lake.

My GetFit challenge for myself was a SUP Bootcamp. I survived! And I loved the gorgeous morning on the lake.

 

Excerpt from my work in progress non-fiction essay book on letting go and living authentically, inspired by nature, Return to Wild.

 

Psychologist Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness” talks about our inability to accurately depict our future selves. We believe we’ll be more or less the same as we are right now…forever. We believe our interests won’t change that much and who we like to hang out with is fixed and we think we’re pretty darn good at predicting what will make us happy in the future. We aren’t. In fact, in his research, it showed we’re poor at predicting what we’ll like ten years down the road and that’s because we do change. Knowing this can keep us from feeling like there’s “something wrong” with us, when in fact it’s simple biology and beyond our control. We can’t grow if we stay in the same place and stagnate. Growth is why we’re here. Let’s give ourselves a break.

 

Excerpt from my work in progress, a novel about a war vet amputee struggling with life and love after war. My character Jake is certainly struggling with happiness. 

My gut burned as we turned the corner at the big Oak tree. We were close.

The air turned cooler as the brush thickened. We ditched our bikes and began crawling through, over and under the limbs and fallen trees. I should’ve been more worried about Ben getting cut up, but I felt hypnotized, unaware of his thick little body behind me as I pushed on.

The sun shone through the clearing like a spotlight on the burnt limbs for a good quarter mile radius. The trailer had blown up just seconds after I’d been shoved out the door. The door had fallen on me, which is likely why I only had the slight burns that I did.

Grams said it was a miracle I hadn’t been burned to a crisp.

Said it was an angel who put that door over my frame.

No one wanted to give my meth-coooking mom credit for my survival, but I don’t think that’s fair. Even though she shouldn’t have been doing what she was doing, she did respond the way a mom should when she saw her kid in danger.

Besides, it was me who brought that flame to the fire.

Get Fit: Better Body Parts

Earlier this year I remember telling my friend Cynthia, “I think I’m getting calf muscles!” She had recommended Pilates to me years ago and I’m still kicking myself I hadn’t tried it sooner because it produces amazing results for your body. Below is my “best of” in fitness and what I’ve found has worked for reshaping my body and slimming down. (25 lbs. down from 2012)

Beyond the goal to just lose weight and work out, I think it’s easier to break2b04d1b19ac96d014419913598075f4b down getting fit into goals for our body transformation by parts (muscle groups) and then methods for how we’re going to change each area with specific exercises and equipment.

Part of my Get Real goals this year was getting real about what I was eating and how often I was working out. Moving more ended up being pretty fun as you start to see progress and have loads of energy. I hope it might inspire my readers to get up, get out and live with intention.

All of these still take a combination of CARDIO to lose weight and STRENGTH training to tone BUT even if you can’t see the muscle yet because it’s under fat, weight training helps with our metabolism and it’s an amazing workout, too. I also like CORE workouts like Pilates and yoga for stretching and stress relief. Then combine that with HEALTHY EATING, and you’re golden. :)

Today I’m sharing how I transformed my “problem” areas and some links for total body conditioning.  I think the biggest thing to remember is that you’re working with your BODY TYPE so be reasonable (like I will NEVER have a big butt like J-Lo or a tiny waist like a model) but at the same time, don’t think you can’t make progress on areas that you feel are hardest to transform. In my case, I wanted to lift my booty, firm my tummy, add more muscle tone to my legs and lose extra fat on my arms and back. I wanted to look strong and balanced.

See my Get Fit page for my food plan, too, which is basically to eat clean, green and lean.

 

BOOTY :: squats with weights! I went from using 8 pound weights to 15 in free weights (in each hand) or using a 35 lb. kettle ball (middle) and doing 3 reps of 20 at least every other day. My cardio is also leg and glute focused: 650 steps on the stair machine plus the ‘climb’ on the elliptical ARC and an incline of 13 on the treadmill. I do 10 minutes on each machine – stair, arc, tread. Working your booty means strengthening your hamstrings, too so don’t forget that important muscle on the back of your legs. BOOTY EXERCISE LINK. 

Here’s a cool squat challenge. Or just a squat challenge.

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ARMS/BACK:: after cardio, which you need to burn off the fat, the best way to tone is some strength training and pilates. I seriously NEVER thought I’d have toned arms. Ev.Er. I do the back machines at the YMCA at least twice a week and some Pilates and yoga every day – at the end of my workout. I like 8 pound weights for triceps and pull backs and only do 30 lbs. on the machines, 3 sets of 10 reps. ARM EXERCISE LINK

LEGS/CALVES/THIGHS:: Pilates is amazing for lengthening and strengthening. Hip hop or zumba, hiking and biking is crazy good for legs and add in some strength training and my “triple 10″ workout in my booty tip.  Strength training is key for seeing some definition, so try these exercises recommended by Jillian Michaels. I like to work on quads, hips/thighs and hammies on the weight machines, too.

ABS:: Our poor mid-sections!  A) I had to stop liking sugar and look for all the “hidden” sugars in things like sauces and B) do some cardio EVERY day and C) work on all parts of my abs with Pilates/yoga. Don’t forget your obliques (on the side).  If you’d told me I could lose my muffin top and not die of embarrassment in a bikini again, I would NEVER have believed you. Here are 20 great abs exercises and they are killer in a good way. I do some abs every day. Another link with ideas on how to lose belly fat beyond the exercises is at skinnyms.com. 

