A String of Lights

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A simple string of lights has power beyond explanation. Placed in a child’s bedroom it is able to scare away the Boogeyman, ghosts and other unsavory visitors. Hung in a restaurant results in a hip new place to hang out, more guests and more money. Whether it is a single string or thousands of strings, at Christmas time the lights bring magic to our lives.

Multi-colored, white, blue, green, red, orange, funny shapes, blinking or not, these lights have a power to make people feel for a moment that they have been transported to another, more magical place. It may be for a split second as your walking your dog and you look up at a house with a few lights. It may be a longer time as you sit amidst a display of lights.

As you go about you’re crazy, insanely busy days leading up to Christmas, take a moment to look at the lights. Forget about the traffic, the long lines at the stores, the frustrated parents who can’t find the asked-for-gift, the family obligations or the lack of family and feel that peaceful, magical place the lights have shown you. Bring that place and that feeling back into your day. Let the magic of the lights help you slow down and enjoy everything around you.

 

 

 

3 Steps to Find the Treasure

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We are constantly being bombarded with how bad things are around us. The economy is collapsing, we are under attack, people are corrupt and the list goes on. But did the world suddenly become exponentially more evil?  Was the awfulness of society always there but thanks to the ubiquitous media we now see it all the time?

I do not believe everything is going “to hell in a hand basket.” I do think that is what sells in the world and that is what will make the headlines. In general, people have a bad tendency to dwell on the harm done more than on the good.

For example – you’re on Yahoo News and you have the option to open a story about a guy who saved a puppy and a story about another attempted attack in a major US city. Which will you open first? Admit it to yourself – you are more likely to open the story about the attack first, and then if you have time the puppy story. Because you read stories about murder, disaster, flooding, and so on, more than the feel good puppy stories, the news agencies give you more of it. Now the world starts to take on a Doomsday gloom since every time you log on to the news it is about sad, bad, and not so good things.

You might not even notice but you are a news reporter, often highlighting the bad and not the good. Look back on your day. Are you more likely to come home and tell your hubby or friends that Jane at work bought you a cup of coffee to brighten your day, or will you highlight the fact that your boss passed you over for a prime assignment? I fear the majority of us will report the injustice of our boss first, maybe even dwell on it for some time, and maybe mention the coffee as an after thought.

As Mark Wahlberg in the Transformers- Age of Extinction said  “So even if you got no faith in us, I’m asking you to do what I do. I’m asking you to look at all the junk and see the treasure. You gotta have faith, Prime, in who we can be.

I challenge you to spend the next week only looking at the good. Try to see the treasure in the junk. Follow the next three steps and see if it changes your perspective.

  1. Don’t open the stories involving sadness, evil, killing, and politics.
  2. Really focus on the people doing good around you, however small.
  3. Say one thing you are thankful for each day.

Good luck. Let me know what happens.

Time

Time has slipped through my fingertips. It shifts from one moment to the next as erratically and quickly as the sand grains in the waves along the beach.

Time is this untouchable concept and yet it touches every part of our existence. We fear it. We want it to slow down, speed up, stop, never stop. But just like the waves, time keeps moving.

The only power we have over time is to fill it full of memories so that time is not forever lost. That is the only way to not lose it, to slow it down, to hold on to time.

And yet we are constantly missing this, losing time forever with our kids, our loved ones, ourselves. Stop the clock, fill each moment of life with a memory and don’t let time shift with the waves and be lost forever.

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Another Person’s Shoe

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Humaneness,

Benevolence,

Compassion…

All these words can be found as part of the definition of humanity.Humanity, empathy, vulnerability seem to be qualities that are missing, or disappearing altogether, in today’s society. But why?

Allegiant passengers clapped as a dying father and his son were escorted off a plane after the son suffered an allergy attack; happy apparently that they would no longer be delayed. Images are omnipresent of people killing other people, at homes, at schools, and in the workplace, no longer just in war. Rage is increasing all around us -road rage, standing in line rage, rage at the teachers, rage at the parents, rage at the boss, rage at the colleagues….we are at war.

