When You Want to Pull the Blanket Over Your Head, Do This Instead

hospital #HFMThe smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl.
–Counting Crows,  A Long December

A few days ago I went to the hospital for a CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis. When the technician shut the door so I could undress, I was alone with my nerves, heart rate monitors, and a pair of oversized scrubs. I nervously looked around the room.

I was looking for warm blankets.

There weren’t any, but I had faith there would be some. I vowed to keep my eyes open as I peeled off my clothes with shaky hands. About an hour later, I found what I was looking for … and maybe it is what you are looking for today. This is my story, may it bring hope where it is needed today …

When I had two kidney surgeries five months ago, they were at two different hospitals, two weeks apart. At the first hospital, my teeth chattered a lot. Before the surgery and after the surgery, my teeth constantly rattled. My kind nurse said, “Oh honey. We need to get you a warm blanket.”

She walked off briskly and came back with a clean white blanket that had been warmed to a perfect temperature. I could not believe it. It was such an unexpected kindness … an absolute luxury … a going-the-extra-mile action that I didn’t think people did anymore. My teeth stopped chattering almost instantly.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I said for this perfect gift I could hold both figuratively and literally in my time of fear.

I ended up asking for warm blankets more than pain meds during my stay. I was pretty sure they had healing powers.
[Read more…]

A Question to Live By

small moments/small notebooks HFM

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” –Fernando Sabino

I wrote this post five months ago, but I knew the moment I wrote it that I would post it on January 1st. I’ve discovered that ‘Moving’ and ‘Moving On’ require many of the same skills … many of the same braveries … many of the same hopes. If you are ready to move on from the challenges and disappointments of 2014, take a look. Even if you have seen this message before, it might look different today. My friends, it’s a New Year, but more importantly, it’s a New Day. Let’s start looking for That Moment When.


I was standing over the shrimp dip when a family friend approached me. Although he was known to ask thought-provoking questions, and this was my going away party, I was not expecting this one. “So once you get settled in your new home, what do you imagine that moment will look like when you feel like everything is going turn out okay?” he asked.

In one mere sentence my friend went straight to my greatest fears, my greatest insecurities, and my greatest hopes. Funny thing is, I knew the answer to his question. I’d envisioned it a thousand times as I’d prepared our home to be emptied. Tears began dripping my face. An unsightly sea of mascara, I was sure, but I could not stop the tears if I tried. My friend didn’t act like it was any big deal. His wife, who is also my dear friend, had probably exposed him to spontaneous sobbing a few times. My friend just waited. Then he listened.

“When my children come home from school and say, ‘I met a friend today, Mama.’ That is when I know it’s gonna be okay. One friend makes the whole world better, you know. One friend for each girl. That is the moment,” I replied. Then I dabbed my eyes with a yellow party napkin and smiled because friends like that just make you smile even when you’re crying.

I thought that conversation concluded over appetizers and farewell hugs, but it didn’t. For the past two months, that conversation has continued in my head.

[Read more…]

Live More, Love More Thanksgiving Recipe


For every exasperated breath, let there be two minutes of uncontrollable laughter.

For every impatient “hurry up,” let there be one leisurely “take your time.”

For every worry about the condition of your home, let there be a friend who reminds you that your décor is not why you are loved.

For every grudge you’ve been holding, let there be one act of forgiveness.

act of forgiveness HFM

For every complaint, let there be gratitude for two blessings.

For every minute spent holding an electronic device, let there be ten minutes holding a deck of cards, a musical instrument, or someone else’s hand.

For every duty checked off the list, let there be a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen or a snowball fight in the backyard.

For every new item brought into the home, let there be one offering of time, talent, money, or gently used item to a heart in need.

giving away HFM

For every irritated thought towards a rude driver, let there be one smile offered to a stranger.

For every family squabble, let there be a group hug.

For every accidental spill, let there be an extra serving of grace.

For every moment spent ridiculing your body, let there be one praise for arms that carry the weight, no matter how heavy.

heart inside you HFM

For every moment you give the gift of yourself to the ones you love, let there be a memory that lasts beyond your lifetime.

With open hands, open eyes, and an open heart, this holiday can be different than in year’s past.

Because now you know this day doesn’t have to be perfect—not even close.

This day is not about basting the perfect turkey … or getting the flawless family photo … or polishing the floors until they shine. This day is about gathering together with our messy, flawed human hearts in an effort to make happy memories that will outlive us all.

open hands, open eyes

Whether you follow this recipe to a T or simply pick and choose the ingredients that work for you, there will be a noticeable difference.