Remember as you are getting into shape to love and appreciate how far you’ve come and be kind to yourself with positive self-talk and sticking to your fitness and healthy eating regimen so you don’t slip back into unhealthy ways. For me, I stay motivated with new challenges and getting out and doing more outside of the gym so I’m more active all the time, but still even 30 minutes in the gym is so worth it so do it early, listen to great music and love your body and your life.

Until then, thanks for reading and GET OUT and play.

xo,

Malena

P.S. Wanted to do a shout out and huge congratulations to one of my readers, Kristen Fisher, who had reached out to tell me how much she enjoyed The Stork Reality when she was pregnant with her daughter. She messaged me last night and introduced me to her beautiful baby girl, Kenley Grace. She said, “I read your book again while I was on bedrest and I still love it.” How cool is that? I LOVE to hear from readers and am overjoyed if you find a connection to my stories. That’s what it’s all about.

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Get Out: Sea Turtles, Bublé, and Lily Pad Yoga

Life should be our biggest adventure. All of it. Earlier this summer when I set my intention to living life full out and seeking more adventure, I had no idea what I’d find. That’s part of the fun. I was open to whatever new experiences came my way. Each week I’ve been sharing my Get Out adventures hoping you’ll do find some in your neck of the woods and beyond. Connecting with nature is a guaranteed way to serenity – and some kick-butt workouts, too. It’s also increased my creativity which is good for business and my soul. Nice win-win. Getting out more has been good for my body, too.

Transformation of body, mind and spirit doesn’t have to feel like a “chore,” but is possible simply with intentional living – placing awareness on what you eat, how you move, what you think. Hitting the “reset” button when you’re feeling negative, pushing yourself to get out and enjoy new people and experiences and truly feeling grateful for the life you have and therefore living it with gusto. Why the hell not?

Get Out Adventure 1 (part 2 to my ALOHA post last week): I hadn’t been on a boat IN YEARS. We used to own one in my childhood and I loved the feel of the wind at my face and the waves beneath us. I love being around water and even on water, but IN WATER, not so much. So sticking my face in the ocean (a.k.a. snorkeling) was definitely about what I could SEE. Ah, it’s pretty down there. Sometimes OUR greatest adventures are seeing dreams come true for those we love so what I wanted most from our Hawaii trip was for my 9 year old to get to swim with sea turtles – his favorite animal. And he did. AWESOME. No pic of a turtle because I was too busy looking at them to snap them, but you get the idea! Our family shadow selfie on a boat. The half-day excursion included two snorkeling stops, breakfast and lunch and loads of gorgeous views.

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Get Out Adventure 2 - not in nature but a natural wonder. My third date with Michael Bublé thanks to Mother’s Day tickets from my husband. I mean, Jesus, Michael is a born entertainer and this was his best show yet. Insert a bunch of swooning here. The arts in general are so good for your soul. When’s the last time you heard live music?

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Michael showered the Chesapeake Arena with paper hearts during ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.

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Get Out Adventure 3 - One of my favorite families on the planet is the Davis’ in Wichita, Kansas. Our kids have grown up together and STILL get along. We only had one day that fit our scheds before school started and my friend Deb agreed to try paddle boarding. We went to another town, Augusta, and Ken took some pics of us. In addition to just paddling around the lake, we also stopped over among lily pads and did some yoga on the boards. It was Deb’s first time and my second and neither of us fell in to our amazement. The lily pads helped keep our boards from going back into the middle of the lake. Yoga ON lily pads. In bloom. Freaking cool.

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Freaking warrior princess pose. Love it.

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The lily pads in the background is where we did yoga. No, you don’t need to see pics of that! ha

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Hello, tranquility. Nice to see you again.

Here’s to getting out this week, friends! I’ll be back Friday with a Get Fit post on getting better body parts. Sometimes breaking down our goals makes it a bit easier to focus on what we’d like to transform.

Thanks again for reading!

xo, Malena

 

Get Out: Adventures in Aloha

Is visiting Hawaii on your bucket list? It’s been on our family bucket list since our kids were little so I started a savings IMG_0944account for the trip last year and away we flew – to Maui, where it’s kid-friendly enough to not have to drive too far for big adventure and get in more than just the beach and pool. This week’s Get Out adventure was a perfect blend of playful and peaceful – blue skies with low clouds, bright blue waters, sandy and black beaches and palm trees everywhere you turn – and those sunsets!

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Lahaina in the northern community of Kaanapali Resorts  in west Maui, perfect for breathtaking sunsets over the ocean. Highly recommend staying there, but when you budget be sure and include the daily resort fee ($30) and daily parking ($16 for self-parking) and give yourself a hefty allowance for the food and drinks. There’s even a Macy on property in case you need more swimsuits or forgot something.

We hiked Twin Falls (yep, two waterfalls there), played on the beach, went on a half day snorkeling adventure on a boat (which I’ll share as next week’s post) and did some great sight-seeing and shopping. The Luau on property, which is a 3 hour event, was a great way to learn about Hawaiian history and get to see hula dancing and eat an authentic Hawaiian meal.

