14 Things I Wish I’d Known at 21

Last week we were at the beach, and as I was slathering on the sunscreen and shielding myself under this wonderful big umbrella, I couldn’t help but notice all these young women (and quite a few who weren’t so young), applying oil rather than sunscreen, then stretching themselves out to broil under the full blaze of the sun. I remember those days. The oil. The sun. The fabulous tan. (And the blistering sunburns!) Last week, however, I found myself watching those young women and thinking…someday you’re probably going to regret that. That got me thinking about the gift of hindsight, and all those other things I wish I’d figured out way before my fourth or fifth decade of life.

That said, without further ado…my list of things I wish I’d known at 21.

  1. Sunscreen and lotion are your FRIENDS. Truly, totally. Your skin is your skin, and while it’s beautiful and taut and glowing at 21, that will change as you age. It will. Lines appear. Blotches. Shadows. Moles. Freckles. And the texture…it won’t always be taut. Gravity does what gravity does, and someday everything will start drooping down. It just will. And the better care you take care of it while you’re young, the better care IT will take of you as you age. Don’t want a leathery hide? Start that sunscreen and lotion routine early.
  2. The importance of a good filing system. This is a BIG one. Huge. I hate clutter. LOATHE it. I like to have things put up…but for a long time I didn’t have any system other than stashing paperwork and photos and cards, receipts, documents into the closest drawer or box or cabinet. I’ve long said that when my kids venture out on their own, their primary housewarming gift is going to be setting them up with a functional filing system, a nice sturdy filing cabinet with pre-labeled files included.
  3. Saving for a rainy day is actually something you need to do. It sounds so clichéd doesn’t it? One of those things everyone talks about, but when those paychecks start rolling in, it’s so much fun to actually SPEND them. But life can turn on a dime, and it’s vital that you have an emergency fund put aside. Worst case, you don’t ever need it and can jaunt off to Paris someday. Best case, you never find yourself without the ability to buy groceries.
  4. Those pictures you take, that you think you’ll never forget who’s in them or what you were doing? Wrong. Label them. Organize them. Photo books are awesome, but even a (virtual) shoebox works. Your future self will thank you.
  5. Not everything is about you. Shocking, I know. But that big beautiful world we’re in? It doesn’t revolve around you, and so many times, the way people treat you has absolutely nothing to do with you. Realize that. Take a deep breath and keep an eye on the bigger picture.
  6. Read. If you stopped, start again. If you never stopped, keep going. Find something you like, something that interests you. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read poetry. Read physical books. Read on your device. Just READ.
  7. A closed mind is a closed door. You think you’ve got it all figured out? Well, guess what? You don’t. There’s a whole big world out there full of fascinating people and customs and ideas. Keep your mind open. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but if you don’t listen, explore…you’ll never know for sure.
  8. Learn self defense. This is another biggie. Learn how to protect yourself, take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. You can’t count on a knight in shining armor, but you can learn to count on yourself.
  9. As John Green says in The Fault in Our Stars, the world is not a wish-granting factory. I’m sorry. It’s not.Yeah, I wish it was, too. Sometimes. But the only fairy godmother you’ll ever have is yourself, and if you want your wishes to come true, you’ve got to go out and make it happen.
  10. I love you and I’m sorry might just be the five most important words you’ll ever learn. Sometimes they’re hard to say. I know that. Say them anyway. You’ll be better off for it.
  11. What’s on the outside changes; what’s on the inside rarely does. This one has really fascinated me as I’ve gotten older. Sure, I knew the outside would change, but somehow, it can still come as a shock. But the bigger shock is the inside. You are who you are. Your friends are who they are. Your parents, your siblings, they are who they are. And this doesn’t change as you get older. In fact, in many ways you simply become MORE of who you are. Awesome people stay awesome. Jerks stay jerks.
  12. Storms come, and storms go, but they always pass, and the sun always rises. Sometimes it’s so hard to realize this while you’re in one of those storms and your whole world seems to be crashing down around you. It’s so dark and scary and you just want to curl up in a ball and, and, and…I don’t know. But you feel tiny and cold and hopeless. But I’ve learned that tomorrow comes, and tomorrow after that, and no matter how devastating the storm, the sun will rise again, and with it a new day will begin.
  13. No one gets to write your life, except you. Bad chapters always end, and new ones always begin. This one is powerful, the realization that YOU are in charge of your life, and no one else. Don’t like something? Change it. LOVE something…protect it. There is no puppet master, no one forcing you to be miserable. You get to make those decisions. You get to write those chapters. You. No one else…unless you let them.
  14. There’s no substitute for kindness. Truly and honestly. Money, good looks, great clothes, an awesome car, the dream job….they don’t trump kindness. Surround yourself with kindness, kind friends, kind lovers, and practice it yourself. Be kind. Always.