For the first time in a long time, you will lay your head on the pillow at night and you will not replay that family spat … you will not wonder what you could have done to improve the cranberry sauce … your feet will not be throbbing because you never sat down.

Oh no, this time it will be different.

Because now you know you must let go of what doesn’t matter in order to grasp what does matter.

hug HFM

For the first time in a long time, you will lay your head on the pillow and say, “Today I tasted the sweetest part of life.”

And that messy, flawed heart beating inside you will feel peacefully and imperfectly full.

In order to grasp what matters most, we must let go of what doesn’t. Thank goodness, it’s never too late to try this life-changing recipe to taste the sweetest part of life.

last pic HFM


My friends, holidays can be stressful. And for some of you, this particular holiday season is especially hard. Someone is missing. Circumstances have changed. Stress is high. But goodness is still here. As long as you are still breathing, goodness is still here. Using this recipe will increase your chances of experiencing these moments of goodness. Feel free to modify the recipe according to your circumstances. Even small efforts to show up “as is” and love “as is” can make a noticeable difference. Please share your stories, struggles, and plans to let go and live this holiday. Every time you comment, someone else feels a little less alone.

My friends, I am thankful for you. Words cannot express how grateful I am for your companionship on this journey … for loving me “as is”… and for encouraging my writer’s heart with your loving affirmations. May the sweetest aspect of life—to love and be loved—be experienced by you and your family this holiday season.

*The blog and The Hands Free Revolution page will be quiet for the remainder of the week as I spend time investing in what matters most. While I am away, be sure and check out Rebecca Eanes’ enlightening and supportive page, Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. Rebecca is celebrating “a quarter of a million strong” community by having four days of giveaways of positive parenting books and resources. Included in the celebration are a Hands Free leather bracelet and a copy of my New York Times Bestseller, Hands Free Mama. I am grateful for Rebecca and the important work she does to help parents connect to their children! 


When You Get it Right … and When You Don’t

what's right 2 handsfree mama

“I must have done something right,” the father of a nineteen-year-old young lady was telling me after having fixed my troublesome garage door.

Although his daughter had drifted a bit during her early teen years, she was now coming over to her parents’ house on the weekends and was genuinely enjoying spending time with her parents again.

The repairman’s eyes lit up when he talked about the renewed relationship with his daughter. He seemed relieved about how things had turned out.

“I must have done something right,” he had said a few minutes earlier.

His oldest daughter is nineteen. My oldest daughter is ten. I don’t want to wait nine years to know whether or not I’ve done something right. Because now is when I need to hear it.

Now—when I am in smack dab in the middle of raising her.

Now—when I feel the pressure to examine every choice I make, wondering how these choices will affect her now and in the future.

Now—when I want to trust my gut and live by heart rather than simply go along with mainstream opinion or “expert” advice.

Now—when I need little glimmers of hope to cling to each day.

So I decided not to wait.

Each day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for a little rightness—a little what-is-right-in-my-world.

Notice I say “a little.” Because what I am talking about is practically unnoticeable. It’s hardly note-worthy. And it’s definitely not anything worthy of public sharing—at least not according to societal standards. But that’s why it’s working for me. That’s why it’s encouraging to me. Because looking for what is right in my world – in my day – in my hour – is far more encouraging than looking for what is “right” in my world according to social media, societal standards, or popular opinion.

I invite you to take a look. Maybe this list will inspire you to see what is right in your world today.

[Read more…]


enough handsfree mama

Sometimes I find myself sitting behind the wheel of the car thinking,
Enough with the bickering.
Enough with the chauffeuring, the gas-guzzling, the bumper-to-bumper.
Enough with the gum wads stuck between cracker-crumb filled crevices where nice leather seats used to be.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself staring at my reflection in the mirror thinking,
Enough with the wrinkles, the puffiness, and the sleep-deprived eyes.
Enough with the loose skin and the unstoppable gray hairs.
Enough with the laugh lines that look anything but happy.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself standing in front of an open refrigerator thinking,
Enough with the meal prep: morning, noon, and night.
Enough with the picky eater, the slow eater, the dirty dishes, and lack of counter space.
Enough with finding the unachievable balance of nutritious and kid-approved.
Enough, I say. Enough.

Sometimes I find myself gazing at photos of tropical beaches and secluded getaways thinking,
Enough with the perpetual ticking clock,
Enough with the steady stream of demands, the dust bunnies, and missing library books.
Enough with the needs of others that never seem to be satisfied.
Enough, I say. Enough.

