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Filtering by Category: Heart & Soul

YOU'RE INVITED! LET'S CELEBRATE!

Jennifer Mejia

 
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Life is full of reasons to celebrate. From momentous events like an engagement, wedding, and the birth of a child, all the way through to our “baby’s” high school or college graduation. They all take on greater meaning when we’re able to share our joy with cherished friends and family. Whether we send invitations to a lavish party or simply mail an announcement to mark the occasion, setting the perfect tone and sharing our good news with a beautiful presentation is important. Thankfully, I recently discovered a wonderful new company called Basic Invite. Basic Invite is one of the few websites that allows you to truly customize your announcements and invitations AND receive a printed sample in the mail before printing (if you choose) so you can be certain it’s perfect. So today on the blog, it’s “Basic Invite 101,” and I’m sharing everything about this company that makes it a godsend for ALL of your celebration planning.

 
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It’s April, and that means graduation season is upon us, so I’m going to begin there. Your precious children have worked their brains off studying for the SAT and ACT and completing admission applications. Your entire family is exhausted from schlepping around the country for college tours. And let’s not forget the really fun part: those graduation photo shoots. Thankfully, the acceptance letters are now rolling in, proving it has been worth every second of your collective efforts. You’re all looking forward to a joyous celebration and beginning this exciting new chapter. Enter Basic Invite to help you create the perfect custom graduation invitations and announcements. Here’s the scoop!

 
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A Complete Package or A La Carte - For all occasions, including graduation, the menu is flexible. You can purchase a “5-course tasting menu” (my term, not theirs) or order just one item. Personally, for an event or occasion that has multiple pieces of communication, I can’t think of anything more stressful than designing every piece separately and trying to ensure it’s all coordinated. For graduation, at a minimum, you’ll need a graduation announcement and thank you notes for gifts received. Yes, I believe that if someone took the time to send you a card and gift, you can certainly take the time to thank them personally and walk to the mailbox. Call me old-fashioned. Below are just two of the many examples of coordinating announcements and thank you notes. Having a party? Don’t worry, Basic Invite makes it easy to create coordinating invitations to keep your theme consistent if you desire. Check out the hundreds of beautiful and creative graduation party invitations template options.

However, if you decide that you want your graduation party to take on a theme of its own, choose from hundreds of graduation party photo invitations. When it comes to customization, that’s where Basic Invite really shines. That’s where the fun really begins for any special occasion…

Almost Unlimited Colors - Basic Invite is one of the few websites that allows customers almost unlimited color options with instant previews online. Once you select a design, you can change the color of each element on the card to over 180 different color options. This ensures your card is exactly how you want it, down to the tiniest detail. This is probably the biggest game changer for someone like me with a heightened attention to detail and desire to create something truly unique and special.

Custom Samples - I don’t know about you, but when it’s a big event like a wedding, I need to know the invitation and all of its accessories are perfect before mailing. Luckily, Basic Invite is one of the few websites that provides the ability to order a printed sample of the actual invitation so you can see exactly how it will print, as well as the paper quality, before placing your final order.

Over 40 Different Colors of Envelopes - I’m always bummed by a plain white envelope or one in color that is still a little “off” from my stationery. But Basic Invite is just as colorful with its envelopes as they are with their invitations. You have the ability to choose from over 40 different colors, making the announcement or invitation stand out even before it’s opened. And does anyone remember the episode of Seinfeld when George’s fiancé actually died from licking all of the wedding invitation envelopes? Well, put that worry out of your mind. All of Basic Invite’s envelopes are peel and seal, making their closure quick and secure and saving your taste buds for the things you really enjoy. (That would be chocolate for me!)

Address Capturing Service - For too many years, I either hand wrote addresses on my holiday card envelopes or printed out Avery Labels from a Word document. Neither is ideal, but the thought of typing 100+ addresses into an Excel spreadsheet wasn’t ideal, either. Thankfully, Basic Invite offers an address capturing service that allows you to simply share a link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other form of social media, to request addresses from your friends and family. Those addresses are then stored in your account and can then be selected during the design process. Basic Invite offers recipient address printing at no cost on all card orders. How easy is that?

Foil - A little shimmer and shine always add the perfect amount of glam, and stationery is no exception. Foil cards are available in gold, silver, and rose gold. You can choose flat or raised foil on all of Basic Invite’s foil designs.

 
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But graduation is just one exciting milestone in our lives. And just around the corner is wedding season. Cue the trumpets! Planning a fantastic wedding usually takes a lot of work. So why not make one part of it easy? One you’ve set the date, head to Basic Invite to build your FREE wedding website. Create your own custom image that you can share on any social media platform. Use it to save the date and collect addresses from your future guests. Basic Invite will store the information, which makes mailing invitations a breeze! Remember, address printing on envelopes is always free! When it comes to creating your wedding invitation, Basic Invite offers over 1,000 customizable options. And don’t fret over menu cards, RSVP cards, venue directions, etc. That’s easy. Need coordinating stickers for party favors or other wedding day accessories? You’re covered! From your bridal shower to all of your wedding day and wedding party needs, Basic Invite is your virtual wedding planner.

 
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I feel like my life really began after our wedding. We’ve been blessed with so many occasions to celebrate. And anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a great invitation, thank you note, and stationery. If you’re one of those people, Basic Invite is making it easier for you to try them out now by offering 15% off with Coupon Code: 15FF51. Remember that, and keep scrolling for a few additional ideas on how to start the ball rolling for your next big life event…or a fun Halloween party or Friendsgiving in the Fall. All work and no play? They have business cards, too! The point is, there’s always a need for a beautiful presentation on paper, whether it’s an event or marketing yourself. And all of it just got a whole lot simpler.

Thank you to Basic Invite for its beautiful inspiration and for sponsoring this post.

A HEALTHY NEW YEAR WITH "TRAINER TO THE STARS"

Jennifer Mejia

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It’s January 9 so people are still saying, “Happy New Year!” I told you before that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I neeeeeeed to get back to the gym some kind of bad, but I refused and still refuse to be one of those posers who runs into the gym gung-ho on January 1st, only to become a party pooper by February 1st. So I “resolved” to re-read this blog post that I wrote last April and take small steps toward becoming healthy and fit in 2019.

When this post was originally published, my blog was just getting off the ground. I have a few more followers these days, and I want to be sure I continue to provide meaningful and relevant content. You know that favorite movie of yours that you've seen 16 times? Well, that’s sort of how I feel about this post. It’s so good that it’s worth a replay. If you’re looking to take small steps to a healthier you this year, keep reading It’s great advice from a trainer who is chosen by A-list celebrities to change their lifestyle. His mantra is, “I am healthy and fit!” You need to believe before you can achieve it. And by taking his advice, I have no doubts that you, too, can achieve it. Since last April, Steve has updated his website, so after this read, visit him for access to more advice you can use today, online training programs, and his motivational podcasts, featuring advice from pro athletes and professionals in the healthcare and fitness industries.

Looking good and feeling good. Wouldn't it be nice to wave a magic wand and both would be true? With the insanity of life, it's easy to say to ourselves, "I'll start working on that in (insert number of weeks, months or years)." But the unfortunate truth is that we have only one body, and as far as I know, one life. We owe it to ourselves to start TODAY on that journey toward optimizing our health and fitness. I've been the guiltiest of anyone I know of putting it off. I always have some excuse for having no time to care for myself. Taking care of my kids is probably the excuse I use the most, but the fact is that I won't be around to experience their growth if I don't start taking better care of me.

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Anyone know the guy on the right? Watch out for the left hook, Steve!

Getting back in the saddle after a long hiatus can be somewhat overwhelming. Where does one begin? If we have time to focus on only a few things, what should they be? So I decided to reach out to someone who has been trusted by New York and Hollywood celebrities for over 15 years: Steve Jordan, Trainer to the Stars. He's been on the Today Show, The Dr. Oz Show, and he and his advice have been featured in magazines like Self, Men's Fitness, and many others. He's trained the likes of Gerard Butler (why wasn't I called to be his assistant that day?), Amy Poller, Dustin Hoffman, Colin Cowie (remember Oprah's party planner?), Quincy Jones, and a few others that I'm not permitted to print because they are on the A+ celeb list. Celebrities can typically have any trainer that money can buy, and many choose Steve. I'm planning to take Steve's advice, and I hope you will, too. Here's a bit from our interview. It inspired me. I hope it will do the same for you.

 

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Jennifer: Life is hectic. We push self-care off to the future, and sometimes, for too long.  If one hasn’t exercised regularly in a while, how should he/she begin to get back into the swing of things?
Steve:
1. Create a commitment/intention. Write down what you want to do or achieve, and you’ll be more likely to follow through. Many go to the gym and “wander and wonder.” You need intention and a goal. It's better if it's specific, but it can be general until you refine it. Some examples: I want to lose 5 pounds. I want to run a mile three times a week. I want to feel better. I want to be healthy and fit.  Creating that intention will help you begin and get into the rhythm. 

2. Take the first step. Do something you're more likely to continue to do. If you've never done yoga, I wouldn’t recommend that. If you like to walk, run or cycle, go back and do that the first few times so you have familiarity. That creates momentum, and then once you are in the rhythm and have success, you can explore new things if you want variety.

