Monday, December 26, 2011

There Is No Wagon!

We’ve all heard the expression, maybe even said it a few times ourselves: “I’ve fallen off the wagon.” My question is “Just what is this wagon? And, for goodness sake, why can’t we just hop back on it?”
It seems that if we find ourselves shy of the goal, we tell ourselves that’s it -- our story has been written, our destiny has already been determined. But why? Why is it that we can succeed in so many areas of our life, and fail time and time again in others? Why is it that we expect a learning curve with some tasks but immediate perfection with the rest? And why do we tell ourselves that if it didn’t work the last time, it probably never will?
I have a friend with diabetes. She’s an overeater and has always struggled with her weight and her love for food. When suggesting to her a different approach to her quest, the silence on the other end of the line was evidence of her pain and crying soon followed.  Then she said, “I am so afraid.  I’ve tried so many times and I always end up failing and falling off the wagon.”  We talked some more and she opted for trying a new approach.
What she, and so many others, failed to realize was that by viewing her goal as a wagon she could fall off, or a train that once it jumped the track had no hope of ever returning, she was basically saying there was no room for second chances (so forget about the third or fourth try!). This was a very successful woman who had reached so many of the goals she set for herself. I asked her how she’d done it. She said it had taken time, trials, errors and lots of hard work.  In short, her success was an evolution – she just failed to see how the test she took each time she stepped on the scale was as well.
After all, could you cross a lake without knowing how to swim?  Would you give up the first time you swallowed some water? Would you panic then quit at the first sign of an endless bottom? Think about when you learned to ride a bike. Did you quit the first time you skinned your knee? Or even worse, stop loving the first time your heart was broken? (‘cause that hurts!)  Why is it because it didn’t work the first time, or even the fifth, we assume it never will? Think about it!!! Just because there is traffic, doesn’t mean you get off the road -- you just take another path. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

What's In A Smile?

Some years ago I was on the cereal aisle of my local grocery store when a man passed me with a little girl in his shopping cart. Amused by the cute toddler, I smiled at her and said hello. “Ay Dios mio, yo a ti te conozco!” he said (“Oh my goodness, I know you.”). Yeah right! I thought. I had heard plenty of pick-up lines in my time but in Spanish?
As it turns out, he not only knew me by first and last name, he knew my father, my mother and my sisters too.  It seems we had met at a party for our fathers’ fraternity back in Puerto Rico. “I put you on my feet and taught you to dance,” he said. “I was 14. You were 3.”
So there I stood, stunned and with Special K in hand, in another country, 40-something years later with no clue of who he was.   I asked him how he had recognized me since the last time we had seen each other, I was such a small child. His reply:  “You have the exact same smile.”
Now that was a “WOW!” moment.
A smile is more than just a simple gesture. It says something about who you are and how you view the world. When you smile, you create an energy that travels from the outside into the very inside of your soul.  Go ahead, try it. Hold a smile and feel your heart fill up! It lifts your mood, transforms your day and defines you as a person. When it’s given it brings joy to others, puts them at ease and welcomes them to get to know you.
I have two friends who used to avoid raising their upper lips when they smiled. Their restrained smiles caught my attention. Perhaps they didn’t like their teeth, or the whiteness of their smile, or the emotion a smile portrayed. Whatever the reason, it was a boundary they put between themselves and others – a habit they’d developed that wasn’t serving them or those around them.
People can mistakenly assume that when a person smiles a lot they must be leading a charmed life, a sort of “Pollyanna” existence void of pain and heartbreak. I remember a woman once said to me, “I can tell you’ve never had sorrow in your life because you’re always smiling.” My response to her was to say: “just because you can only see a smile, doesn’t mean I don’t carry scars in my heart;” and then I smiled.
Whether you’re in a good place or times are tough, if you’re struggling to hang on or grateful for a momentary reprieve from life’s hardships there’s always cause to smile. Don’t just take my word for it, test the theory for yourself.  For the next several weeks make a conscious effort to be aware of others, look them in the eye, and offer a smile. See what happens. See how you feel. See how others react to you. Who knows, you just might begin to experience for yourself the same thing you’re offering to others: Joy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust: The story of how Daddy ended up in a green box and how we learned to laugh again.