But then something happens to pull me out of my negative abyss and set my head on straight.

[Read more…]

Today Let Me Appreciate

“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” -Johannes A. Gaertner

The message came in late one night. My husband and I had just arrived home from a wonderful evening with dear friends. Thanks to the lingering warmth of flavorful sangria and the company of those I love, I felt peaceful and relaxed. But in less than sixty seconds, a five-sentence message turned my blood ice cold. My hands, hovering over the keyboard, began to shake. The words on the screen became blurred through my tears.

There were few details included in the message. But in this case, details were simply not needed. A reader of my blog was telling me her child had been murdered in August.

Each day I read – no, make that skim over – this eight-letter word in the news. But tonight there was no skimming. I read it over and over and over again. There was something about reading it here, in my inbox, from a dear soul one email message away that grabbed me in a chokehold. Murdered. For a few moments, I forgot to breathe.

And then I went there—crossing that line of “what if” and for one split second tried and to imagine if my child …

I can’t even type the words.

And cowardly, I couldn’t even imagine such devastation … so I quickly retreated back to the safety of here and now. I bolted upstairs, taking two steps at a time, to get to my precious children. I found them, as I prayed, peacefully sleeping in their beds. With each child, I rested my head on her chest just to feel her breath, just to feel her life.

In that moment, I made a silent vow to my dear reader one email message away that I would not say: “There are no words.”

[Read more…]

When Sweat Meets Tears

I applied extra strength deodorant…three times.

I had an arsenal of frozen water bottles in my possession.

I donned airy, Dri-fit clothing that allowed for optimal air circulation.

Every single hair on my head was secured as far away from the back of my neck as possible.

I slathered myself with the recommended amount of sunscreen and pulled down my baseball cap.

I applied one more coat of deodorant in huge strokes, reaching far outside the usual areas of application.

Was I embarking on a trip to the blazing hot center of the earth?


Was I heading to the first swim meet of the summer season?


And I was dreading it.

I like to be hot about as much as I like to drive in unfamiliar territory. (If you want a good laugh, check out my “Trip to Nowhere” post.)

And when you are talking summer swim meet, in Alabama, at four o’clock in the afternoon, you are talking The Three P’s of Hotness:

Prolonged Hotness (four hours, but who’s counting?)

Pronounced Hotness (103 degrees that particular day)

Penetrating Hotness (sweat invades places in your body you did not know sweat could go)

And what sealed my dread with a nice sweaty little kiss was the fact that it would be my first experience as a swim meet “timer.” This means you don’t simply sit in hotness waiting for your child’s brief 20 second swim performance in between hours of other events, you STAND in hotness with a timer and clipboard hoping you don’t miss your child’s 20 second swim performance.

Did I mention I was dreading it?

Before the meet began, timers were called forward for a brief training on their duties.

By this time, I was already perspiring from the process of carrying three heavy bags packed with towels, clothing, and an array of activities to combat boredom from the parking lot to the pool deck.

The sweat dripped down the side of my neck, which in fact, possessed four painful red indentations created by the straps of three lawn chairs and one cooler that I somehow managed to carry along with the bags.

My four-year-old would make sure I noted that I did not have to carry everything; she kindly carried her own Polly Pocket bag, which could actually be defined as “heavy” considering it’s filled with small dolls and clothes that have been collected over a five year period.

(And yes, I pause here to admit there is a slight problem with over packing for swim meets that I promise I am working on…I really am.)

So while I awaited my timer training, we were told to pair up with a partner who would hit “go” on his or her timer at the same time we did to ensure our results were correct.

In my irritable “sweatiness,” I was in no mood to make “friends” with anyone.

I surveyed the partner prospects and set my sights on the quiet looking dad standing off by himself.

I hoped fate would smile on me, leading him to walk over and offer to be my partner.

No luck.  Instead, I got the bubbly and ever–so-friendly mom who quickly held out her hand and introduced herself.

Things were not going as planned.

We were then instructed on the timing process and assigned our positions. I was in lane three, positioned directly beneath the scorching hot sun and squeezed between the diving block, the disqualifying judge and my new timer “friend,” Sarah.

In other words, I was tucked in a nice and cozy spot where I could not move my extremities and air would never have the chance to reach me.

As my skin began to sizzle, I looked up to see if a magnifying glass had been placed over my head.

Finally, the age six and under swimmers were called to the blocks. My timer finger was ready and hit “go” at the moment I heard the start buzzer.