Enjoy the pics and my Top 5 Secrets to Squeezing Every Drop from Paradise! Come back next week for sea turtles and snorkeling.

1. Wake up early. I *know*. You’re on vacation and want to sleep in, but personally I’d rather get up and enjoy the sunrise and the island “waking up” around me. The resort was so quiet and mostly empty between 6 and 8 a.m.. I used that early bird time to work out in the fitness center, walk the grounds by myself and take some great photos before meeting back up with my family. A wonderful way to set my intentions for the day.

 

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Black swans seemed to pose for me early one morning.

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Selfie at the “wall mirror” in front of the luau entrance (Tiki god in the background) on my way to the fitness center at 6 a.m. every morning.

2. Really experience local culture. Eat their dishes (or try them!) and relish in what makes Hawaii unique. The art, the food (passion fruit, coconut, macadamia nuts!) Get to know the history by going to a luau and eating some roasted pig and watching beautiful hula dancers – men and women – share their rituals and story through song and dance – and fire.

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3. Stay in the present moment and notice the small things. What better place to practice stillness and staying in the present moment (not worrying about the past or the future) than paradise? By practicing awareness we see the little things we may have missed if our minds were elsewhere (and I saw a ton of people on their phones – ack). Don’t forget to take pictures of the local flavor, too.

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The hammock was for Marriott guests so we were rebels and borrowed one for an hour to read.

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Noticing all the flowers on our hike at Twin Falls.

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The motto for Hawaii, on the back of the fruit truck! “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”.

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My kids gathered these rocks from the ocean so they wouldn’t trip on them!

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Amazing art perfectly complements the natural beauty.

4. Try a new-to-you adventure. It’s likely that it might be your kids first time to try something new but what about you? The beach is full of vendors ready to teach you how to paddle board or surf or snuba (a combo snorkeling and scuba diving that’s all the rage). I really wanted to bike down the volcano (26 miles) but it would’ve taken up most of a day and my youngest didn’t fit the age requirement, but I did snorkel for the first time. I have no idea why I haven’t done it before now because it’s as easy as sticking your face in the water and breathing through a tube. My 14-year-old daughter was afraid to snorkel until she tried it and then she said, “I don’t know why I was afraid!” Same goes for all of us, right?

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5. Play. It’s not just for kids. Vacation is supposed to be about cutting loose and playing, right? Get in the ocean, jump in the pool, sing along to the cover band. Don’t give in to the temptation to check Facebook or your email. (Or give yourself a strict limit like once a day after you’re done for the day.) If you’re going with a spouse, split some time on who has the kids for a bit if there’s something you want to get out and do on your own. If you do #1 and get up early then you’ll have time to do that before the family is even awake maybe. If the whole family is together the WHOLE TIME, you are likely to FOF out early (Family overload factor.) This happened to us after the teens got sunburned and then didn’t feel like doing anything. Hey, it happens. I found a lounge chair with an ocean view and listened to Sam Smith and chilled out. I loved playing dress up, too. It’s not everyday you get to take pictures with these gorgeous backdrops and as a writer I don’t get the chance to dress up much, so why not?

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On the terrace from the lobby looking down to the pool and ocean…before hitting happy hour!

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Love the easy breezy style in Hawaii! In front of the golf course.

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Wish I could’ve played a bit longer here…

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Tried a new drink each day…that’s adventure. :)

 

 

With my favorite cocktail I discovered on the trip, Sea Breeze

With my favorite cocktail I discovered on the trip, Sea Breeze

Here’s the Sea Breeze recipe so you can make your own at home!

2  ounces vodka
3 ounces cranberry juice
3 ounces grapefruit juice
Ice cubes

Slice of pineapple for the rim!

 

Mahalo! Thanks for reading! xo- Malena

Did you know I set two ebooks in Hawaii? The novellas Life’s a Beach and The Last Resort were each set on the islands. The Last Resort includes all the main characters from The Stork Reality, Life’s a Beach and Fixer Upper to catch up on what happened to them after those books. 

 

Get Out: Yoga on the Water

Yoga is the practice of spiritual, mental and physical awareness on the body and opening up the chakras – energy centers –  for relaxation and transformation. I’ve never attended a yoga class except online (I recommend Yoga with Adrienne) and prefer to start my day with yoga outside on my deck, with the sunrise salutation sequence followed by a few moments sitting in stillness (meditation.) Heck, just laying there in the corpse pose on the ground staring up at the clouds is pretty cool. Since I prefer yoga in nature, this adventure was high on my list.

Lake Overholser, Bethany, OK

Lake Overholser, Bethany, OK

My first official yoga class was on the water!  Yoga on the lake, balancing on a paddle board. I’ve never surfed, never done SUP (Stand Up Paddling) and a friend of mine recommended I take a local class before I try SUP in Hawaii this summer. I’m glad I did because I feel like I’ll have a head start.

Check your local lakes or river centers for a mobile paddle board shop or rentals. Here in OKC, we have Flat Tide and the class I chose was taught by The Yoga Block at Lake Overholser in Bethany.

