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Goodbye, Grandma

February is a HARD month for my family. Last year, my sister experienced life-threatening complications during a surgery. A few weeks ago, the youngest member of the Swigert clan, my sweet baby niece, spent a few days in the hospital battling RSV. There are not enough words to express how thankful I am to have these two ladies healthy once again.

Then, the February struggle reared its head once again. A few days ago, my grandmother was taken to the hospital and our worlds were forever changed. As soon as I heard that she was taken to the hospital, my mind began to race. I called my boss to inform her I may need to miss the following work day, and her words will forever haunt me: “Don’t say things can’t get worse.” I didn’t say it, but Someone must have overheard our conversation anyways. I can’t described the way my stomach dropped, my heart stopped, and my mind froze when I read my Dad’s text: “Grandma’s abdomen is full of cancer.”

By that evening, I was travelling to the hospital with some of my family. We found our precious grandmother, still in the emergency room, still in excruciating pain. My heart will forever be comforted by our brief conversations that evening. Grandma knew who I was, and we exchanged the typical “I love you” conversation. Later, I joked with her about dog-sitting and how I needed to get home to let the crazy dogs out. She gave me her best attempt at a chuckle, and I promised to visit again soon.

Less than twelve hours after that conversation, I did visit again. But Grandma had already deteriorated to a state of unresponsiveness. The Grandma I grew up learning to love and adore had already left us. I squeezed her hand, holding onto a thin shred of hope that she would squeeze back, and I kissed her forehead before I left for work. By the time I arrived to work, about 20 minutes after that goodbye kiss, she was gone. She was free of her chains of pain, and she was reunited with her beloved husband. She was free.

My mind is still working hard to process what has happened. Twenty-four hours before her last breath, she was f.i.n.e. Three days before her last, she was celebrating my brother-in-law’s birthday with the family. I have yet to fully grasp that she will no longer welcome us into her home on Christmas Eve or sip Pepsi from her favorite orange cup. She won’t sneak up behind me at family get-togethers and slip money into my back pocket. I will never hear her joyful laugh or see her bright smile again. She won’t show off her new earrings or pretty sweatshirt. I won’t tease her for being twelve feet shorter than everyone else.

While I list all of these “can’ts” and won’ts,” I am left with the words my boss spoke to me today: “They focus on what we can’t do, but I wish they would see all the things we can do.” While we were simply having a conversation about a program at work, I found myself drawing a connection from her words to my grieving process. There are so many things I can do to remember my Grandma and keep her spirit alive.

I can frost graham crackers with my nieces and nephews, and I can tell them how their Great Grandma’s house always smelled like frosted graham crackers. I can teach the Christmas Eve traditions she taught me to my nieces and nephews and someday, my own kids. I can keep a few of her bells from her giant (literally, giant) collection, and I can gently ring them from time to time, remembering how her laugh also produced a pretty sound. I can always keep my love for fun, something I am sure I learned from her.

While the next family birthday party or Easter dinner will be a little quieter, and a bit sorrowful, we have so many pieces of Grandma that we can always share and keep her spirit with us. She will never truly be gone. As I prepare to lay my Grandma to rest next week, I am finding great comfort in my final moments with her that dreary Tuesday evening.

My oldest sister and I visited Grandma first after she was settled in her ICU room. (I liked how my dad introduced us to a nurse the next morning, “my oldest and my youngest.”) The two bookends of the Swigert siblings, standing strong for our siblings that couldn’t make it in time. We loved on our Grandma, and we gave her hugs as she suffered through her pain. Our final conversation with her will always leave me with chills. We told her that “Andrew (our brother) will be here soon, and Becca (our sister) will be coming, too.” My oldest sister told our Grandma that she would be back, and, as I have already mentioned, I promised to visit soon. In that moment, my sister and I thought we were talking in terms of days or hours. But now, I believe we spoke those words through a Higher Power. I believe Grandma left this world knowing her grandkids would follow her one day… she knows we will be coming for a visit when our time here is finished. And I know that we are counting down the days until we get to have that Heavenly visit with our beloved Grandmother.

Until that day, I will love you, cherish our memories, and miss you to no end. As my mom beautifully wrote on Facebook the morning you left, “She liked her angel figurines… now she is with the angels!” Rejoice, Grandma, and, with time, we will, too. You will never know pain or suffering again, and, in that, I find great comfort.

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Maybe February brings our family these moments of hardship not to cause pain, but to remind us what is important… more importantly, who is important.

-rs

23 Years

On January 7, 2016, I celebrated my 23rd birthday. I LOVE birthdays… I love making people feel important, loved, and cared for on their special day. A couple years ago, I stumbled upon a blog post about a lady who celebrated her birthday by doing a random act of kindness for each year she has lived. I did a little more searching and a little more reading and found many people sharing the same kind of story. I was inspired… my 21st birthday was quickly approaching and 2013 had been a hard year. I decided I would give this idea a try… spreading kindness for each of the years I had been alive. And then I was hooked. I realized that, while still celebrating my special day, I got to share those feelings of importance and love with so many people around me, both those I knew and complete strangers.

As I recently wrote about, my focus word for 2016 is intention. With a birthday so close to the New Year, I found myself in December 2015 brainstorming ideas for my focus word and acts of kindness simultaneously. Once I decided to make 2016 my year of intention, I knew I had to pick 23 intentional acts of kindness. I decided to focus less on the anonymity of the acts and more on the intentionality… Who would I impact? Why did I want to focus on them? How have they shaped my life?

After some careful planning and fun trips shopping, I had my 23 acts of kindness. I had to be intentional with my planning, because I had to work during part of my birthday. I didn’t have as much time as previous years so I had to decide how I would work everything in… I ultimately decided that 11 of my 23 acts would be hand-written letters. I think one of my gifts in life is my ability to covey my thoughts and feelings through written words… I am not an eloquent speaker but, with lots of whiteout and erasing, I can craft a pretty solid letter.