3. Make sure you have fun doing whatever it is. If it's too intense or hurts, you’re less likely to stay committed. Two things we want to do in life is to avoid pain and move toward pleasure. So do whatever is pleasurable. 

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Jennifer: What are your top diet recommendations to achieve optimum health and fitness? 
Steve:
1. Water. Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces daily.

2. Cut dairy. We are the only mammal that drinks milk from another mammal. I grew up drinking a half gallon of milk a day. But about 15 years ago, I began researching possible causes of inflammation. So I took it on as an experiment. My mom actually became worried that I looked too thin, but it was just a tremendous reduction in inflammation. I didn’t have the asthma attacks that I used to. My allergies were less severe. I felt better overall. Once in a while I'll indulge and have ice cream, but I’ll take vegan or dairy-free if I have a choice.
You can get calcium from vegetables like kale, collard greens, broccoli, spinach, and soybeans (non-GMO). I use almond milk in my cereal, but not all are created equal. Look at the ingredients to ensure it doesn't have a lot of additives like gums and carrageenan. I like New Barn, which is sold at Whole Foods.

3. Cut gluten. Lots of people are sensitive even if they are not allergic. The type and level of reaction will vary. Many women get rid of the "pooch" in the area just below their belly button when they remove gluten by reducing the amount of gastrointestinal inflammation. 

4. Enjoy the food that you eat. We get stuck and many think eating healthy isn’t fun and doesn’t taste good. It tastes GREAT! It takes a little more effort, but there is a lot of variety and flavor in whole and clean foods. There are obviously more options in urban areas and out west to purchase it already prepared, but there are tons of tasty options.

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Jennifer: What recommendations would you make to someone who doesn’t have an hour each day to dedicate to exercising? 
Steve: Just do little things. There is a lot of current research on the effects of training and exercise, and it suggests that doing short amounts of exercise over a period of time has similar, if not better, effects than doing one longer workout. In other words, you'd get the same or better results if you worked out 10 minutes two times per day over seven days as you would working out one hour a day three days a week. Do things that fit into your schedule. Exercise in ways that won’t burden you if you’re time sensitive. You want to do things that will make you more productive. When you exercise, you feel better, you have more energy, and you begin creating routine all around because you’re disciplining yourself in one specific area. You'll become more efficient and you’ll end up having more time in general. Start with less/what you can handle. Be successful at completing 10-15 minutes 6-7 days versus upsetting your schedule. I actually specialize in 30 minute sessions at my studio because I work with lots of people who are time-constrained.

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Jennifer: How does one motivate on days when we just aren’t feeling it? 
Steve: Put your sneakers on. I don’t know anyone who has ever turned back after putting on their sneakers. I don’t think I’ve ever done it (maybe once or twice). Getting out the door is the hardest part. 
I also feel strongly that if you're feeling tired or rundown, then your body is telling you something, and you should take time to nap or rest. Go to bed earlier or sleep later if you really don't feel well. But definitely do not skip a workout to fill the time with something else. Rest. Exercise can create more stress on your body if you're exhausted. Consider stretching, getting a massage, or sitting in the sun to get some Vitamin D. Our world is filled with stressors like excessive communication, work, etc., and we end up feeling worn out and burned out too frequently. Listen to your body.

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Jennifer: If you were forced to do only one type of exercise/workout, what would it be and why?
Steve: That’s like asking someone what their favorite food is. The most bang for your buck and time that would incorporate all of your senses would be walking or running OUTSIDE. Getting out and connecting to all five of your senses is important. Do it alone. Don't look at your phone. Use your upper body. Smell the roses. See new perspectives. I have a 93-year-old client, and I asked about her secret to aging gracefully. The one thing she’s done consistently throughout her lifetime is walking. You’re breathing fresh air and taking in everything around you. Walking is one of the most therapeutic things you can do because it doesn't stress your body. It burns calories. You’re looking up vs. down. Posture is also incorporated. It’s the one thing you can do forever, and you should do it as often and for as long as you can. If you're not a runner, you can do intermittent walking and running like our hunter and gatherer ancestors when they were hunting down a buffalo. The animal would run until it got tired and stop. We had better endurance because we could run/walk intermittently, and we would eventually catch it. (Steve and I had a good laugh over this analogy. There's more to it in the entire interview, but I'll spare you all. Message me if you want to hear it.)

Jennifer: Mindfulness, a healthy spirit, and low stress are important for overall well-being and long term health. How do you reduce stress and maintain a healthy mindset?
Steve:
1. Breathe, connect to your breath, not necessarily in meditation, but while you're walking down the street, on the phone, or exercising. Make sure your breath is deep and not shallow.

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2. SMILE! That's my secret sauce. You can't be unhappy or stressed when you're smiling. Sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. When clients come in stressed, I'll suggest they smile, and while smiling try saying, "You mother fucker!" [We both die laughing.] You can say it, but it’s not articulate because you laugh. Laughter reduces stress. Instantaneously. Completley opposite hormones are present when you’re stressed vs. laughing.  

3. This is metaphoric, but stop to smell the roses. Look at your surroundings and feel a sense of gratitude for what you have, the world, and the life you've created. Even if you're not in the most wonderful place, there is still beauty somewhere. You may just have to look harder. Look outside of what you’re used to. We are creatures of habit. We get caught up in patterns and do the same things over and over again. And when you can step outside of those patterns, you’ll notice things you haven’t noticed before.

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Steve and his wife, Yuki, enjoying the beauty of life together

4. Exercise. Obviously. 

ABOUT STEVE

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When your annoying blogger friend insists on using this selfie in her blog post. If I looked like this, I'd have a selfie stick permanently strapped to my arm.

I'm not a celebrity, but fortunately I've known Steve for nearly 25 years. We went to school together at the University of Maryland.  A few weeks ago, I posted a teaser on Instagram and said something to the effect of, "You'll start feeling as good as he looks." But what you don't know is that Steve's true commitment to this journey of health and fitness wasn't really motivated by what you see on the outside. It was born out of a way to nurture his soul and heal from the inside out. When Steve was in college, he fell from the roof of his three-story fraternity house. He suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and almost lost his life. It took him over a year and a half to recover. Before the accident, Steve was known as the guy who was always in shape and had a killer six-pack. But his miraculous recovery after his accident inspired his peers, and they began asking him to train them. He realized he had the power to heal himself and to change the lives of others for the better. 

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I asked Steve when he knew this dream career was one he wanted to chase. For him, it wasn't a specific moment in time or a light bulb that suddenly turned on. It was an evolution and a series of events that all pointed him in this direction. While at the University of Maryland, he earned his certification and began training local clients. During his senior year, he was hired by the director of the White House Athletic Club to train White House staff and politicians. After college, Steve moved to the NYC area and was the star trainer at Sports Club LA in Rockefeller Center, where he trained Ann Curry and a local news anchor and was featured on the Today Show. When he first moved to LA, he became an educator for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Steve trained trainers to help them earn the most prestigious personal training certification that exists. From one job to the next, each getting better along the way, Steve realized he had the power to create programs that changed the way people looked, but more importantly, he had the unique ability to connect and relate to people and change the way they think. He motivated people to motivate themselves.

But being Trainer to the Stars isn't enough for Steve. He's presently working on a book called I Am...Healthy & Fit, and if we're lucky, we should be able to get our hands on a copy within a year. Steve feels strongly that you have to believe it before you can achieve it. The book has been in the works for a few years. That wasn’t always the title, but that title came to him about a year ago, and people really get it. You have to change your mind before you can change anything else. It doesn’t matter what exercise or life modification you choose. If you don’t believe it’s going to work for you, then it won't. Steve shared, "People believe in me because of my track record, history, and the people I've trained, so there's a perception that I bring value. People believe I have the answer, but the answer really lies within. And that's simply the belief that they’ll reach their goal." 

Steve lives in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, Yuki. His studio, Steve Jordan Acceleration, is there, as well. Reach out if you’re ever in the area and want a training session, and mention that I sent you! 

I hope this post has inspired you and provided you with a few ideas on how you can begin to change your life for the better TODAY. Tell yourself, "I am healthy and fit!" And choose one thing from my interview with Steve to begin doing TODAY.

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Steve & Dr. Oz

A LETTER TO MY 13-YEAR-OLD SELF

Jennifer Mejia

 
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I’d be remiss if I began this “Heart & Soul” post today without thanking all of you for the overwhelming positive response and connection with last week’s “How Jenny Got Her Groove Back” post. I have always been someone who feels things very deeply, both joy and sorrow. For better or for worse. I’m not joking when I recall the days of crying when Frosty the Snowman melted or when the other reindeer poked fun at Rudolph. I was high on empathy then, and I believe it’s only gotten more intense as I’ve aged. Perhaps because through life’s experiences these past 44 years, I’ve learned that real life can be much more painful and challenging than not being invited to join in any reindeer games. I wrote last week’s post because in my heart, I know that too many others have endured pain and are clawing their way back, and that can be a very lonely place and existence. And I’ve always felt like I have a heightened sixth sense—that I can sense things about people, even strangers, that others can’t. 

