Sunday Smiles – In Love with Love

At the risk of being a buzzkill on this day of hearts and roses, I must admit that I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day.  For this I have my husband’s eternal gratitude as he can go about his business each February while ignoring the barrage of commercials telling him what an absolute spousal failure he will be if he does not buy me this exact diamond pendant or that specific dangly charm bracelet.  No, there are no special dinner reservations or floral deliveries headed my way today, and I am all in favor of that.

Since I’m in a disclosure kind of mood I may as well admit that I do not like romantic comedies or romance novels either.  I understand they can serve as escapist guilty pleasures, but I have to say for the most part they leave me feeling unfulfilled.  I do not like the way they set men, and women for that matter, up to fall short in real life of the great romantic feats and gestures of the cinema.

By now I’ve probably convinced you that I should head up the local chapter of the new Love Haters Club.  I promise you this is not the case.  In reality I am in love with love.  I just happen to be in love with the kind of love that happens, well, in reality. Continue reading

It’s Not All Cookies and Cocoa (Holidays Can Be Hard)

It’s Christmas Eve!  We have reached a fever pitch of anticipation!  The trees are trimmed, the cookies are baked, and the gifts are all wrapped.  The turkey is thawed and ready to be stuffed.  The stockings are hung by the chimney (and if you are in the midst of the hot spell and running the air conditioning there is no chance of them being burned by the fire).  The only thing left to do is to await the arrival of the big, jolly man and his sleigh.  We are all feeling cheerful, festive, and excited!  Except if we aren’t…

Wait, what is that you say?  It’s Christmastime!  We are supposed to be filled with the joy & love of the season!  We are expected to be happy, happy, happy!  But what if that isn’t always the case?

The fact is that the holidays are not easy for some people. There are those who would prefer that the month of December quietly pass them by.  The reality is that there are people who struggle during the Christmas season, and we need to be mindful of their feelings.

I have friends who have lost loved ones within the past few weeks and months.  This is the first year they will be “celebrating” without a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, or a friend.  I know people who are caring for family members who are gravely, critically ill.  They will spend Christmas Eve spoon-feeding soup and medicine, offering sponge baths, and praying to their higher power for a pain free night for a cherished soul.

There are people who have been disappointed by those who should be closest to them. There are others who have been stressed to the breaking point by demanding, pushy family members who do not know, or do not care, when they are asking for too much. There are those who are so lonely that they would do anything to have some of those pushy people fighting for their attention.  There are some who are gasping for breath under the crushing weight of depression.

Yes, buried beneath the glow of the bright lights, silenced by the sounds of the nonstop Christmas music on the radio, you will find them if you only look.  They are the newly divorced, spending Christmas Eve alone with a freshly broken heart while their ex has the house full of kids.  They are the spouses of law enforcement and military personnel, resigned to yet another holiday making sure things are just right for the kids while trying not to wonder if their loved ones will make it home for next year’s festivities. They are the parents desperate to provide gifts not of cellphones and laptops, but merely a new doll or a toy firetruck.  They are the recently widowed, or the children who have lost a parent, gazing up to the heavens and trying to understand why.

We need to acknowledge and accept that there are people who simply prefer not to celebrate, or to do so in a low-key fashion.  We must understand that they are trying to maintain a facade of cheerfulness while inside they are coming apart.  We cannot trivialize their feelings by telling them to, “Cheer up!” or by admonishing them to, “Stop acting like a Scrooge!”

If we truly do keep Christmas in our hearts all year long then we must be sure to keep it in our hearts during the month of December.  Let us give those who are struggling the gift of our patience.  Let us bestow the present of love upon those who are suffering. Let us understand if they wish only to go to church to light a candle and reflect in solitude rather than accepting our invitation to a raucous Christmas party.  Let us be available without demand, and let us let them do what feels right for them.  Let us know that they do not wish to in any way diminish or minimize our celebrations by taking a more subdued approach to the season.