Before I share my 23 acts of kindness and how they unfolded on January 7th, I want to express that I am writing this post out of sincere humility. It is not my attempt to brag or show off what I did on my birthday… my biggest hope is that someone else will stumble upon this post and feel just as inspired as I did a few years ago. I also want to capture the feelings and moments of this day so that I may return to this post and reflect & remember what a special day it was.

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The “Before Shot” (Ignore the chaos in the background.)

 

Pay for the person behind me at the drive-thru

Obviously, I was at McDonald’s buying a Doctor Pepper before work. So, this was an easy task to accomplish. Or so I thought. Apparently, 9:17 in the morning is not a popular drive-thru time. I ordered and then drove about 2 mph towards the first window, waiting patiently for another car to pull in behind me. I finally decided to pay and just come back later. (I mean, I guess I could get 2 Doctor Peppers in one day.) After I had paid, I saw a car pull in. So, I stared at the worker until she opened her window again and I could pay for the other car’s order. Success!

Donate to Safe Harbor

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Cleaning supplies were most needed at Safe Harbor.

I hate mornings. They are the absolute worse. But I knew I needed to get up early before work and make a trip to a nearby town to drop off my donation. Safe Harbor is a shelter for women and children… I had contacted them earlier in the week to find out what they needed most so that my donation could be intentional. So, at 8:15 in the morning, I was off with my bucket of cleaning supplies. There was a slight debacle getting the donations inside the shelter (read: dead ends, big dogs, and abandoned alleys), but the joy and surprise on the worker’s face made my morning! The early start to my 23rd year was totally worth it.

 

Leave candy for the mail lady

This is such a simple act, but I think so many of us often overlook our mailmen. Rain, sunshine, snow, ice… the mail is always delivered. A box of candy with a note of appreciation is such an easy way to remind these workers that we care. (And I even got a thank-you note back the next day… how cool is that!)

Bring muffins to my coworkers

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One of my pretty cakes at work!

I absolutely love my coworkers. They always make me smile and never fail to ask how I’m doing. I knew I had to bring them a small treat… I didn’t expect that they would have not one but two cakes waiting for me! What lovely people. My favorite moment was hanging out in the break room with a couple coworkers, waiting to cut my cake, and they tried to guess who left the muffins. I have an awful poker face, but I think I pulled it off in that moment.

Flowers for someone who always brightens my day

This was one of my favorite acts this year. First, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a colorful bouquet. On my way inside, I noticed an older man grab a stray cart to take in the store. (Yay! Random act of kindness!) He smiled at me and greeted me with a friendly “Good morning!” And then greeted several other people the same way. I was literally beaming at this point. While I was filling out the little card at the floral counter, the same man came up and asked if I was giving my flowers to someone in the hospital. I learned he had someone in the hospital, and he was going to buy them the same colorful bouquet. (Another act of kindness!) We then had a conversation with the florist about the delicious smells coming from the bakery. What a fun guy! IMG_3260

Anyways, the flowers. I gave them to the office manager at my job. She is literally the glue of our organization. She makes sure everything runs smoothly all of the time. She never complains, and she is always wearing a smile. By the end of my shift, she figured out I had left the flowers… but her giant smile warmed my heart. I was thrilled I could make her day just a bit brighter.


As mentioned, I decided to write a card for many of my acts this year. While I spent time intentionally choosing the individuals I would write to, I decided to keep my anonymity for these acts. So, my descriptions here will be brief.


Card to someone going through a tough time

I sent a note to a former classmate currently going through a battle with cancer.

Card to someone I admire

This was also to a former classmate… someone that has been dealt a rough hand of cards but has reshuffled and came right back at life with such a determined attitude. That deserves some recognition!

Card to someone I appreciate

For this act, I chose someone that does a service for me, and I have never formally thanked her or recognized her skills.

Card to someone who has impacted my life

I knew this had to go to a teacher… but I chose a person that never actually taught me in her classroom. However, she was such a huge support system when I went through the loss of my mentor in 2013. I’ll never forget her kind, gentle words during that time in my life.

Card to encourage someone

I sent this note to an old friend and former classmate. We grew up together, and she has always persevered through life’s challenges. I wanted her to know that I’m thankful for our friendship and encourage her to keep pushing forward.

Paper hearts of positive traits to a friend

I can’t take credit for this fun idea… I cut out about 8 paper hearts. On each heart, I wrote a little description of what I love about this friend. I added a note instructing my friend to pull out just one heart after a rough day to, hopefully, get a boost of encouragement. What a cool idea!

Funny photo to an old friend

As I’ve gotten older, I have realized how ridiculously hard it is to stay in contact with old friends. Our schedules get busier, we move away, and we get overwhelmed with jobs and other responsibilities. So, I had a lot of fun picking out a silly photo from early in our high school years and writing a little note letting my friend know how much I appreciate her.

Encouragement cards to wounded soldiers

Can you think of anyone more deserving of a hand-written letter? I wrote out two cards of encouragement, and I found an address online. There are so many different places to choose from… just do a little research. I’ll leave the address I used here… just stick a note with your cards instructing that they are for “wounded warriors.”

Operation Gratitude/Forward Operating Base

Attn: Angel Cuevas

21100 Lassen Street

Chatsworth, CA 91311

Card to a recent widow

After surrounding myself daily with widows at my job, my eyes have been opened to how the loss of a spouse greatly impacts seniors’ lives. So many nights I lie awake, my heart broken for the seniors I interact with daily. I knew I had to send a note to someone special to our family. Carl and Elma are family friends that have never forgotten my birthday. I’ve only met them a few times in my life, but they always make me feel loved. Elma lost the love of her life and best friend, Carl, a couple months ago. I found a pretty card and wrote her a note of encouragement. When I got home from mailing her letter, I found a birthday card from her in my own mailbox. What a spectacular woman.

