Monday Motivation: Encourage Someone

A couple of years ago, I wrote one of my favorite “Monday Motivation” posts about the power of encouraging yourself when you are going through one of life’s many tests. In that post, I shared:

A winning mindset is the key to prospering today, tomorrow, and years from now. So, how will you speak life into your dreams and goals today? Take some time to really think about the answer. It could be one of the most important thoughts that you have today.

When it comes to speaking life, it is just as important that we also do that for the people in our circle. You never know how far a few positive words can go with someone who feels like giving up or who needs a little extra oomph to power through their day. I love these Encouragement Postcards from Lara Casey because they make it easy (and beautiful) to give a quick pick-me-up to my friends.

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I received two of these cards with my Powersheets and put them in the mail this morning for a couple of my girlfriends. I wanted more so I just ordered a set! They are perfect for sending small doses of inspiration on a regular basis and that’s why I love them. The great thing is that a set of 20 postcards is only $8 and 10% of the profits will benefit Love One Another Project.

How will you encourage someone this week?

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Photo: LaraCasey.com

Keeping Up with Bright Pink

There seems to be two types of people in this world: those who watch “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and those who don’t. I find myself in the former camp. I love watching KUWTK and have watched at least three episodes/day during maternity leave thanks to E!’s almost round-the-clock obsession with them. For all of the fun, glam, and drama offered up on the show, there are occasional moments when they discuss an issue of significance to someone outside of their family.

During last night’s episode, Kris convinces her girls to get tested for the BRCA1 gene, which can determine a person’s likelihood to develop breast and ovarian cancer. Given their family history of breast cancer, Kris believes that it is a wise thing for them to do from an early detection perspective. Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe follow suit, and they all learn that they are not carrying the gene.

While it turned out to be a happy ending for the “K Krew,” there are many women who find out the exact opposite. Do you remember when Angelina Jolie announced that she’d undergone a preventive double mastectomy? She made that decision after completing a similar test that revealed she had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer.

Although I don’t have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, I have known about the BRCA1 gene and testing for many years thanks to the efforts of Bright Pink. Bright Pink is the only national non-profit organization focused on prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women. It was founded by Lindsay Avner, who at the age of 23 became the youngest woman in the country to have a preventive double mastectomy after undergoing genetic testing to assess her risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

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Young KB supporting Bright Pink many, many moons ago…

Lindsay is one of my personal SHE-ros and the work that Bright Pink has done over the years has been phenomenal. Every year, the organization delivers educational presentations to women and health professionals across the country. I have had the opportunity to attend a few of these events and the information has been priceless. From breast self-exam tips to learning how to advocate for your health, I have learned so much!

Last night, I kept hoping that the Kardashian/Jenner clan might give a shout out to Bright Pink because duh… they are awesome. But, it didn’t happen. So, I’m giving that shoutout today. Check out the Bright Pink website to not only learn more about their work but to also find a breadth of resources, including a risk assessment tool.

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Caleb’s Charitable Birth Announcements

I used to hate getting my mail. It always seemed like nothing but endless bills, junk mail, and random offers. Recently though, wedding invitations, thank you cards, and birth announcements have started to break up the clutter of blah being delivered by my mail lady. I love receiving these little bits of sunshine and have tried to step up my correspondence game. So, before Caleb arrived, I already knew what kind of birth announcements that I wanted to mail out.

Many of my friends and colleagues have used Tiny Prints for their cards, so I snagged a credit for the site on Zulily and got to shopping. I had no idea that when I was ordering Caleb’s birth announcements that I would be helping children in need. However, that is exactly what happened when I selected these cute cards from Tiny Prints for our friends and family.

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Tiny Prints has a collection of birth announcements and stationery that helps to support the work being done by Baby2Baby, a non-profit organization that provides low-income children, ages zero to 12, with diapers, clothing and all the basic necessities that every child deserves. While I didn’t intentionally select this particular design for that reason, it serves as an added bonus.

