Holiday Shopping Made Easy

2020 Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays have a tendency to sneak up on me each year, but with the backdrop of our pandemic reality, time seems particularly skewed these days. How are we less than two months away from a new calendar year??

Whether you are one super-prepared holiday shopper, or you are scratching your head, wondering what gift to get your family and friends this season, consider the following venues to get your shopping groove on–you won’t be disappointed:

(1)Teri Case, the author of TIGER DRIVE and IN THE DOGHOUSE (a personal favorite:) offers gift-givers the chance to read GREAT BEGINNINGS: AN ANTHOLOGY, for free. Here’s the link: https://BookHip.com/NMLQAW

The overflowing-with-talent, Teri Case created a beautiful (and free!) anthology entitled Great Beginnings. More than thirty authors–myself included–joined together to share the first chapters of their books. This anthology includes the first chapters of everything from award-winning fiction to non-fiction. It’s the perfect gift for an avid reader. Consider it a literary appetizer for the book lover in your life.

Thanks to Katie Carlisle Gonzales for creating a one-stop-shopping source

(2)This 2020 Gift Guide was made possible by Katie Carlisle Gonzales, someone a dear friend and colleague of mine (author, Cathey Nickell) met, (well, virtually anyway!) through a Facebook group called Moms and Ladies of Southwest Houston. Katie had the idea to create a holiday shopping guide. The guide includes links to over 30 businesses, offering a wide variety of shopping items that you might not think of or know about otherwise. Check out the link here >>> https://bit.ly/34OY1qO

Bring a mask!

(3) How about an open-air outdoor holiday shopping market? Expect to see about 30 vendors at the 16th Annual Heights Holiday Market from 10am-4 pm, Saturday December 5th, at The Church at 1548 Heights Blvd. Author Cathey Nickell will to be autographing and personalizing her two children’s books: Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car and Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn. Artist Bonnie Blue will bring her “Women That Rock” artcar/van, and she’ll be selling her hand-painted driftwood Santas (and more). Such a fun photo op for the kids! You’ll also find a coffee truck, a taco vendor, and so many amazing one-of-a-kind gift ideas, so please join us if you’re in the Houston area. Masks are required for both vendors and visitors. #houstonheightsholidaymarket

Thank you, Kristine Hall and Lone Star Literary Life for creating a thorough Holiday Gift Guide!

(4) I’m also in another online Holiday Gift Guide,thanks to Lone Star Literary Life, a wonderful organization that helps readers find stories and helps Texas authors find their ideal audiences. Owner and publisher Kristine Hall has put together a Holiday Gift Guide, and I’m in it! You can find my book, The Friendship Diet: Clean Out Your Fridge, Get Real with Yourself, and Fill Your Life with Meaningful Relationships that Last here >>> https://www.lonestarliterary.com/content/2020-hgg-nonfiction-books… and if you go to the Lone Star Literary Life website, Kristine has put together some other gift guides for fiction and children’s books as well (go to the LSLL website and look under the “Features” tab).

There is no doubt, 2020 has NOT been an easy one. I hope you find a potential gift(s) for your loved ones. The epithet applies now more than ever: It’s the thought that counts. A gift need not cost anything, it’s the idea behind the present itself that matters. It is also in the act of giving, of thinking of others, that our lives tend to experience greater sweetness.

Wishing you a sweet and healthy end to 2020 and a fresh start, bursting with wonderful possibility in 2021.

The Dish of a Hard Lesson

Our harshest teacher is often where we find our greatest strength.

We all have someone or something in our lives that pushes us to do the very thing we may not want to do or don’t think we can do. Today, I ask you to consider the following idea:

Our greatest teachers or lessons are often the ones that involve falling to our knees.

Why is this? Why can’t we get the lesson or experience like one would experience a massage? Why is our greatest teacher often the person who makes us feel ready to pull our hair out?

The Universe works in mysterious ways, but it is always working in its own intricate and beneficial way. We are like fish in a bowl, looking out at the world around us but only having a limited perspective of what reality is. Hindsight often offers us a better view in our respective fishbowls.