Tree pose with Vi Le after class.

Tree pose with Vi Le after class.

Your paddle will be adjusted for your height, your ankle cuff will keep you tethered to the board and you can start by kneeling or sitting and paddling your way out until you feel ready to stand. If you already have issues with balance and have never practiced yoga or Pilates before (or surfed), it might be more difficult for you, but by keeping your weight in the center of the board and not locking your knees, you’ll be fine. If you fall in, that’s okay. That’s part of the fun so do dress in comfortable clothes you don’t mind getting wet. I wore a sports bra with a fitted tank top over it and bikini bottoms with booty shorts. You don’t want anything to “hang out” since you are going to be upside down and in various yoga positions.

I found it took me about ten minutes to feel comfortable standing and paddling on the board, taking the oar from right to left and then two strokes of each to go faster. We paddled out to a cove and though a bridge was nearby, you can block out those sounds and preen your ear for the nature sounds, which are plentiful.

We removed our ankle cuffs and placed them around our paddles so they could float nearby and tossed our anchors in the water. We still floated around a bit, but you don’t have to be facing the teacher the whole time and you are close enough to hear her/him.

The next 45 minutes was a typical yoga class, except on the board. What I loved most was how much more aware you are of your body because of balancing on the board and feeling like you are a buoy. Unlike being on the ground, you feel both lighter but also keenly aware of your weight on the board for keeping yourself stable. Some did fall in, but if you don’t try the different moves, you might be disappointed so I say GO FOR IT.

My friend Vi did a full backbend and did fall in, but she went all the way up. I only went half-way up before I felt my board shaking too much and I came back down. I also couldn’t get fully up into Warrior pose (which is my favorite pose!) and she said it’s one of the hardest. I did get into full shoulder stand and for a second thought I would go off the back of the board, but brought my legs down in time to keep from making a splash in class.

Like most of the experience in nature, it’s hard to put it into words because the feeling is so unlike anything else. You just haven’t experienced downward facing dog until you’ve done so with the lake and the sky upside down! Even better, the sunset was gorgeous and it was such a peaceful end to the day and definitely the highlight of my week.

Sunset on the water. Love.

Sunset on the water. Love.

I expected my legs and core to hurt a bit the next day, but instead those didn’t hurt at all and my back was killing me. I felt like I’d been punched all over. The reason is you are engaging every back muscle when you are doing SUP and balancing on the board in yoga! I think it’s amazing that we get to work the muscles that rarely get used in other fitness routines, so I’ll definitely be adding a monthly SUP to my workout routine. (You can rent the boards hourly.) Note: most people do say their abs and legs hurt the next day so depending on your fitness level and how strong those areas are, that could determine how much it affects you.

By the third day, my back was feeling better and of course working out again is always my favorite way to relieve muscle tension. Just keep going! Know that you are transforming your mind, body and spirit when you go for new challenging adventures. You are strong enough and brave enough to do it.

Namaste!

xo, Malena

NOTE OF THANKS: To all my new and loyal readers, thank you for reading my books this summer and visiting my blog. It means so much to me and I love to read your reviews and to hear from you! I do plan on combining Life’s a Beach and The Last Resort as a special for August through Labor Day so stay tuned for that on Kindle if you haven’t read those. Family Charms is really picking up on sales and book clubs have asked me to come talk to them about it and I’m always up for that! In person if nearby and Skype if you’re outside of my area! And Fixer Upper continues to be my number one bestseller. THANK YOU!

NOVEL PROGRESS: I’ve now reached the half-way mark on the first draft of my novel and I’ll be traveling this next week so hope to reach the end of the first draft by the time school starts. EEK! This will mean cutting out a lot of distractions in my life such as Facebook, which I’ll “hide” for a month and also paring down on Instagram, which I check at least 3 or 4 times a day and is my favorite. :( BUT – it will be so worth it!

As I’m also working on my “nature” essay book, Return to Wild, and am outlining a new short story collection, I feel I have to listen to my inner guide during this creative time in my life and honor it. My muse has been more active the last six months than any other time in my life so I don’t want to waste it.

EXCERPT from Work In Progress Novel (Status: 41K of 80K written)

Jake was raised by a stout older woman, Mildred, whom he calls Grams. This partial scene begins with them…

She squeezed me again and even though she’s not the crying type, I heard her sniffle and she turned away and wiped her eyes on her apron. “Now go get ready for your day. You’ve got some training to do, don’t you? And take some of this bacon to Ben. He’s looking too skinny.”

I kissed her atop the back of her head. “Will do. I love you, Grams.”

Don’t go getting mushy on me.”

I felt numb the rest of the day, sleepwalking through even our rigorous boot camp for Tuff Enuf. Our team was getting stronger, but inside I felt weaker than ever. I let Ben shout out the exercises while I stared off into space. I felt the compulsion to…

  1. Grab a match and some gasoline set the obstacle course on fire
  2. Get stinking drunk and then have Jennifer meet me at the lake for an afternoon fuck

I opted instead to blow off some steam at the gun range, putting a few rounds into the target’s head and chest. When that didn’t do the trick to clear the cobwebs, I asked the receptionist to print something off the computer for me. I stuck the picture of the Marlboro Man on the figure and put some bullets into his smug ass smile.