I am so grateful that our family was both blessed with items that we needed and also in a financial position to buy anything that we didn’t get as gifts. I can’t imagine the stress and worry that many parents face when it comes to preparing for a new baby. Organizations like Baby2Baby serve a very important role and deserve all of the support that they can get. To learn more about the work they are doing, visit their website baby2baby.org.

Learn more about Tiny Prints partnership and check out all of the items in their charitable collection here.

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Five Tools That I’m Relying on For A Great Year

“Get your life together and keep it together.”

This is my mantra for the year. With so many moving parts in my life these days, I am being intentional about how I spend my time and my energy. As such, I knew that I couldn’t kick off 2016 without some helpful tools to keep me focused and on track. This is the first year where I have taken steps like this. It’s like they say… “If you want different results, then you have to do something different.”

Here are the five most important things that I am relying on to help me jumpstart this year and keep me focused on God, goals, and order.

5 Tools for 2016

  1. NIV Bible for Women ($23) – I already had a couple of Bibles, but I was looking for one that incorporated devotionals and lessons throughout. I learned about this Bible when a friend, Halleemah, shared the news that she was tapped to pen one of the devotionals. One of my goals is to spend at least 15 minutes each day with the Word, and this Bible is certainly helping me do so.
  2. Lara Casey’s Powersheets ($35) – I have been waiting to get my hands on these sheets for monthssss. In November, I finally snagged a six-month set and committed to using these to help guide my goal-setting for this year. What I love about them so far is just how thorough they are. This process has really challenged me to reflect on where I’ve been and what I want to change (and WHY). I’d love to dig deeper into how they are helping me, but think that it is best to save that for its own post.
  3. Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner ($58) – Planners are my friend. However, I’m pretty particular about what works for me. Last year, I went through three planners, including the Passion Planner, before settling on something that worked. For this year, I decided to up my planner game and find something that was cute, functional, and really addressed all my needs. Voila! My research lead me to this planner. I love it so far and really feel like I made the right decision.
  4. Colored Sharpies – You know how Pinterest can gas you up and think that you can do anything? Yeah, well, that is what happened to me when I thought that I could color-code everything in my planner without losing my mind. I color-coded ONE DAY of appointments and to-dos and was like, “Nah.” However, having colored Sharpies around is still incredibly beneficial. It has helped me highlight very important tasks and makes writing notes and thank you cards much more fun. They didn’t work out for my planner needs but I know that I am going to rely on them a lot this year.
  5. Podcasts – I am all about podcasts these days. Now that I’ve gotten the hang of things, I’ve decided to listen to them when I’m pumping or nursing. The two that I can’t do without are from Myleik Teele (Founder of curlBOX) and Mattie James of Mattieologie. Myleik has an incredible energy about her and she is a mentor-in-my-head. While she focuses a lot on business, she also delves into personal topics for a well-rounded batch of conversations. Mattie’s podcasts are dope because she focuses a lot on building your creative brand and blogging. As I dive back into blogging, I’m looking forward to using some of her tips.

How are you planning to make this your best year yet?

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Meet Caleb

Happy New Year! I hope that your 2016 is is off to an incredible start.

In 2015, I had a lot of challenging moments, but I also had one incredible one. On December 1st, I was blessed to give birth to a healthy and handsome baby boy named Caleb. He was born with ten toes, twelve fingers (a genetic thing four generations deep), and an incredible head of hair.

My delivery experience was more eventful than my entire pregnancy and it was certainly not what I expected. After all, I spent 40+ weeks waiting for my water to break and for contractions to just begin naturally. That is not what happened. At my 41 week appointment, my doctor noticed that Caleb’s amniotic fluid levels were low and sent me to the hospital that day in order to be induced. Before I left his office, one of the nurses told me that I was probably going to deliver via c-section. I laughed nervously, but clearly she knew what she was talking about.

Eighteen hours after being induced, I hadn’t made much traction on the labor front so the doctors decided that a c-section was the way to go. While I am recounting this story in a calm fashion, my nerves were on edge at the time. My contractions were having a negative impact on Caleb’s heartbeat and I ended up needing to be put on oxygen. Somehow, I managed to keep it together and only shed tears when my doctor was talking me through the c-section procedure. Thankfully, my family was there and surrounded me in prayer before they wheeled me out.