When I reflect upon the very things that I was certain would break me (the death of a loved one, the belligerent colleague, the litigious ex), it is hindsight that demonstrates time and time again, how each hardship, each challenge caused me to push past my comfort zone and grow. Each seemingly impossible situation or person caused me to get up off of my figurative knees and figure out a way. Had the person or situation not felt so overwhelming or heartbreaking, I would not be the strong, capable person I see myself as today.

We all arrive on this planet loving ourselves. We never see a baby embarrassed about the size of their derriere! But over time, many of us are taught to doubt ourselves. That doubt attracts us to all kinds of lessons and teachers. Once we get the lesson, the problem or problematic situation disappears.

Some of us—like myself—needed some tough lessons. It is once I thank those teachers that I notice they start bothering me. 

I encourage you to consider a figurative dish in your life—a person or situation that is challenging you (You know, the ones that cause your blood pressure to rise or the ones that make you feel like your heart is breaking and will never be whole again.). Serve yourself an alternate perspective: what if this person or situation is here to teach me another way? To show me an inner strength that was dormant until now? To help me realize what really matters and what I need to let go of?

When we thank our hardest teachers, we receive the invaluable gifts of peace and growth.

It’s Not Personal

      When we go within for messages instead of outward, we are serving ourselves the best emotional nutrition.

Years ago, a friend introduced me to a jewel of a book: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. According to Toltec wisdom, there are literally four keys or agreements that, once practiced, offer us a world of inner peace and freedom:

  1. Be Impeccable with Your Word.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions
  4. Always Do Your Best

Ruiz writes that the cause of most human suffering comes from not following the above four agreements. And boy, is Ruiz right! This simple yet deeply insightful book has been my go-to for years. All four agreements work together and affect each other. 

As our world continues to grow more virtual each day, it’s become clear to me that we need a reminder in not taking anything personally. While we are each the center of our individual worlds, we are not the center to others. As Ruiz states so eloquently:

“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.”

Words are a food for the soul. They possess the power to fuel or render us famished. But if we aren’t mindful, the words others serve us can make us sick. When we don’t take their words personally, we can continue to feed ourselves a diet that nourishes.

You can’t go onto social media now without reading someone’s vitriol regarding everything from a person’s weight to their political stance. If heeded, insulting words carry nutritional poison. But if you grow still, you will soon become aware that someone who is not happy with himself/herself serves those negative words. The poison they dish out is coming from within. You have the choice, the free will to not accept their toxic serving. Happy people don’t serve unhappiness—they literally don’t have it in them.

Actions that are cruel or toxic aren’t personal either. Ruiz notes this even in the extreme: “Even if someone got a gun and shot you in the head, it was nothing personal.” Again, negative behavior of any kind is a reflection of whatever is going on in another’s world and not about you.

This week alone, I have found myself grateful for Ruiz’s reminder that nothing is personal:

  • My friend calling me sleep-deprived after a 12-hour shift, articulating that I just don’t understand what she is going through.
  • My parents not calling on my son’s birthday, only to find out that they got the date mixed up.
  • Five people showing up to a virtual pre-launch book event of The Friendship Diet (after inviting over 100 folks) 

           Not taking anything personally also applies to compliments. While it feels good, we need to remember that, “If they tell you how wonderful you are, they are not saying that because of you. You know you are wonderful. It is not necessary to believe other people who tell you that you are wonderful.”

           When we go within for messages instead of outward, we are serving ourselves the best emotional nutrition. Looking outward for praise is a dish that will always leave one hungry for more; looking outward for guidance on who you are is the culinary equivalent of “too many cooks in the kitchen”: at best you end up with a hodge-podge of inedible messages and at worst, you experience emotionally painful heartburn.

            Nothing is personal. As Ruiz reminds us, when we know that nothing is personal “You can choose to follow your heart always. Then you can be in the middle of hell and still experience inner peace and happiness.”

“Serving Yourself a Pause”

What is Your Hunger Telling You?

School starts this week—for me, a middle school English teacher. The kids arrive virtually next month, so this is the time we educators start to ensure all of our academic ducks are in a row.