That’s more like it,” I said, and put away my guns and headed back to my truck feeling only slightly better.

There was only one fire I needed to start and that was with Jennifer. 

 

Excerpt from Return to Wild, essays on letting go and unleashing your wild side (inner nature) based on nature as our guide. I’m 8 essays in of probably 20? I realize this sounds “out there” but I’m letting the Universe outline the book for me so whenever a message comes like a hawk did this morning on the deck, I “know” if a certain essay is supposed to be in the book. This one is on love’s limits…

Our confusion is more confounded with our fix-it-quick culture and our highly emotional natures. We’re told we just need to do X, Y and Z and we’ll be good as new! A trip to the therapist’s office, a few self-help books, maybe even a new church. Shouldn’t love be enough? Doesn’t it “fix” everything?

Amy Bloom wrote in Oprah in 2006 about love’s limits. “What I hadn’t understood, until recently, is that sometimes love is not enough. And that is the worst news-from-the-universe I have heard for some time. Love is not enough to lead depressed people to happiness…It is not enough to make people who need passion settle for companionship… Love stretches us, but time often snaps us back to our original shape. Love takes us further than we thought we could go, but it does not take us past the limits of our nature. And that is a hard thing to know.”

 

 

Get Out: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Ritual, romance, expression, healing, entertainment. Dance has no known beginning and will likely see no end. While it’s incorporated into culture and styles, dance is universal as well as personal. Some of my earliest memories involve dance: watching my grandparents two-step in our living room; my grandfather teaching me to two-step; car dancing with my “Fab Five” girlfriends in high school; dancing at proms and sorority and fraternity parties; spinning around the room dancing with my own children; and now watching my teen daughter dance on stage in competitions. I even go dancing for fitness classes two or three times a week at Zumba and hip hop.

I’ll likely still be car dancing in my eighties. Just wait.

What are your favorite dance memories? Is it time to make some new ones?

My Get Out adventure this week was five days in Overland Park, Kansas for my daughter’s dance nationals with Dance Phase at Talent on Parade. It’s hard to believe that even after watching dozens of dances over several days, I still wanted to dance in the evening – and so on the last night, I got the dance party I’d been wanting – out in the courtyard of the Courtyard Marriott, in the grass, under the full moon.

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Full moon dance shadow selfies with some of the senior company dancers.

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With my dancer daughter at nationals.

Dance has been a big part of my Get Out adventures. When I visited the Chickasaws, I got to see their fireside ritual dance and then when I went to OKC Fest for live country music, the first night a college student grabbed me and we two-stepped. He thought I was twenty-four, God bless his drunk self. The second night I watched two couples two-step and swing right next to us. They were so HAPPY. That’s how I feel every time I dance, whether it’s a slow song, a two-step, a line-dance or a booty-shaking hip hop dance in Lauren Fitz’ class.

Dance is joy and grace and not only is it great self-expression for the dancer, but done well, then the viewers of the dance feel the same emotion. My arm hairs stand on end when I’m moved by a beautiful dance.

This week I’d like to celebrate dance and encourage you to get out and dance yourself, even if it’s out in the grass like I did. Or grab your partner for a slow song. Turn up the music and jam out with your kids to a song they like. Hell, I love to car dance, too. (Just keep your eyes on the road.) Make plans to attend a live dance show such as your local ballet or the touring So You Think You Can Dance. Not only does it give us an appreciation for the arts, but it can make us feel something we aren’t used to feeling every day and it’s a timeless past-time we should make more time for.

Congrats to all the DPC dancers on a great year. I can’t wait to be a part of the fun again starting in August.

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“Hair” musical theater. I actually still wear that shirt my daughter is wearing. ha

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Lyrical is my favorite style of dance to watch. These are the “Numb” teen dancers.

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Senior company lyrical with studio owner and choreographer Lisa Motsenbocker. I lover how good she is to our girls.

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I could do some serious car dancing in this 1962 Corvette. I totally match it.

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With my car dance buddy Jill Martin, who also co-wrote DANCE MOM SURVIVAL GUIDE with me. LOVE having a fun friend to get out with.

With my car dance buddy Jill Martin, who also co-wrote DANCE MOM SURVIVAL GUIDE with me. LOVE having a fun friend to get out with.

xo-Malena

Next Get Out Adventure is Paddleboard Yoga. Should be a fun excuse to fall in the lake!

Get Fit Tip: Keep your fitness routine going when you’re on vacation by using the fitness center in your hotel each morning before your family wakes up or incorporate fitness activities into your schedule. You can also take the stairs. Personally, I prefer to stick to healthy eating on vacation but you could just modify your meals or portion sizes and give yourself a “cheat” meal. My cheat in Kansas was at The Burg and the Barrel and the angus beef with avacado, bacon and spicy chipotle mayo and onion rings (and Metcalf Mule drink!) was definitely worth it. I did work out a little harder the next morning to make up for it.

Works in Progress Excerpts:

From my novel-in-progress about a Marine vet amputee post-Iraq war. Scene between Jake and his therapist, Annette. 