For these reasons and then some, I felt compelled to share that post, hoping that I might connect with at least one person and that such a connection might help them understand that they really aren’t alone. I got so many comments on the blog, through social media, and even a few private messages, in which individuals felt close enough to me and trusted me enough to share their struggles and experience of working to get their groove back. Hearing their stories helped me. Not in the way that misery loves company, but rather in a way to know others struggle, some more than I have, and they’re making it. So that means I can, too. It also touched my soul to be a trusted confidante, to whom they felt safe to reach out and share parts of their life that hadn’t been shared with many. And although I didn’t write the post with this intention, the end result was that the overwhelming response has boosted my groove for many days to come. Thank you to every single reader, even if you didn’t comment. Thank you for sharing a part of my world and sharing some of yours with me.

For the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on my life. I’ve thought about how much has changed over the years. Some good. Some tragic. A lot has made me stronger. But a lot has challenged my faith and caused feelings of regret. You know that saying, “If only I knew then what I know now”? I started thinking of the things I’d tell my 13-year old self, if I could, after learning so many life lessons over the past 30 years. What are they? you might be wondering. As if you had to guess…I’m going to tell you. 

I’m proud to say that for the past 30 years, my life story tells that I actually “listened’ to much of this advice. But I’m not perfect, and truth be told, there are some things I’d happily do over again—in a very different way—if I had the chance. There are two points to be taken from this post: 1) If you have children of your own, I hope this is food for thought. Disclaimer: I am no parenting expert. I don’t have a Ph.D. And I am far from perfect in my own parenting. But again, those who can’t do, teach. And on some level, I think we all know what’s right for our family, even if we aren’t successful in practicing it every moment of our lives. A reminder never hurts. 2) It’s never too late. So if any of this resonates with you, it’s okay to put it into practice in your own life, even though you’re well past the age of 13. 

I chose the age of 13 because I feel like that’s the age when we, and those around us, start realizing we are no longer a child. And we can understand and make sense of many grown-up topics. But 13 was also an important age for me because it was around that time when I realized that my parents weren’t kidding about spending the rest of their lives apart. I “grew up” pretty quickly, and admittedly, faster than I would have liked. But fortunately for me, my parents and grandparents all set a strong example by the way they lived in the years prior to and after that life-changing event. 

My mother was and is a strong woman. She doesn’t take shit from anyone. She always holds her own. She plows through it all, however difficult. She’s never needed to rely on anyone, and that’s probably where I got most of my groove and the reason I’ve been able to work on getting it back. Her mother, my Nannie Redden, who I’ve blogged about before, was also a strong woman. Although she was born in 1926, at a time when most women might have simply sought to find a man to take care of them, she would have rather died than have that. As a teenager entering puberty, she picked blueberries and sold them to purchase her first bra and then created a pattern to make the rest. She always spoke her mind and took care of herself and her three girls. She never learned to swim as a child, so in her 50s, she took lessons and learned. After my grandfather passed, she didn’t need any help continuing on. She sold her house years later and built and bought another in her 70s. I miss so many things about her but mostly her feisty spirit and the fact that she took pride in caring for herself, even when she reached an age and health where she should have accepted more help. So most of what I’m going to say is about taking care of yourself and standing on your own two feet. Because in the end, it’s up to us. We aren’t entitled to anything. And as an independent woman who was raised by independent women, I can’t think of anything more frustrating than a woman who makes a choice to depend on others, especially if that other is a man, to get through life. So without further ado, in no particular order, a letter to my 13-year-old self…

1.    Learn to cook. This is and isn’t literal. The point is that eating is necessary for survival. And eating healthy is important if we want to hang around on this Earth a little longer. Being able to cook and feed myself and my family, especially my kids, means I can take care of a primary need. But of course, if you have the means to hire someone to cook or order out for healthy meals, that also does the trick. (Let me be clear that it’s ok to have your partner cook. My point is that you should be able to feed yourself and family if it’s up to you in the end.)

2.    Learn how to use a screwdriver and hammer. Again, this isn’t literal, but I’m trying to give you catchy ways to remember this stuff. Life happens and things breaks. Sometimes at 11 pm when no one is around and everything is closed. Learn how to fix things. Learn how to problem solve and remain calm through life’s unexpected curveballs without falling apart and becoming a damsel in distress. As a child, I remember my mom starting up the push lawn mower and cutting the grass herself if my dad was working late and she got sick of looking at an overgrown lawn. The point is, if you want something done, figure out a way to do it yourself, whether that’s actually doing it yourself or knowing the right person to call to fix it. Be resourceful. 

3.    Stay in school. As long as you can. And I don’t mean high school. Statistics exist that link education to career and financial success. Of course there are exceptions like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg (who last I read was eventually going to get his degree from Harvard) and pro athletes, but they’re not the rule. Higher education almost ensures that you’ll be able to land and keep a job to support yourself without relying on others. And if you’re going to be in school, take it seriously. Higher education costs a lot of fricking money! Study so you get good grades. For the last two years of college, I lived in my sorority house where many of my sisters went out nearly every night of the week. I didn’t, and I don’t have any regrets about that. Sure, others had more fun, but I kept my eye on the prize. I’m fairly certain some thought I was too rigid, uptight and perhaps even boring, but I didn’t’ care. I knew there would be plenty of time to party. But I do have one regret, and hopefully there’s learning in that for others. In undergrad (and even before), I had dreams of becoming a dermatologist. I completed all of the pre-med courses required. And I did well. But my advisor and two personal physicians convinced me not to pursue a career in medicine because “you can’t do the same things at 34 as you can at 24.” Well, maybe that was true for them, but times have changed, and 34 is actually still very young. I say go for it, however long you need to stay in school because while some say life is short, it can also be very long. 

4.    Read. Everything you can get your hands on, especially non-fiction. It opens your eyes to the world. It’s how you develop your vocabulary. And if nothing else, your SAT scores with thank you! Which goes back to #3. 

5.    Know how to “balance your checkbook.” I put that in quotes because that’s the simplified version and again, sort of a silly way to remember it because who still balances a checkbook these days? (Mom, don’t get upset…I know old habits die hard and you still do that.) But what I really mean is that you should understand and take control of your finances. It is never too early to think about saving for your future, and in fact, the younger you are when you begin, the better off you’ll be. Understand the different ways to invest and the risks involved in each. When you’re younger, you can take more risks. That doesn’t mean you have to back the truck up on the latest tech stock, but you should know how to diversify and have some safe and some riskier (i.e., potential for larger payoff) investments. When I was 24 years old, my college boyfriend’s father introduced me to a mutual fund that tracked with the S&P 500. I made my first investment of $5,000 and then purchased additional shares every month for quite some time, which ensured I was averaging my cost basis so it wasn’t always at the high or low of the market. In total, I probably contributed about $13,000. A few months ago, 20 years later, that investment was worth $56,000! As a single 24-year old woman, I started investing in my future, even though I didn’t have much more than that $5,000 to my name at the time, and it paid off. 

6.    Sisters before misters. I have a 21-year-old nephew who once said, “Bros before hoes.” Now before you go getting all upset about him referring to females as “hoes,” stop yourself. He’s one of the best guys around and said it while laughing, knowing it’s simply an expression, and an effective one because it’s tough to forget and makes the point, which is: Take time to develop and nurture friendships vs. spending all of your time with a boy. Because the truth is that boys will come and go but friendships can last forever. And you’ll need those friends when things inevitably go south with a boy. The reality is that most people these days don’t end up with their high school boyfriends or girlfriends. People grow and change when they go away to college, get their first jobs, and experience life on their own outside of the town where they grew up. But I still have girlfriends from my childhood and college days. Most of the guys are long gone. (Thank goodness that’s the case for many of them!)

7.    Travel. Like reading, it opens your eyes to the world. It helps you appreciate diversity instead of fearing it. And if you can’t afford to travel, read about other places, cultures, and religions. In your community, seek out others who are different and come from other places. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn and how much it opens your eyes to new and different perspectives. 

8.    Never, and I mean never, be ashamed or embarrassed of being you. Be your authentic self. Believe in yourself. Be optimistic and stay positive that you will work it out, whatever it may be. However challenging it may be.

9.    Spend a dime to save time. If you can. But if truly necessary (not just because you’re being cheap), spend time to save a dime. Time is something we can never get back. And although money can’t buy happiness, it can make some things easier and less stressful. So when you approach a situation or problem, think about all of your options to spend your own time laboring and whether or not it makes sense to spend money to save your sanity and time, which can be used on other things that are more important and/or can bring you more joy. Run the dishwasher, even if it’s only half full at the end of the day. Hand washing it all takes way too much time, and honestly, I can’t imagine that it actually saves that much money. (Thanks, Mom, for always running the dishwasher every day, sometimes twice a day!) The point is to value your time and learn to prioritize. But also recognize when there are times in your life when you need to tighten things up a bit, and that may require more of your time to save money for the essentials.