Buy stamps for someone at the post office

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Here I am, trying not to get run over in the middle of the street, going into the Post Office.

This was a fun interaction at the post office. I mailed all my letters, and then I asked to buy six more stamps. As I finished paying, I told the clerk that she was to keep the stamps. As she gave me a strange look, I explained that the stamps were for the next people coming in needing to mail a letter. Her friendly words made me smile, yet again.

Donate to charity

I wanted to make a donation to my favorite charity… there are so many I could have chosen from but I had to go with St. Jude’s. I have always wanted to visit and volunteer at this hospital. For those unaware, St. Jude’s pays for the medical costs of treatments so that families from all over the world can give their children the best chance at life. Unfortunately, the day after my birthday, I learned that one of my former basketball players will be battling this ugly disease. She’s 11 and should be out on the court with her teammates… but, with organizations like St. Jude’s, she will get the best care possible.

Donate to Replay Sports

This is a really cool program in my hometown. Replay Sports collects

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Mom doubled as my chauffeur & paparazzi.

gently used sporting goods for kids to use that have no way to get these items; this program makes sure that all kids have a chance to play sports by having the necessary equipment. The awesome twist to the program is that the kids must spend so much time doing community service to “pay” for the items. It teaches responsibility while also providing access to sporting goods. For me, nine years of playing basketball, has left me with lots of pairs of shoes. Some pairs only got worn for a season and then  thrown in the back of my closet… so I donated these pairs along with some athletic wear that no longer fits. Friends in my local area, consider donating to this program!

Leave soap/quarters at the laundromat

I had fun leaving this donation… a nice old man was behind the counter at the laundromat and after explaining that I was leaving the detergent and quarters for someone needing it, he gave me a big smile and cheerful “Have a good day!” (I also enjoyed seeing the older couple in the laundromat arguing over how to fold their fitted sheet.)

Leave a $5 gift card at Family Video for the next person

IMG_3282Another fun stop! As I was paying for the gift card, the worker apologized profusely for being out of the little envelopes. I responded, “That’s okay, because you’re keeping the gift card.” While she gave me the weirdest look, I explained that I wanted her to give it to the next person that came in for a movie rental. She was literally speechless for a few seconds while processing my request… I guess these things don’t happen too often. (I also can’t take credit for this idea, but it was one of my favorites!) We talked for a few more minutes, and then I left smiling at the family looking around at movies with their small children.

 

Donate to Mother-to-Mother

This is another local organization that helps mothers with the necessary items needed in raising a child, especially diapers. I made sure to contact this organization so that my donation could be intentional… I found out what size diapers were most needed and grabbed a package to leave with the organization. This act of kindness made me happy because I knew it was benefitting both a mother and her child!

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Here I am with my donations for Mother to Mother & FCC Food Pantry

 

Donate to FCC Food Pantry

My mom volunteers at our church’s food pantry each month so I asked her what items are most needed: laundry soap and dish soap. I made up a few baskets with these items and we left them at the church. (Bonus, the bottles of laundry soap were a bright orange!)

Leave coloring books in a hospital waiting room

I stopped at the clinic at our local hospital. I had planned to just leave a IMG_3280few coloring books and package of crayons on a few tables. But I decided to check with the front desk… I’m glad I did! The receptionists suggested that the coloring books would be better used in the examination rooms in the pediatrics wing. What a great idea… children will have something to do while they wait for the doctor to stop in.

Donate to W.I.A.R.

IMG_3279This organization is the animal rescue group in town. I have such a soft spot for animals, especially strays. I checked in with this organization, too, to find out what items were most needed. Here’s the cool part… when I dropped off the items, I got to go and visit some of the recently rescued animals. They were so precious! Mom had to basically drag me out of there after I had my hands inside of all the cages, petting all of the animals. (If I would have went alone, we would probably have about 8 more animals at home today!)

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Here are two of my new friends… Ernest & Paul.

 

This was my day… 23 years celebrated with 23 acts of kindness. While I didn’t see the direct reaction from most of the people I tried to impact, my heart was so incredibly full. After my early morning stop, I told myself, while grinning from ear to ear, “I love this day.” And it only got better from there.

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23 acts of kindness… completed!

 

With all the constant reports of evil and violence in our world, it’s so important to focus on the good things. You don’t have to spend your birthday doing this… but I challenge you to consider doing it. It gives you such a new perspective and appreciation. And challenge those around you to celebrate your day, not by buying you gifts, but by doing an act of kindness. Mom told me a wonderful story of an older lady she bought lunch for on my birthday… that story made me happier than any of the presents I unwrapped.

Let me end this post with the quote I attached on many of my donations:

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” –Mother Teresa

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Cheers to 23 flavors of Dr. P & 23 years of life!

-rs

2016: One Word

If you know me, you know about my major problem with procrastination. There’s that saying… “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” It’s basically my life motto.

Based on this struggle, I have never been great at keeping those New Year’s resolutions. “Get in shape and lose 10 pounds.” “Read more books, watch less TV.” “Limit the amount of time on my phone.” You get the idea… but rather than work on those things a little bit each day, I tend to tell myself “tomorrow” or “I’ll start that on Monday.” Then, I never do. The final few days of December would consist of me doing push-ups, eating carrots, reading a book, and only checking Facebook 67 times each day if I were to pursue these types of resolutions.

So, last year, I decided to pick just one word that would be my focus for 2015. I chose “fearless” [insert Taylor Swift joke here] as I faced many big decisions and life changing moments. I made decisions that altered the course of my undergraduate studies, I then graduated with my Bachelor’s, and I started working in the real world. It was a big year and fearless seemed to be an appropriate choice.

As I thought about what moments may await me in 2016, my focus word kept popping into my mind: intention.