I am thankful not to be one who has lost a loved one.  I am grateful that my family and friends are healthy and happy.  I am, however, one who has had her Christmas spirit kicked around this year.  I am one of the ones who was disappointed by some while being pushed over the edge by others.   I do not cry often, but I have been reduced to tears more than once over the past few weeks, causing me to retreat and regroup.  I tell you this not to ask for any sympathy, as life presents us all with tough times.  I tell you this because it has helped me to have a greater understanding for what people do struggle with this time of year.  It has led me to a place where I get that the best some can do is to spend a quiet Christmas Eve at home, eating tacos and watching Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.  (Yes, this is our grand plan for Christmas Eve, and I am looking forward to a quiet night remembering who and what matters the most.)

Whatever holiday you celebrate, and however you choose to celebrate it, I wish for you an abundance of peace and love.  If you are one for whom this post resonates know that I hold you in a special place in my heart this year.  If you know someone for whom this post may resonate I ask that you offer them an extra dose of comfort and encouragement over the next few days.

When the World Makes Me Weary

I think it happens to all of us from time to time.  The world comes rushing at us, jabbing us with vicious punches of violence and hatred.  The clamor and outcries climb toward their shattering crescendo.  The feeling of all the feels becomes overwhelming.  The noise goes from grating to unbearable in sixty seconds flat.  Our internal alarms sound, and we know we must seek shelter in our safe places.

This week has been a test for me, and, Im sure, for many of you as well.  The news of the horrid, cowardly attacks in Paris have left us reeling, and they have left us feeling.  The thought of possible pending attacks has left us edgy and guarded.  I have run the spectrum of emotions from sadness, to anger, to hopelessness, and back to hope again.

In addition to the news of the terrorist attacks we have the ongoing onslaught of political debate that will ride our backs until next November.  Social media has become a perilous place laced with opinions and anger.  Oh, how I long for the days when my newsfeed was overrun with pictures of friends’ ridiculously cute little ones doing all manner of ridiculously cute things.

Off internet, I have friends who are struggling through difficult days.  Friends who have lost loved ones or are watching as their loved ones deteriorate.  I want to pull them all into a collective hug so tight it will squeeze the pain away.  If I could chose one superpower it would be to have the ability to heal.

When you are an empath, or even if you have empathetic tendencies, your life is directly and seriously impacted by the feelings of those around you.  You feel others’ emotions as deeply as you feel your own, and your energy is affected by the things that surround you.  You can imagine the sensory overload that can result, and you can see why it leads to a bone-deep fatigue.

It is difficult, at times such as these, to maintain a positive outlook.  It would be far easier to revert back to one’s prior negative tendencies.  Allowing that to happen, though, would be allowing the wrong people and the wrong things to win.  And so we find ways to fight back, to climb out of the darkness, and to continue to look for the good.

When the world makes me weary, I look to each of you.  I pause to think of the amazing traits that you possess that led me to welcome you into my circle.  I recall the pure and kind acts that I have witnessed you perform.  I remember your words – words that changed a day, a week, a life.  I feel the warmth and the safety that radiates from each of you, and I am enveloped by love and compassion.

When the world makes me weary, it is each of you who restores my energy.  It is you who guides me back toward the light and drives me to continue to encourage and motivate those around me.  It is each of you using your collective superpowers to heal a damaged should.  It is you who makes me whole again.

The Most Important Job

I am an insurance agent.  You are a writer.  She is a physical therapist.  He is a stay-at-home dad.

We have jobs to perform.  We have careers to build.  We have schedules to adhere to and meetings to attend.  We meet deadlines, make appointments, and multitask our way through the days.

We navigate the hustle and bustle of society.  We ride out the ebbs and flows of the economic system.  We create trends, and then we buck them in favor of the next latest, greatest thing.

Some struggle to wade through the mundane hours of their workday.  Others strive to climb the ladder and achieve new heights of career elevation.  The luckiest of us grab ahold of that thing that sparks our passion and find a way to make both a living and a life with it.

We make products and sell ideas.  We analyze data and seek ways to make the graphs move in the right direction.  We offer our art and our talent to the world.  We create, teach, and serve.  We provide customer service support, financial advice, and care.