The moon, huh? But the moon is what kept you from being with her the first time.” Annette uncrossed her legs and leaned in.

I know. But that was daytime, you know? I think that’s what it was. Seeing the moon when it didn’t belong. The timing was off. But in the dark – that’s my time. I feel the most alive at night. Besides, I was horny and I knew if I went to the bar I’d get stinking drunk and have sex with a stranger again.”

So a married woman is better than a stranger?”

You tell me, doc. At least I was having sex with someone I care about.”

***

From my non-fiction essay collection. I’m about seven essays in. This bit is from, “Midsummer Tilt-a-Whirl”

I know every emotion. They have lived in me and I in them. Sometimes I carried them too long or even gave up my life to them, but no more. No more being a slave to emotions or a frantic mind. Our wild nature knows that emotions are fleeting. They come and go like the sun and the moon. They are there but they shouldn’t rule our every living moment because only we can do that. Don’t give emotions all the power. 

HOPE YOU’RE GETTING OUT AND ENJOYING SUMMER. XO

Get Out/Get Real: What do you do with your freedom?

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The one day I’m okay with us all wearing the same colors.

I’m writing a novel about a young Marine amputee coming back after war in Iraq to a sleepy town in Texas and I’ve had the privilege of interviewing several vets – a Navy Seal, two Navy pilots, two Marines and two Army vets. I’ve immersed myself in research about amputees, Iraq, military deployment, PTSD and a host of other issues relating to the book. A few things I’ve learned resonated sharply as Independence Day came and went so this week I’m combining a Get Out post encouraging us to have more adventure with a message for us to Get Real about what we’re doing with the freedom that we’re given in this country.

First, I hope you got out and celebrated this year, whether locally or on vacation. The 4th of July is my favorite holiday. I love parades, fireworks, parties and all the feel-good Americana that comes with our privilege of being born in an amazing country. While my kids no longer let me dress them in cute USA pride attire, I still get in the spirit and will go celebrate whether or not the whole family cares to join. (Just wait – those of you who don’t have teens yet!) I was thankful all five of us did celebrate that evening together.

Second, I’d like us to ponder how we may be taking our freedom for granted. How we may be holding back and living in the shell of our own making instead of truly enjoying our country and our lives. Travel, adventure, unleashing our natural gifts onto the world. Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) says the more we go from our lower level to a higher level, the more Resistance we feel. When the vets I interviewed came back to America, they saw a lot of apathy when they looked around. They saw a lot of “busy” and not a lot of traction. They saw people who didn’t have drive or initiative or goals. Sad, huh?

Let’s not take our freedoms for granted. Don’t let Resistance get the best of you. I’ll admit I’ve encountered Resistance a LOT this year. The more I’ve tried to transform, the more my ego wanted to get in the way and tell me to leave well enough alone, to not topple the apple cart, to keep the status quo and for SURE don’t start a new project like writing a novel I know nothing about (war and from a MALE perspective) and I certainly have no business or time to write a book about returning to our wild, unique nature when there are already plenty of spiritual teachers out there that could surely say it better than me. That’s how Resistance rears it’s self-righteous head. It will tell you that you are nothing. That you should stay in your job, your circle, your hometown. That you shouldn’t venture out because BAD things could happen. If I’d told too many people I was going solo camping, I’m sure more would’ve tried to talk me out of that, too, which would’ve been too bad because it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. Truth.

You have to open up and let yourself be vulnerable. That’s where courage and bravery come in – after you’re already on the journey NOT before. You take the leap. Watch Brene Brown’s fabulous TED Talk for more on vulnerability.

A quote I love from Brown:

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability my making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy and creativity to name a few.”

So, what shall we do with our freedom and adventure next? 

A few pics from my holiday and excerpts from my two works in progress. Next week I’ll be writing to you from Kansas City with a thousand dancers!

xo,

Malena

You can't have the 4th without watermelon. I think that's a rule.

You can’t have the 4th without watermelon. I think that’s a rule.

 

My dot's first outing as a pom girl for the high school. She loved being on the float and a little girl stopped by to say hi to them. Cutest thing ever.

My dot’s first outing as a pom girl for the high school. She loved being on the float and a little girl stopped by to say hi to them. Cutest thing ever.

Spent the evening with my family and my AXO lil, Katrina and her family out in Logan County. Love her still and always.

Spent the evening with my family and my AXO lil, Katrina and her family out in Logan County. Love her still and always.

Fireworks from our view on the blanket. Edmond, OK has one of the best fireworks shows in the country. Gorgeous.

Fireworks from our view on the blanket. Edmond, OK has one of the best fireworks shows in the country. Gorgeous.

Excerpt from work in progress novel: Word count so far: 37,800 out of 80,000. Jake Ambrose (22) Point of View:

Grams said it was a miracle I hadn’t been burned to a crisp.

Said it was an angel who put that door over my thin little body.

No one wanted to give my meth-coooking mom credit for my survival, but I don’t think that’s fair. Even though she shouldn’t have been doing what she was doing, she did respond the way a mom should when she saw her kid in danger.

Besides, it was me who brought that flame to the fire.