This time of year always brings back memories of Daddy Lister (Papi Lister) and his last days with us. My step-father passed away right before Christmas and forever changed the way our family would think of the holiday season -- as well as how we would come to view an ordinary gift box.

Confused? Well, let me explain. My mom has always been a strong caretaker. She took care of us kids. She took care of her mother, her sisters and also my father until he passed away. And, until the cancer finally won, she took care of Daddy Lister. After his passing, finding just the right place for his ashes was the last thing she would ever do for him. And so the guest began. What would eventually unfold is the stuff of legend in our family.

It all began when mom first brought my step-father’s ashes home and placed them on the kitchen table. My husband at the time came in. Not knowing the contents of the box, he moved it out of the way -- into the laundry room. On the floor. Right next to the cat’s litter box! OMG!...When mom made the discovery, I could barely understand what she was saying because she was crying so hard: “Someone...put Lister...on the floor...right next to cat poop.”

After many apologies, we moved Daddy Lister to the guest room and my daughter and I escaped the tension to do some necessary Christmas shopping. Some of our new-found purchases came with beautiful, silver-bowed gift boxes -- one green and one blue. When we got back home, I used the green box to wrap a present for my mother-in-law and placed it under the tree. Some time later, my mom spotted the green, velvet box and decided it would be the perfect place to put Daddy Lister. Without a moment’s hesitation, I agreed and swapped out the present into the empty blue box.

Now this is when good communication would have worked to our advantage because when mom got into the car to go to dinner and my husband saw her carrying that green box in her lap, assumptions were made. Concerned with her reaction, he took me aside and he whispered “are you OK with your mom taking Lister with us to dinner?”

When mom heard the story she couldn’t help herself. Mom had not laughed in quite a while so I was tickled to hear her first chuckle, then a contained snicker, then she was in all-out hysterical laughter. Soon we were all laughing so hard our sides hurt with running tears and all. It was exactly what we needed. If only for a moment, normality returned. Joy happened. The pain subsided.

I guess life is like that. Just when you think you can’t take any more, there’s a moment. Something funny happens and you forget for a split second how sad you are. You surrender sorrow, you smile, you get a funny feeling inside and, finally, you just have to laugh.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A half-mutilated Raggedy Andy, a Two-cotton balled Snowman, a silver fish perforated Dog and other Christmas Treasures

Every year about this time we all head off to the local high school tree lot, the garden center at the home improvement store or maybe just up into the dark recesses of our silver fish-infested attic -- all in search of the perfect Christmas tree. We hog-tie them to our cars; and then, like giant bonsai trees, shape them into perfect cones -- fat on the bottom, equally full on all sides and pointed enough on top for an angel or a smiling Santa face. It is quite the ceremony.  Fake and real, flocked and tinseled, our Christmas trees are more than just an expression of the season. They are, in some ways, the story of our lives.

Let me just be honest for a second. My tree is not the Van Gogh variety. It is not likely to be featured in a Southern Living or any other home magazine. It is, in a word, pitiful.  There are no antique glass ornaments, no color theme to speak-just the snowman that my daughter made in school that is now down to two balls, six black dots and a lop-sided top hat.

You see, in the early days money was tight. There was barely enough for presents and certainly no extra for store-bought ornaments. Instead, I bought a bolt of red and white gingham ribbon and made bows for the tree limbs. My girls contributed with ornaments made in their art class and my clients with their homemade gift labels which then became ornaments. All-in-all, our tree was cheerful but it’s safe to say it never would have made it in the Festival of Trees.