The warrior or soldier is trained to be in stressful situations by blocking, through training, some of the feelings that make them vulnerable. Soldiers are still human and have these feelings, but they are trained to put their training first and these feelings second. They cannot be an effective soldier in a dangerous place if they are debating the good and evil of things, places, and people while shots are being fired over their head. In those combat situations they are in high stress mode and trained to do what they are directed for the good of the team and the country they serve.

Unfortunately, people in this era of media showing one catastrophic event after another are, in a sense, in a state of constant combat, at war in every day situations. People are feeling as if everyone is the potential enemy.

We need to remember to empathize, to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.Several years ago we had a death in our family and it involved a motorcycle. I know for months I had a really hard time driving, and would panic if a motorcycle was anywhere near me. I was that slow driver, probably annoying everyone around me. All I could think is that “I am sorry. I know I am doing this but if you only knew what we just went through….” Now that time has healed some of that pain, and the fear has subsided, I still try to put myself in the other person’s shoes when a car is going too slow in front of me. I think are they on their way to the hospital, did they just have a really bad day and my decision to honk and tailgate them could make it worse. I try to think this way. I am not always successful, but I try.

We can transpose this situation to any number of day to day situations: the grocery store, the gas station, the doctor’s office, school, work. Too often we just think of ourselves, our family, our immediate need. Anyone beyond that is the outside, in some cases the enemy. We do not put on the other person’s shoes, see the situation from his/her perspective, and suddenly the mundane annoyance turns into a battle. Our stress elevates, we say or do things that we later see as being “over the top.” Like the Allegiant passengers who now know what idiots they were because media has “put them in Giovanni’s shoes” by letting them know what he was going through.

If life is going to be enjoyable, we need to make connections and feel fulfilled. In order to do that we must break down the barriers, pull back from the combat zone and put yourself in your neighbors’ shoes. You have to be vulnerable. Next time you feel yourself getting irritated at the old lady in front of you at the grocery store, the young clerk at the DMV, or the assistant at work  think about what they may be going through before you act or speak. Once you start thinking of all the possible scenarios for the other person’s actions you begin to soften, your patience returns, your warrior side breaks down, and you become a little more human.

 

 

Freddy’s Obituary

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It is with much regret that I inform you of the passing of Freddy. Freddy was a great friend, wonderful son, fun brother, and hard worker. We welcomed him into our house with love. It was as if he was always a part of our family. However, after only a few short months he woke up this morning not feeling well, and a short time later was found dead in his room. There was no struggle, no dramatic goodbyes, only a sadness that this was the end.

Freddy is survived by his brothers’ Crazy and Bobby, and his adopted Daddy P. He was a hard worker; worked tirelessly every day and never complained. He seemed to find joy in what one might call menial tasks. His unassuming, quiet nature kept him from ever seeking the limelight. One might even forget he was there. Yet, with his passing a little boy was saddened beyond words. After the tears subsided, he simply said, ” I just wish he was alive.”

We should all be so lucky in life, however short, to enjoy our work whatever it might be, be the best we can, and to be loved, even by one small soul.

Goodnight and goodbye to Freddy the Fish.

4 STEPS to your PLACE in this world

XTi_D620_011713Everyone craves a “place in this world”. Finding a place is really that constant pursuit of purpose, fitting in, and finding the meaning of your life. Lost souls are the people without purpose, who don’t fit in, who cannot seem to find meaning in their everyday lives.

So often I hear this as an end goal, this finding of purpose. Everyone has a role to play and if I just find my role and stick to it I will be great, and I will be content. This idea is put into our heads early in life. As a child you are told if you do well in school and focus on a specific subject, career or sport you are praised for your focus and determination; you are expected to do well in life. The ones we worry about and fear for their future are the kids without focus, without a passion, without an end goal.

This seems to play out in real life. Sports teams that have the best players for each position, the ones that have been training for most of their life to play a certain role, are usually the best.  Same goes for any company, organization etc., the players that are the best prepared and are successfully fulfilling their role allow the great machine to work, and all is well with the world.

What happens though as soon as a player’s role loses definition? This could happen because of a bad manager, or coach, on board who cannot identify the player’s strengths and/or cannot define the player’s role clearly; or the player him/herself loses certainty about this being THE role. Listening to the people around me, I believe both these scenarios happen far too often. When this happens the person feels a sense of loss; fear at not knowing what to do or what their purpose is in life; self doubt that they aren’t focused. Self doubt and fear magnify as they get older, since with age should come focus and clarity. You should know what you want to do with your life by now. There must be something wrong with you!!!!!