There is an uneasiness that often comes with the unknown, and virtual teaching in the midst of our pandemic is no exception. How will I effectively reach my new students? How will I effectively engage and connect with these young minds I have the gift and responsibility of educating?

Last week’s post focused on the magic-like pleasure experienced when embracing your passion. The example I shared was my love of writing and acting—a venture I reveled in manifesting and sharing with you on my YouTube channel.

Sometimes, we can get so caught up in a creative endeavor, we lose sight of the bigger picture. Last week, I was so hungry to combine my passion for writing and acting that I lost sight of the bigger picture: the optic and auditory effects of my comedic characters on the audience. 

My characters were meant to connect us, to create belly laughs and to promote my book. In my hunger to tickle your funny bone, I inadvertently eclipsed the gravitas of my book. So, I’ve taken the comedic characters down from my YouTube channel (I did keep my dear Sylvia Richmond. They may resurface as they were or in future comedic bits on a separate channel—apart from my book. I’m not sure where I want to go with them—and that’s okay. Like all of us, I’m learning as I go in this surreal experience called life.

The Friendship Diet is a book that focuses on the deep connection between our edible and emotional nutrition regarding our personal relationships. This includes our relationship—first and foremost—with ourselves. Today I write to you, aware that my emotional hunger is telling me to serve myself a heaping plate of pause, of rest, of time. My students deserve a teacher who is focused and hungry to educate and inspire her students. 

Whatever is happening in your life right now, if you are feeling overwhelmed and like the figurative walls are closing in on you, it’s more than okay—no, it’s vital that you serve yourself a pause dish. When we serve ourselves a pause dish, we are better serving others.

Ingredients for Success

Everyone’s definition of success is different; the key is to discovering YOURS

Back in the day (1980’s), before social media existed and heading online meant you were literally waiting in an actual store until it was your turn at the register, I spent oodles of pleasurable moments creating characters and acting them out for family and friends. Summers were spent rehearsing SNL-inspired scenes with friends in a musty basement and then “wowing” our peers and family members with a show in someone’s willing backyard.

Creating characters on the page and then bringing them to life filled me with an intense and lasting pleasure. Hearing the laughter from the crowd, palpably knowing that what my friends and I had plucked from the vortex of our minds had made such joy possible, was a true high.

The pandemic has caused many of us to not only physically retreat but spiritually reflect as well. We are challenged to consider alternate ways of life as we know it and, by extension, pushed to ponder new ways of living. Author and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Ronne Brown (From Mopping Floors to Making Millions on Instagram), articulates a mid-life crisis shift that often occurs at sixty; with our pandemic, this mid-life “alert” seems to be occurring at any age:

“You’re at the ‘sorry, but I’m not going out like that phase.’ You have faked it for the last…years because you were afraid…. Now, you’re at a place where you feel like, you know what, ‘Screw that.’ You begin to tell yourself, ‘I am really going to focus on that passion before they put me to the ground.’”

I love teaching. I love writing. I love acting. So why do I need to pigeonhole myself into one-size-fits-all category? Why can’t I create a path that combines my passions?

A book’s success is not dependent on a quality book alone. It requires savvy social media skills, persistence, out-of-the-box marketing…and REVIEWS.

So I thought: that little girl, who still resides in me, misses acting so very much. And The Friendship Dietneeds reviews. Why not combine my two loves: creating characters who review The Friendship Diet?

Enter, my brand (no pun-intend;-) new YouTube Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF7fUS-FGfbg8jLPtnKJj5g?view_as=subscriber

Determining the “right” ingredients to success greatly depends on your definition of success. For me, success means living an authentic life. This includes living my passion. For someone else, success might mean gobs of money in the bank; for yet another person, success might mean an organized life.

Once we possess a clear awareness of what success looks like for ourselves, we can take action and choose “ingredients” that bring us closer to living that definition of success.

Regardless of the potential answers to our collective definitions of success, when we look for the quality of what success means, the outer effects of that success become significantly less important. For example: success for me is living authentically. By promoting my writing through performing, I am living authentically, on my terms. The by-product of this action isn’t something I can control, nor does it determine my motivation.