 

8 Reasons Lilo and Stitch Rocks!

Aloha from Oahu!

200px-23920e88bff9fd7588af92a10ab9129df13005d1Yep, the McKay’s are wrapping up our first vacation in Hawaii. And in honor of our amazing trip, I’ve written a tribute to one of my favorite Disney movies–one that I think is  very underrated. Plus, Lilo and Stitch is set in Hawaii! So here are just a few of the reason’s I love Lilo and Stitch.

  1. The women have real curves. Lilo isn’t some delicate flower and neither is her sister, Nani. Unlike a lot of animated girls, the females in Lilo and Stitch look like humans. No, “OMG, my wrist is smaller than my eyeball!” here, thank you very much.
  2. Not everyone in the story is white. In fact, most of the characters aren’t. Which is a pretty refreshing, actually. Yes, when it comes to heroines of color, we’ve got a few other options—Tiana most recently—but Lilo is still the only modern American of color who’s a major character. Go, Lilo!
  3. The general wackiness of the plot. Okay, the complicated plot (which involves a genetically engineered killing machine masquerading as a family dog who befriends an orphaned girl is … well, just waskadoodle. But it’s also delightful. The themes of family, acceptance and redemption will always resonate.
  4. It’s real portrayal of grief. A lot of Disney characters lose their parents. I mean, a lot. Like, hardly anyone actually has parents. That said, Lilo’s grief feels more ugly, more tangible, more real, than any other character’s grief in the entire Disney pantheon. Most Disney movies, gloss over the tough business of loosing a loved one (Frozen) or force the character to cope and move on for plotting purposes (The Lion King). But Lilo and her sister are mired in their grief. They’re drowning in it. The small signs of Lilo’s grief (lying on the floor listening to Elvis, her anger, the voodoo dolls she’s making for her friends who no longer know how to treat her), feel so real they are heartbreaking, but they never overwhelm the story.
  5. It’s funny. Despite Lilo’s depression and sorrow, the movie is a blast. Even her grief is funny. Come on, a Disney heroine who makes voodoo dolls? She’s my kind girl!
  6. The mosquitoes! All my life, I’ve been mosquito bait. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve looked down at my legs and seen them covered in mosquitoes when whoever is next to me is completely mosquito-free. So the fact that mosquitoes are vital to saving our world from alien destruction? Love it!
  7. Lilo-Stitch-Screencap-lilo-and-stitch-1727198-960-536It’s set in Kauai! And the setting is awesome! Trust me, I was there last week and they nailed Kauai.
  8. David—Nani’s tangential love interest—is such a great Strong Male Character. I’ve been reading a lot on-line recently about the pit-falls of the “Strong Female Character” and the “Trinity Syndrome”—i.e. female characters who are ostensibly strong, but are either only two dimensional or don’t have any real role in the story. And that’s David’s role in Lilo and Stitch. He’s a fun character. He’s a good love interest. But he doesn’t really do much. He certainly doesn’t sweep in and save the day. I love that the writer’s were comfortable giving him a backseat.

So what Disney movies do you think are underrated? What’s your favorite?

 

Emily McKay loves to read, shop, and geek out about movies. When she’s not writing, she reads on-line gossip and bakes luscious deserts. She pretends that her weekly yoga practice balances out both of those things. She lives in central Texas with her family and her crazy pets.

Sports—Camaraderie, Character Building and, oh yeah, Exercise

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If you’re a sports fan, subscribe to your local paper or regularly watch a morning news show like “Today” or “Mike & Mike”, there’s very little chance you haven’t heard that World Cup Soccer is in full swing. I fall into all three of those categories—especially the first one.

In my family, watching or playing sports is as natural as breathing. Yeah, it’s a way to get some exercise, but it’s also great for family bonding and teaching important life lessons.

My daughters have learned about pride in doing your best; humility when winning; perseverance when losing; leadership and teamwork for the whole rather than the individual.

Some of our best family memories have taken place on a court, a field, or in the stands together. Some of our most disappointing and some of our funniest moments have been the same.

Sure, participating in a sport is great for your body—strength, conditioning, and flexibility. But it’s also vital for character building. And it’s definitely a fabulous way to bring my family together.

Whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood with our dog,

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training for a half marathon with my sister

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or two of my daughters

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participating in a Ladies Football Clinic with my mom

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or organizing a 3-mile family fun run and tennis tournament during a Christmas family reunion in Florida

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sports has always played an important unifying role in our lives.

Right now we’re in the throes of World Cup Fever, cheering for the USA!