Today, I reflect on last year’s tree ceremony when a close friend offered to help hang the ornaments and, as a trade-off, I put her hair color on.  As we unveiled those silver fish- affected boxes, out came the crispy, dry, wrinkled bows held by thin frail wire, the picture frame ornaments still with their “place photo here” insert sheets, the bare-thin dog, Raggedy Andy, and the sad toy soldier…all of them parading onto the tree.  We even created sections, like in a hospital ward, by how “affected” they were.  We laughed so hard, it took us forever to finish that sucker and her color might have gone a little bit too dark!

But laughter brought on reflection when my friend said “I know you can afford nice ornaments!  What’s up with this picture?” Well, you see, every year when I unpack those hand-made ornaments from my girls’ childhood or the special tokens my clients gave me at the holidays, I think of my life and the journey I’ve been on. Each make-shift ornament reminds me of how far I’ve come and those who helped me along the way. I can remember friends who made sure to remember a single mom at Christmas; my kids and how they grew and changed with each passing season; and special times when joy was measured in memories and not in the total of a sales receipt.

This season, as you put up your tree, I invite you to reflect on your own Christmases past. Are you still close with the people whose ornaments you now find wrapped in tissue? What traditions and Christmas vacations do you still hold dear? And now that you are grown, can you still recall the joy of Christmas morning and the sound of your little padded feet coming down the hall?

Merry Christmas y Feliz Navidad!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Came on Wednesday that Year

It was an ordinary Wednesday. Nothing special really. A hectic day filled with too much work for too little pay. I was rushing home in the dark, exhausted and hoping to make it in time to see the girls before bedtime, and secretly dreaming of a hot bath.  When I turned the corner onto our street I saw my house at the end of the cul-de-sac...shining like Time Square at New Years. Yes!, it was my house strung up with white Christmas lights.

Now that may not seem all that unusual for a Wednesday in December, but take it from me, I was witnessing my very own Christmas miracle.

You see, my girls had always wanted to have Christmas decorations on our house -- sparkling lights and a wreath on the front door just like every other house on our American street. It was never easy telling them we couldn’t afford something but saying those words at Christmastime was especially difficult.   Between the money and the time I just could not do it so I just made excuses.

I was stopped dead in my tracks; taken by the moment. Through rivers of tears and sobbing like a child, I glimpsed their joyful faces waiting for me outside.  And standing right beside them, with a grin just as big, was Hugh Buck, my next door neighbor. When the girls had told him we wouldn’t be having any lights that year, he decided to buy them and hang them himself.  I just could not believe we would be the recipients of such a loving gesture.

The sheer joy my girls felt at that moment was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. My neighbor has since passed away but every year and after Thanksgiving, when I string my Christmas lights, Hugh’s memory lives on. It was the purest form of kindness I’ve ever experienced. It was, in word, Christmas.

 Go ahead and enjoy every moment of this season!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Taste of Tradition

Years ago I was dating a man who spent an entire holiday season bragging about his aunt’s pecan pie: “The custard is like velvet.” “The crust is so flaky.” And on and on it went. What I soon came to realize was that his attachment wasn’t to that piece of pie, it was to the traditions it represented -- the traditions he was missing.

Now we all know this Latin girl is not from the South. I can whip up a fierce flan but I’m at a loss when it comes to pecan pie. Determined to give my guy a slice of home, I turned to one of my clients for her family’s recipe for Texas pecan pie. To say it was a hit would be an understatement. It may have just been a pie, but to this guy it was evidence that I understood what it was like to be away from the ones you loved, I knew that the traditions of our childhood were powerful things, and, most of all, I cared.

What about you? If you close your eyes and recall the tastes of your childhood, the memories of your holidays growing up, what comes to mind? In my family it’s pork. In fact, my son-in-law, who currently plays for the Atlanta Braves, once told a reporter that what he was most looking forward to over the holidays was my slow-roasted pork. We sit around the table, push up our sleeves and dive into that tender meat stopping only long enough to grab some greasy pork rinds. It may not be everyone’s idea of Thanksgiving, but it’s ours.