I could feel Misery’s presence, lurking in the shadows behind the trees. I dared not look to see her pale face and red lipsticked smirk, blaming me for what happened. Because she was right. Maybe she was always right. Maybe it was always my fault – the whole lot of it. 

 

Excerpt from work in progress non-fiction essay book: Word count 10,000 of 75,000.

“This book is about reclaiming our unique nature – our wild side – with our heart as a compass. To get there we’re going to look to nature and our brave hearts beating alongside the river, up the mountains, fingertips over the fields, feet on the red earth, eyes to the skies.

We’re going to get OUTSIDE in nature get to what’s going on INSIDE.

We hear that happiness comes from within but everything we are told could make us happy by advertising and society is conditional. Buy THIS and you’ll be the cool kid. Live HERE and you’ll be respected. Get THIS degree and you’ll be on your way to the corner office. (Because it’s corner or bust, right?) Up, up and away?

We are boxed in, reshaped, told what to think, what to believe, who to love, what fits in, what makes you weird, what makes you special. And that may have nothing to do with who you uniquely are. Being true to you means taking a stand and letting your soul – not society – be your guide.

Nature is full of secret messages waiting to be discovered.

Go.”

 

Get Out: She’s Gone Country

If you’re new to my blog, “Hey!” I started the year blogging about “getting real” about our lives as I worked to transform the Big Six: body, mind, spirit, work, home, relationships. So you can scooch on back through the posts if you’re interested in those. I also post #getReal inspiration on Instagram and Twitter with pics.

Then this summer I switched to a #GetOut series in an effort to add a wee bit more adventure to my life. I invite you to do the same.

If you’re a returning visitor, “thank you!”  If  I could I’d totally make a banana, yogurt, kale smoothie for two and share it with you.

Caught up? Awesome.

This past weekend, my Get Out adventure was three days of country music. While I live in the “City” as we from western Oklahoma fondly call Oklahoma City, (and I technically live in the northern ‘burb), I’ll always consider myself a small town girl at heart and a country music fan – especially classic country which is what I grew up on living with my grandparents. Since my husband isn’t a country fan, he stayed home and spent time with the kids while I got to spend time with my sis and the cousins got to hang out downtown and at our house.

OKC Fest was a music festival held in downtown OKC and my sis and BIL and I got tickets for the Friday and Saturday evening performances. I was most excited about Merle Haggard (LEGEND!!) who played before the headliner Dierks Bentley and I’ll admit I’m strangely fond of “Drunk on a Plane” which I hadn’t heard until I looked it up before going to see him that night. And, yep, Merle’s still got it going on.

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Thankful one of my sisters likes country music. Love ya, Tina!

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Boots on, cowboy up.

I also learned, via Twitter and Instagram likes, that Merle has a son, Ben Haggard, @benhaggardmusic @benhaggard who plays lead guitar in his band. Very cool that they get to share the stage and this experience together.

Mostly I loved spending time with my sis. Last time we went to an outdoor concert together was four years ago when Lady Antebellum and Tim McGraw played and it was so hot that I PASSED OUT. I’d only had one frozen drink and not nearly enough water and I was wearing jeans smack dab in the sunshine. Really dumb. This time I dressed cooler.

Saturday I headed back downtown to the Myriad Gardens. If you’re in Oklahoma, or visiting us, do make a point to visit. It’s simply gorgeous. It’s amazing what you can do with some funding and TLC on landscaping, you know? I took these shots with my iPhone and they turned out great courtesy of an overcast afternoon.

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The second night I also got to have a pre-party at my husband’s bosses’ house where they have an awesome tree swing. I felt pretty talented drinking and swinging at the same time so I’m sure I’ll have no problem drinking on a plane in a few weeks when I go to Hawaii. (If you see a tree swing, don’t pass it up. I’m serious about this. It was better than 20 minutes of meditation!)

A tree swing, an adult beverage and more country music.

A tree swing, an adult beverage and more country music.

I saw Scotty McCreery (who won American Idol two years ago) at the Grand Ole Opry last summer and he was great. Still is. He played just before Lady A and as nightfall came and the cute couples to our left were swing dancing and I sang along to “Bartender” which I hadn’t heard until that night.

Sunday, I volunteered for OMRF’s 241 event to raise money for cancer research. In exchange for selling raffle tickets, I got to partake of some of the finest food from incredible restaurants in OKC, Norman and Tulsa. Aaaand I got to see the private concert given by Vince Gill out on the patio (windy per usual for OK) with a special surprise guest ALICE COOPER. Wow. Pretty cool. They raised $650,000. A great end to a cool weekend.

Top right: Alice and Vince. Ya know, first name basis.

Top right: Alice and Vince. Ya know, first name basis.

Have you been to a music festival? What’s holding you back? Slather on the sunscreen and the bug spray and Get Out!

Next week, I’ll be talking 4th of July festivities, so hopefully you’re planning on seeing fireworks IN PERSON. I just don’t get watching them on TV. What fun is that? None. That’s what. So, get out and catch a parade and eat some watermelon and watch some whiz bangs.