Upon arriving in the operating room, the incredible team prepped me and delivered Caleb in a matter of minutes. Due to his heart rate, they had to get him out of there very quickly. I don’t think that I consciously held my breath, but I don’t remember letting out a sigh of relief (and a sob) until I heard his little cry.

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And, like that, motherhood became HELLA real. When I met him for the first time, I just kept thinking how much he looked like me/my mother/my sister/my mother’s side of the family. It is crazy, y’all. But, it was also comforting. Although I know that my mom is always here in spirit, it’s like I have a chance to hug and kiss a little piece of her that heaven sent my way.

So, with those feelings in my heart, it is my mission to be the best person that I can be for his sake. He brings me so much joy and I cannot wait to watch him grow up into a handsome, smart, and God-fearing man.

P.S. Wondering the inspiration behind his name? Check out the scripture under his photo.

“But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” – Numbers 14:24

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Finding My Way Back

In case you missed the previous post, I stumbled back into blogging after a six month absence. For those of you who have kept up somewhat with this site, you know that tends to happen often with me. Something happens in life and I just find myself feeling a little uninspired or, in this case, too blue to really find anything interesting to say.

After learning that I was expecting in late-March, the world really shifted for me. I’m sure that every expecting mommy says that, but I really felt it… hard. I’m not going to get into the details in this post, but I’ve been working through pre-natal blues, insecurity, anxiety, and plenty of excitement (of course). Don’t ask me how all of these feelings have been co-existing in my body because I couldn’t tell you. But, when you combine those emotions with a busy work schedule and somewhat of a personal life, it leaves little room for blogging. I just wasn’t there… My heart wasn’t here. Hell, I didn’t even know that my site looked CRAY for the past few months because I wasn’t staying on top of theme and WordPress updates. When I’m checked out of something, I am CHECKED OUT.

So, what changed? Why am I back now?

Good question. In the past couple of months, I’ve been on this quest to connect with my most authentic self in an effort to usher a lot of fear out of my life. Fear of always saying the right thing. Fear of being perfect. Fear of not doing things the right way. I realized that I had packed myself into a box of my own doing as a protective measure but it no longer served me any good. As I move closer and closer to bringing this baby into the world and being on the other end of one of the purest and truest relationships in this world, I have been craving authentic connections.

I decided that I would eventually make my way back to the blog but not until I was ready to start keeping it incredibly real. So, what will The Fabulous Giver talk about now? Anything. Everything. Life and such.

Don’t worry. I still believe in brand voice/tone and content themes… As such, don’t expect to log on one day and find 600 words on why the Republicans’ view towards women’s health are incredibly dangerous. I’ll save that one for someplace else.

Just know that I’m finding my way back to this blog, to my voice, to the real me.

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A Day with HIV: Jeff Berry

You know how you “know someone” but you realize that you don’t really know them? That’s how I felt when I was asked to link up with Jeff Berry, the Editor-in-Chief of Positively Aware, and talk about his life and the A Day with HIV campaign.

I’ve known Jeff for a couple of years through work, but our conversations have centered around my day job duties and the magazine. However from those interactions, I could tell you that Jeff is incredibly passionate about the work that he does, is very connected to the HIV community both in Chicago and nationally, and takes his role as an advocate very seriously.

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(Photo: TPAN)

What I didn’t know is how Jeff journeyed from his own diagnosis to the place where he is today. He was diagnosed in 1989 and noted that it was “very scary” time for him because there weren’t really any treatments available like there are now. While many would agree that an HIV diagnosis today can still be scary, Jeff notes that it is in a different way. Mainly it is due to the continued stigma around HIV. He says that there remains a “need to lessen the stigma” around the disease, an assessment with which I completely agree.

According to Jeff, it is most helpful for those who are living with HIV to be around other people. “Support is key to finding your own way,” he shared. At the time of his diagnosis, Jeff had gone back to school for radio production but he felt like everything has shifted for him. A year after his diagnosis, Jeff went to Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN), Chicago’s oldest peer-led AIDS support organization in Chicago, for services and what he found there was a non-judgmental community that would soon become a key pillar in his story.