10.  When you look at the behavior of others, learn to differentiate between ability and laziness and apathy. When my sister dines out, she will actually tip a server more if they deliver poor service. Sounds ridiculous, right? But she only does it if it’s clear that they’re trying their best and just not able to meet standards. Her rationale is that others won’t be that empathetic and understanding and the person won’t be recognized and paid for their sincere efforts. But if they’re rude and/or seem apathetic and lazy, her rule doesn’t apply. I have high standards and expectations of myself and therefore of others. But I’ve learned (and am still learning) that some people really are doing their best and can’t always cut it. I’ve worked, and am still working, on becoming more patient in those situations. But for those who make a choice to coast along and feel entitled, expecting the rest of the world to carry them, well, I don’t have much sympathy or understanding. (And if you’re going to dine out, tip the server. That’s how they earn a living. If they come to your table and deliver or remove something, even if it’s not full service, they deserve some sort of a tip. If you don’t want to tip, stay home! Sorry…I had to add that while we were talking about tipping because it’s a hot button for me.)

11.  Always express love and appreciation when you feel it. Good people in our lives are people to be treasured. And we should never underestimate the importance of telling those who matter most exactly how much of a difference they make in our lives.

12.  Try to see the best in others when it’s clear they’re trying to make you happy. It’s often easy to feel frustrated when someone else doesn’t meet our needs, and I’m talking emotional needs for the most part. But it’s important to recognize and appreciate their efforts, even if they’re not quite hitting the mark. It doesn’t mean you need to spend the rest of your days with that person, especially if it’s someone you’re dating, but we should be kind and considerate of their feelings if they care enough about us to try.

13.  And lucky number 13, when choosing someone to share your life, find someone who gets you. Find someone who complements you. NEVER someone who wants to change you. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a college friend of mine about “life.” And I joked about how he was damn lucky that he didn’t marry me because he would have likely killed me by now. And he replied, “I don’t think so. I get you. I always have.” Now, I’m not saying I regret not marrying him because I think he’s perfectly matched with his wife, and there were reasons we were friends and didn’t commit to a lot more. But my point is that it’s important to have people in your life, especially your partner, who truly get you and appreciate you for all that you are. The good and the “we might be able to do without that.” No one is perfect, but there is such a thing as being perfectly matched with the right person.

I’m stopping myself at 13. That’s the magic number in this post. And realize that when I blog, it really is stream of consciousness (I think that’s the appropriate term.) It’s whatever flows when I sit down. So don’t go crazy on me if I missed something. ;-) Just leave a comment here, on Instagram, or Facebook, for the rest of the world and for me to see. Because we’re all in this together. And some days, I still feel like my 13-year-old self, learning things all over again and doing my best to navigate through this crazy thing called life.

HOW JENNY GOT HER GROOVE BACK

Jennifer Mejia

 
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It’s January 2 as I write this. I’ve come to terms with never making New Year’s resolutions anymore because I always break them. Usually within 24 hours. But when the ball drops here in the busiest hub of the city I’ve called home for the past 18 years, there is somewhat of a renewal and refreshment of my mental state. A new beginning with true intentions always gives me hope. And hope, even if temporary or short-lived, is never a bad thing. 

The title of this blog post begs the question, “When and how did Jenny lose her groove?” As I look back on my life these past few years, I recognize that I lost part of it when my youngest son, Kenzi, was fighting for his life from the moment he took his first breath. I, too, was fighting for his life, as well as my own because without him, my world as I’d known it would have ended. For those of you who are new here, Kenzi was born with one obstructed “functioning” kidney. At 10 days old, the doctors informed us that he was in renal failure. We had two choices: 1) surgery that would allow him to begin peritoneal dialysis to bridge him to a transplant but that came with a laundry list of risks and complications, or 2) “keep him comfortable” and allow him to die...because some might think the alternative of what we were about to put him through was far too painful for all involved, especially Kenzi. But I’ve never been one to give up, and no son of mine would be, either. Through a series of medical interventions (eight surgeries to be exact) by the world’s best surgeons and an act of God (I’m not joking about that), he came home with us after spending the first 80 days of his life in the NICU. And although he is now doing extremely well, my anxiety over his health will never vacate my body and mind. 

During a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, I mentioned that odds don’t mean anything to me. No one can explain how or why Kenzi’s kidneys developed, or failed to develop, as they did. When I asked his surgeon about his success rate with the surgery he was about to perform on Kenzi, he replied, “I don’t have one. I’ve never performed this surgery on a baby his age and size because I’ve never had to. We usually have a choice and have another functioning kidney to rely on. But we don’t have a choice.” When I asked the NICU doctors and specialists--all of them, not just one--how or why this happened to Kenzi, no one had an answer. “Bad luck,” replied one of them. A microarray (an examination of his DNA…sort of like an amniocentesis but on a living person) provided no answers. So the odds of this happening are one in a [pick a really big number.]

In 2012, my mother was a victim in the Washington Navy Yard mass shooting where a gunman killed 12 of her friends and colleagues while she crouched under a desk listening to gun shots and the rantings of a mad man, praying that her own life would be spared. My mom survived because a colleague of hers exited the elevator, screamed when she saw the gunman in action, which caused him to change direction and move toward her. Although the number of mass shootings is still too many and far too frequent of an occurrence, the odds of being a victim in one are still rather low. So no, I don’t care about odds. And the fact that my life has been changed by circumstances and events for which the odds were very low has caused a lot of my anxiety. Anxiety steals your groove.

Fast forward to almost two years after Kenzi’s birth when another set of circumstances and events nearly took my life. Not literally, but my heart was broken and my perspective forever changed. Had it not been for Kai and Kenzi, I may have curled up into a ball and remained there for an indefinite period of time. For over two years, I have been fighting my way back, despite how things appear to those who know me and see me on a regular basis. 

My guess, which isn’t really a guess at all but rather a known reality, is that so many people live each day as I have and do. With a smile to the world. Crying when we think no one can hear us. Wishing there was some way to wave a magic wand, to turn back the clock and somehow rewrite our fate. To somehow get back that “groove” that defined our spirit before life’s unexpected happened to us. Fortunately for me, I have two kids who I love more than anything or anyone in my entire world. So I didn’t and I don’t have a choice. I have to go on, and I have to be better for them because they didn’t choose to be here. That was my doing, and as their mother, I owe them all of me. Not some half-ass version. 

For two years and counting, I’ve been fighting through it all. Before I get to “how Jenny got her groove back,” allow me to clarify two things. First, I don’t actually have my groove back yet. But my friend Steve Jordan, who has been an inspiration to me since we met over 25 years ago, believes, “You have to believe it before you can achieve it.” Speak your intentions aloud and tell yourself you’re there, even if you’re not. It’s the change in mindset and reminding yourself of your intentions that will ensure you actually make it. And second, did any of you ever see the movie “The Wedding Planner?” If so, do you remember the line, “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t wed, plan.”??? Well, that’s sort of my state. While I know all of the following to be true, it’s still a work in progress. But then again, so am I. So are you.

As we begin a new year, I am mindful of the effort required to make my life what I want it to be. What I deserve. What my kids deserve. How do I get to a state where I’m truly happy and fulfilled and able to manage life’s inevitable disappointments in stride? What do I need to remember and practice to ensure that my journey in life, and that of my kids, is filled with as much joy as possible? I’ll try to keep it brief, as I know we all have 7,435,983 things to do as we kick off 2019. And if you’ve lost your groove, my hope is that this may help along your journey, as well.

1.    Allow yourself to grieve. I’m beginning with this because I don’t think anyone can move forward after a loss, disappointment, or tragedy without proper time to grieve. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how to grieve because it’s different for every person and every circumstance. And I can’t tell you how long to grieve because it’s a process and also different for each individual. But what I do know is that if you don’t allow yourself to grieve at all, you’ll be stuck in one place forever. We must recognize our loss and our pain as real and significant because our feelings are real and significant. Many people associate the word “grief” with the death of a loved one. But one can grieve for many reasons—a dream not realized, the loss of a relationship, the realization that a person isn’t who you thought they were or wanted them to be, the loss of a job, and the list goes on. But loss leaves a hole and emptiness, and failing to grieve makes what was lost seem insignificant. We can’t heal and grow without acknowledging our loss and finding a place for it—to visit it at an appropriate and chosen time. Notice I didn’t say “get over it.” 

2.    Forgiveness. My wise and dear friend Jaime once said to me that forgiveness can be extremely therapeutic. I’ll say two things about forgiveness. The first is that forgiving oneself is probably the most difficult kind of forgiveness. I find that I’ll forgive others in a fraction of the time as I’ll let myself off the hook. But in situations where we blame ourselves, we need to step outside of our bodies and pretend we’re looking at a friend in the same situation. Give yourself that same level of empathy and understanding. Admit that you are human, that you do the best you can with the information and resources that you have at the time, and you aren’t always going to get it right. Some mistakes are life-changing. And some you may never “get over.” To quote C.S. Lewis, “You can’t go back and change the beginning. But you can start where you are and change the ending.” Second, I don’t think we have to forgive everyone. In order to forgive someone, my belief is that they have to ask for forgiveness and express true remorse. And if they don’t, file them under the “I did my best with them, I got hurt anyway, I need to accept them for who and what they are, and I will no longer put energy toward them.” 

