Anxiety and the Brain: 25 Routes to Safety

As someone who struggles with anxiety, I LOVE THIS POST. There are so many helpful tools in here for anyone who deals with this beast on a regular basis. BOOKMARK IT! Val

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woman meditating

I CAN’T DO IT!!! I JUST CAN’T GO!!!” She sobs mournfully while gasping for breath. “My heart is racing, my chest feels like an elephant is sitting on it, and I can’t breathe! I think I’m having a heart attack!” “Sweetie, everything is gonna be alright. Remember your breathing exercises. You are healthy and strong, and this is your anxiety.” “You don’t understand!!!” She screams angrily “You just don’t understand!!! I am gonna die!!! I am so scared!!!

Anxiety is the sensation of fear in the absence of a real threat. Our brain responds to both fear and anxiety in the same way. In fact, all negative emotions shift the brain into survival mode, creating the illusion that our life is in danger, and then our brain prompts us to fight, run away, or mentally check out until the threat…

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If You Were A GOOD Mom, You Would Be Sad…

At the beginning of every summer I feel such a loss in my heart when the “summer schedule” begins because the kids spend every other week with their dad. As you all know, I thrive on schedules and I feel comfort in predictability, so the change is tough on me. That first week (or even two) when the kids are gone, I withdraw. Everything makes me sad and I crave to talk to them nonstop. At the beginning of this summer, I was driving alone down the road listening to my Broadway Show Tunes (as “ALWAYSSSSS” the kids say) and the song “Learn To Live Without” came on. Although it is written about divorce, I fell all to pieces. Here’s the song:

Sadly, the sentiments are the same for me in the summer… I have to learn to live without.

The funny part of it is that I don’t just miss the good stuff about the kids… I also miss the not-so-great stuff. Sure, I come home to an empty house without 5 gabillion plates and cups in the sink, but it doesn’t bring happiness to see the shiny silver at the bottom of the sink (I know?!?! I didn’t know it was shiny silver either!!!!). I miss the smell of Axe body spray in an attempt to cover up that someone REALLY needs a shower. I miss the piles of dirty clothes (even the inside-out Nike Elite socks that I have to reach my hands into to turn right side out). I miss walking up the stairs and feeling a little panic at the overwhelming smell of nail polish remover.

My first few weeks of summer are spent in mourning. I don’t know why I let the change affect me like I do, but it just happens. I have no control over it and all I can say is, “BLESS JOE’S SWEET HEART” for having to deal with me.

Then something changes.

I come home one day to an empty sink and rather than feel an emptiness, I smile. Not in a “I wish life was like this every single day!” kind of way, but in a “I can handle having no real worries for short periods at a time.”  My life goes from learning to live without them to hopping in the car on a Friday and heading out of town while knowing the kids are all taken care of.

Picture me riding down the road singing this song (bizarre video, but the song is amazing):

Last week, I received an email from a reader who is also in a blended family. Her letter said:

Hey lady!!! I have a good idea for a blog…. Hopefully I’m not the only one who feels this way. We have had all 5 kids for over a week together straight. Which we love every second of it! Then today when they all went to different homes, the feeling was such relief. Even though I miss them terribly it’s wonderful to sit down and eat without dealing with teenagers or take a walk, etc. Just wondered if that feeling was just me…. Am I alone with this?? Now I always miss them but….. It is a positive to having another house for your children to go to!

And she is right! There is a sense of relief when you come home to an empty, CLEAN house. There is peace in knowing that when you walk in the door from work you won’t be bombarded with questions – “Can we go to the mall?” “What time will dinner be ready?” “If I finish my homework, can I go fishing?” “Can we paint?” “I’m starving, can I have a bowl of cereal since dinner isn’t ready?” For me, I like that I don’t have to rush home from work, so I can go do things that make me happy. While the kids were gone last week, I went to dinner with my sister-in-law at my favorite restaurant, then went to the library and walked around looking at books until they closed. (I must be maturing if I am closing down a library instead of a bar!) It’s just nice to be able to do what you love without having to worry about the kids.


My friend’s email hinted on this “Mother’s Guilt.” It is real. We have been trained (and our kids encourage this way of thinking) to think that we should be home and feel sad when our kids aren’t around. Joe and I went to the beach a couple of weeks ago without the kids and one of them said, “Why do you always go to the beach without us?” IT WAS OUR FIRST TRIP OF THE SUMMER WITHOUT THEM, but that one question made me feel guilty for going without them.

Let me say it loudly, YOU SHOULD NOT FEEL GUILTY FOR ENJOYING YOUR TIME WITHOUT THE KIDS WHEN THEY ARE WITH THEIR OTHER PARENT!!!! Being a mother is tough, so if you want to spend the entire Saturday in bed reading a book while your kids are at their dad’s house, then DO IT.  If you want to take a trip with your husband to New York, then DO IT.  I feel strongly that if you focus all of your energy on your children while they are with you, then you have earned the right to live your life to the fullest when they are not with you.