It was as a client of the organization that Jeff received copies of Positively Aware. He noticed that there was an ad asking for volunteers for the magazine and decided to get involved. That was 23 years ago. I was very impressed to learn that he worked his way from volunteering to transition into the role of Editor-in-Chief about 11 years ago.

My stash of Positively Aware issues, including last year’s “A Day with HIV” cover.

Five years ago, the team at Positively Aware launched the “A Day with HIV” as an anti-stigma photo campaign inviting people to show off what it looks like to live in a world affected by HIV. Over the years, the campaign has grown in both numbers and significance as people both HIV-positive and negative participate in this visual storytelling project that is designed to collectively rally against the stigma of HIV.

Tomorrow, September 22nd, we are all asked to grab our cameras and capture a moment in our day and share it across social media with the hashtag #adaywithHIV. Although I am familiar with the campaign, I have never participated! Of course, that changes tomorrow… I’m already thinking about what picture to snap and share.

When I asked Jeff if he knew what photo he was going to post, he initially surprised me by saying that he had no idea yet. In the past, Jeff has shared a photo of him with his partner, a shot of him working out, and, of course, a snap showcasing his life as an editor. After Jeff told me that was a DJ in his previous life, I secretly hoping that Tuesday’s photo will be a shot of him behind the turntables. *hint, hint* Probably won’t happen, but you never know!

There are 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States and they are our friends, neighbors, colleagues, family members, and so much more. That is what represents the beauty of this photo-focused campaign. It reminds the world that our community members living with HIV are living multi-faceted lives – no different from anyone else. This concept is simple yet incredibly powerful. That is why for the past three years, Positively Aware has linked their campaign with Let’s Stop HIV Together, a campaign launched by the CDC to raise awareness about HIV and its impact on the lives of all Americans.

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So, how will you take your best shot tomorrow? You don’t need to tell me… I’ll be checking out the hashtag #adaywithHIV to see what pics are being posted across the internet. Keep an eye out for mine too. When posting to social media, remember to include a caption describing your picture, along with a date and location. You can learn more about the campaign by checking out the website adaywithhiv.com. Also, keep track of everything by following along on social media using the links below:

Twitter:

Facebook:  

Instagram:

 

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

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When Spring Doesn’t Get the Memo

This morning, I woke up to a snow-covered balcony and plenty of flurries falling from the sky. *checks calendar* Yep, it’s March 23rd, but it’s also March 23rd in Chicago. As such, spring’s true arrival seems to be a bit fluid and totally up to Mother Nature. So, while I’ve been shifting my wardrobe to brighter colors and neutral heels, winter has not-so-politely asked me to pump my brakes.

Sigh.

In an effort to not be so bummed (or pissed) about this, I’ve decided to think about five things that I can do to keep my sanity during this transition period between winter and spring.

1. Load up on hot cocoa. Ever trying to wean myself from coffee, hot chocolate has become my go-to drink when I need to warm up and treat myself at the same time. The Spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate Mix ($10.50) from Lake Champlain Chocolates is sure to make you feel warm on the inside while also supporting fair trade. Anyone else a fan of spicy chocolate treats? I’ll talk about my obsession with cocoa chili powder another day.

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Warmer days (and drinks) in Miami

2. Invest in an incredible throw. Curling up on the couch with a cozy throw is one of my favorite things to do. In fact, it’s basically a must-do on Sundays. While perusing Instagram the other day, I stumbled across some beautiful alpaca wool throws made by Sackcloth & Ashes ($99-$109). For each blanket that you purchase, they will provide one to your local homeless shelter.

3. Brighten my space with some beautiful blooms. I’ve been on a hunt for tulips and peonies to brighten the mood in my apartment. I’ve also been lusting after this bouquet from Flowers for Dreams, a Chicago company that makes a donation to local charity with each order. Pretty, right?