3.    See a therapist. A good one. This may sound like a very New York thing to say because the joke is that everyone in New York City has a therapist. But gaining perspective is key when you’ve lost your groove. While it’s great to talk to friends, they’re biased. And sometimes they want to see you feel better so badly that they may tell you what you want to hear instead of what you really need to hear in order to move forward. 

4.    Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside. People walk around every day putting on a happy face, putting on a show. I should know. You have no idea what is going on inside another’s heart and mind. What they show you is your truth about them. But what you feel, your fears and insecurities, is what you believe about yourself. Don’t go thinking that everyone else in the world is perfect, is 100% confident in what they’re doing, that they seem to have it all figured out, and that you’re the only one who isn’t acing this thing called life. Social media can make a monster out of the best of us. Trust me, most aren’t posting photos of and talking about their worst moments, failures, and insecurities, but I promise you, everyone has them. Nothing can be more of a motivation-killer and joy thief than comparing yourself to what the rest of the world looks like in pictures. 

5.    Listen to the believers. Ignore the haters. Surround yourself with those who see the best in you and those who bring out the best in you. Take a break from those who doubt you and remind you of every possible way you can fail.

6.    Be true to yourself. Be honest about what motivates you. Think about what truly brings you joy. Real joy. And live that. As much as you can. Don’t spend your life doing what others expect of you or what someone has told you is “the right thing to do.” Only your own heart can tell you that.

7.    Do something outside of your comfort zone. Set a goal to succeed at something you’ve never done before. Nothing says, “I’m the bomb” and boosts confidence like achieving the unachievable. As a simple example, I’m not a technologically-savvy person. Some people just have techie in their DNA. When I decided to start a blog, I had a vision for a website but no budget to hire someone to build it for me. So I taught myself, and I did it. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we’ve still got it.

8.    Recognize people and situations for who and what they are. Simply put, not everyone and everything will be as you wish. There are some things and people you can’t change. In order to grow and find happiness, sometimes you have to just let it be. If you’ve done everything in your power to improve a situation and it just isn’t working, let go, either physically or mentally and emotionally if you aren’t able to completely walk away. Walking away shouldn’t be viewed as failure. Rather it should be viewed as internal growth once you’ve recognized and accepted that some things remain out of your control. And continuing to put effort toward that is a sure-fire way to rob yourself of your groove.

9.    Set goals, even small ones, and celebrate small wins. As my grandmother used to say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Recognizing victories, however small, can do wonders for your confidence. 

10.  Take care of yourself, inside and out. Eat well. Exercise. What you put into your body affects your energy level and your mood. Exercise relieves stress and releases endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in your body, similar to that of morphine. And take a shower, get dressed, and put on makeup for Pete’s sake! Fake it until you make it. If you look in the mirror and at least like what you see on the surface, you’ll feel more alive and more confident. There’s a reason we get a new suit and a haircut before a job interview—it’s not just about impressing our prospective employer—it’s about feeling confident.

11.  Remember that life is not a zero-sum game. Someone else doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win. This probably isn’t something that we need to remind ourselves of a lot. But there are situations in which we feel wronged by someone or a situation, and it would be easy to believe we’d feel better if justice was somehow served. That sort of negative energy isn’t energy well spent, and it won’t really improve your situation in the long run. You might get a temporary boost of “thank God for karma,” but that will be very short-lived. 

12.  And finally, recognize the efforts of others, even if they aren’t perfect. When you’re not feeling 100%, it’s easy to recognize the imperfections of others and to feel like nothing that anyone does is good enough. Sometimes people in our lives truly give it their all in an attempt to help us, and sometimes it’s not exactly what we want or need. But there is beauty and appreciation to be found in their efforts and repair attempts, and I think that’s something worth celebrating.  

“Groove is in the heart.”  -Deee-Lite … if you don’t believe anything I have to say. :-)

HOW THE GRINCH SAVED CHRISTMAS

Jennifer Mejia

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This past weekend, we took our kids to see “The Grinch.” When the movie ended, I realized that I probably needed this movie more than my boys did. As rosy as someone’s life may seem, it’s not always as easy and as glamorous as it looks. Social media can be so misleading and deceiving. I’m talking about myself, not just a hypothetical someone. Far too often, I allow the stress of “adulting” to get the best of me. And although I begin each day with a grateful heart and the best intentions, I, too, am guilty of snapping at someone or losing it with my kids. It’s so easy to believe that if everyone around us would just get their act together, life would be so much simpler. It’s easy to become frustrated with others when there’s a lot of “stuff” going on inside our own heart and mind. 

I’m not sure if I just need to get out more, but I left thinking that “The Grinch” was one of the best feel good movies I’ve seen in quite some time. It reminded me of that poem, “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten,” because so many aspects of a successful and happy life really are that simple. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so before the holidays are over. Why? Because during this time of year especially, we often find ourselves getting caught up in the rush of parties and shopping deadlines, the pressure to buy the perfect gifts, wrapping up things at work for year-end, and the list goes on.  It causes us to lose sight of what’s really important. After the movie ended, I couldn’t help thinking that it should have been called, “How the Grinch Saved Christmas,” because I counted at least five important lessons in that short hour and thirty minutes. 

 
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Lesson 1: Loneliness can turn a good person into a toxic creature. As the movie begins, the title character is everything the age-old story has taught us. Mean, grouchy, conniving, vindictive, and…alone, except for his dog, Max. Hearing happy tunes when his alarm sounds in the morning is enough to send him over the edge. Atop Mount Crumpit, he is a hater of the worst kind, planning and plotting to steal Christmas and the happiness of everyone residing in Whoville. I’ve encountered a lot of grinches throughout my lifetime. Heck, I think I’ve been deserving of that description on more occasions than I care to admit. I’ve also learned that loneliness can turn good people with genuinely good hearts into a modern day grinch. I see it most often in grocery stores here in NYC, where typically, an elderly person is rude to the cashier or others around because they’re alone and can’t do things fast enough, they can’t find things they need, and they have difficultly maneuvering in the chaos of this city. It’s almost as if they are crying out, “Can’t someone just help make this easier on me? I’m so tired of doing it all alone!” Similarly, as we experience flashbacks of the Grinch’s childhood, we learn that the loneliness of that time was to blame for his miserable existence.

Lesson 2: No one can steal anything from you. Things are things. They can’t steal what matters. Fortunately for the Grinch and all of us, this story has a heroine, and her name is Cindy Lou. For most of the film, she is determined to meet Santa in person because she wants to give her mom a gift that money can’t buy. She recognizes and appreciates how tirelessly her mom works to take care of the family and that she attempts to do so without any indication that she’s exhausted. I’ll have to admit, I teared up a bit during this part, as it hit a little too close to home. 

At first, Cindy Lou was devastated when she woke Christmas morning. She blamed herself for upsetting the man she believed was Santa, causing him to steal their Christmas. At that point, her wise and selfless mom reminded Cindy Lou and rest of us that no one can steal anything from us. Sure, they can steal toys and decorations. But those are just things. All that really matters is what’s inside each of us. I try to remind myself of this often, not only at Christmastime. As I’m drowning in my problems, some of them big and real and some of them “first world,” and as I am tempted to blame others for everything that isn’t perfect in my life, I remind myself that no one can steal my love, my determination, my resilience, and my kindness. Most importantly, I remember that only I am responsible for my happiness. I can’t control the words and actions of others, and I often can’t control things that happen. But I can control how I react, and I can choose how to move forward. 

Lesson 3: Be the better person. After the Grinch had stolen the gifts and decorations from every home in Whoville, Cindy Lou marched up Mount Crumpit, knocked on his door, and invited him to Christmas dinner. The Grinch was shocked and even expressed that he wasn’t deserving of such kindness and forgiveness and that he’d always been alone. Cindy Lou replied, “Well, you’ve been alone long enough.” Doing the right thing, being the better person, reminds me of a quote I once heard from Dwayne Johnson. “Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.” That Cindy Lou…she sure is wise beyond her years.

Lesson 4: Being unkind to others won’t erase the past and it certainly won’t mend a broken heart. As for The Grinch, he recalled moments from his childhood and realized that loneliness was the source of his anger and desire to destroy others. All this time he thought that making others share in his misery would somehow heal his aching soul. I hate to admit it, but I’ve had many days when I was down and felt like the world was against me. And I’ve been guilty of taking that anger, hurt and disappointment out on others. But it didn’t make me any feel better in the end. In fact, when my conscience caught up with me before it was time to rest at night, I felt so much worse. Being unkind to others couldn’t change the Grinch’s past, and it can’t change mine, either. It can’t undo events that have caused our hearts so much pain.

Lesson 5: Only love and kindness can change the world. Hate cannot. For the Grinch, his heart, once two sizes too small, actually grew and became filled with love because those around him showed kindness, even after a despicable act made him seem undeserving. Sometimes all it takes to change someone’s life is for one person to believe in them. That’s a truth that isn’t reserved for fairy tales. That’s real life. And that’s something we’re all capable of doing. During a season when it’s far too easy to focus on what money can buy, it’s important to remind ourselves that love is the greatest gift we can give.