I listened to a great speech by Elizabeth Gilbert Flight of the hummingbird – the curiosity driven life. In this speech she pulls away from her past pushing of a passion driven life. She asks us to embrace the fact that we may be hummingbirds, going from flower to flower, spreading our talents and hard work here and there but not settling on any one flower for the rest of our life. We may look back and see an actual path through our life  and discover that the path itself was our purpose.

STEPS to finding your place in life:

  1. Stop beating yourself up for not knowing what you should do with your life.
  2. Look back and see the path you are on.
  3. Engage and be FULLY present wherever you are on that path.
  4. If something starts to pull you in a different direction, put your seat belt on, and enjoy the ride to something new.

 

The BIG 4-Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie

 

_MG_9113These cookies have been raved about every time they are made. I am at the point where I rarely am able to find time to experiment with other cookies, because when I finally find time to make cookies these cookies are always requested. So enjoy my delectable, soft, chocolate filled 4-Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 cups flour, all purpose

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup milk chocolate chips

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper for easy cleaning.

In an electric mixer beat butter at medium speed until creamy; gradually add sugars, beating until blended.

Add eggs and vanilla, beating well.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to butter mixture beating until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. It is so thick at this point that I give the stirring a head start with my mixer.

Drop with the large Pampered Chef scoop or use a 1/4 cup.

Bake for 12 minutes, or until just starting to lose the shine of uncooked dough and turning a golden brown.

Notes

  • It will taste better with salted butter.
  • When measuring the flour scoop the flour into the cup using a spoon, instead of using the cup to scoop the flour. The latter method will give you too much flour
  • For the Semisweet and Milk chips I use Nestle brand, for dark I use Hershey, and bittersweet can be Ghirardelli. The flavor was off when I used the Ghirardelli for the other chips.
  • I am now a firm believer in using better cookie sheets. I just bought the Pampered Chef cookie sheets because a friend of mine was getting better results with these cookies. It worked. Before the cookie sheet they were flattening out too much. But with the cookie sheets they were a nice thick cookie shape.

Uniquely YOU

IMG_9144Last night I had what one might call an “Ah Ha” moment. I was surfing possible shows to watch with our new Fire T.V. Stick, looking through the Amazon Prime content on T.V., and picked a newly produced Jane Austin-like period movie. After reading the summary and deciding it did not sound that interesting, I clicked the down button to the row of suggested movies that were similar to the one I had chosen. There were SO many similar movies, several that were the same movie just produced and acted by different individuals, in different locations, at different times. These smart, rich, popular producers and actors continue to produce the same or similar movies over and over again. Such thinking conflicts with my business basics, the need for new and unique, never been done before. I thought “Why do they do it?” Then it dawned on me that they feel that what they bring to the table is unique, unique enough to entice a large enough group of people to part with their money and see and like their film.

My thoughts immediately took me back to my Peace Corps days where so many of my life lessons took place. During my time in Benin as a Small Business Development Peace Corps volunteer, my role was to help the people of Benin improve their business skills. One big business problem I saw that I could not convince them to fix was the proliferation of hair dressers. It felt like there was a woman’s hair shop every other doorway in the main city and multiple ones in small villages. I told them you need to diversify to make money; don’t you understand the supply-demand models I am showing you???? They would look at me with that look of “this white girl is crazy if she thinks I am changing my trade, but I better smile cause I don’t know what she is capable of.” Then she might ask if I wanted my hair braided.

What I did not understand then was these women had a unique sense of self, just like the producers. Yes, many probably did not know any other trade and they had to do this to make any money at all. However, I think many really believed that what they could do with the hair was unique enough from their sister two doors down that they needed to have their own shop.

It is a powerful concept to realize that there is NO ONE on earth that is a carbon copy of you. First of all your DNA makes you unique physically, mentally, and emotionally right from birth. Then add in parents, friends, environments, education, classes, work, hobbies, sports and so much more and you become uniquely you. Your voice cannot be copied. Someone, somewhere will find what you have to say or do inspiring in a way that no one else can inspire. Don’t let fear stop you, the fear that your concept, movie, writing, recipe, photo, artwork, paper….is not good enough or unique enough or worth anyone’s time. Whatever you do is unique from the minute you think of it. Rihana might have millions of followers who hang on her every word. On the other hand I bet I have at least one follower who could not care about anything she says, and feels inspired to do something positive in their life because of what I have to say.

