The joy of simple reminders

As most people and couples, life’s speed bumps come along and try to throw Kevin & I off into moments of frustration.  School, money, work, and maintaining a house are just a few of the things that love to try and rile us up!  Last week was one of those such days that put both of us into a funk for a bit on top of trying to manage our schedules and my school work.  I woke up early and drove to campus to give myself a good few hours to focus on studying for my pharmacology exam that morning.  As I checked my phone after the exam, I noticed a text from my sister-in-law saying, “We each picked someone we wanted to make happy today. Cathryn picked you.” Immediately tears began to well in my eyes and it only got better: there was a video attached showing Cathryn, our almost 3-year-old niece, and Avery, our almost 4-year-old niece, simply saying, “Hi Aunt Erin. I love you.”  Needless to say, after I watched the video tears were pouring down my face as I walked to my car.

The enormous power of those words but more importantly the fact they thought of me skyrocketed my day.  It made me step back and realize how easy it is to improve someone’s experience, moment, or even life.  A thought, a smile, a wave, a hug, an “I love you” – you never know how much it could mean to someone.  I wish our nieces fully understood the depth of what their kindness and love did for me that day.

How will you brighten someone’s life?

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Yea, our nieces are pretty great 🙂

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Sometimes these reminders come in the most unexpected ways!

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Just a little snail mail

For our wedding, Kevin & I had purchased packages of blank cardstock with corresponding envelopes in hopes of using them to print the invitations Kevin designed and send those out to our guests. Well, a few explicit words and hours later, we realized our printer wasn’t going to cooperate with the cardstock size so we scrapped the idea and were left with about 150 blank cards & envelopes.  After we moved to Harrisonburg following our wedding, we agreed to use these to make cards for our families and friends for everything ranging from birthdays and new babies to a quick note for a smile.  This has been an awesome chance for us to get in touch with our creativity and design personalized cards for all the wonderful people in our lives.  Not only that, the real reason we wanted to do this was to make people happy by receiving a tangible note in the mail and give them a break from all the boring bills and ads they normally find.  The packages of cards & envelopes were around $5 for 50 at Michael’s, and we use scrapbook paper scraps from other projects and markers to dress them up a bit.  Since Kevin’s more of an artist than moi, he likes to sketch great pictures onto his cards.

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Some of Kevin’s designs for his sister and our friend Matt who happen to share the same birthday 🙂

In addition to these cards, I came across a whole stack of old blank thank you cards I’ve had forever that my mom gave me when I was younger.  Guess I didn’t do a good job of using them then :-/ but at the start of the new year, we vowed to thank people more often and show them their thoughtfulness does not go unappreciated.  That began as simply sending out thank you notes for the holiday gifts we received from people, and we hope to continue this by thanking people for everything from gifts to time spent with us.  Speaking of weddings yet again (yea, it’s still fresh on our minds), we are still amazed at how grateful we are to receive a personal thank you from the bride & groom.  It definitely makes us feel as though we weren’t simply at their wedding to provide a gift but rather to support them as they journey into marriage together.  We acted on those feelings with our own wedding, and since we didn’t register or ask for gifts, we sent thank you’s out to all of our loved ones who shared that day with us just to say it meant the world to us to have them there.  

People say to us, “You’re so good at sending cards. I just don’t get around to it” or “I wish I was better about sending cards.”  Well, here’s the reality in how EASY sending a card can be:

Pack of 8-10 blank decorated cards: $1 at Target or Michael’s

Pack of 20 stamps: $9-10

Time spent writing a personal note: 10-15 minutes

That comes out to be about $0.60/card and 10-15 minutes of your time and can bring about a priceless moment of happiness in someone else’s life.  10-15 minutes is the same amount of time you spend watching commercials during an hour long TV show, so you can utilize that time for something more productive and engage with your loved ones.  Like Randy Pausch stated in The Last Lecture “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other. Despite all that is now going on in my life and with my medical care, I still try to hand write notes when it’s important to do so.  It’s just the nice thing to do.  And you never know what magic might happen after it arrives in someone’s mailbox.”

Sixty cents to create some magic in someone’s life? Yea, it’s actually easier done than said!

Breaking tradition: creating meaningful wedding gifts

Kevin & I are now at the time of our lives where we get to experience many of our friends’ most meaningful time of their lives: their moment of lifelong commitment to a spouse.  Having been in the position of both a guest and the bride and groom at all these weddings, our approach to gift giving has evolved from simply grabbing something off of a registry to creating a memory.  The most recent of which occurred last fall at an awesome college friend of mine’s wedding (I have to give credit to one of my best friends for it was her idea to create this gift – thanks Kari!).  Now that I am back in school at our old stomping grounds and with Kari’s encouraging I set forth one afternoon on a cool, fall day to find pictures of structures around campus to spell out my friend’s new last name.  I spent over two hours roaming our beautiful campus and reveling in the peace it brought me in the midst of a busy time in my first semester.  This idea is one of growing popularity, so Kevin and I added our own twist on it by taking the pictures ourselves and using his Photoshop and design expertise to put it all together.  Our hope was to create a gift that touched on our friends’ personalities as well as show them how much we care for them and their marriage by taking time and love to design this gift ourselves.  Let’s be honest, most couples today have lived together before they marry and are often registering for wedding gifts out of tradition.  Believe me, some people tried to bully us into registering as well, but I think they realized they had more fun when they got the chance to think about something that will speak to us as a couple.  Along with the multiple donations our guests gave to our charity registry, some of the most wonderful gifts we received were soccer ball donations to a school in Africa and a hand-decorated blank journal for us to document all things Kevin & Erin.  Why not give your loved ones something more meaningful than a set of kitchen utensils or towels?  I think you’ll be surprised at their reaction!  