If you’ve seen “The Grinch,” I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you haven’t, and especially if this holiday season isn’t bringing you the joy you expect, spend an hour and a half with this green creature. I promise you’ll leave with more perspective and hopefully a warmer heart. 

AN EMPTY SEAT AT THE TABLE

Jennifer Mejia

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This little guy is our younger son. He turned four this past Saturday. He was born at 34 weeks, deliberately, in an attempt to save his life. He is a miracle. That’s the only way I can describe his recovery. But every year around his birthday, in addition to be overjoyed and celebrating his life, I also, unfortunately, remember almost losing him. And it causes me to pause and ponder things that I try to avoid thinking about on a regular basis. 

I’m a believer in the old adage that everything happens for a reason, with one modification--that most things happen for a reason. There are some things so horrible in life that I will never be able to rationalize why they happen.

Recently I’ve been thinking about one of the main reasons I decided to begin blogging. Perhaps it has something to do with my son turning 4. As I mentioned, his birthday always makes me think. I became disappointed that this site hasn’t featured as much love as I originally envisioned.  After all, it is the word in the center of the name. When I decided on that title, I wasn’t referring to love for interior design, art, food, or fashion. I was thinking of true matters of the heart. The things that really move us and the things that really count. Part of the reason I haven’t written as much about “love” is out of sheer exhaustion. The posts about fashion, food, and interior design come easily to me. Yes, they take time, but they don’t force me to reach deep into my soul and find the perfect words to write what’s often impossible to express and only the heart can feel. The other reason is that I can see what my audience likes and what prompts them to click through to my website. Fashion posts get the highest amount of traffic. That may be for a number of reasons. It’s quick and easy--you see something you like, you click through, you click on the link, and you purchase. Not a lot of time, thought, or energy is wasted. But for my own soul, and hopefully for yours, I’m going to try to talk more about the things that really move us, in addition to the things we can see.

Last week, a friend of mine who lost one of her sons when he was three, shared a post to Facebook. I read every word of it, and it touched my soul. Actually, it ripped it to shreds. The title of the post was, “Grateful and Grieving.” It was written by Angela Miller, a writer, speaker and advocate for people who are grieving the loss of a child. The essence of the blog post was that parents who have lost a child can be full of grief and gratitude simultaneously. All people, even those who have lost a child, can still feel gratitude. But no amount of gratitude or positivity can fix the fact that their child is dead. This horrific realization is especially poignant around Thanksgiving, a time when we are supposed to express our gratitude for all that is good and right in our lives. And although the grieving parent might seem ungrateful, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, they are more grateful than most for what they have because they know all too well how quickly the most important parts of their lives can be taken away. 

I can’t imagine what a grieving parent feels. I can’t. But one thing I’ve learned after reading a few articles and posts on the topic is this: Asking about the child they lost isn’t going to upset them or make them think of that child if they weren’t already thinking about him/her and were “doing ok before you asked.” The truth is that there isn’t a minute that passes that a grieving parent doesn’t feel the pain and loss from the child who is gone. So instead of tip-toeing around the subject of their child or trying to make small talk when you see sadness or a distant gaze on their face, ask them how they’re really doing. Ask them about the child they are missing. Say their name. Ask them to share stories of the countless times he/she brought them happiness. Recall and share your favorite memories of their child. Help them fill the empty seat next to them at the table. 

When I read the part of Angela Miller’s post that said, “Ask me about the empty chair beside me,” any composure I had left the room. I sat alone on my sofa, reading this post, sobbing. I commented on the post and asked my friend to forgive me if I didn’t ask about her son. It wasn’t because I didn’t care. It wasn’t because I wasn’t thinking of him. In fact, it saddens me beyond measure that every time I see her or her husband or hear their names, I think about their loss. And I’m often affected to the point of breaking down. 

I’ve thought about that post a lot since I read it last Friday evening. And I’ve also thought about my regret that there hasn’t been enough love in Beauty, Love & Grub. So as we approach Thanksgiving, I wanted to ask those who are grieving to tell me about the person who should be sitting at the empty seat at your table. The chair that should be filled with your child. Or perhaps you’re missing a parent, a spouse, or a best friend. If you are someone who is grieving, I’d love for you to write their name for me. Tell me what you miss about them and what parts of them made the world a happier place. I know it’s impossible to share everything. And if you’re comfortable sharing the joy of their existence with the world, ask me to share it with my readers. You can send me a photo if you’d like. And during the week of Thanksgiving, I’ll share what I’ve received (only those who ask me to share). You can either share a story here by commenting, or you can message me through my CONTACT page. And whether or not you choose to share a story with me, I hope that after reading this post, you will share a story about the loved one you are missing with someone you know. 

FEEL GOOD FRIDAY: EVERYONE NEEDS A THEME SONG

Jennifer Mejia

 
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Actually dancing here to "This Is What You Came For"

I don't know where I'd be without music in my life. I don't know anything else in the world that can change my mood (for better or for worse) the way a song can. I'm going to ask you all a question that may cause me to lose a few followers. Did any of you ever watch the show "Ally McBeal" when it was on the air? I will admit that the last few seasons went downhill quickly. But I really enjoyed the first few and couldn't wait to watch each week. And if someone were to ask me the one thing I remember most about the show, besides John Cage's squeaky shoes and falling in love with Robert Downey, Jr., it would be the scenes when a theme song was played. I remember Barry White the most, probably because I've loved Barry White since about the age of five.

The truth is that everyone needs at least one theme song. There are moments in life when you just need that extra boost of confidence, an extra pep to your step, or that extra feeling of invincibility. Let's face it, life is full of challenges and defining moments that can make or break us...times when everything we have to gain is riding on just a few minutes. There are also ordinary days when you just aren't feeling it and you need a little kick in the pants (or song in your ear) to change your mood and lighten your load.

I happen to have a few theme songs. Probably more than just the tunes listed here, but these are the first few that came to mind. Before you continue scrolling, I have to warn you that many people think my taste in music is similar to that of a 60-year-old. And they might be right. I'm a huge R&B fan, and my mom is as well, so I listened to a lot of it growing up. I also love show tunes.

While this may seem to be somewhat of a silly post, and while you may not share my taste in music, I hope it will at least inspire you to make your own theme song list and play it often, or at least on days when you need extra confidence or something to lift your spirits. Maybe you have a big presentation or job interview. Perhaps you have a hot date or are getting in the mood for a girls’ or boys’ night out. Maybe you're trying to get back to the gym after a long hiatus. Whatever it is, music always makes life better. Leave a comment and tell me your favorite theme song(s). Ok, sound on! And if nothing else, enjoy the two Soul Train lines.

BE THE HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST

Jennifer Mejia

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(Somehow Traci knew I'd use this goofy photo someday.)

I recently hosted a small party at my home, and I was thrilled that so many expressed gratitude for a wonderfully fun and delicious evening. Unfortunately, I didn't take one photo because I was too busy drinking, talking, and laughing, as a host should. One of my dear friends, whose opinion I value tremendously, gave me the greatest compliment when she said, “Barefoot Contessa doesn’t have anything on you.” I also found that amusing because Ina is my idol, and I have taken so many pointers from her over the years. But I’ve also taken tips from my mom, stepmother, sister, and grandmothers. And they all have a few things in common. They make you feel welcome in their home, they make you glad you came, and they make you want to return again and again. When all is said and done, that’s the key to being a great host, no matter how you choose to do it. 

I ran into my friend this morning after school dropoff, and I spoke to her again on the phone this evening. She was kind enough to articulate a few of the reasons she loves coming to our home. With that, I thought I’d put together a post on how to be the hostess with the mostest. Whether it’s an intimate dinner with a few friends, a party, or hosting people overnight, there are a few things that will ensure your guests enjoy themselves, leave with a smile, and want to return. 

1. Begin with the mindset of what I said earlier—you want to make them feel welcome and ensure they have a pleasant visit. To accomplish this, you need to have fun because as a host, you will set the mood. So that means…

2. Do as much as you can before your guests arrive. Remember that your guests came to see you. As much as they might like your cooking, drinks, and the entertaining and wonderful things in your home, they want to spend time with you. And as a host, it’s no fun at all to hear about the wonderful time they had with your spouse and kids after the fact. 

3. Have a clean and tidy home. At least the parts that they see.

4. If they are dinner or party guests, think about the presentation, but keep it simple. 

·       Display fresh flowers but not any that are too fragrant. You don’t want to trigger any allergies or offend or overwhelm your guests (fragrance is very personal). 

·       For serving dishes, white is always right because it allows the food to be the star of the show. But feel free to mix in other serveware that complements the white and/or goes with the tone or theme of the party. Home Goods is a terrific place for beautiful and inexpensive serving dishes (and many other things!)

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Photo via Ina Garten Instagram

·       If you can, use real dinnerware, flatware, and glasses, i.e., avoid using paper and plastic. If you have a larger party, I think paper napkins are fine…but use pretty ones. For a small dinner party, cloth napkins are always a nice touch. You want them to enjoy dining at your place as much as they enjoy all of the elements of a nice restaurant. 