So please for the sake of those that need you write one more lifestyle or cooking blog; sing Frozen’s Let it Go one more time; bake one more chocolate chip cookie; create one more Jane Austin movie and set up another hair salon. It is a lie to tell yourself what you do is not good enough to put out there. By whose standards? There are billions of people out there and I can guarantee something you say or do will affect at least one. Isn’t that person, or those people worth it, however many and whomever they might be?  Let your uniqueness shine for someone to see.

 

Value of a moment

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This is one of the busiest times of the year. I find myself reeling some nights from all the “to do’s” on my ToDo List. Trees need to be decorated, lights hung, and cookies baked.  We are rsvp’ing to special holiday outings or parties with friends, and filling all the donations and food drives. All this is great stuff, but it is occurring on top of an already overwhelmed schedule of school, work, kid activities, winter sicknesses, and just plain old – keeping things together.

Just last night after the snacks, the homework, dinner, and showers, I brought up the ornaments from the basement and started rushing the kids to decorate the tree before bedtime; to check it off our list. I felt the anxiety pushing its way up from the gut to the throat.  My mind started to wander and follow the tangled mass of to do’s and a feeling of fear began to float to the surface, fear that we would never make it in time. A sudden, tiny, wave of sadness stopped me in my tracks and forced me to think of one of my favorite quotes “What we achieve is not as important in the end as how we got there.”  Equally important is the “You will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”  At that moment I had a choice to keep pushing, or really enjoy that moment.  It took a little virtual nudge in my brain, but I stopped and enjoyed the moment; the “getting there” instead of the finale.  I felt a wave of peace push away the sadness and frustration.

I am no angel, and this will not be a perpetual state of bliss and peace that all you mere mortals have no hope of attaining.  But it was a moment that I enjoyed, and did not miss, with the Christmas music and my children.

So take time today, in the chaos of the season, and remind yourself that you have the power to enjoy the process. Instead of a month plus of exhaustion, frustration, and holiday chaos in the hopes of enjoying one day, enjoy all the moments along the way as you prepare.

 

Photo: Red Christmas Ball Decoration By InteriorDesignInspiration.net

 

Recovering Critique-A-Holic

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I am a recovering critique-a-holic. I have critiqued myself and others all my life and it wasn’t until recently that I realized the depth of the problem.

Critiquing myself and others always instilled in me a sense of pride. It gave me the feeling that I was not going to settle for anything less than perfection; I was pushing myself and others to greatness. To not critique was to settle, which in my world was to fail.

As a child, I never settled. In my teens, I volunteered to work with children with disabilities every year; got a job, or jobs, every summer; got a scholarship to high school and to colleges; worked hard to get As in all my advanced classes; went to Georgetown, a top-notch college; and worked hard to get good grades, participate in extracurricular activities and work.

Ultimately I never took more than a moment during all that time to really tell myself great job, and feel fully a sense of satisfaction at achieving.  Almost immediately I would begin to compare and contrast how it wasn’t the best scholarship; or I missed one answer; or that was nice but I haven’t reached goal X yet.  Friends, families and strangers were not immune from the critiquing, but I was a little easier on them than on myself. From time to time I had a sense that “this isn’t healthy”, but I dove back in because it had become such a habit that it was almost impossible to break.

Well I am breaking it.

Finally after almost 40 years (yes this mentality started early), I am looking back on my life and praising myself. I did well. I achieved. I have touched lives in a positive way. But it is a struggle every day to not fall back into a well developed  habit of critiquing. I have to force myself daily to praise myself and others.

Some might say this is happiness, others will say it is positive thinking, and some might say “Finally she is less bitchy.” To me it is relief. To me it is the right way to live life – to try hard, to say good job, to really mean it, and to be satisfied – that deep in your gut kind of satisfaction. Remember ultimately it is about the journey not the goal. With every honest step we take moving forward in life, as parents, as employees, as individuals, we need to revel in the greatness that is already “you” and not tarnish that with constant criticism.