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If you’re a soccer fan you probably already know this, if you’re not don’t be surprised when I tell you that thus far in the Cup as a USA fan we’ve experienced pride in our boys and our country, humility in finally beating Ghana, perseverance in losing the lead and ending our game with Portugal in a tie, and leadership and teamwork as we gear up to take on the powerful German team on Thursday.

These are all vital character traits we can all stand to improve. In my family, we simply like to dress up a little crazy now and then while we work our character together! ☺

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GO USA!

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Summer Reading for Kids

There’s a great post on my publisher’s blog today about summer reading lists for kids. Amanda Forrester makes a great list of classics every child should read. Check it out and comment there–or here–about some of your favorites. Any that shouldn’t be on the list? I told her The Three Musketeers and The Scarlet Pimpernel were not good choices for kids.

Summer Reading Blog

Guest Kasia James on The Milk of Female Kindness

“I bet you’re looking forward to when the baby comes,” a work colleague of mine said to Leslie, who sits next to me, and is hugely pregnant. “Then you can put your feet up, read some books…”

I must admit that I was somewhat gobsmacked by this statement, having a tiny of my own, and knowing exactly how much intensive, hard work it is to bring up a child. To be fair to my co-worker, I myself had very little idea of what it would really be like until I was caught up in the whirlwind of motherhood. I knew that there would be sleepless nights, and nappies would be involved, but it is difficult to understand the sheer physical relentless nature of having a baby around until you do. Or the way that they magnify all emotions: if they are having a bad day, then odds on everyone else will too. By contrast, when they are happy, they don’t hold back, and you can feel yourself bursting with joy.

There were other surprises too, in the way that I was treated by society, which I had not expected. I felt that people were treating me as ‘Just a Mum’, and hence had dropped about 50 IQ points. Marketers treated me as if I had gone from being a complex human being, with varied interests, to someone who’s world had shrunk to nappies, shopping and the state of my post-baby body. It bewildered me, and made me angry. I started to chat to other mothers from around the world (many of whom I met through blogging), and found that the story doesn’t seem to get much better as our children grow.

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So ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ was born, about a year or so after my bub. Women at all stages of life: mothers of young children, of grown up children, and women with mothers, started writing and sharing their honest experiences of what it is really like. How there are complex decisions to be made, and balances to find. The book came together as poetry, short fiction, essays, artwork and interviews. Twenty-eight brave women have been totally honest about their experiences, and I hope that this will at least broaden the discussion about parenting.

I think that one of the most important lessons to come out of compiling the anthology for me was a simple one: there is no right way to parent, and you can only do the best job that you can. Forget all the media pressure. Buying the latest gadget will not make you either happier or a better parent. In the end, it’s about finding your own way through the labyrinth of motherhood.

Get your copy here

Be Awesome!

Kid President Be Awesome

So it’s the second Tuesday of the month– a date I personally chose so I’d remember when I’m blogging and any followers would know when to find me here.

Enter LIFE– yes, at this moment it deserves all caps. I’ve been working on several huge projects for my day job, struggling through revisions for my agent, juggling RWA chapter president duties, enjoying a little part-time gig I love despite the added time crunch, dealing with family obligations and personal ups & downs…. boy, just re-reading my list made me have to stop and take a breath.

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Okay, so maybe I have an excuse for forgetting about my blog day. But I don’t have a good reason!

Yes, there’s a difference. I’ve said something like that to my girls in the past, so I should look in the mirror and say the same thing to myself.

I could beat myself up for forgetting. Let that old Catholic guilt I’m so good at flare up and leaving me feeling bad.

Or, I realized I could hop on the PBOK blog, wave hello to everyone and post one of my favorite YouTube videos to watch when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Have you seen the Kid President? Have you heard his “words of wisdom and advice” on how to live a good life? On how to be AWESOME? Let this little guy inspire you!!

I hope you’re having an AWESOME Tuesday!

If life is bogging you down, push the pause button on your day, spend a few minutes with the Kid President and the PBOK moms and know we’re rooting for you!!

Moms and Loneliness

When at Home: Are You Lonely, Mama?

I saw this awesome blog on When at Home about not allowing loneliness to ruin the time you have with your kids when they’re small. I wanted to reblog it, but I’m ashamed to say, I couldn’t figure out how. But I could figure out how to leave a link. I know I was desperately lonely at times when my daughter was an infant. It’s much better now, but it’s still easy to look at people who travel, sleep in on weekends, or go to a movie whenever they want, and feel a twinge of jealousy. This blog is a good reminder about why it’s important to manage those feelings.