When we look within for the ingredients that drive our definition of success, we will find a dish that always satisfies.

“Serving Boundaries”

A dog feeling the strain of someone’s lack of boundaries…

Last week, I had the pleasure of virtually speaking at an Author Talk with Rabbi Dan Gordon and his Temple Beth Torah congregants to promote my new book, The Friendship Diet. The book explores the deep, often-overlooked connection between our edible and emotional nutrition.

One of the participants asked a powerful question about boundaries that I would like to address here now: “How do you create important boundaries when you encounter “cilantro” that you don’t like?”

The cilantro is a metaphor in my book, referring to times when we encounter something we don’t care for the taste of (in my case cilantro) yet tend to ignore in an effort to please others. When we continue to ingest our respective “cilantros” we can feel bitter over time, if not downright sick to our spiritual and physical gut.

So back to the insightful question that was asked at the Author Talk: 

“How do you create important boundaries when you encounter “cilantro” that you don’t like?”

Those boundaries are going to look different based on the nature of the relationship. After all, the boundaries involved in limiting your child’s screen time is going to look very different from the boundaries invisibly erected between an intimate couple and what they share about say, their past romantic relationships.

Yet regardless of what kind of boundaries we are wanting to create in the face of said “cilantro,” they will all begin to manifest as a natural by-product of the internal work YOU do.

There’s a famous quote by motivational speaker, Tony Gaskins:

 “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”

Chances are, if you are receiving a dish of poor boundaries, you are serving a plate of low self-esteem. Change externally needs to start by altering our perceptions internally. When you care about how you feel first—regardless of what is going on externally in your life, you are sending a signal to others that you matter. That invisible but powerful signal is real and will affect all of your relationships, from your partner to your colleagues.

For many, learning that poor boundaries is often a by-product of low or weak self-esteem is a tough pill to swallow. There’s a reason growth is usually associated with pain. On the other side of that pill is clarity and awareness—beautiful harbingers of inner growth and change.

I encourage you to do the guided writing prompts in my book, The Friendship Diet. If the pandemic isn’t a time to examine the inner contents of our metaphorical fridges, I don’t know when is!

I’ll close with some auditory and visual food for thought with the link to our Author Talk: (Available on YouTube)

“Book Launching: Thank You, Elizabeth Gilbert!”

Elizabeth Gilbert’s inspiring words from her book BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear is a major reason my book, THE FRIENDSHIP DIET, launches today.

Dear Reader

Today my book, The Friendship Diet: Clean out Your Fridge, Get Real with Yourself, and Fill Your Life with Meaningful Relationships that Last, launches! And while there were many beautiful miracles along the path to reaching this birth-of-a-book day, none of it would be possible without Elizabeth Gilbert’s wisdom shared in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

In an earlier blog post, I shared the magic-like impact of the smallest moments (“The Hidden Power of Action”). My friends, while wonderfully supportive of my idea to create a book about personal relationships and its deep connection to food, were only one significant part of the book’s manifestation. They were the fuel, the sustenance I needed to keep my creative tank full.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC book was the reason I found the courage to craft my idea into reality—the trigger to get that creative tank pumping.

Popsugar’s review on Gilbert’s colorful BIG MAGIC book cover says it all: “A must-read for anyone hoping to live a creative life.”

There were two significant areas of Gilbert’s literary therapy that made me feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand attention (in a great wayJ

  1. She articulates the feeling of an idea tapping one on the shoulder, a whisper from the Universe to follow wherever that idea will take you. She also provides our creative souls with a cautionary tale: 

“Sometimes they [ideas] do wait….But others won’t….Would you sit around in a box for two years while your collaborator blew you off? Probably not.”

The idea for The Friendship Diet kept tapping me on the shoulder, a stubborn little fella that wanted me to put aside a Young Adult manuscript that was more than halfway through its plot. When I read Gilbert’s warning words, I could practically hear the Idea for The Friendship Diet clearing his throat, ready to walk out the figurative door.