Over the years, I’ve tweaked that pecan pie recipe -- added a bit of this and a touch of that -- and I hand it out over the holiday season. I’m no longer dating that man, but his pie still lives on. I hope that everyone who eats it tastes more than just a yummy dessert. I hope, like him, they taste the love.

Texas Pecan Pie

  • 1 9" unbaked pie shell
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (=1/2 a stick, I use salted)
  • 3 well beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Mix sugar, corn syrup, and melted butter. Add beaten eggs, vanilla, and pecans.  Fill pie shell.  Bake at 325 for 30-45min.  I move/wiggle the pie while inthe oven before taking it out, if the center moves, it is not done.  Check every 5 mins.  If the crust is cooking too fast, cover border with foil.  Cool thoroughly before slicing.

Other variations:

Substitute with Macadamia nuts
Add handful of chocolate chip morsels


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When Taking The Lead May Leave You Out Of Step

This past weekend I went out for salsa lessons and learned a thing or two about taking the lead and learning how to follow. As I clasped hands with my instructor, I was prepared to move. What I wasn’t prepared for was having him stop me, grab me by my hands and say: “I need for you to wait for me and then follow. I’m going to take you some place, but it requires that you let me make the first move.”

A lesson in dancing for sure; but what about life? Could it be that by always anticipating the next step and preparing myself to react, I had forgotten how to follow?

As I drove home that night, I recalled a similar conversation when the guy I was dancing with said to me “are you going to lead here too?” (Yikes!)  All this got me to thinking and questioning just who’s in the lead? In taking control of my relationships, do I project that I don’t want a man to guide me? Do the men I meet ever question what role they would play in a relationship with me? Am I capable of surrendering control sometimes to allow someone else to pick up the reins? Like in a dance, does he feel my resistance?

After the all-too-true assessment of my dancing, my instructor asked me to close my eyes and just relax. No seeing where he was taking me and with no music playing to follow a rhythm.  No awareness of any obstacles that might be in our path. Just blindly following his lead.   What I experienced was something totally new. I could feel the softness of his hands and the strength in his arms. It was smoother, less regimented.  I was aware of him in a way I had not been before; and, amazingly, I never missed a step and never resisted the lead. 

So what I’m taking away from the experience is this: It’s okay to surrender control or leadership sometimes. I may not always be able to close my eyes, but I can certainly look the other way, get in step and just enjoy the dance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Checking In: Party of One

Up 330 steps of spiraling stairs I climbed until I reached the top of the dome of St. Peter’s basilica. As I emerged, I could see the colonnade, the Pantheon and all of Rome laid out below me. From inside the gallery, the sounds of music and soft whispers rose from a church service taking place below.

This was a delightful surprise -- a stolen moment -- an experience that almost didn’t happen.

It all started while I was visiting Umbria with a guy I was dating. In the middle of our trip we had a disagreement and I ended up spending the day by myself. I ate lunch alone in a charming restaurant, had a pleasant conversation with the couple sitting next to me and wandered around the city. I enjoyed myself so much that I wanted to stay and explore more of Italy but we were scheduled to leave for a business meeting the following day.

At that moment I faced a choice. The “little people” inside my head, who only see the negative, told me it wasn’t safe for a woman to travel alone, that I couldn’t have fun without a companion and that I had an obligation. But the truth was, I wanted to stay. The decision I made that day opened up the world to me and showed me that there was no reason to put off experiencing it just because I didn’t have someone to go with.

Today, 32 million single, American women travel at least once a year, one third of them travels more than five times a year -- alone. Like me, they have decided to quit listening to fear and doubt in exchange for searching out whatever adventures await. Here are some common-sense ideas that will help you get out and experience the world as a single traveler:

  Ask for help. The hotel concierge, shop employees and wait staff are very accommodating and can steer you where to go and what places to avoid.

  Ask yourself what circumstances would make you vulnerable then determine how to avoid them.  When in doubt, make sure someone knows when to expect you back.

  Only carry one day’s worth of cash and one credit card on you and use the hotel safe for your remaining funds and passport.