To stave off the guilt, I make sure to focus 100% on my kids when they are with me. When one of them speaks to me, I make sure to turn toward them and look them straight in the face. We wonder why kids always have their noses in their electronics… it’s because that’s what they see their parents doing! I also make sure to work extra hours when they are away so that I don’t have to work as much when they are with me. I understand mothers who feel guilt if they are always doing their own thing when the kids are gone, so then they have to work nonstop while the kids are with them. They don’t get to spend any quality time with their kids! That would make me feel horribly guilty too! If you do everything in your power so the kids know, wholeheartedly, that they are your priority, then you can feel free to enjoy a little quiet time away from them.

You don’t have to be sad to be a good mom. Don’t let that mother’s guilt fool you into thinking that way.

Plus, we all know that in another couple of days…. THINGS WILL BE RIGHT BACK TO NORMAL.



It always seems that God speaks to me pretty harshly when I am having a tough time emotionally.  He’s truly the father who basically says, “Seriously?  You have it so good.  You need to GET OVER YOURSELF!”

Last week in a nearby community a man approached a 14 year old boy on the greenway and then forced the boy into the woods and sexually assaulted him.  Our two boys are 14, so this hit very close to home.  It also forced some incredibly uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations with the boys.

And I give my boys a hard time for turning all the lights on in the house when they are home alone?

Yesterday, I learned about an old neighbor of mine whose 6 year old daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia two days ago.  She was admitted in the hospital yesterday and had a spinal tap (which thankfully had no Leukemia present) and had a port put into place today.  Her mother has been posting for the past three days on Caring Bridge and I am in awe over her calm grace.  I envision myself in the same situation like someone being ejected from a bar – screaming inaudibly while they carry me out kicking and scratching and clawing at the doorway.

Yet her child has cancer.

And I’m struggling with the annoying fact that my boys hit every beam and ceiling in my house with their dirty, nasty fingers.


Tonight I have also been inundated with prayer requests for a friend of a friend on Facebook whose fifteen year old son fell off a boat earlier today with friends and has not been found.  It’s dark.  The search is still on.  His parents have no answers.

And I’m upset that my son lost his library book?


Everything in life is about perspective.   I have always heard that if we get everyone to throw all of our problems into a pile, then we would want to grab our own problems back.  And that’s true!  We may THINK that we have it so bad, but then we realize that comparatively speaking, we don’t have it so bad after all….

I am praying for numerous people who are in need of prayers tonight… and it has made me realize more than every that I am so incredibly blessed.  It’s all about perspective.

Please Vote – Top Step-Parent Blogs

I’m an overachiever, so of course I would like to be #1. You don’t have to register to vote and can vote once from each IP address. It will take a couple of seconds and I would greatly appreciate it…

Scroll down to Life in a Blender and click on the heart. DONE!!!!!

Thanks friends!!! xoxoxox Val

Life in a Blender...

I received an email today that my website has been chosen as one of the Top 50 Step-Parent Blogs for 2014.   I can’t even begin to describe how flattered I am!!

Recognition on a job well done means so much when I work so hard to write about topics and situations that so many of us experience.  Being a stepmom has been more gratifying that I could have ever imagined because I now have two more kids who I love as if they were my own.

There are more laughs, there is more love, and there is so much more happiness.

I am thankful for my family and I am thankful that you all enjoy reading about our adventures in our blended family.


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Newlyweds in a Blended Family


Newlyweds in a Blended Family

Check out my newest blog published in my monthly feature on Carolina Parent Magazine.  These tips are good for any marriage with children, but it can be a challenge for a second marriage because you don’t have the foundation of the relationship without children in it.  Every marriage takes a lot of work, but it’s possible to be (and remain) blissfully happy!

Enjoy!  Val

It’s Like Summer Camp, But NOT….

I posted this a year ago following our wedding… While some things have changed, I feel today EXACTLY as I felt then. I am blessed indeed.

Life in a Blender...

I certainly do not profess to be an expert at blending families, nor do I claim to even be semi-pro; however, I believe there is comfort when you are going through a new experience in knowing that someone else has walked that road before.  It’s comforting to know that you are not alone… someone else has done it and has come out at the end of the tunnel (relatively) unscathed.

I DO feel like a professional in single motherhood.  After being a single mother of two amazingly strong children for almost nine years, I had gotten the routine down to a science.  I went through all of the stages that single moms go through – the highs and lows, the strength in independence and the depression in loneliness, the happiness my ex moved on and the disbelief he had done so, the joy in knowing my kids had a stepmom…

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Please Vote – Top Step-Parent Blogs

I received an email today that my website has been chosen as one of the Top 50 Step-Parent Blogs for 2014.   I can’t even begin to describe how flattered I am!!

Recognition on a job well done means so much when I work so hard to write about topics and situations that so many of us experience.  Being a stepmom has been more gratifying that I could have ever imagined because I now have two more kids who I love as if they were my own.