Check out Kevin’s blog to see the final product: 

http://readingtheair.blogspot.com/2012/12/not-just-some-crate-barely-any-meaning.html

Conditioning new friendship

With the start of the new school year around the corner, I was excited for the opportunity to try out my newly chosen path for love and friendship with the 22 people with whom I would spend the next 27 months.  It was to be expected that a class of 22 extremely intelligent Type-A personalities would experience large levels of stress in the process of figuring out this PA school thing.  About 3 weeks into the program, we held elections for our student society and I surprisingly was nominated and voted president by my classmates.  I say it’s surprising because it really isn’t my personality to be someone who has to take the reigns on decision making and organization for a group of my peers and kept telling myself, “I’m too much of an introvert for this!”  Well, if I was to live in the words of choosing my emotions, I knew I had to choose to do this and put the best interests of my classmates first.  I must say it’s been quite a learning experience for me to try and rally 22 people for various reasons, but I look to this as a way to be there for others in times of high stress and need.  The first way I decided to do this was to host an anatomy test study break the day prior to our dreaded first test.  Kevin helped me plan the menu as well as cook and prep food for this shindig in an attempt to offer my classmates a breather away from thinking about all the back and thorax had to offer us.  While we wish more of my class got the chance to partake in this, I was super glad to see about a third of them take time for a break to grab some food and get to know Kevin and me a little bit better.

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Some of the awesome grub

As the months pass, it has been great watching friendships grow of those in my class.  It shows their willingness to put themselves out there for get to know other people regardless of age or background.  One of the earliest ways of nurturing these friendships was celebrating birthdays and has since been our favorite excuse to indulge in local restaurants (I’m pretty sure Taste of Thai is #1 haha).

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Taste of Thai for Stephanie’s birthday – one of our first outings!

Not only am I lucky to be in the presence of my classmates, I also loved the way the students set up the program where they pair one 2nd year student as a “buddy” for a new first year.  My buddy Katie is a super nice, laid back, go-with-the-flow kinda gal (also super smart!) and has been a great help with transitioning me into classes and surviving school.  For my birthday, she surprised me with a huge delicious chocolate cake, which was an awesome breakfast during our anatomy lecture 🙂  With her birthday only a few weeks after mine, I wanted to ensure I could make it as awesome as she made mine, so I surprised her with some cupcakes with rainbow cookies on top.  We’re both native Richmonders, so I knew she would appreciate the infamous Ukrop’s cookies. I also snuck into our PA classroom and hung homemade birthday signs for her, but I forgot to get pics.

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Rainbow cookie cupcake birthday treats

With the end of the first semester coming up, it meant not only did I not have to spend time in the anatomy lab 9+ hours a week but also that Katie would be leaving for rotations at the beginning of the spring semester.  I thought for awhile on making her a “rotations survival kit” with little goodies to help her through her clinicals.  I perused things I had around the house, like microwave popcorn and tea bags, and picked up a few trinkets from Michael’s.  The end product included bags of popcorn labeled to use when she got a free moment to enjoy a good movie, tea bags and honey spoons for relaxing after a long day on her feet, a large chocolate bar appropriately labeled “emergency chocolate,” a journal to record things she learned along with blank cards to give her preceptors thanking them for the experience.  I’m excited to hear all about what her rotations have to offer!
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Katie’s survival kit

I continually try to maintain a level of friendship with each of those in my class and attend outings so I can get to know everyone individually.  One of my classmates shared with me a passage from “The Last Lecture” where the author mentions his favorite piece of advice from his hero: “If you wait long enough, people will surprise and impress you.  When you’re frustrated with people, when they’ve made you angry, it just may be because you haven’t given them enough time.  But in the end, people will show you their good side.”  Kevin and I decided we will start having people in class over for dinner in small groups as a way for the two of us to get to know them even better.  It may seem as though a lot of our interactions involve making gifts or spending money, but we also believe time can be much more valuable than things which we’ll get to in another post.  

What do you do to nurture friendship?