We hold various positions and titles.  We run the gamut from entry-level clerks to sous chefs to CEOs.  We each offer a service that allows society to function as it does.  Yet we collectively, as humans, have a far more important job that we cannot ignore and must not neglect.

We need to remember, as we start each new day, what our primary purpose truly is.  What is, in fact, the very reason for our being.  It has little to do with earning a paycheck.  It has everything to do with love.

The single greatest job we can aspire to is to love the people who surround us.  It is, I believe, our responsibly, our duty, and our destiny.  We can offer nothing better to one another than the love within our hearts.  Live a legacy of love that you may leave a legacy of love.

A moment spent comforting a wounded soul is worth more than countless hours in a boardroom.  A day of fishing and hiking with your children trumps the highest salary.  A romantic getaway strengthening a relationship.  A weekend laughing with friends and making memories.  These are the best ways to build a “resume”.

Love like it is the most important job you will ever have…because it is.

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Sunday Smiles- It Isn’t the Things

It’s the feel of the soft, purring vibration of a cat napping on your lap.

It’s the sound of your nephew’s laughter as he plays in the surf on a beach day.

It’s the ring of laughter as friends come together to celebrate a milestone birthday.

It’s the inhalation of crisp, clean air on a mountain hike.

It’s dancing around the living room with abandon to a favorite 80s tune.

It’s the sweaty satisfaction of giving your all during a tough workout.

It’s the joy of an unexpected phone call from a childhood friend.

It’s sending messages to your significant other across a crowded room with only a smile.

It’s getting caught in a warm summer rain shower and not running for cover.

It’s relaxing by the pool, forgetting about the workweek grind and enjoying the simple pleasure of watching the kids show off their cannonballs and dives.

It’s in making the time for your passions and pursuing them without reserve.

It’s the instant comfort issued by a hand placed on your back in silent support.

It’s in surveying the scene around you and exhaling slowly, knowing you are exactly where you want to be.

No, it isn’t the things that fill our lives and make us rich.  It’s the people who surround us and share our days.  It’s the sights and sounds that fill our ears and our eyes.  It’s the feeling of the “feels” that gives us a wealth that money never could.  It isn’t the things.  It’s everything but the things.

Wishing you all a wonderful Sunday and a full, happy week ahead!  Cheers! Karen

Stop Using Social Media as a Weapon

I scroll through my Facebook Newsfeed, smiling at a few jokes and memes.  I get my dose of popular and unpopular opinion as I slide by posts about the cause du jour.  I hit the “Like” button on a picture of a friend’s impossibly adorable children.  I leave a congratulatory comment on a post with good news, and I share a motivational quote on my own wall.

Then I hit on that post.  The one that makes me cringe.  The one that makes me suck in my breath.  The one that causes my inner voice to cock its head back and say, “Oh no she didn’t…”

Oh yes she did.  One of my friends has called out her spouse in a withering, sarcastic post, and it is right there for me to see.  Me and several hundred of her other closest friends.  Throw in close to a thousand more, because to add insult to injury she has tagged him, making the post visible to everyone on his friends list, too.  Ouch.

Well now, this is awkward.  It is also infuriating.  It sets my teeth on edge like few things do.  No, I am not angry at your spouse for the alleged egregious act you outlined with such relish in your diatribe.  I am, in fact, furious with you for putting me, your spouse, and all of your friends in this position.

Maybe your spouse failed to complete a requested home improvement project. Perhaps he was less than helpful with the children.  He may have insulted you or made you feel less than appreciated.  These are all things that matter, and if you feel hurt or wronged they should be addressed.  They should not, however, be tackled on a public forum.  The days of shaming in the town square are long gone.  Call a friend or a close family member if you need to vent or seek advice.

I find myself questioning your motives.  If you are seeking attention there are far better ways to get it.   If you are trying to make yourself look good by making him look bad you are failing.  You have not diminished your spouse in my eyes.  You have not gained an ally in your domestic skirmish.  You have, however, knocked yourself several rungs down my respect ladder.

