That Moment When You Feel Dead, Then Suddenly Awaken

This morning I felt dead.

There was no amount of caffeine to get me going. My energy had apparently packed its energetic little bags and went on vacation.

The boys went back and forth from playing to fighting to playing again. I bounced back and forth from referee to robotic caretaker. Make breakfasts. Make lunches. Oh, I also need breakfast… But coffee first.

Even the animals were high maintenance. The cat wanted out, then back in, then out. Then bumped against my ankles and meowed for who knows what. I petted her. She seemed satisfied. The dog turned his nose up at his food, then pouted because his doggie bed was rumpled.

Dropping the oldest son off at school, we held good conversation about the week so far, what this afternoon will look like, what he looked forward to today, what he was proud of.

On the way home, I yawed a dozen times. It was time to play with the youngest son before he reported to preschool.

We played Pop the Pig (a super cute game that everyone with kids should own!) and two games of checkers. I ignored the dirty dishes in the sink and played along with Caleb’s request to get dressed for school “all by myself”.

And he did.

He ran out of his room, arms outstretched, and a grin of pride spread across his face. Nothing was inside out. Nothing was backward. His shoes were on the right feet.

I let out a cheer, and applauded him. He raced to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, making me stay outside the door. He even wet and combed his hair before asking me to help with the stubborn cowlick in the back.

“I’m a big boy like Wesley now!” he said, shrugging into his backpack instead of whining and asking me to carry it for him. On the way to school, we called Daddy on speaker phone so that he could tell him all about being a big boy. Daddy laughed and said he was proud.

From the rearview, Caleb beamed.

As we turned into the long drive that leads to his school, we kept to routine. I twisted my arm back and unbuckled him, and he climbed into the front seat. He rolled the window down and stuck his head out.

I couldn’t hold back the yawn.

Caleb suddenly shouted, “Woo Hoo! I’m a big boy now! This is the best! Day! Ever!”

Then I awoke.

I saw everything at once. The brown of his hair, the shimmer of red tones in just the right angle of sunlight, the way the strands blew back in the wind.

His blast of enthusiasm hit me like a wave and lit up every cell within me with color and life.

He turned to me. “Look mom! My mouth is all dry! The air dried it out!”

I laughed. And laughed.

And wanted to cry.

We’ve turned a corner. My children are no longer small. The growth rate of these little guys astounds me. And it’s only getting faster.

I noticed how long his legs had gotten. And how small his t-shirt seemed to be. It was fairly new. It would have to be donated soon.

We parked at the curb where the teachers met him at the door.

“Guess what?” He said to the teacher. “I’m a big boy now! I put my shirt on by myself. I put my shorts on by myself. I put my socks on by myself, one at a time…”

As she led him away, listening attentively, he continued to describe his morning.

His backpack, which seemed far too big for him a month ago, was fitting perfectly.

“Slow down,” I whispered as I drove away, wiping away tears and unable to hide my smile of pride. “Please, just slow down.”

10 Simple Ways to Boost Your Mood

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

There are a million and a half reasons why a person may be feeling down. Or agitated. Or frustrated. You could have stepped on a Lego the first moment your feet hit the floor in the morning. Someone could have hurt your feelings. More seriously, you could have received some terrible news.

Human emotions are complex and mysterious, affected by anything from outside influences, to brain chemistry, to gut health, and even sleep.

Fortunately, positive mood boosts can be quick and simple, and can have a lasting affect on the rest of your day.

  1. Do something nice for someone else.
Natalie Cone | be the anomaly
Photo by Carl Attard

When you focus on someone else for a few moments, long enough to come up with something nice to do for them, you get outside your own head and refocus your thoughts onto another person’s needs. Bringing them a moment of joy can be contagious. A word of encouragement, a compliment, a cup of coffee, or even a small gift will go a long way to make someone else’s day. After all, you never know how much that person may have needed that small bit of encouragement.

2. Let there be light.

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Photo by Bruce Mars

In a study on depression, more than half the participants reported a significantly better mood and better sleep after three weeks of bright-light therapy. Each participant were simply exposed to an hour of bright indoor light each day, with findings showing its effectiveness rivaling that of antidepressants. This can be especially helpful for people who suffer from seasonal depression. This effect is much more powerful after spending at least 30 minutes per day in sunshine, which can provide your daily vitamin D needs and reduce blood pressure.

3. Write it down.

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Photo by Brad Neathery

Keeping a journal has many benefits, especially when you use it to list out things that went well that day. Gratitude journals, for this reason, have become wildly popular. It allows you to focus on the positive, and see a few good things you accomplished. If you make a goal to list at least three good things from the day, you’ll likely find yourself listing five, or even ten. For the stay-at-home mom who gets overwhelmed with housework and all the things she didn’t accomplish, this is a significant mood booster.