  If you have to use an ATM, pick a machine on a busy street and go during daytime hours.  Never store all your money in the same place. 

  In case of an emergency (ex. stolen phone) go to an internet cafĂ© and get on FB or use emails to communicate.

  Know where you’re going before you leave and the name, address, phone number and email of where you are staying so you’ll know where to return.

  Know your limit. I never have more than one glass of wine when I’m alone because I know the second will lead to the third and that is what will impair my judgment.

  Have a sense of purpose when walking through airports, subways and train stations. Online maps and information sites will help you know where you’re going.

  Take a trial run. If you’re not sure you can travel alone at this time, take along your significant other but ask them to let you do it your way. Plan the trip as if you were taking it alone and have the experience you’re looking for.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

If Time Is Currency, How Are You Spending Yours?

I admit it. I’m just a tad bit obsessive about my time. I like having things in order, I think idle time is wasted time and I never do one task when I can multi-task. It’s true, I brush my teeth in the shower and I set my timer so I’m done getting ready or done with a mini home workout by the time my meal comes out of the oven. And while that may seem a bit much for some of you, consider this; I only work six months out of the year.

I’m often asked how I can afford to have so much free time to travel, see my kids, and start a second business. The answer came to me while I was talking to Missy, one of my clients at the salon.

At the time, I was in a relationship with a man from South Africa. When he decided to return home, I began to think of ways we could still see each other while living on two different continents. My client helped me see how with a bit of creative planning, I could manage to fit in the same number of clients in fewer days by working longer hours and making schedule changes. The result was that in six weeks I could do three months’ worth of work.

Even though the relationship ended, I have kept my work schedule. It gives me free time to see the world and spend time with family. If I wanted, I could even live somewhere else. The way I look at it, by planning for my life I’m always ahead of it. If I didn’t plan, I’d feel like I was behind my life always trying to catch up.

Here are some tips I have found to help you manage your time so that you’ll have more of it to spend creating the life you want to live:

•  Find someone objective who you trust. Ask them what areas they see in your life that aren’t serving you or are simply being wasted.  Quiet the little people and reflect on it.

•  Keep track of how you are spending your time over the course of several weeks. Where could you be saving time? What could you accomplish with that saved time?

•  Ask yourself, “If I only had more time, I’d love to ___________.” Fill in the blank with something you long to do but don’t see possible at this pace/stage of your life. You’ll never manage your time wisely unless you have something you’re trying to save it for.

•  Prioritize your life into things that are urgent and non-urgent, important and non-important. The urgent things have to get done (ex. you have to go to work). The important things need to get done (ex. going to the gym). What are the non-urgent things that you can reassign to another day? What are the non-important things that you can set aside?

•  Don’t excuse the things you need to prioritize. Things like your health, your values and the success of your family should never be overlooked.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Get A Move On!

When I was a kid I loved to eat. I don’t mean that I enjoyed the occasional slice of cake or that I got a thrill at the sound of the ice cream truck. I mean I literally ate all the time. It was always more about quantity than quality. My mother said I ate like an “obrero” – the Spanish word for a male laborer.  My plate was always filled to the rim and highest at the table. Fortunately, I was athletic so the food I ate never seemed to land on me. That is, until I reached 30.

In my thirties, I began to pick up weight faster than I could keep it off. One day, I pointed across the room at my dad and I saw the bottom of my arm jiggling. I had seen first-hand what a poor diet and obesity could lead to and I knew I’d better act fast. Many of my family members had diabetes and were either blind or amputees by the time they died. That was scary, but an even more immediate problem for me was the fact that as a single mother on a fixed income I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes.

My limited income also meant that I couldn’t afford expensive equipment, trainers or gym memberships. So I decided to take it to the street -- literately. One morning at 4:30, while it was still dark outside, I began to run. I made sure the girls were asleep and safe inside and I began to go up and down the street where I lived. Back and forth, always in view of the house, until I was drenched in sweat and too winded to talk.