 

Choosing happiness

After our wedding, Kevin and I packed up our belongings to move to Harrisonburg and begin our first new beginning as wife and husband.  Fortunately for the both of us, we were given the opportunity to spend almost two whole months together before the start of my grueling first semester in the Physician Assistant program at JMU.  This time gave us the chance to truly decide what we wanted to get out of this adventure together and who we wanted to be individually and as a couple.  Within these two months, we were lucky to experience a healthy amount of time in the Outer Banks with friends and family.  We set out to gather items for our trips, and I stumbled upon a book for 50 cents at Big Lots.  I was immediately sold not only for its price but also because the author currently works with the Indiana University Medical School and resides in Bloomington where I did my first round of grad school.  Unbeknownst to me, this book would serve as the stimulus for opening up our lives more to others and becoming more patient and understanding people.  The book My Stroke of Insight is written by neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor who describes her journey through suffering from a stroke, her recovery process, and how she uses this experience to live and teach today.  While all of the book was beautifully written, especially for all of us medical nerds, one point struck me as especially motivating.  She calls it “The 90-second rule” and states, “We can all learn that we can take full responsibility for what thoughts we are thinking and what emotional circuitry we are feeling. Knowing this and acting on this can lead us into feeling a wonderful sense of well-being and peacefulness.  Whether it is my fear circuitry or my anger circuitry or even my joy circuitry – it is really hard to hold a good belly laugh for more than 90 seconds naturally. The 90-second rule is totally empowering. That means for 90 seconds, I can watch this happen, I can feel this happen and I can watch it go away. After that, if I continue to feel that fear or feel that anger, I need to look at the thoughts I am thinking that are re-stimulating that circuitry that is resulting in me having this physiology over and over again.  When you stay stuck in an emotional response, you are choosing it by choosing to continue thinking the same thoughts that re-trigger it.”  

Wow.  I had never once thought my extended responses to stay angry, sad, or impatient were simply because I chose to feel that way.  I would blame other things or people as causes for my feelings and why they dictated my thoughts and mood.  From this point on and after much discussion with Kevin, I chose to make this time for us and those whom I would meet in school to be different: more patient, kind, selfless, understanding, and open-minded.  After all, we were all given this chance at life, so why not make it something not only worthwhile for yourself but those you come to know.

How do you choose to feel?

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Life is good at the beach and makes it easy to choose happiness 🙂

Good excuse to go for a walk

While we will spend a lot of time with this blog mentioning the things we try to do for others, we also will give a shout out to the wonderful people in our lives and the things they go out of their way to do in order to make us feel special.  One of those people is a friend of our’s whom I first met playing soccer with in college.  We invited her to our wedding back in May and at first were sad when she informed us that she would be unable to make it.  What we didn’t know was why.  She signed up for the 2-day Avon Breast Cancer walk taking place near where she lived months prior, which just happened to fall on the same weekend as our wedding.  Just in itself, her devoting time and effort to fund raise and walk for Avon is a selfless feat, but she also wanted us to know she would be walking in memory of my mother, a woman she never met. For those two days, our friend sported a bright pink tutu with her team and walked 39 miles proudly with not only my mother’s name on her back but also the names of 11 other women.  Later in the summer she sent us a great note about her experience along with pictures of her and her team.  We keep them hung up in our office as a reminder of her selfless pink adventure.  It can be easy to feel sad when close people to you miss important events in your life such as a wedding, but we feel ecstatic knowing there are so many people willing to devote themselves to causes bigger than them.  We look forward to hearing about her experience in this year’s walk!

Interested in learning more about Avon’s Breast Cancer walks? Since 2003 they’ve raised over $440 billion to put back into research along with prevention campaigns and care programs to the medically under served.  Now that’s a good reason to tie up those laces and hit the pavement!

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Her picture collage on our wall!

Lost love is still love

On the morning of July 25th, Kevin and I received news that can be difficult to swallow at any age: one of our closest friends had lost her husband in a car accident that morning just miles from their home.  Why this hurt all of us so much wasn’t just that we still view ourselves as too young for this kind of thing.  You see, our friend and her husband were high school sweethearts.  They began dating at 14 years old and continued to go strong as she went off to college and came back to their hometown to be with him.  Every day they spoke on the phone or communicated in some way even if it was a 2 minute conversation simply to say “I love you.”  Since they were young, they envisioned their lives together: raising a family and growing old together, and this dream was cut short.  WAY too short.  She went from speaking to him every day for 13 years to not being able to hear his voice even if she wanted to do so.  They had just started their family with a beautiful 14 month old daughter when his accident happened.  All of it together was an impossible pill to swallow.

While we all experience something similar to this in our lives and say to ourselves, “never fail to tell your loved ones how much you care,” how long do you actually continue to carry out this promise?  The promise you made in memory of a dear friend or family member that you wouldn’t take another day for granted?  Why do we stop this display of affection?  It is so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget about what truly makes us special and an amazing species: that as humans our existence relies so heavily on our relationships with those around us and not the meticulous tasks we complete to get through a day.  Relish in the fact that you’re given each breath and each opportunity that comes your way.  YOU are here for a reason, so put your special talents to use!  And learn to love showing your love to others!

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Chris and his B at our wedding in May. Kevin added in the rainbow because our friend saw about 4 or 5 double rainbows in the weeks following the accident.

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On what would’ve been their 3 year wedding anniversary this year, Kevin & I planted tulips like the ones they gave us as wedding favors and watered them with love. Our hope is that they will grow into beautiful flowers we can plant in her yard, so his love is visible everywhere she turns.