Medium Spring Bouquet, $55

Medium Spring Bouquet, $55

4. Flip off the frigid temps with a brightly-colored mani. After a season of “Lincoln Park After Dark” and similar shades, my digits are ready for lighter colors. I chose a stone gray polish over the weekend, but I’m eyeing something a little more fun like this yellow from Pear Nova for my next trip. If the sun won’t come to me, I’ll create my own sunshine.

"Heavy Meadow" by Pear Nova, $11.50

“Heavy Meadow” by Pear Nova, $11.50

5. Spread some warmth with cold weather supplies. If you still need to break out your gloves, hats, and thick socks, then you know that those without homes/living on the streets still need those items as well. Reach out to your local shelter or community housing group to donate any cold weather items that you can.

What’s it like in your neck of the woods today? If it’s still cold and snowy, how are you coping with this transition period? Any additional tips to share?

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With These Red Shoes

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Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and will mark the sixth year that I have rocked red pumps for the occasion.

With these red shoes, I have encouraged women to start important conversations about their health and making informed choices.

With these red shoes, I have welcomed hundreds of women to events designed to inspire and educate them about HIV.

With these red shoes, I have presented at national conferences about the role of online communities in mobilizing people around HIV.

With these red shoes, I will remind my sisters that one in five new HIV infections will be women.

With these red shoes, I will advocate for women of color who are disproportionately impacted by HIV.

With these red shoes, I will continue to educate myself on related issues that put women and girls at risk for HIV, including partner violence, lowered self-esteem, and mental health.

With these red shoes, I will stand alongside thousands of women across the country to #RocktheRedPump today, tomorrow, and moving forward.

Rock the Red Pump

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Multiple Sclerosis & HIV: An Unlikely Connection

This week, I’ve been thinking about my mother a lot. Mainly, I’ve been thinking about how proud she would be to see how far I’ve come with my career, my personal life, and with Red Pump. We started Red Pump a year after she passed away and I can’t help but to wish that she was here today to gush over my photo in Essence or to reassure me when I’m too exhausted from juggling so many hats.

For me, my mother was the prototype for fabulous giving. As a teen, she volunteered with different groups and also taught a Sunday school class at her church. When she moved to Chicago, she continued her season of service and found groups to devote her time and attention. I’ll never forget how she would take us with her on Monday nights when she tutored foster children at the Harold Washington Library. Her commitment to that role landed her a Volunteer of the Year award from Volunteers of America. I still display that award proudly in my home as a reminder of how far doing good can take you.

Living with multiple sclerosis inserted many challenges in her (and our) day-to-day life. I’ve shared before about my experience as a youth caregiver but that is only part of the memories. For every challenge, there were plenty of happy moments. I just wish that her MS wouldn’t have gotten in the way of us creating so many more.

 

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This week is MS Awareness Week, a time where we are asked to take action to help others learn more about MS and what they can do to make a difference. One of the asks of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is that we spend this time “creating connections stronger than the ones that MS destroys.” For me, the connection that I have to health education and activism is far greater than anything that this disease could EVER destroy.

The fight against multiple sclerosis was the first cause that I’ve ever rallied behind. In high school, I volunteered at the annual MS Walk, did multiple presentations on MS, and racked up service hours after school in their office. I continued that commitment in college and in the years right after my graduation. At this point in my life, I don’t have as much time to physically devote to MS and it would seem that HIV has “stolen the show” so to speak. That’s not the case. I will never forget (or forgive) how multiple sclerosis has impacted my life, or the role that the disease played in my mother’s passing.

Without a life impacted by multiple sclerosis, I don’t know if I would be as passionate about causes or service. I don’t know if I would have the tools or desire to be an advocate. I don’t know if I would have ever started The Red Pump Project. So, as I recognize MS Awareness Week, I will make a donation to my local chapter of the MS Society, but I will also raise my voice louder for anyone who needs a champion. From MS to HIV, it is my sincere prayer that my efforts make an impact.

More importantly, I pray that I continue to make my do-gooder mother turned angel proud.

To learn more about multiple sclerosis, a debilitating neurological condition, check out this helpful section on the National MS Society’s webpage.

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