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  • I want to be intentional with my choices. When job searching, I don’t want to simply select the one with the best hours and highest wages… I want to intentionally choose the one that will grow me towards the future I envision. When contemplating graduate school, I want to intentionally select the school and program that will best meet my needs and goals.
  • I want to be intentional with my relationships. I want to surround myself with people who make me laugh, who challenge me to be a better person, and who show up and invest in our relationship. In the past, I have settled for friendships out of comfort and familiarity. I want to be intentional with who I choose to be around and who I let go.
  • I want to be intentional with the daily decisions that create my lifestyle. I am a creature of habit and routine. I want to break those chains in 2016, and, by doing so, I will be able to participate fully wherever I am and in whatever I am doing. I will choose what habits can stay, and I will be intentional with what habits I want to create. 79aaa4ee7a156bc4caa29809f35441d0

So, yes, those “small” resolutions (living a healthier lifestyle, limiting TV and phone time, growing in my relationship with God, etc.) will fall under my one word. But rather than being weighed down with a list of resolutions to accomplish by a certain date, I will remind myself daily of my focus: intention. Are my choices, relationships, and daily decisions growing me towards the future I want to live?

What will be your one word for 2016?

-rs

 

[2015: A Reflection]

After the wonderful mayhem known as Christmas has faded, I am left sitting in the quiet (well, quiet may be the wrong word as an ice storm is raging outside). I sit here in reflection. A grateful reflection of the last few days I have spent with my family. And an even bigger reflection over the past year… the good moments, the crazy moments, the rough moments, and all of the little memories I will carry with me into 2016.

I think we should all sit in reflection, even just briefly, during the final days of December. For most, it’s the final push of polishing those New Year’s resolutions, the statements we may only work towards until January 2nd. (Or maybe that’s just me…) Perhaps, we should reflect on the year behind us instead… rather than rushing towards the New Year. Slow down. Sit down. Reflect.

What are you grateful for? What did you learn? Are there moments you wish you could just stop time and relive? Or maybe there is a moment you want to forget forever? Whatever moments shaped your 2015, I challenge you to reflect on them. How can they transform you into an even better person as 2016 soon unfolds?

My 22nd year of life has proven to be a pretty big year. Let me share my reflections… a keyword to represent the moments that built my months that then constructed my year.

January: Courage

January led me through a transformation, a process I am still working through most days. At the end of 2014, after weeks of agonizing debate, I made the decision to pursue student teaching as part of my undergraduate degree in education. I started January with determination to move forward with courage even though I was trembling internally. (You could say the armed intruder training on the first day of in-service also required courage…)

I student taught for about four or five days before making another courageous choice: stop student teaching and pursue a research project. I am not too open about the internal turmoil I faced throughout the first few weeks of January. Fear, shame, guilt, and torment are just a few words to describe my emotional state during that time. I cannot thank my college roommate, parents, and a few close friends who walked down that miserable path with me.

I also celebrated my 22nd birthday on January 7th.

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Feelin’ 22

For the second year in a row, I celebrated in the middle of a polar vortex… Mother Nature even celebrated my special day by giving me a steady -22 wind chill temp. However, along with a few great friends, I found the courage to venture outside and enjoy Buffalo Wild Wings.

All jokes aside, January was an incredible month of growth. My courage within the moments of this month paved the way for the rest of 2015.

February: Growth

Wow, what a month February was. I began my research project, and I worked with an amazing supervisor. She looked past my flaws and found my strengths. She believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. With her guidance, I created an amazing research project about intergenerational learning. I can still remember how chaotic the first few weeks of planning were… my final project was nowhere near my original thinking but it was one hundred times better.

I started my first few sessions of my intergenerational program towards the end of February. I remember shaking uncontrollably on my drive to the program. I was panicking, I was doubting myself, and I almost didn’t go inside. What an awful decision that would have been… I remember introducing myself, the program and its goals, and leading my participants (a handful of seniors and teenagers) through the first activity. I was SO comfortable. I remember telling my supervisor afterwards that I felt like this was where I belonged. Holy cow, did I ever grow from that miserable student teacher to this new, confident research student!

While my academic growth was tremendously impacted, I also learned about sacrifice in February.

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Chauffeuring the coolest 3 year old around 🙂

 

I let go of a lot of selfishness as my oldest sister faced complications from surgery. She was so sick during that month… unable to get out of bed due to weakness which didn’t mix well with her rambunctious three year old. I spent a lot of time with my niece that month… and her older sister who was a few months shy of having a license. I played taxi driver, dinner maker, and crazy cool Auntie (who am I kidding, I play this role everyday!). And I would do it all again if I had to… I learned so much about family and taking care of each other during this time.

I grew up so much in the short 28 days of February.

March: Perspective

I’ve never been a big fan of March. The majority of the trees are still dead from the harsh ways of winter, and the ground is soggy and gross. Everything is messy and the weather is so unpredictable. But March 2015 seemed to thaw my heart as well as the ground. Instead of the dead trees, I saw the tiny buds of new life. The soggy ground was a reminder that the grass would soon grow thick and green. Perspective.

March wasn’t a month of “big” moments so I scrolled through my Facebook posts to try to remember what happened day to day. Like I thought, nothing “big.” But my posts were filled with positive quotes and daily reminders to find the good in every situation. Perspective.

Here’s an example: Senior year, spring break. It should be big, crazy, and endless fun, right? Well, when my intergenerational program was scheduled throughout spring break, any sort of long distance trip was ruled out. Rather than being upset about a potentially missed opportunity, I took my best friend on a day trip to Springfield. (I love Abraham Lincoln, don’t forget.) We created a day of crazy memories, ones I will hold on to for a lifetime. Perspective.

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Hangin’ with Abe!

 

April: Milestone

April 3, 2013 is a day I never forget. I woke up to the news that my biggest fan, supportive mentor, and wonderful friend had passed away. I would never see her contagious smile or infectious laugh again in this lifetime. I had never experienced genuine heartbreak until that day.

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So, April 3, 2015 marked two years since her death. However, it was a day of celebration for me. I remembered our funny memories and crazy conversations. I felt this shift deep in my soul from sadness to joy. I had finally grown through my grief to find a way to be joyful in remembering her life and sharing her legacy with those who never had the chance to meet her.