Here’s how I began my journey with exercise, where I got the motivation and how I stopped a problem in its tracks that too many other women my age seemed to have succumbed to:

Build on a little at a time. To say I ran that first morning is a bit of an exaggeration. The truth is, I walked. Eventually I worked up to alternating between jogging and walking -- lengthening the time I was running and shortening the time I walked as time went on. Until one day, I was running. For all you ladies who say, “I’m not a runner,” here’s the secret: make short goals and increase them a little every day. For me, it began with saying “I won’t stop until I reach that pole.” Then maybe the next day, I’d stretch it to the next mailbox and then the one after that -- each day adding on to what I did the day before, making the goal just a little bit harder.

Find a way to drown out the “little people.” The little people are those nagging voices inside my head that tell me I can’t do something. They undermine my goals, mess with my mojo and try to get me to buy into negative thoughts. When you exercise, they are always the loudest the first five minutes. Music is what I use to motivate me, help me find my groove and drown out the voices that say “this is too hard. Just give up now.” I tell them “Shh…quiet now” , and after a few minutes, I find I’m in the zone and it’s not so hard to keep going.

Find the workout that motivates you. At first running was my passion. Since then, I’ve tried swimming, spin classes, pilates/yoga and a whole list of other workouts. The key is to find what you love at the moment, don’t let yourself get into a rut and mix it up so your body is always being challenged. Remember, just because you loved it last year, doesn’t mean it will be what motivates you now.

Be accountable. I need accountability. Sometimes it’s that friend who is waiting for me to show up at her house. Other times, it’s knowing I’ve paid for that membership or class. Find whatever it is that will hold you accountable to your goals.

Remember the benefits. When I first started running, I was a single mom with two kids and an 80-hour work week. There were plenty of reasons for me not to exercise. What kept me going was knowing the incredible amount of energy I’d have when it was over. I used that energy to get me up in the early morning, to get me through my work day and to help me find all the time I could to spend with my kids.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Born To Run

It’s amazing how loud the voices can be sometimes. The “little people,” as I like to call them, are those nagging thoughts inside my head that tell me I can’t do it, I’m not supposed to behave a certain way, I have limitations. They’re like a horse’s bit, holding me back when all I want to do is run.

I guess I’ve always had them. Born from a tragedy in my childhood, they are the reason I was seduced into two abusive relationships back to back. In those days I paid an awful lot of attention to their lies. I remember how loud they seemed to me; and I also remember the moment I chose to stop listening.

We all come to that crossroad sooner or later -- the point when we have to decide if our sense of courage is stronger than our sense of fear. For me, it was when I made the choice to leave a bad marriage, travel to another country and make a life for me and my two girls. I came to the United States from Puerto Rico without a college degree or a husband, and I took a job making $65 a week doing hair. What I found was a career I love, a sense of security I created myself and a place I call home.

Today, I’m 53 years old. I’m a successful business woman, an entrepreneur and a life coach. I no longer feel that sensation of drowning in fear. Over time, one strong decision after another, I’ve learned to swim.

In this blog, I hope to encourage you to quiet those thoughts in your own head that keep you from being all you want to be. I’ll share my struggles and triumphs, the lessons I’ve picked up along the way and tips for helping you become your best self. We’ll talk about everything from singleness to finances, exercise to travel.  Need a healthy recipe? You’ll find it here. Want some ideas on improving your time management?  Check back in. Looking for tips on dating later in life? Well, I’ve got those too.

Mainly what you’ll find at a Margarita Moment is a cheerleader telling you that life doesn’t always have to be like this -- you can change, you can reinvent yourself and there’s no age limit on your dreams. Do I still hear the little people? Sure. Sometimes it’s when someone tells me I’m kind and I remember all those times an abuser told me I was selfish. Other times it’s when a man tells me I’m beautiful and I hear it but don’t necessarily see it. The little people are still there trying to keep me small, but I’ve learned to change the dialogue. I’ve learned that what I can become is stronger than what I once was.  I invite you to come along for the journey and discover how you can start living the life you were meant to live as well.