There are more laughs, there is more love, and there is so much more happiness.

I am thankful for my family and I am thankful that you all enjoy reading about our adventures in our blended family.


Updated Blog…

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Since my numbers are increasing daily, I am trying to make my blog more user-friendly… let me know what you think!  I would love any opinions on how to improve.  Plus I am making an editorial calendar, so I would love to hear more topic ideas from you all… You can email me

We’ve had a nice night tonight with all four kids here.  I’m feeling successful since I didn’t yell… much.  Yay me!  Boy, they are exhausting sometimes… wonderful, but exhausting.  At least everyone got their work done, played outside for a while and then sat together for a nice taco dinner prepared by my handsome (and always handy) husband.

Now it’s quiet.  Thank goodness it’s bedtime for all………….. but of course there is laundry to be done.  Sigh….

Blending A Family: Even When It’s Easy, It’s Still Hard

980510_554786311250296_1012210023_oThis was originally posted today on  Please go to their site and read the blog written by Carolina Parent editor, Odile Fredericks, titled “Seeking Help for Traumatic Teen years.”

It’s hard to believe that our new party of six is almost a year old., Overwhelmingly, it has gone a lot smoother than I expected. Our fears before May 11, 2013, were that the kids would not get along or that they would have adjustment problems. I was particularly concerned that my two kids would have trouble sharing me after having me to themselves for over eight years, and I was concerned that Joe’s kids would view me as a threat to their loyalty to their mother.

After almost a year I can proudly say that neither of those fears came to fruition. Comparatively speaking to other nightmare unions you hear about, it’s been relatively easy. There has been very little fighting between the kids. Joe and I have only had one true argument that was completely blended family related, but that argument helped us remember that we are a team … our marriage is a priority. The past year has mostly been filled with good memories and fun times.

At the same time, it has been the hardest year of my life.

There has been more of so much in my life. More time planning and scheduling of our lives. More laundry to be done on a daily basis. More money spent on food and vacations and activities. More activities to attend. More arguments to diffuse, and more people to tuck in bed. More people to love, and more people to discipline. Did I mention more laundry? Overall, there is just more to fit in an already short week while taking into account an ever revolving door as I coordinate different custody schedules and different school schedules with different activity schedules.

I have to begin preparing for the following week before the current week is even complete, and planning my schedule is much more complex that it sounds. I have to sit down and make sure my schedule is in line with the Google calendar that my ex-husband and I share with the kids. I usually have to email their dad and their stepmom to see what else needs to go on the calendar for that week and to make sure there is not a change in the calendar that needs to be made. I then have to email my babysitter to let her know her responsibilities for the week and then take that same email, change the font to red, and superimpose my husband’s responsibilities into the email before sending that on to him. Even writing the process for planning is exhausting, which makes it no wonder why the two ladies in the Target line early Sunday morning looked at me with such pity when I said, “I have four kids.”

While there has been more, it also feels like there has been less of some things. Less time to focus on our relationship as a couple, and less time to focus on our individual relationships with each child. Less privacy and less alone time (something I crave at times). Less free time to just relax, and less time to focus on hobbies (it’s hard to go to the gym when you have three kids at practices in different locations on the same afternoon).

It also seems like there is less respect for others as each of us has tried to find our own place in our new family. This has been especially trying with two of the kids being teenage boys. It’s hard to know if some behavior is due to the change in our family structure or the change in hormones. Either way, it’s a constant work in progress to stay on top of and eliminate selfishness.

There are no easy roles in a blended family. We the parents are typically the bad guys, but what I have learned over the past year is that the strength in our relationship is what will bring us through this. Even parents who are still together can vouch that the teenage years are tough on everyone. Just like in those families, we will get through it together as husband and wife. It has become clear that not everyone is going to be happy all the time, but we must treat each other with respect and kindness so we can pull through these years relatively unscathed.

Growing together as a blended family has not been without its drama and difficulties, but the power struggles we face are helping us to become even closer as a family. Each day we are all finding our place, and I just know that the best is yet to come.

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

I’m re-posting this blog today because it has been the most searched topic recently…

So tell me, how do YOU want to be remembered?????

Life in a Blender...

581982_10152083989349879_68966653_n A couple of years ago, while visiting the beautiful city of Charleston, I toured some of the old graveyards that are sporadically located throughout downtown.  As I slowly wandered around and read all of the epitaphs, I wondered how I will be remembered someday.  What are the things that I do that my friends and family will miss most?  How do I want to be remembered?

My friends can vouch for me when I say that I am a firecracker.  Yes, I have heard that more than a few times in my life.  I often speak without a filter, I have been known to have one too many drinks on occasion, I am passionate (and vocal) about everything important to me, and my laugh can be heard from rooms away.  And I laugh a LOT.  My famous last words are usually, “Can we have just one more?”  I don’t like…

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