April 8th: my mom’s 60th birthday. What a wonderful day that was… I planned out her special day for weeks. (I had to be careful not to say “60” too many times… this is the same woman who didn’t get out of bed for three days when she turned 30!)

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I loved celebrating someone so selfless, loving, and kind-hearted. I even pulled off a surprise party… I think I loved it as much as she did. (I’m a huge fan of birthdays.) Seeing my mom laugh and enjoy the company of some of her closest friends and family was such a gift to me… it was such a reminder to celebrate the people that mean the most to us. Let them know how much they mean to you… don’t just tell them, show them.

 

The end of April also marked the end of my research project as I presented a poster of my findings at Scholar’s Day. Sharing my passion for the two generations involved in my project with so many professors, students, and community members was an incredible experience. I took a large step outside of my comfort zone, but my preparation and growth in the previous months, allowed me to remain calm and confident. Of course, the support from my research supervisor and friends helped tremendously.

Such big moments. Wow.

May: Joy

May was a whirlwind. But it also contained my favorite day of 2015: May 17th. All other days in this month are irrelevant (well, Jigsaw celebrated being alive an entire decade on the 28th… that was pretty cool.).

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I graduated from Monmouth College with my Bachelor’s degree even accumulating a few academic honors along the way. On top of that big moment, my parents planned an amazing graduation party. May 17th was truly “all about me,” a feeling I normally avoid but I really soaked it up on this day. So many of my closest friends and family attended my party and celebrated my accomplishment. I got to share my special day with the people that mean the most to me. I am still speechless when I reflect on the amount of people, who at one time had a huge impact on my life, that paused their daily lives to come congratulate me. It literally blows my mind. Still.

Joy. Endless joy.

June: Perseverance

Throughout college, I only worked a part-time job. It was enough to put a little cash in my pocket, and it was an easy job. After graduation, I had to find a “big girl” job. I decided to pursue a term of service with AmeriCorps. It was just for the summer, and I was able to stay local. It was described to me as the ideal job, but I quickly realized how far from “ideal” it was. I had thought I was working with seniors… I ended up working with 5 to 13 year old kids. I had thought I was continuing my work with intergenerational programs… I spent my afternoons sweating in a community garden. I wanted to quit after my first day… I even told (read: complained) several friends that I wasn’t going back.

I went back… every week day for 8 weeks. And I kept my part-time job on the weekends. I worked close to 50 hours every week, and I learned a lesson in perseverance. I developed skills I didn’t even know I would be using at this job. I learned how to effectively lead people towards a common goal. I learned how to put one foot in front of the other… persevering and thriving no matter the circumstances around me.

July: Sunshine

The end of June, and even early July, were rainy and cloudy. Dropping the weather metaphor, those few weeks sucked. I said “see you later” to two of the most important people in my life as they moved hours away. These two got me through some of my darkest moments, they believed in me, and they offered me so much advice. While they were simply relocating, it felt to me as if they were permanently leaving my life. It was a tough adjustment, but, back to the weather metaphor, rainbows are only seen after a storm. By hanging on and facing each new day, I was greeted with so much sunshine (aka good moments) in July.

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Just a couple pyro’s 😉

 

My brother and his family made it home for the Fourth of July. It had been almost a year since they were home last and their visit brought me so much joy. (It was also a lot of fun to have my fellow pyromaniac (thanks for teaching me the ways of that lifestyle, bro!) home for a holiday filled with fireworks.

My sister and brother-in-law welcomed their baby girl into the world towards the end of July. I already had 7 nieces and nephews, but her arrival brought back all of those feelings of love at first sight. I had forgotten how much love my heart can have for someone so small.

“See You Again” was one of my favorite songs in 2015, and the lyrics are so true:

“How can we not talk about family when family is all we got?”

August: Reward

August was life’s way of reminding me that hard work pays off. After four years of working hard throughout undergrad and then 8 weeks of a full-time and part-time job, I was able to take a month off work… I completed my term of service with AmeriCorps and I left my part-time job. I knew I could job search during my time off, and I had saved the majority of my earnings from the summer. Oh, did I mention I had a newborn niece that needed lots of Auntie snuggles??

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Meet Audrey Alexis 🙂

 

I spent my month making a few trips to visit my niece (and her parents). There isn’t a better way to ponder about future plans than gazing at a sleeping baby while she curls her tiny hand around your finger. I took a trip to the State Fair with my oldest niece… we made it a day of screaming on the rides, making friends with carnies, and eating a lot of junk food. I had my two year heart check-up which came back with positive news… everything is still looking good.

All of my hard work and long hours were rewarded during August. It was like one giant breath of relief… I let my hair down (so to speak… it was very much in a messy pony tail most days) and enjoyed a break from the madness of life. We all need a breather from time to time… I was blessed that mine could last an entire month.

September: Begin

September was a month of baby steps towards my future. Almost every job in my past had literally fallen in my lap at the exact moment it needed to land. (I was a slacker, and I didn’t actively pursue too many jobs as planned in August.) I was just waiting for that next opportunity to land…

It landed. The perfect job… with opportunities to incorporate my intergenerational research. I called, I applied, I emailed. The job had already been filled. I was offered another job but declined as it wasn’t anything that was going to grow and challenge me. I decided to send out a cover letter and resume… waiting wasn’t working. I contacted one of my references to okay using her on my updated resume… and she offered me a job. It wasn’t a super challenging job, but it would at least provide me with experience in a field I would like to pursue in graduate school.

After passing my certifications, I accepted the job. I then started to worry about the lack of hours. Would a part-time job really be enough to get me by? Then, splat. Another opportunity landed right in my lap. This time, a coaching job. A PAID coaching job… I make that emphasis because my previous coaching experiences had been strictly volunteer. It would fit around my job schedule, and I would be able to get back on the basketball floor teaching the game I love to sixth grade girls.