4. Pet a dog.

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Photo by Kat Jayne

I’m not even joking. According to Health.com, petting a dog for 15 minutes releases serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, known as the feel-good hormones. I know this to be true when I am running in my neighborhood full of hills. When I feel my energy and motivation start to dwindle, I take a detour to the nearest house with a dog who I know will greet me at the curb. Stopping for a minute or two to catch my breath and pet their sweet puppy heads makes my energy and motivation suddenly rocket. Try to pet a dog without smiling. Go ahead. I dare you. (This includes cats, too.)

5. Stretch your creative muscles.

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Photo by Brigitta Schneiter

I truly believe that every single person is creative in their own way. My husband is creative in the kitchen and while woodworking, even though he says he isn’t the “creative type”. I’m a writer who adores creative wordplay (my husband calls me the “artsy fartsy type”). God is the most gifted Creator who made our entire universe from literal scratch. No matter your personality type or interests, you are creative. This includes gardening, jewelry making, scrapbooking, upcycling clothes, reorganizing your closet (seriously, people are so incredibly creative the way a single outfit can be assembled – I do not possess this gift). If nothing else, sing! Put on some music and break out into a dance. Who cares if anyone is listening or watching? Go for it, and reap the mood-boosting (or sassy) rewards.

6. Get out of the house.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly
Photo by Christian Gertenbach

Getting out of the house often is a major mood-lifter. Trust me. I love being at home, but depression sets in more frequently and deeply when I don’t go anywhere (carline in your pj’s doesn’t count). Now that school is out, I’ve made a commitment to go somewhere every single day. My sons fight less, and I somehow feel more free. I’ve joined the Y, braved shopping with my kids, gone to the zoo, visited the McWane Center, visited friends. We’ve scoured thrift stores and browsed farmer’s markets. My house is a mess right now, but hey, we’re happy.

7. Visit a friend.

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Photo by Katie Treadway

According to Reader’s Digest, a British study of 86 depressed women showed the benefits of spending at least one hour per week with a friend. In the study, 65% of the women felt much better after being with a friend. This is true for both introverts and extroverts (so, no excuses, introverts!). I can attest to this personally (as an introvert, myself). I’ve noticed a marked boost to my overall mood when I’ve been with a close friend. There’s magic in relationships.

8. Grab a cup of coffee.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

There’s also magic in coffee – but you knew this already, right? Edward J. Cumella, PhD, licensed psychologist and director of research and education for the Remuda Ranch Treatment Centers in Wickenburg, Arizona, swears that caffeine consumed in moderation decreases the risk of depression by more than 50%. Plus, there is a special kind of joy that comes with choosing which flavored creamer you’ll use that day, right? Oh, yes.

9. Diet and exercise.

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Photo by Bruno Nascimento

Ugh. Of course this would have to be included on the list. But its true. Unhealthy foods encourage “leaky gut”, which is defined by HealthyWomen.org as a condition in which toxic waste products and bacteria leak through the intestines and flood the blood stream, causing anything from inflammation, allergic reactions, migraines, irritable bowel, eczema, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, hormone imbalances, and a weakened immune system. Exercise will release tons of feel-good hormones, and help you maintain good posture, muscle tone, and heart health. So go ahead and sign up for that Zumba class. You might even enjoy it.

10. Pray.

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Photo by Michael Heuss

God is your creator, the ultimate Free Spirit. He knows your physical, mental and emotional design more intimately than most give Him credit for. He knows exactly how you function, your habits, and your needs. When you dive into the scripture and meditate on His power, it reminds us that this life is not, in fact, about us at all. Focus on His never ending patience and love for you, and the fact that He’ll never give up on you. It’s okay to pray away the blues – you might just discover that it is the single most powerful way to get rid of negative moods.

 

#betheanomaly

 

 

Sources: Healthywomen.org Health.com, Prevention, Reader’s Digest

Cat Chronicles, Episode #5: Defiance

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

Shadow never did appreciate the fact that she was rescued. It was two days before Halloween. She had a solid black soul… er, I mean fur…, when she crossed my path at just five weeks old.

Against all odds, I pulled over and rescued her.

I gave her a nice, warm home. Nice, delicious food. Nice, wet water (which she now demands that I warm up for her… But that’s another post.)

After sleeping on whatever surface was soft enough for her standards (usually smack in the middle of the dog’s blanket, much to his irritation), I decided she needed a bed of her own.