  1. Gilbert’s second therapeutic moment…well, let’s just say, it felt like a one-on-one session.

“Maybe you fear that you are not original enough.”

Wow. How did she know??Was there a hidden camera in my psyche Elizabeth had access to?? 

And then, the generous-hearted and insightful Ms. Gilbert continued our private literary therapy session:

“If you are older, trust that the world has been educating you all along….We need you to reveal to us what you know, what you have learned, what you have seen and felt.”

Elizabeth Gilbert had triggered me—in a fantastic way—to heed the creative call.

To top it off, she even offers us a metaphorical Permission Slip to create!

Why did it feel like Elizabeth Gilbert was speaking directly to me? Why did it feel like she had a backstage pass, Being-John-Malkovich-style to the parts of me I keep so hidden from the world, even don’t know it??

Because, I believe, Elizabeth Gilbert writes from a place of authenticity, from the soft underbelly that’s at the core of humanity, from a sacred space of vulnerability. You cannot read her candid musings on creativity without transforming yourself. The alchemy of her words possesses the potential to alter the inner landscape of one’s heart and mind.

If you are reading this blog piece, from the essence of my creative soul I thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert. Your openhearted sharing of BIG MAGIC provided the impetus to create The Friendship Diet and the courage to keep playing—particularly when an Idea comes to visit.

I encourage every creative soul (and we are ALL creative souls) to grab a copy of BIG MAGIC and listen to what your Ideas are saying.

The Hidden Power of Action

There is unseen power in the Universe and the actions we take each day. The same is true when it comes to our creative endeavors. 

A couple of years ago, I sat in a cozy restaurant with two of my girlfriends. Over a Turkish dinner of shish kebob and fresh hummus (thank you, Pasha Restaurant), my friends shared creative endeavors they were working on. For several weeks prior, the idea for a book had tapped me on the shoulder, beckoning me to embark on a literary journey.

Yet fear/ego/uncertainty had caused me to do nothing but silently play the idea in my head like an orchestra performing with the mute button on.

But that evening, hearing my friends articulating their creative endeavors, motivated me to turn off that mute button.

“I am planning to write a book about our most personal relationships. It’s going to focus on the analogy of food and intimacy.”

Wow, did I just say that? I’m actually planning, huh…

Their reactions were a mixture of surprise and wonder; their eyes lit up—they were intrigued and wanted to know more.

So I found myself sharing the music of my idea, the chords that I had played silently in my head were now streaming between us, an organic melody forming in their encouraging presence.

By the end of the meal, the once beckoning idea had suddenly morphed into an almost palpable plan. Almost.

One of my friends said, “Write it down on this receipt. Make it real.”

Here’s a photo of what I wrote: 

The receipt from Pasha’s–a Turkish restaurant where it all began:-)

Writing that initial title down may seem like a small act, but it felt huge. Writing it, just like speaking about the mere idea of the book, gave the idea itself momentum. 

There is unseen power in the actions we take each day. The same is true when it comes to our creative endeavors. 

On July 7th2020, my book The Friendship Diet: Clean out Your Fridge, Get Real with Yourself and Fill Your Life with Meaningful Relationships that Last will launch. This didn’t just happen. There were innumerable steps along the way to get to the manifestation of an actual book. Each step brought me closer to the book in the making and each step created hidden but immeasurable ripple effects. 

Our lives don’t have a distinct beginning middle and end the way some might think. We are a creation that started way before our entry into this world; we create through our choices all day long that carry long-term effects that we can’t always see in this lifetime; we leave this world not knowing who or what is different because of our actions.

My book is still out in the cosmos, not yet a substance one can hold. But I know it’s out there, just as it was the moment I spoke about it over dinner with two dear friends. The fact of my book only grew stronger the moment I put pen to receipt paper—a formal commitment between the Universe and me.

When we give birth to a life, there is so much more than the birth itself. It is a labor of love from conception to manifestation and beyond. Each of us has the gift of free will to create and foster his or her own labor(s) of love. Feed that idea, nurture it and it will grow.

Never underestimate the hidden power of your actions to manifest your creative dreams.