Baby steps. Trusting that what’s meant to be will find its way.

October: Remember

This was a cool month because nothing “big” happened. I was hustling from job to coaching to bed… it was chaotic and crazy but 100% worth it. October was filled with these little moments that reminded me where I came from and allowed me to remember the people who helped me get to the present day.

My baby niece was baptized at the beginning of October.

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I was asked to be her godmother… what a reminder that we belong to God and He is so much greater than the things of this world. It was such a blessing to be part of her special day.

There were also fun moments… I took a new dogsitting job (2 greyhounds!) that reminded me of the couple who first asked me to dogsit several years ago. They have both been huge blessings in my life… Godly role models and advice givers. (I also blame them for getting me started on the dogsitting lifestyle… 5 clients later..) I participated in a 5k with my college roommate… the money raised benefited Relay for Life. I was reminded of my mentor that passed away in 2013 after a battle with breast cancer. I wore my pink shirt during that race and simply remembered. image I celebrated the birthdays of two good friends and my brother… it was a reminder of their impact on my life and how dull my life would be without their presence.

September was like the sneak peak of my new jobs while October unfolded their chaos… but it reminded me why I was doing these things. I was serving others because I am here to serve God and follow his plan for my life. I was running (okay, walking… but really fast walking) a 5k to remember my mentor and her impact on my life. I was sending birthday wishes because I wanted to celebrate those people in my life. Yes, October was chaos, but it was a beautiful chaos.

November: Gratitude

I know, I know. November… gratitude? Cliché, right? With Thanksgiving being celebrated this month, it seems like we make this big push of sharing what we are thankful for. While this is great, shouldn’t we be sharing those thoughts every day of the year? I wanted to move away from gratitude to avoid falling into that trap, but November gave me two big memories and gratitude is the only word that can convey my feelings.

I went to Canada in November. How cool is that?! Remember how two of my favorite people moved away during the summer? Well, the cool part about people moving away is that it gives you somewhere to travel. I visited my research supervisor from MC, but I just call her a wonderful friend now. I spent almost a week in Toronto… exploring downtown, buying way too many souvenirs, and making memories that will last for many years. I also got to check out a potential graduate school. Throughout the trip, I kept thinking to myself how lucky I was… I was so thankful for the opportunity to take the trip, for my best friend that travelled with me, for my friend in Toronto allowing us to stay and looking out for us, and for my coworkers that covered my shifts so I could go.

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A couple days after flying back to the States, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family. I love all holidays, but Thanksgiving is one of my favorites because there’s so much emphasis on family (and food). For the first time since my high school graduation (2011), all three of my siblings were home. It was so fantastic… I got to see seven of my eight nieces and nephews. I’m not sure I could ask for a better day… my heart was so full.

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Swigert Fam 2k15

 

The older I get, the more appreciation I have for my family. My siblings are all 10 or more years older than I am, and I find myself growing closer to them as I get older. I also have a new appreciation for my Auntie role as my nieces and nephews grow older… I want to be someone they can look up to and count on.

So much gratitude. Such a happy heart.

December: Reflection

Okay, I know this whole post (all 873 paragraphs) is about reflection. But I have been writing this post in my head for several weeks. I have been reflecting over the past year and my choices. I’ve been evaluating the cause and effect of the events in 2015. I have found myself smiling and laughing as I remember all the fun I have had, and I have even shed a few tears when remembering the tougher moments. But as I reflect, I find myself asking more questions setting new goals for my future. I find myself being nervous, excited, anxious, and motivated as I get ready to welcome 2016 and all that lies ahead.

Also, I got some really cool Abraham Lincoln socks for Christmas that made December pretty rad.

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The Best Is Yet To Come

 

-rs

To My Best Friend, On Her Birthday

Birthdays are my absolute favorite. Whether it’s a friend or a family member, I think it’s important to spend an entire day showering them with love, gifts, attention, and a whole lot of laughs! (I even sing along in a restaurant when they announce a complete stranger’s birthday!) I love my own birthday, of course, but it’s even better getting to celebrate the birthdays of the people I love most.


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“I think one of my favorite feelings is laughing with someone and realizing halfway through how much you enjoy them and their existence.”

September 22, 1992.

Brianna Marie was born, and even though I didn’t know it yet (I wasn’t even born!), my future became a whole lot brighter. Brianna has blessed me with many years of friendship so far, and I can’t wait to walk the journey that lies ahead with her in my life. I wrote in her birthday card: “You are the BEST friend” but I didn’t actually explain. Let me try…

I’m a huge Grey’s Anatomy addict, and whenever I try to describe Brianna, I immediately think of Season 5, Episode 19. “Elevator Love Letter.” True fans will quickly realize this is the episode where McDreamy proposes to Meredith. It may seem odd that I chose his proposal as my description of my best friend, but hear me out:

“If there’s a crisis, you don’t freeze, you move forward. You get the rest of us to move forward. Because you’ve seen worse. You’ve survived worse, and you know we’ll survive, too. You say you’re all dark and twisty. It’s not a flaw, it’s a strength. It makes you who you are.”

  • My best friend has fought through some of the toughest battles life could throw at a person. She has faced each battle with an incredible amount of strength and courage. Rather than buckling under the pain and heartbreak, she picks herself up and fights through to another day. And she doesn’t just push herself forward. She is always picking up the people around her, pushing them forward, too. I admire her strength, because I don’t think I could have even crawled my way forward, let alone charge ahead. Thank you, Brianna, for picking me up during my own battles, no matter how big or small, and carrying me forward with you. Your determination and perseverance are gifts to be admired by many.
  • My best friend is also incredibly loyal. We have been friends for almost 10 years (even though I don’t remember that first year!), but I have learned recently that friendship is less about numbers and more about moments. Brianna has stayed by my side through the good, the bad, the fun times, the sad times, the boring times, and the exciting times. She has dropped everything when I needed someone by my side. She has sacrificed her own time to make sure my time was of the best quality. Thank you, Brianna, for caring about our friendship so much. Thank you for never looking at your schedule or plans when I need you.