The Book That Changed My Life

I come from a long line of worriers. We’re incredibly good at it. I have vivid memories of my grandmother from when I was a little girl, anxiously waiting at the door when we would arrive for a visit, and laying into my dad for being (a few minutes) late. She had us in a terrible accident, gravely injured and en-route to the hospital, rather than simply a tad behind schedule. The modern age of cell phones could have saved her a lot of worry.

Then there’s my little girl. She’s rather accomplished at worrying, too. She worries about tests. She worries when she doesn’t feel well. She worries if someone looks at her the wrong way. She worries about the status of her friendships. She even worries if she realizes she’s not worried, because that makes her worry that she’s forgotten what she’s should be worried about. Seriously. She told me that.

And then there’s me. I definitely honor my worrying heritage. I had all the same worries as my daughter, and then I went through a decade of infertility and miscarriages, and high-risk, high-stress pregnancies, and my anxiety/worrying soared off the charts. Sometimes I could barely breathe. It’s probably partially why I developed Bell’s Palsy while pregnant with my son (who doctor’s warned us, you may recall, wouldn’t make it.)

So there I am one day when my husband sits down with me and tells me he wants me to read a book. At that point I was still voraciously reading fiction (before two kids I actually had time!), and he was handing me a non-fiction book. More than non-fiction, it was one of those self-help jobbies. To say I was skeptical is an understatement. But being on bed-rest left me lots of time, and eventually I cracked the pretty pale green cover and checked out what was inside.

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Within hours, my life changed.

Aptly named, THE POWER OF NOW by the wonderful Eckhart Tolle deals with living in the moment. Too often we sentence ourselves to a prison of the past, living the darkest moments of our lives over and over, saturating ourselves with them–punishing ourselves. Or, conversely, we travel forward, projecting ourselves into moments yet to come…frequently dark moments, worst-case scenarios…moments that may never come. It’s like a mammogram. We go in for the test and almost automatically feel the twist of anxiety over a possible bad result. And if we get that call about some abnormality, our mind takes off, and suddenly we’re already battling cancer and thinking about the devastation of not being around to raise our children. And these thoughts are like poison. They flood our body with their toxic power, forcing us to live through the horror of what we’re imagining, a horror that may never come to pass…even though the moment that we’re in is a perfectly fine moment…a moment that we’ve just lost, because we were projecting forward, rather than staying where we are. Thanks all the same, but when it comes to the bad stuff, I’d much rather experience it only once, rather than over and over again. It’s like taking a drive through the worst part of town. Maybe you have to do it once…but why do it daily if you don’t need to?

Our bodies respond to our thoughts. It’s the whole fight or flight thing, with the flood of adrenaline to keep us safe from the wooly mammoth. But when our thoughts are trapped in fight or flight mode 24/7, our body is constantly primed for battle—and survival. And nobody can live like that, not healthily. What fascinated me was to learn that from a purely physiological standpoint, our body cannot differentiate between reality, dreams, memories…or any other kind of thought. You know the dream you wake up from, the really amazing dream or the really terrifying one, and your heart is slamming and your body is on fire, as if what you’d seen behind closed eyes really happened. Or how when you meditate, you close your eyes and focus on a happy memory, a sun-drenched beach or snow-topped mountain, a babbling stream in a field of poppies. These are peaceful images, and when you wrap your mind in them, your body responds as if you’re really there…because your body can’t tell the difference. Your body reacts to your mind…and the real power comes when you realize that you control your mind (not the other way around.)

Tolle’s insight was life changing for me, having often destructive life-patterns spelled out for me like that, the way that I was torturing myself with my own thoughts. I realized that even though bad things might happen, I only wanted to live them once, rather than over and over. I realized that, more often than not, the dooms day scenario my mind concocts (and I react to) never comes to pass. And I realized that the past was over. Truly, it is. Yes, events of the past shape us and change us, and yes sometimes really horrific things happen, but to actually go back and relive those moments amounts to self-torture. A far more productive path is to live in the present moment. We can’t change the past. Ever. It’s over, done. We can only move forward…and if you keep looking in the rearview mirror–or worse, turning backwards–you’ll never see what’s ahead.

A few of my favorite quotes:

“Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind — or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body”

“Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within”

“Nobody’s life is entirely free of pain and sorrow. Isn’t it a question of learning to live with them rather than trying to avoid them?

“Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath”

The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.

The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment, and this in turn depends on how strongly you are identified with your mind.”

“The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future — which, of course, can only be experienced as the Now”

“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are cause by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence” (SERIOUSLY…think about that!)

“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”

Truly, I can’t recommend Tolle’s book enough, particularly if you struggle with anxiety or find yourself prisoner to the past. Do yourself a beautiful favor. Give NOW a try. It might just change your life, too.