You may remove the post after you cool down.  You will forgive your spouse and let him back in your good graces.  You will carry on with your daily life and with your marriage. You may even forget about the post or the reason for it, but I will not.  I cannot unsee what I have seen, and I will forevermore relate my thoughts of you back to this incident in much the same way that a certain song evokes an instant memory.  If it will stay with me I can imagine it will stay with the hundreds of others privy to it as well.  Ponder the amount of discomfort you have spread with that one little post.

In this age of advanced technology and rampant oversharing you need to understand that there are still some things that should not be fodder for discussion on social media.  I know friends who have gone through difficult divorces or break ups within the past few years, and they have exercised restraint by never speaking a bad word on the internet about the other party.  If they can exhibit that level of class in dealing with their situations then it should not be asking too much for you to do the same with yours.  I hope you consider this with care in the future, and I ask you to think twice before hitting that “Post” button.

Stop using social media as a weapon.  Facebook is not your personal battlefield.  Leave the media wars to the celebrities and the political pundits.  Save those status updates for your diary.  Even an open book like me understands that some chapters are best kept private.

(Note: I use the term spouse here for purposes of illustration and brevity. The message applies to husbands, wives, significant others, and partners equally.)

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Do you believe there is such a thing as oversharing, or are all topics fair game?  As always I welcome your comments and feedback.


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Look for the Love

Look to the expectant mother with her peaceful smile.  See the way her hand rests gently yet protectively on her stomach.  Hear her murmur promises to the heart that beats deep within her.

Look to the patient father as he kneels to a child’s eye level.  See how he holds his son’s shoulders as he calms a pending storm.  Hear him explain that sometimes life seems unfair, but we must accept defeat with grace and honor.

Look to the friends sharing coffee and conversation in a cafe.  See as one reaches to hold the hand of the other as she notices the tears welling up.  Hear her speak soft words of comfort and assurance.

Look to the nurse standing vigil beside a hospital bed.  See her fuss over pillows and blankets as she reads charts and adjusts medications.  Hear her offer encouragement and solace to a stranger as she would to one of her own.

Look to the young man as he volunteers at a homeless shelter.  See him serve meals with gratitude instead of with judgment.  Hear him offer idle chatter to the recipients with a smile, removing the discomfort of shame and embarrassment.

Look to the couple sitting in the waiting room at the veterinarian’s office.  See them unlatch the door to the carrier and stroke the fur of a fading beloved family member.  Hear them whisper good-byes and say thank you for the cherished years together.

Look to the police officer at the scene of a horrific car crash.  See him offer a stuffed animal to the numb child who clutches it to him, watching in blank incomprehension as his parents are wheeled into ambulances.  Hear him soothe and reassure the child, and then hear him as he steps away to call his own family, trying to keep his voice from cracking.

Look to the left and look to the right.  Look in front of you, and look behind.  See the love that surrounds you, and realize that it is everywhere.  Hear it in the voices that speak to you, and in your own voice as you speak to others.

Look for the love.  See the love.  Hear the love.  Live the love.  Be the love.

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A Reformed Pessimist

I often describe myself as a reformed pessimist.  If you have been here before you may know that I have been on a multi-year journey to change my outlook and by extension my life.  The tagline for this blog, “a realistic approach to an optimistic life”, best sums up my approach these days.

It has not been a simple process.  There have been twists and turns, bumps and bruises, and gigantic steps forward and backward.  It has been an exercise in patience, both mine with others and most certainly theirs with me.  It has been a fulfilling learning experience of trial and error.  While the ride is far from over, at five years in I can see definitive, measurable results from the efforts.

I can tell you that turning away from pessimism has allowed me to change the way I interact with the world and the people around me.  It has enabled me to unload the unnecessary, unwanted weight of negativity, thereby providing a new sense of lightness and freedom.  It has given me the opportunity to find a level of happiness that a half-decade ago I would not have thought possible.  I would like to share a few of the most noticeable differences that I can see.

I wake up each morning looking for possibilities instead of problems.  Where I used to begin the day with a mental rundown of all of the annoyances and roadblocks I was sure to face, I now start with a vision of the good things that may happen.  Yes, there are days that are stressful and taxing, but instead of talking myself into a doom-and-gloom mood I prep to take on the challenges by reminding myself that they are short-term and will not last forever.