 

 

I went to the store and promised to let the boys help me decide.

There was a small, round bed that looked just her size. And it was cheap: that’s a plus. But no, the boys wanted something better. I guess it was pretty thin…

They chose a cush, luxurious bed with flexible sides for lounging in all of her odd positions. The boys were very enthusiastic about it. So I forked over the twenty bucks and left with the new bed.

I brought it home and opened the little packet of catnip that came as a bonus, and started to dump it out into the bed.

I hesitated, then decided to text my friend Heather, who is a cat whisperer if I’ve ever seen one.

What do I do with this stuff? I typed. Pour it out into the bed?

Oh no, don’t use the whole packet, she sent back. Take a little out and rub it into the middle of the bed. Then put the bed somewhere that she sleeps often. She’ll come to it.

I thought of the other generous gifts she’d rejected. Remember the scratching post you bought her? That fancy one? She won’t touch it. She still sharpens her claws on the side of the couch. 

Hm… I guess she likes the feel of her claws in the couch better. Give the bed a try. There’s a good chance she’ll love it.

The dog was currently occupying his bed, so I placed the cat bed on the couch cushion she seems to prefer. I called her over and patted her new bed.

She ignored me.

I picked her up and set her down next to it. She followed the scent of the catnip and sniffed the middle of the bed.

I held my breath.

She set one paw in. Then another.

I chewed my nails. Could this possibly be the one moment she finally accepts me?? I mean, not that it matters or anything…  Ahem.

She sniffed around a little more, then stepped back out, curled up on the couch cushion next to the bed, and fell asleep.

Ungrateful little…

For the next three days I set the bed in all of her favorite places, occasionally daring to actually set her in it. More than once, she took a nap directly beside it, I’m sure, to spite me.

I tried acting very enthusiastic about it.

“Ooooh, what a nice bed this is! Wanna come give it a try? It’s so soft. So very, very soft. Twenty bucks worth of fluff, right here. Come check it out!”

She was not enthusiastic in the least.

Now here it sits. Empty. I refuse to give up on it entirely.

Milo, on the other hand, is more than happy to sleep on his new bed he got for Christmas. (Just look how handsome and grateful he is, looking all picture perfect with his sweet little paws crossed, and his sweet little eyes…)

The defiance continues, however.

Last week I decided to spread a blanket over my pristine white quilt where she often sleeps. I had hoped it would protect our bed from her shedding.

I’ll give you ONE guess where she curled up to take a nap:

 

#betheanomaly

21 Fun, Kid-Friendly Things to Do Around Birmingham This Summer

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

I don’t know about you, but I’m thrilled summer break is here. No carline, homework, and waking up sleepy boys to rush them off to school. As I sat down to make a list of things to do with my boys this summer (ages 7 and 4), I had so much fun with it, I decided to share it with you.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a compulsive list-maker. As someone who is easily distracted, lists help me refocus when I get off track. It’s also helpful to have a handy plan of things to do when the kids get bored and I’m out of ideas.

This is a list of fun, kid-friendly things to do in the Birmingham area this summer. This is in no way comprehensive, nor is it in any kind of organizational order. Which is how I do things. Keep an eye out for a follow-up post on fun things to do at home this summer. Spoiler alert: it may or may not include making slime.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly
Photo by Aaron Burden

1. Library Reading Programs – I’ll be honest, this is one of my absolute favorite things about summer. By February, I start looking for library’s announcements about their summer reading programs. We’ve participated in the programs at Clay Public Library one summer and Trussville Public Library another summer. They’re BOTH spectacular.

2. Trussville Sports Complex – Even though soccer season is over, we still plan on visiting our local sports complex as often as possible. First of all, their hiking/biking trails are phenomenal. Also, their new sidewalk trail allows you to ride bikes for miles in both sun and shade. My boys race down the trails while I run alongside. This place is a second home to us.

3. Birmingham Zoo – The zoo never gets old. For this reason, we’ve had a membership for five years running. The animals are forever fascinating, and my boys can never ride the train too many times. The zoo is now having Member Mornings every Wednesday until 9 a.m. with free rides (train and carousel) now through Sept 5.

4. McWane Science Center – When Wesley was 4 and Caleb was 1, my mother-in-law generously gifted us with a membership. Wesley’s favorite place was the Itty Bitty Magic City, and Caleb would sometimes sleep in the stroller while I enjoyed the air conditioner and a place to sit down. Dinosaurs in Motion starts May 13 – September 3rd where life-sized fully interactive metal sculptures with exposed mechanics will wow adults and children alike. And did you know that on the website, there are even at-home experiments you can try?