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  • My best friend is the hardest working person I have ever met. Throughout high school, she worked unfavorable jobs while I played basketball or took a nap. (I didn’t get my first official job until late in my senior year!) I have admired her work ethic in recent years as she has worked hard to support herself, moving into her own apartment, and paying for her own car and bills. And it’s not just how hard she works at her job, but in every aspect of life. She worked hard in her studies all through school (and helped explained quite a few things to me along the way!), she has worked hard within our friendship, and she constantly works hard at making the world a brighter place for everyone she comes into contact with.
What I Like About You...
What I Like About You…
  •  Some of my favorite things about Brianna include her big, warm smile, her ability to have amazing hair even on her “bad” hair days, her love of cats, her equal (well, maybe slightly less) Doctor Pepper addiction, her encouraging words when I’m feeling down and her laughter when I’m telling jokes (regardless if they’re funny or not), her willingness to join me on all sorts of crazy adventures, and, most of all, her unconditional love and support no matter how annoying, depressing, crazy, or ridiculous I am acting.

This is what I meant by the four letters I wrote: You are the BEST friend, because of all of these things and so much more. I am so thankful for our friendship and how much it has grown in the past year. I am even more thankful that we will share decades of life experiences together. And I’m really stoked to be an old lady with you.

Here’s to your 23 years and all of the ones to follow! But, remember, “no one likes you when you’re 23” so you might want to hurry up and turn 24!

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Happy Birthday to my best friend.

-rs

“How Lucky I Am To Have Something That Makes Saying Goodbye So Hard”

“It’s Rachel!”

While working at Cottage Rehab (CR), a local physical therapy place, over the past four years, I have heard similar greetings from many of the wellness members as they walk through the front doors.

After graduating from Monmouth College this spring, I knew my time at CR was winding down. I decided to continue working throughout most of the summer before tackling my next adventure. A few weeks ago my boss asked me if I had picked a final day for my time at CR; he jokingly asked if I was just going to stay forever. It really is the perfect job. I could hang out (sometimes literally!), do a little work, and maybe watch some ESPN from a treadmill.

This is what I get paid for??
This is what I get paid for??

As I’ve thought more about what my boss said, I wish I could keep this job forever. Most of the members have 30+ years of life experiences on me, but I still consider them my good friends. In fact, many of these people stopped by my recent graduation open house. My mom noticed that the majority of my friends at the party were 65+. I just smiled at this comment, because I am blessed to have friends with so much wisdom. From them, I have learned what it means to truly be a “friend.”

  • Friends are constant. My friends at CR constantly checked in about my school plans, my job(s), and they always remembered my weekend plans. While I was still in school, they asked what books I was reading and what papers I was working on. They would remember these assignments throughout the week, and they never failed to check in the following week: Did you finish your reading? What grade did you earn on your paper? I have worked many random “side-jobs” throughout my time at CR. I have been a babysitter, dogsitter, housesitter, and even plantsitter. (Some of these jobs have actually been for the members of CR!) My friends here always ask me how these jobs are going. They never forget. Every Saturday, many of my CR friends ask what my weekend plans are. They are genuinely interested, and they always ask how things went the following week. They also hold me accountable by reminding me to “Be safe” and “Don’t do anything that I wouldn’t do.”
  • Friends notice the small things. Like when I get my hair cut or what my t-shirt says. (I have had entire conversations evolve from the few simple words on my t-shirt.) My friends here noticed when I straighten my hair versus wearing it up in a ponytail. Sometimes, my friends came inside and immediately asked if I recently washed my car, claiming it looked shinier than usual. They went beyond simply noticing these small things, however. They complimented me. They made me feel happy. Whether it was the headband in my hair or the color of my phone case, my CR friends made me feel good inside through these kind-hearted compliments.
  • Friends share in major life moments, but they also congratulate each other for the small victories. While I received cards from my CR friends for my birthday and graduation, I found far greater joy when they shared in my small, day-to-day victories. When I went through the teacher education program at Monmouth College, they shared in each small step of the process. Whenever I finished a long paper for a college class, they praised me for my work ethic. When I survived a long week of being a full-time student and working multiple part-time jobs, they cheered me on and motivated me to keep pushing forward.
  • Friends share endless encouragement through every step of life’s journey. I will share more in future posts, but 2015 has been a year of self-growth. In January, I made the decision to flip my entire world upside down. I took everything I had been working toward for many years, professionally, and packed it away. Instead of pursuing teacher certification, I made the decision to explore alternative methods of learning and with different age groups. It was crazy.. to leap without seeing the safety net. Most people expressed their immediate disappointment or frustration or confusion with my choice. However, my friends at CR never once criticized my decision.image3 (2) They asked questions until they understood from my perspective. They offered constant advice and shared their own personal experiences. I felt comforted, encouraged, and determined to continue forward with my new journey.

Through these moments and many others, I have learned one more critical piece of friendship: it has to be two-sided. These friendships would not have developed if I wouldn’t have offered a friendly hello as the CR members walked through the doors. And I wouldn’t have continued saying hello if these people brushed away my greetings.

Friendships are not easy. They require hard work from both people invested in the relationship. Throughout my time at CR, I found common interests with my eventual friends. I also discovered what topics were unique to each of my friends, and they learned what topics made my eyes light up with passion.

Throughout my time at CR, I kept working on these friendships and the members here worked towards knowing me better. In the beginning, our evolving friendships were often like a match of tug of war. I would pull too hard and knock down my friends by asking about a topic that made them sad or upset. My friends would then pull me to the ground by asking too many questions or being overly enthusiastic on those early Saturday mornings (did I mention I’m not a morning person??). We eventually found the balance, and the topics and hobbies, that made our friendships grow.