5. Food. There is a rule (I can’t remember who I heard it from first) that you should never make something for the first time when you are having guests. I have a slightly different version: For the main course and/or the majority of what you serve, you should offer things that are foolproof and tried and true for you. As long as you know your guests will really enjoy a few things, I think it’s okay to experiment a little and use them as your guinea pigs, especially if they know you like to cook and bake. That could actually make for a little fun. But be sure to taste it before you serve it. Don’t experiment if that makes preparation too stressful. 

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, find out what your guests like and don’t like and what they can and cannot eat. If someone is a vegetarian or pescatarian, don’t serve chicken or beef. If they have food allergies, don’t serve something that is or contains an allergen. You don’t want to make your guests uncomfortable when they have to politely decline your food, and you don’t want to make them feel like a problem when they have to ask for something else to avoid anaphylaxis.

Try to have a nice mix of things. For example, have something hearty, something light, and something sweet and indulgent. I always try to serve something that is special or unique--something my guests probably wouldn’t have anywhere else and/or something I know is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. And as my friend said, she loved the way all of the colors of the food and dishes complemented each other and seemed very cohesive. She enjoyed feeling that a lot of thought went into preparing for her arrival and that of the rest of my guests. If it’s a party, try to serve finger foods. Don’t make it difficult for people to juggle holding a glass, a plate, and a fork. Finally, not everything needs to be made from scratch. Head to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or your favorite local market to procure meats, cheese, crackers, and fruit for a beautiful platter that you simply assemble before your guests arrive. And if cooking just isn’t your thing, order from a catering company.

6. Alcohol and Beverages. Make it festive and have a variety. With a small group, as with food, find out what your guests like and don’t like. If they aren’t wine drinkers, get their favorite spirit and mixers so they can enjoy their favorite cocktail. For a party, keep it simple and set it up so your guests can be self-sufficient. You don’t want to play bartender all night, although it’s nice to pour them a drink when you can. For my gathering last week, I served two of my favorite Wolffer roses, a festive sangria, LaCroix lime sparkling water (with cute straws for the cans or glasses), and a beautiful pitcher of ice water with lemons. 

7. If it’s a party, try to have everything where your guests will congregate most of the time, but have it organized into stations if possible. For my recent gathering, I used our étagère in our dining area to create a beverage station. It had wine and highball glasses on a shelf above all of the beverages and ice bucket. On the island that is open to the dining area, I displayed all of the food. The appetizers were in front/on the dining room side, and the desserts were on cake stands behind the appetizers/on the kitchen side. Ideally I would have brought desserts out later, but I wanted to enjoy my guests’ company, so I opted to put everything out at once and present it in the order it would likely be consumed (not that having dessert first is a crime!)

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8. The party I had last week was a gathering to celebrate the launch of my blog. I invited all women. I served a few of the recipes that have been featured on my blog. But I’m also a busy mom, and all of the women I invited are busy with kids and/or full-time jobs. That means we really don’t have a lot of time to shop and indulge. So I added the option to shop Stella & Dot and transformed my dining table (in between the drinks and food) into a jewelry and accessory department. In addition to the fact that she loved the jewelry, my girlfriend expressed that she liked that there was a common activity that sparked conversation between people who entered the party as strangers. After all, women usually dress for other women (contrary to what many think), so it was fun for her to shop and share opinions in a fun and comfortable setting. So whether it’s jewelry or a game or a wine tasting, try to have some activity to get the party started, especially when people aren’t from the same crowd. 

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Photo via Pinterest

9. And finally, a few tips for overnight guests. Make their room a cozy retreat. Last summer, we hosted many people at our home, and the guest room was far from decorated and complete. But I tried to make it cozy by adding a nice candle and fresh flowers to the nightstand. If you have the space, try to give your guests a dedicated bathroom so they can make themselves at home without having to pack up and clean up each time they use it. Make sure they have plenty of clean towels (bath, hand, and washcloths). Have shampoo, toothpaste, and a few of the basics in the bathroom in case they forgot to pack omething. And make sure they know they are welcome to anything in your home. They can go into the pantry or refrigerator at any time and they are welcome to whatever they need (assuming it’s not your chicken marinating for tomorrow’s lunch!)

Having a beautiful home means nothing without people to share it with. So do everything you can to make your guests feel welcome and leave counting the days until their return.

(NOT YOUR AVERAGE) MOTHER'S DAY GIFT GUIDE

Jennifer Mejia

Mother's Day is now officially less than two weeks away. 13 days to be exact. If you're struggling with what to get for the special moms in your life, here's a quick guide to help. We all have different likes and interests, so hopefully this will help you choose something just right for her. Click on the product images to shop.

Wine lovers rejoice! If you aren't from the New York area (and even if you are), when it comes to rosé, it doesn't get much better than Wolffer, a vineyard and winery based in the Hamptons. Personally, I always prefer the Estate Rosé, but Summer in a Bottle is also delicious and looks as beautiful as it tastes. 

If you have a trendy fashionista in your life, a chic bag for the summer is never a bad idea. Natural wood and woven bags are all the rage this year. Here are two very similar bags, one from Intermix and the other from Francesca's at a lower price point but equally attractive.

For music lovers and/or active moms in your life, these Jaybird headphones are sure to delight. The sound is phenomenal. They're wireless but still connected to each other so you won't easily lose one.

Jaybird X3 Wireless Sport Headphones

Those who enjoy a great fragrance in their home will love candles with scents from two wonderful hotel chains: Kimpton and St. Regis. Both of these fragrances can be experienced when visiting their properties, and they are by far my favorite. Perhaps if she closes her eyes while they're burning, she'll feel like she's been transported to her favorite destination.

Nicola Bathie earrings are a favorite of mine, in addition to Gal Meets Glam founder, Julia Engel. Check out her entire line for a unique and beautiful pair.

Nicola Bathie Earrings

If she likes to bake and entertain, you can't go wrong with this sweet cake plate by Anthropologie that is available at Nordstrom.

Cake Plate

For the special mom who likes to travel but can't always get away, allow her to dream when turning the pages of this beautiful coffee table book that is just as stunning when closed. Perhaps you can judge a book by its cover.

Chic Stays Coffee Table Book

If you can't think of a physical gift, give her the gift of relaxation and beauty. Find her favorite spa and purchase an experience. These three services are just a few offered by Ninotch, an Urban Retreat, with two locations in the Washington, DC area. Experience their open and relaxing float rooms at their Tysons Corner location to calm her body and mind. And if she's feeling like she needs a bit of a beauty makeover, eyelash extensions and a facial can give her that refreshed look. 

If the special lady in your life is always on the go, consider this Daytripper bag from Stella & Dot. It cleverly extends just in case she comes back with more than she left with.

You can never go wrong with jewelry, especially if that jewelry is personal and gives her some way to remember those special souls who made her a mom. Personalize them with the initials of her children. Or if you want something that celebrates her, choose her initials. You can even vary the chain length of the Pave Initial piece to layer and wear one to represent each child. 

If you have a real foodie in your life, anything with truffles will surely put a smile on her face. Truffle oils and salts add that special and unique flavor to salads, pastas, and even mashed potatoes. Or go all out and purchase the truffles themselves for a stronger and more intense treat.

If she loves the beach, you can't go wrong with this hat. Beauty and sun protection all in one.

Braided Hat

If you like a more traditional gift but from a not-so-traditional company, try a delivery from Farmgirl Flowers.

Farmgirl Flowers

For the interior design buffs, this new book is sure to bring a smile to her face. And it's a favorite of one of my favorite designers, Emily Henderson. This book will keep her entertained as she reads about how to approach many situations in the home and life. 

Being a mom is one toughest jobs in the world. Make sure you take time to thank her this Mother’s Day. And remember, although these gifts are fabulous, the best gift will always be these four words: I love you, Mom!

I AM HEALTHY & FIT!

Jennifer Mejia

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Looking good and feeling good. Wouldn't it be nice to wave a magic wand and both would be true? With the insanity of this thing called life, it's easy to say to ourselves, "I'll start working on that in (insert number of weeks, months or years)." But the unfortunate truth is that we have only one body, and as far as I know, one life. We owe it to ourselves to start TODAY on that journey toward optimizing our health and fitness. I've been the guiltiest of anyone I know of putting it off. I always have some excuse for having no time to care for myself. Taking care of my kids is probably the excuse I use the most, but the fact is that I won't be around to experience their growth if I don't start taking better care of me.

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Anyone know the guy on the right? Watch out for the left hook, Steve!

Getting back in the saddle after a long hiatus can be somewhat overwhelming. Where does one begin? If we have time to focus on only a few things, what should they be? So I decided to reach out to someone who has been trusted by New York and Hollywood celebrities for over 15 years: Steve Jordan, Trainer to the Stars. He's been on the Today Show, The Dr. Oz Show, and he and his advice have been featured in magazines like Self, Men's Fitness, and many others. He's trained the likes of Gerard Butler (why wasn't I called to be his assistant that day?), Amy Poller, Dustin Hoffman, Colin Cowie (remember Oprah's party planner?), Quincy Jones, and a few others that I'm not permitted to print because they are on the A+ celeb list. Celebrities can typically have any trainer that money can buy, and many choose Steve. I'm planning to take Steve's advice, and I hope you will, too. Here's a bit from our interview. It inspired me. I hope it will do the same for you.