5. First Avenue Rocks – Indoor climbing gym that will challenge adults and kids under 12. The admission isn’t exactly cheap ($12/child and $16 per adult), plus gear rental. Wesley has been begging me to take him forever, and maybe this is the year we actually do it. I’m betting that with Caleb’s jaw-dropping climbing skills, it’ll be a hit.

6. Leeds Memorial Park – for an EPIC playground with EPIC equipment, you’ve got to check this place out. Tunnel slides that rival waterparks (that may be a slight exaggeration, but they’re impressive!). There’s also a walking trail and small stream. Yes, please!

7. Splash Pads – Don your swimsuits, grab your towels, and slather on sunscreen. Birmingham has several splash pads, including the ones in Leeds, Springville, and Trussville. Trussville requires residence within the city limits. Springville requires $1 per person (worth it!), and Leeds is free. Pick one, or visit all three. Preferably not within the same day, naturally.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly
Photo by L. Allen Brewer

8. Sloss Furnaces – My 7 year old, Wesley, has a major fascination for this place. The last time Wesley and I we visited here, we were playing hookey from school, so it was just the two of us. It was just before the Freight Fest, and the decorations were already in place. We had no idea when we arrived the gore we would encounter. To my surprised, he thought it was funny, and wasn’t disturbed by it one bit. He was more annoyed than anything that parts of the furnaces were roped off because of the impending event, and he didn’t get a chance to see as much as he wanted.

9. Ave Maria Grotto – I’ve never been here, but I’ve heard this little treasure in Cullman is quite interesting. Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature”, The Grotto sounds just weird enough to check out.

10. Turkey Creek Nature Preserve – This is a great local watering hole for a hot day, and it’s also great grounds for a picnic. Bring your camera. Perfect place for a hike and a splash in the stream.

11. Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park – Go camping, go hiking, go biking, or go for a train ride. This place has endless fun for the entire summer. Jump into the freezing cold streams or explore the mills and plantation homes. Keep an eye on the calendar of events. There’s something special offered throughout the summer and fall.

12. Moss Rock Preserve – can you tell we’re avid fans of hiking? This place is a fascinating location for hiking. The boulders are so fun for my boys to climb on, and by the end of the day, they’re exhausted. Which means a nice, quiet ride home. Score!

13. Oak Mountain State Park – Although this park charges admission, it’s worth it for all this park has to offer. Oak Mountain is nearly 10,000 acres of camping, lakes (for swimming!!), a petting zoo, bird sanctuary, hiking trails, paddling, and more. Also – remember in 2015 when state parks began closing due to government funding cuts? The best way to prevent state parks from closing is to visit them!

14. Argo Park – Parks are so much fun in the summer. Right next to Argo Fire Station and Police Department, we visit this one at least weekly. When the gorgeous red trucks are on the move, every kid present drops what they’re doing to jump up and down, wave and cheer. The playground is clean and well-maintained, and the walking trail is a concrete winding sidewalk that surrounds the equipment. I can get my run in while the boys play. Two birds, one stone.

15. Red Mountain Park – a 1,500 acre park with 15 miles of peaceful trails, historic mines, and two gorgeous overlooks for your kids to stand on the edge of and give you a heart attack. Lots of fun for kids to discover.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly
Photo by Rob Briscoe

16. Ruffner Mountain – there aren’t enough great things that can be said about Ruffner Mountain. I love that it’s a hidden gem smack in the middle of the city. It’s gorgeous, with breathtaking overlooks and super fun walking trails. We could spend an entire day at this place.

17. Gardens – the Birmingham has two amazing gardens – Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Aldridge Gardens. Both are unique. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens has a cute little library and store near the entrance. Kris and I exchanged vows there ten years ago, so I’m kind of partial to this place. Aldridge Gardens, however, is fun for its own reasons. With a placid lake in the middle and colorful foliage, it’s a picture-perfect visit for sure.

18. Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum – I’ve never been here, but I hear it’s perfect for motor-fans. I think we’ll give it a try this summer. *marks calendar*

19. Railroad Park – any park with a koi pond is worth visiting. This open green space has a walking trail and frequent community events. Sunshine? Wide space to run and play? Don’t mind if I do.

20. Vulcan Park and Museum – Two boys at the top of a tower with a 56-foot-tall statue bearing his rear for the city to see? Why, of course we would go there. Let the jokes begin. Plus, there are TONS of events hosted there over the summer.

21. Regal Summer Movie Express – Regal does something awesome over the summer – $1 movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. A portion of proceeds benefit the Will Rogers Institute, plus – POPCORN.

Did I forget something? Add it in the comments! What are your favorite kid-friendly things to do in the summer?