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After spending four years at a physical therapy place, it might seem odd that my biggest take-away is an understanding of authentic friendship. It has nothing to do with the exercise equipment or my daily work tasks. It has everything to do with the people on those exercise machines. People are what matter.

If friendship were a flower, I have learned that it must be rooted in unconditional encouragement. It must be watered with consistency. The gardener and the flower are in a relationship together; the flower relies on the gardener as much as the gardener relies on the flower. The gardener must not overlook the little complexities of the flower, and the flower must appreciate the extra moments of pruning and care given by the gardener. While blooming is the ultimate goal for the flower and the gardener, the bloom will not happen without the aforementioned pieces.

-rs

Who Am I?

From a young age, writing has been my form of escape. It has been an escape from the outside world and it has been an escape from the swirling thoughts within my head and heart.

I have filled notebooks with my ramblings, dreams, and regrets. I find myself constantly scribbling on scraps of paper.. ideas, reminders, breakthroughs.

I have written short stories, I have written creative fiction, and I have written term papers.

But I have not written a blog. This is new. It’s unfamiliar, it’s different, it’s exciting.

And isn’t the same true for life?

I am in a state of transition. I am 22 years young. I am a recent college graduate. For years, I had life figured out. It was planned out down to the number of kids I was having and what names they would be given. .

And now, the rest of my life is in front of me. And I have no idea what I am doing, who I am, or what it is I want to accomplish with the years I have left. It is unfamiliar. It is different. But it will be exciting.

I want to share my life journey.. the good, the bad, the funny, and the heartbreak. I want to find my escape through writing again. But most importantly I want to use my writings to rediscover who I am and help carve the path to where I am going.

Let me end my first post with 22 facts about me.. one fact to introduce myself for each year I have lived.

  • I believe in the power of laughter. It truly is the best medicine, and I try my best to make everyone I encounter smile a bit brighter and chuckle just a bit more each day.
  • I am the youngest of four children. My siblings are all 10+ years older (wiser) than me, and I view our family structure as a wonderful blessing.
  • Some of my favorite people call me Auntie. Nine of them in fact, ranging from 16 to not quite born! I’m sure I will share much more about these kiddos in future posts.
  • I procrastinate until the last minute without fail. Whether it’s a lengthy paper or getting out of bed in the morning, I will wait until the last minute. Every single time.
  • I love storytelling. I do have a tendency to exaggerate when retelling my life events. My friends call this lying, I call these exaggerations “sentence enhancers.” You can decide which perspective you’d like to take.
  • One of my biggest passions is basketball. I grew up playing the game and I have tried my hand at coaching young players. Some of my favorite days are spent outside with Spalding and my jams.
  • I am a lover of animals. If I had my way, our home would be filled with an array of stray pets. It has always been my dream to open a “foster shelter” for stray cats and dogs to be adopted. I draw the line at birds though.
  • My dog gets his own point.. He has been my best friend since junior high. He has taught me about loyalty, how to start each day happy, and sometimes you just need to have a snack and take a nap.
  • I am quiet until I feel comfortable and capable of trusting those around me. However, I am never without thought. I am constantly thinking and analyzing my surroundings. When I speak up, I want my words to speak life.
  • I am learning that I was given a special set of leadership skills. I lead by example with as few words as possible. I am brave and fearless when the occasion arises and when the people around me need someone to step up.
  • I believe in small, random acts of kindness. Kindness is free and should be given out like candy at a parade.
  • I believe in unwavering friendship. Loyalty is important to me. Unconditional love and support are necessary ingredients within friendships, and I am learning these relationships have to be a two-way street.
  • I am a lover of words. A logophile. The origins and meanings behind words fascinate me. I often find myself wondering how certain objects were named.
  • Similarly, I could bury myself with quotations. I spend hours seeking out new quotations.. looking for words of wisdom, guiding metaphors, and little life lessons. I love using existing quotations to frame my own thoughts and ideas. Back to those scraps of paper, I’m always scribbling little quotes from books, conversations, and the Internet.
  • Some of my favorite things are old-fashioned: hand-written letters, baby names, ice cream, courting, books, recipe cards, black and white photographs.
  • I have a heart for old people. My day is a bit brighter if I cross the path of an elderly person. I want to hear their life stories and learn from their first-hand experiences. The older they are, the more precious they become. I have a passion for making these members of our society feel wanted and accepted rather than tossed aside.
  • I am anxious. I overthink. I jump to the worst case scenario almost every time. It’s a blessing and a curse: I am wonderfully observant and have a fantastic memory thanks to these characteristics, but they also make my head spin and heart question.
  • My two biggest addictions are Grey’s Anatomy and Doctor Pepper. Surprise me with a day of drinking Doc P while binge watching Season 2 of Grey’s… we will be friends for life.
  • I am terrified of failure. From my life experiences so far, I know that I have learned more from my failures than my successes. But I still remain terrified of failing. Toss in my need for perfectionism and self-doubting tendencies, failing becomes a lot scarier. I’m a work in progress.
  • I have a small Abraham Lincoln obsession. (I am lying. I am hugely obsessed.) I’m not sure what I like about him.. his honest, hard-working character, his brilliant, compassionate leadership, his humbling background story. Here’s one of my favorite Abe quotes: “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”
  • I believe I’m an old soul. Most days, I don’t feel like I belong within the twenty-something generation. I want experiences that go beyond the surface. I want moments that are beautiful and meaningful. People often come to me with their problems and questions. I find myself able to understand their emotions and suffering and I want to find a solution for them. I’ve always been independent and valued time alone. It can be tricky living among other twenty-somethings, but it’s also a blessing to be constructed of pieces from both the younger and older generations.
  • The title of my blog.. determined tortoise. I came across this phrase a few months ago, and it couldn’t be more perfect. You can’t race through life like the hare. As we learned from that fable, slow and steady wins the race. You only lose if you refuse to finish.

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