I no longer anticipate the worst case scenario.  Even the most optimistic people know that bad things happen.  It is how we react when they do that makes the difference.  If we allow ourselves to be defeated by a setback or a complication we can create a rapid downward spiral.  This often leads to an accelerated deterioration of our viewpoint that can be hard to reverse.  If, however, we choose to look for solutions to the problems we face, then we can find the fortitude to work through the difficult times.  We can recognize and accept that tough times are inevitable, but we can opt to search for ways to pull ourselves out of them rather than letting them pull us under.

I have found my “walk away” point.  One trait that many pessimists have in common is their need to argue.  If they see something, anything, in a negative light, then they are not satisfied until they have made their best effort to make you see it in the same way.  If you bring up the pros of a situation you can bet your bottom dollar they will fire back with a ready list of cons.  One of the hardest parts of my journey has been the letting go of this need to argue, to be right, and to have the last word.  It has also been one of the most rewarding parts, as I have finally discovered that I can walk away, even if it means letting someone else “win” the debate.  I have realized that true victory comes not from getting the better of someone in an argument but from the peace of mind that walking away allows you to retain.

I welcome happiness and love into my life.  It has been surprising over these past five years to see just how far-reaching the impacts of a more positive perspective have been.  The swing from pessimism to a realistic optimism has turned me into a kinder person. It has made me approachable and open. Adopting a favorable viewpoint has granted me the ability to stop expending my energy on negative people and to start focusing on the positive ones.  It has enabled me to strike up new friendships, and it has freed me to both give and accept love.

I am not telling anyone that they need to change.  That is a decision that can only come from within.  I will tell you that it is not an endeavor that will be undertaken in vain. The benefits extend to your mind, your health, and even to your appearance.  Yes, it is true…a smile looks much better on you than a frown!  Cheers!  Karen


Turn Kindness Inward

During a recent conversation with a close friend I found myself listening as she beat herself up over a life choice and the amount of time it took for her to make corrections to head in a new direction.  It saddened me to hear that she was continuing to be so hard on herself about something that had happened years ago.  It hurt me to know that this wonderful, caring person was treating herself in a less than kind manner.  I waited for her to finish, and then I said, “You need to forgive yourself.  You need to be as gentle with yourself as you are with everyone else.  You have to be kind to yourself in the same way that you are kind to those around you.”

We often make a conscious effort to practice kindness toward others, be it through random or intentional acts.  We should take care to turn that same kindness inward.  We must remember to exercise on ourselves the tenderness and compassion that we show to others.

Forgive yourself.  You have made mistakes.  Perhaps you have even done things knowing they were not right.  Acknowledge your actions, and then forgive yourself.  As you make the decision to pardon others for their transgressions, so should you exonerate yourself for your own.  This does not mean you forget the lessons that you learn or give yourself leave to repeat bad behavior, but it does allow you to move forward in a positive direction.

Console yourself.  You are there to comfort a friend when he is feeling low.  You provide solace to a family member during difficult times.  You may even offer kind words to someone you do not know who is showing signs of distress.  You deserve the same alleviation of your own anguish or discomfort.  You might well find it at the hands of another, but you can also find it internally.  Let your inner voice speak words of comfort when you need to hear them.

Encourage yourself.  You offer words of motivation to the person struggling next to you at the gym.  You rally behind a co-worker who is struggling to complete a project.  You stand on the sidelines of a race or a sporting event cheering on complete strangers.  Give yourself the same uplifting support.  Stop knocking yourself down or berating your “failures”.  Instead, be your own cheerleader.

Love yourself.  Be nice to you.  Do it because you are worth loving.  Love yourself, and you will be free to share more love with the world.  Show yourself the affection and warmth that you give to those you hold dear.

Remind yourself that you deserve the gentleness that you bestow on others.  When you practice self-kindness you set in motion a force within you that radiates graciousness and goodness outward.  That alone is reason enough to turn kindness inward.

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