 

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Jennifer: Life is hectic. We push self-care off to the future, and sometimes, for too long.  If one hasn’t exercised regularly in a while, how should he/she begin to get back into the swing of things?
Steve:
1. Create a commitment/intention. Write down what you want to do or achieve, and you’ll be more likely to follow through. Many go to the gym and “wander and wonder.” You need intention and a goal. It's better if it's specific, but it can be general until you refine it. Some examples: I want to lose 5 pounds. I want to run a mile three times a week. I want to feel better. I want to be healthy and fit.  Creating that intention will help you begin and get into the rhythm. 

2. Take the first step. Do something you're more likely to continue to do. If you've never done yoga, I wouldn’t recommend that. If you like to walk, run or cycle, go back and do that the first few times so you have familiarity. That creates momentum, and then once you are in the rhythm and have success, you can explore new things if you want variety.

3. Make sure you have fun doing whatever it is. If it's too intense or hurts, you’re less likely to stay committed. Two things we want to do in life is to avoid pain and move toward pleasure. So do whatever is pleasurable. 

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Jennifer: What are your top diet recommendations to achieve optimum health and fitness? 
Steve:
1. Water. Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces daily.

2. Cut dairy. We are the only mammal that drinks milk from another mammal. I grew up drinking a half gallon of milk a day. But about 15 years ago, I began researching possible causes of inflammation. So I took it on as an experiment. My mom actually became worried that I looked too thin, but it was just a tremendous reduction in inflammation. I didn’t have the asthma attacks that I used to. My allergies were less severe. I felt better overall. Once in a while I'll indulge and have ice cream, but I’ll take vegan or dairy-free if I have a choice.
You can get calcium from vegetables like kale, collard greens, broccoli, spinach, and soybeans (non-GMO). I use almond milk in my cereal, but not all are created equal. Look at the ingredients to ensure it doesn't have a lot of additives like gums and carrageenan. I like New Barn, which is sold at Whole Foods.

3. Cut gluten. Lots of people are sensitive even if they are not allergic. The type and level of reaction will vary. Many women get rid of the "pooch" in the area just below their belly button when they remove gluten by reducing the amount of gastrointestinal inflammation. 

4. Enjoy the food that you eat. We get stuck and many think eating healthy isn’t fun and doesn’t taste good. It tastes GREAT! It takes a little more effort, but there is a lot of variety and flavor in whole and clean foods. There are obviously more options in urban areas and out west to purchase it already prepared, but there are tons of tasty options.

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Jennifer: What recommendations would you make to someone who doesn’t have an hour each day to dedicate to exercising? 
Steve: Just do little things. There is a lot of current research on the effects of training and exercise, and it suggests that doing short amounts of exercise over a period of time has similar, if not better, effects than doing one longer workout. In other words, you'd get the same or better results if you worked out 10 minutes two times per day over seven days as you would working out one hour a day three days a week. Do things that fit into your schedule. Exercise in ways that won’t burden you if you’re time sensitive. You want to do things that will make you more productive. When you exercise, you feel better, you have more energy, and you begin creating routine all around because you’re disciplining yourself in one specific area. You'll become more efficient and you’ll end up having more time in general. Start with less/what you can handle. Be successful at completing 10-15 minutes 6-7 days versus upsetting your schedule. I actually specialize in 30 minute sessions at my studio because I work with lots of people who are time-constrained.

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Jennifer: How does one motivate on days when we just aren’t feeling it? 
Steve: Put your sneakers on. I don’t know anyone who has ever turned back after putting on their sneakers. I don’t think I’ve ever done it (maybe once or twice). Getting out the door is the hardest part. 
I also feel strongly that if you're feeling tired or rundown, then your body is telling you something, and you should take time to nap or rest. Go to bed earlier or sleep later if you really don't feel well. But definitely do not skip a workout to fill the time with something else. Rest. Exercise can create more stress on your body if you're exhausted. Consider stretching, getting a massage, or sitting in the sun to get some Vitamin D. Our world is filled with stressors like excessive communication, work, etc., and we end up feeling worn out and burned out too frequently. Listen to your body.

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Jennifer: If you were forced to do only one type of exercise/workout, what would it be and why?
Steve: That’s like asking someone what their favorite food is. The most bang for your buck and time that would incorporate all of your senses would be walking or running OUTSIDE. Getting out and connecting to all five of your senses is important. Do it alone. Don't look at your phone. Use your upper body. Smell the roses. See new perspectives. I have a 93-year-old client, and I asked about her secret to aging gracefully. The one thing she’s done consistently throughout her lifetime is walking. You’re breathing fresh air and taking in everything around you. Walking is one of the most therapeutic things you can do because it doesn't stress your body. It burns calories. You’re looking up vs. down. Posture is also incorporated. It’s the one thing you can do forever, and you should do it as often and for as long as you can. If you're not a runner, you can do intermittent walking and running like our hunter and gatherer ancestors when they were hunting down a buffalo. The animal would run until it got tired and stop. We had better endurance because we could run/walk intermittently, and we would eventually catch it. (Steve and I had a good laugh over this analogy. There's more to it in the entire interview, but I'll spare you all. Message me if you want to hear it.)

Jennifer: Mindfulness, a healthy spirit, and low stress are important for overall well-being and long term health. How do you reduce stress and maintain a healthy mindset?
Steve:
1. Breathe, connect to your breath, not necessarily in meditation, but while you're walking down the street, on the phone, or exercising. Make sure your breath is deep and not shallow.

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2. SMILE! That's my secret sauce. You can't be unhappy or stressed when you're smiling. Sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. When clients come in stressed, I'll suggest they smile, and while smiling try saying, "You mother fucker!" [We both die laughing.] You can say it, but it’s not articulate because you laugh. Laughter reduces stress. Instantaneously. Completley opposite hormones are present when you’re stressed vs. laughing.  

3. This is metaphoric, but stop to smell the roses. Look at your surroundings and feel a sense of gratitude for what you have, the world, and the life you've created. Even if you're not in the most wonderful place, there is still beauty somewhere. You may just have to look harder. Look outside of what you’re used to. We are creatures of habit. We get caught up in patterns and do the same things over and over again. And when you can step outside of those patterns, you’ll notice things you haven’t noticed before.

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Steve and his wife, Yuki, enjoying the beauty of life together

4. Exercise. Obviously. 

ABOUT STEVE

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When your annoying blogger friend insists on using this selfie in her blog post. If I looked like this, I'd have a selfie stick permanently strapped to my arm.

I'm not a celebrity, but fortunately I've known Steve for nearly 25 years. We went to school together at the University of Maryland.  A few weeks ago, I posted a teaser on Instagram and said something to the effect of, "You'll start feeling as good as he looks." But what you don't know is that Steve's true commitment to this journey of health and fitness wasn't really motivated by what you see on the outside. It was born out of a way to nurture his soul and heal from the inside out. When Steve was in college, he fell from the roof of his three-story fraternity house. He suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and almost lost his life. It took him over a year and a half to recover. Before the accident, Steve was known as the guy who was always in shape and had a killer six-pack. But his miraculous recovery after his accident inspired his peers, and they began asking him to train them. He realized he had the power to heal himself and to change the lives of others for the better. 

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I asked Steve when he knew this dream career was one he wanted to chase. For him, it wasn't a specific moment in time or a light bulb that suddenly turned on. It was an evolution and a series of events that all pointed him in this direction. While at the University of Maryland, he earned his certification and began training local clients. During his senior year, he was hired by the director of the White House Athletic Club to train White House staff and politicians. After college, Steve moved to the NYC area and was the star trainer at Sports Club LA in Rockefeller Center, where he trained Ann Curry and a local news anchor and was featured on the Today Show. When he first moved to LA, he became an educator for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Steve trained trainers to help them earn the most prestigious personal training certification that exists. From one job to the next, each getting better along the way, Steve realized he had the power to create programs that changed the way people looked, but more importantly, he had the unique ability to connect and relate to people and change the way they think. He motivated people to motivate themselves.

But being Trainer to the Stars isn't enough for Steve. He's presently working on a book called I Am...Healthy & Fit, and if we're lucky, we should be able to get our hands on a copy within a year. Steve feels strongly that you have to believe it before you can achieve it. The book has been in the works for a few years. That wasn’t always the title, but that title came to him about a year ago, and people really get it. You have to change your mind before you can change anything else. It doesn’t matter what exercise or life modification you choose. If you don’t believe it’s going to work for you, then it won't. Steve shared, "People believe in me because of my track record, history, and the people I've trained, so there's a perception that I bring value. People believe I have the answer, but the answer really lies within. And that's simply the belief that they’ll reach their goal." 

Steve lives in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, Yuki. His studio, Steve Jordan Acceleration, is there, as well. Reach out if you’re ever in the area and want a training session, and mention that I sent you! 

I hope this post has inspired you and provided you with a few ideas on how you can begin to change your life for the better TODAY. Tell yourself, "I am healthy and fit!" And choose one thing from my interview with Steve to begin doing TODAY.

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Steve & Dr. Oz