When the pint-sized swimmers finally reached the other side, timers were required to ask them their name to ensure we were recording the right time for the right child.

Most of the six-year-old swimmers seemed confused by this question. Some stared at me blankly. Others looked around to see if I was really talking to them. One child even replied, “I don’t know.”

It was going to be a LONG night.

After the next few heats, it was my daughter’s turn. She was in my lane. I felt a sharp pang of excitement knowing I was in a perfect position to see her swim.

From my post, I marveled at her speed, the formation of her arms, the quickness of breaths.  I clocked her time AND managed to give her a congratulatory hug. The smile on her face indicated she was very happy I was the first face that greeted her on the other side.

For a brief moment, 19.24 seconds to be exact, I forgot about the threat of heat stroke.

After the age eight and under swimmers concluded the freestyle event, timers moved to the other side of the pool.

The older children are required to do a 50 or 100 yard swim, which means we were able to ask the swimmers their name before they swam.

Coincidentally, the first girl I asked possessed the same name as my daughter. How could I not cheer for her?

Once I hit “go” on the timer, I found myself cheering for a girl I didn’t know, but had a name that I love.

In that moment, I made the decision to do that for all the competitors in my lane. I figured that since I was privy to the swimmers’ names, I might as well cheer for them.

Once the seconds started on my timer, I supportively called out the name of the child swimming his or her heart out in the lane before me.

When the swimmers got out of the pool, they always wanted to know what their time was.

Perhaps it was the teacher in me or perhaps it was the hopeful look on their dripping wet faces, but I didn’t just tell them their time; I also told them what a good job they did.

Most swimmers seemed initially surprised that The Timer Lady had words of encouragement, yet they all smiled in return.

As I clocked each swimmer’s ending time, my timer partner and I compared. There were never any discrepancies in our times; there was no drama. We developed a perfect rhythm between timing, recording, and being ready for the next heat.

We even had time to engage in a little small talk.

I found myself enjoying the company of a woman who had a gorgeous smile and displayed a beautiful connection with each of her two daughters as they periodically came by for a quick hug.

About half way through the meet, I couldn’t believe the time. Two hours had flown past. The sun had dipped down below the side of the building; I was basking in the glorious shade. I even noticed the hint of a slight breeze in the air.

It was then that something monumental occurred to me.

I was standing in the front row of life’s greatest moments:

A child’s determined face as she wills every ounce of her body, heart, and soul to touch the victory wall.

A new swimmer pleading with his little five-year-old arms and legs to just keep going as all the on-lookers cheer his name….

An enthusiastic coach high-fiving his swimmers and reminding them to have fun…

A serious young competitor catching a glimpse of her parents at the end of her lane and suddenly breaking into a smile…

A teenage swimmer reaching out to his long-time opponent to offer a good luck handshake…

A swimmer’s dedication to her sport so evident in her defined muscles and incredible endurance…

A nervous little brother being hugged and encouraged by his older, more aquatically experienced, sister…

Happy healthy children,

Proud and loving parents,

Sunshine and fresh air,

Laughter and conversation,

All here in one place for me to witness, absorb, and celebrate.

And I had a spot in the front row where I could not only feel the splash of the entrance, but the emotion of the exit…the beautiful, heart-warming emotion of the exit.

Around eight o’clock p.m., I found myself collecting The Stafford Family’s 199 entertainment and beverage items scattered about our “camp.” That is when I had another realization.

I realized I must really learn to wear flat shoes; I realized I was so hungry that I might even consider eating “food” from the concession stand; I realized there was an atrocious smell in the air that was coming from me.

But I also realized my heart was full.

And I can’t get that feeling just anywhere.

I had to go where I did not want to go in order to get to a place I long to be…

A place of gratitude,

A place of contentment,

A place of awe,

A place of harmony…

And next time I have the opportunity to go that extraordinary place, I think I will try not to kick and scream the whole way there.


We all have activities and responsibilities in our life that we rather not do. Yet, a negative inner dialogue of dread and complaint merely becomes a distraction from the gifts of that experience. And there are gifts in every experience we have in life; even if the only positive aspect you can come up with is, “I am alive to witness this experience.”

Being alive is definitely worth celebrating, don’t you think?

*When I need to be reminded of the gift that is simply being alive, I visit the beautifully painful writings of Jo Julia. Jo is coming upon the first anniversary of her husband’s death. At Dear Audrey, Jo writes letters to her young daughter about her daddy, about death, and about life.