Try something new. Expand your horizons. Live with intention.

xo,

Malena

 

 

Get Out: A Girl Goes Solo Camping

To say my family doesn’t like camping is an understatement. They are okay with cabins, but I’ve only slept in a tent with my Cub Scout – two of us amongst the pack. Prior to that I slept in a tent with my then-boyfriend (now husband) in the Grand Canyon in the ’90s.

That was a bit ago, wasn’t it?

So I decided if I wanted to camp in a tent I’d have to do it by myself.

Alone.

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Rock Creek area at Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Chasing waterfalls.

My Get Out summer adventure challenge was to go to a new-to-me state park (or federal as the case turned out to be), find my own way, pitch the tent and take my bike so I could go on a long solo ride. I picked the first day of summer, which so happened to fall on a Saturday. Summer Solstice seemed like the perfect day to be brave and go on the solo trip and enjoy the long day and short night in nature.

My daughter was sure I’d come home before the trip was over – scared. My sister did not see the appeal of either camping OR going alone. Just be careful how many people you tell because they’ll worry you’ll get kidnapped, raped, lost or at the least eaten up by mosquitoes in Oklahoma.

I picked Chickasaw National Reserve (the oldest federal reserve in OK) located in Sulphur, OK. I also wanted to visit the Chickasaw Cultural Center. Both were gorgeous, well-maintained and completely safe.

Biking around Veterans Lake in the rain.

Biking around Veterans Lake in the rain.

I did bring some mace and a knife though I didn’t feel like I’d need either because I wasn’t scared. I was excited.

The day ended up being rainy, but my motto is to bring your own sunshine, so I figured it would lift and though I had a rainy bike ride around Veterans Lake, it was mostly overcast and warm. Would I recommend a solo trip? Absolutely.

Check out my video for the experience and lots of photos. I hope you’ll be brave and get out and do something new to you this week and connect with nature. Turns out she’s all the company I need sometimes!

 

 

Also this week, I attended the opening of the new exhibit Gods and Heroes at the OKCMOA. Story here on Sooner Spaces. For fun, I decided to put together an outfit like SPJ’s famous tutu look for Carrie Bradshaw on the opening season of Sex and the City. I’d found the skirt at Goodwill and looked up how SPJ wore it and did my own black tank spin on it. My husband shot this downtown before the opening.

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Next week my Get Out adventure is OKC Fest, a live music festival.

 

Get Out: Hike This, Hear That

I grew up with weekends at the lake, my fishing pole sitting idle while I scrambled through the tall grass looking for horned toads and fleeing from crickets. Summer vacations were on the road, in the RV, bunking with my sisters and playing cards until it was time for us to tumble out and play badminton and climb rocks new but strangely familiar to us in places like New Mexico, Arizona and South Dakota.

While RVing is out of vogue and every time I take a road trip with the kids I swear it will be the last, I miss the open road and adventure and mostly being in nature. I have some catching up to do. My children could care less about the Black Hills or Mount Rushmore and we’re giving them the vacation of their dreams next month with a trip to Hawaii, but in the meantime, I’m giving myself the gift of Nature as often as I can. This Get Out series is certainly about unplugging and reconnecting with nature and each other, but I don’t expect my family to be as enthusiastic as I am about the idea, which is why my little treks are with girlfriends, family and even all by my lonesome. I love new challenges and adventures so camping by myself has a new appeal that would’ve frightened me just months ago. I likely have Barbara Brown Taylor and her new book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” to thank for that idea to exile myself to the night.

Since I’m supposed to be dedicating my summer to finishing the first draft of my love after war brotherhood novel, I’ll likely only post every other week and mostly include photos to save us both some time.

This week’s “Get Out” adventures began with a trip to Black Mesa to hike the highest elevation in Oklahoma (4.2 miles up) in the Oklahoma panhandle, a mid-week treat seeing Matt Stansberry and the Romance at the UCO Jazz Lab. (Please treat yourself to their album.) and concluding with a surprise trip to The Canebrake, a resort in eastern Oklahoma in Wagoner, OK where we hiked, dined, and even saw a family of armadillos on the way out of town this morning.

Where shall we go next?

xo,

Malena

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My sis and I with our kids in the middle. Hubbies came long, too.

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Jurassic hike. Yes, dinosaurs roamed here. Kind of cool, right?

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When I look at this picture, I feel the same peace I did standing there. Zen.

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Getting caught up in the energy of great live music is the next best thing to being in nature for me.

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Matt Stansberry is a local designer and bad ass musician. I’m a huge fan.

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All of it. Impeccable.

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I’m sure in a past life I was a jazz vocalist. Now I just pose next to them and give ‘em hugs of gratitude for their pipes.

The Canebrake. Where there's an arrow, I must investigate.

The Canebrake. Where there’s an arrow, I must investigate.

My Papa would be proud to see I still like to climb on rocks.

My Papa would be proud to see I still like to climb on rocks.

Rod on the one bench we saw on the hike next to the lake

Rod on the one bench we saw on the hike next to the lake

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Peek a boo.

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I love trees more than shoe and that’s saying a lot.

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"I feel as though my life is bathed in golden sunlight. And the really wonderful thing is that I know it." - Helen McCrory

“I feel as though my life is bathed in golden sunlight. And the really wonderful thing is that I know it.” – Helen McCrory