 

#betheanomaly

Life Through a Lens: The Unexpected Thing I Caught in a Photo of My Children

The sun was warm.

It felt like a miracle on my skin after what seemed like a particularly long, bitterly cold winter.

The flowers are out now. Tiny ones that dot the ground in celebratory sprouts as enthusiastic about the sunshine as me.

Wesley and Caleb ran around the park tirelessly. Then, when a school friend showed up, the fun reached a higher level of adventure.

I saw my chance to stretch out on the grass and soak up the warmth. The breeze carried the scent of honeysuckle. Bees buzzing nearby and the kids’ laughter melted with the whisper of the breeze through the trees.

Thin, silvery strands caught my eye as it shimmered like threads of silk. At closer inspection, I realized it was a beautiful, intricate spiderweb billowing like a delicate flag. I raised my phone to take a picture of it, and instead caught something unexpected.

There they were, laughing and playing, enjoying the beauty of the day that God has granted us. It was life. It was the best part of life. Children, in their precious element, expressing their precious hearts at play. A moment frozen in time as brothers and a friend made up rules to a made up game.

Through the lens, I was given perspective.

I wondered about this special kind of innocence. At what point does it change? When does the innocence shift into mature awareness? For many kids, it’s triggered by pain. Abuse. Neglect. The constant quarrel between parents. For others, it happens organically as they grow. Inevitably, however, it doesn’t happen without outside influence. Mean girls on the playground that tease another for her flat chest or skinny legs. The bully boys who make fun of the plump kid or the one with a stutter.

No matter how perfect a parent may be, this shift can’t be prevented. It’s part of normal childhood growth. But as parents, can we minimize the negative impact? Can we equip them to be ready for the harsh treatment of other kids, and ensure that your children treat others with kindness? Is that even possible?

The short answer is yes. But it takes a significant amount of time and attention. Are you prepared to provide that?

Hopefully, you answered “yes”. But here’s the kicker: there is no guarantee your child will take to heart the tools with which you equip them. In those cases, you have to let it go, and let God handle the details.

Otherwise, here are three ways to equip your children for growth:

1. Saturate them in scripture.

“Train up a child in the way he should go [teaching him to seek God’s wisdom and will for his abilities and talents], Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 AMP

What is the way exactly? I mean, how do you know you’re doing it right? There are thousands (probably millions) of parenting experts out there that each have a variation of parenting they strongly recommend.

In all honestly, as long as you are saturating your children in scripture, you can’t go wrong with teaching them how to keep their eyes on Jesus. I’ve been listening to a lot of Joyce Meyer lately, and when we get into the car and Joyce starts up on the CD player, I sometimes turn it off and play music for the kids, saying, “I know you guys don’t want to listen to my boring stuff.” Wesley, however, has asked that I keep Joyce playing. At age 7, he has enough maturity to understand a good bit of what she teaches. He has started asking me questions about some of the concepts he doesn’t understand, which provides the perfect avenue to talk about God.

2. Lead by example.

“Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 AMP

This is a tough one.

This is a really, really tough one.

Bearing children is the best way to learn how many bad habits you really have. Cursing, road rage, gossip, bad temper, excessive TV, specific TV shows. The list goes on and on. Trying to kick all of these habits are great and all, but the best example you can set is allowing them to see you pray. Allowing them to see you read scripture, and *gasp* quote it. (I’m terrible at scripture memory!) The biggest thing is letting them see Who you turn to for joy, for direction, for comfort, for gratitude. Let them see the godly way you treat other people. Show the kindness of Christ. Your children watch you more than you realize.

The other day, my husband and I were having a conversation in the kitchen that we thought was private. The boys were distracted watching TV, and I glanced at them often to make sure their attention wasn’t on us at that moment. A few minutes into the conversation, Wesley chimed in with a detail I’d forgotten to mention. Without looking our way, he added his two bits, then changed positions on the couch and continued watching TV. I bit my lip and stared at Kris, wide-eyed. How many recent conversations had they overheard that we weren’t aware of? We vowed to be more careful.

3. Show them, firsthand, what kindness looks like.

“Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong enduredIt does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening]. Love never fails [it never fades nor ends].” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 AMP

Raising kids takes patience. An abundance of patience. It’s so easy to lose your temper with them. I’ve done it. Everyone has. But by taking our own advice, and focusing our attention on the unconditional love and grace of Christ, we will greatly improve our parenting game. Jesus didn’t need biological children to be a parenting expert. He had the ultimate Father for instruction, as do we, through the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes it takes something as simple as a glimpse through the lens to see your children in a new light.

 

#betheanomaly