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Five Easy Relaxation Exercises

 Image courtesy of Mister GC at

Image courtesy of Mister GC at

If you read my blog, by now you know that I’m moving.

And no, I’m not quite finished whining about it. This will be the last time – I promise.

It’s been awhile since we’ve gone through this process and, frankly, I forgot just how awful this all is – everything from showing the house, to all the paperwork, to the moving sale, to seeing my peaceful hamlet taken apart bit by bit, to the physical exhaustion, to the ticking clock as time runs out to get all the packing done.

That’s my current dilemma, but I know you all have your own stresses in life – some much worse than my own.

I recently read that when an octopus is stressed out, it eats itself. Gross, right?

We don’t want any of that happening, so I thought this would be a perfect time to discuss some relaxation techniques.

Fortunately, you don’t need a vacation, spa weekend, or a bucket load of time to practice the following five simple stress relieving tips that can get you from crazy to calm in 15 minutes or less:

1.   Just Breathe

Image courtesy ofstockimages at

Image courtesy ofstockimages at

When you’re stressed, do you find yourself taking short, shallow breaths from your upper chest? Stop that! You need to take deep breaths from the abdomen to inhale more oxygen, which will make you less anxious, slow down your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure. Take a quick 5-minute break and focus solely on your breathing. Sit comfortably or lie down, close your eyes, and put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth pushing out as much air as you can. The hand on your stomach should move while the hand on your chest should be fairly still.

2.  Be in the Moment

As I wrote in my blog, Savor the Day, slow down and stay in the present. Stop whatever you’re doing, take a deep breathe, take note of everything around you, and focus on all the details. No matter what you’re going through, use all your senses and absorb the beauty of a sunset, the laughter of a child, a hug from a friend, the sound of a bird singing, the first sip of coffee, the smells after a rainstorm, or the taste of a good piece of chocolate.

3.  Stay Connected

Whenever you’re stressed out, reach out to family and friends. Share your feelings. Some of us (myself included) tend to isolate ourselves when things get tough. Don’t! Your social network can be a great tool for reducing tension during trying times. If you can’t talk face-to-face, pick up the phone. Loved ones can give you sympathy, comfort, and encouragement, along with a fresh perspective.

4.  Use Muscle Relaxation Techniques

Remember when Lamaze was all the rage? One thing I learned from those classes is progressive muscle relaxation. You start by tensing and relaxing muscles in your toes and progressively work your way up to your neck and head or vice versa. Focus on tensing each muscle group for at least five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds. The great thing is you don’t have to be in labor to put this relaxation technique to work.

5.  Visualize

You’re probably familiar with this technique. Experts suggest closing your eyes and taking a mini-vacation in your mind. Go to your favorite place and visualize the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. Lately, I’ve been watching Cedar Cove on Netflix which reminds me of how much I love Washington State where I lived briefly. Visualizing myself on Mount Rainier or sailing the San Juan Islands works well for me right now. You know where your special place is, so just close your eyes and go there!

Image courtesy of Ambro at

Image courtesy of Ambro at

I only mentioned a few ways to decompress. There are plenty more. A heating pad, a neck massage from your spouse, or listening to calming music are other great ways to relax.

It doesn’t really matter which technique you pick. Just find one that works for you. Even on your busiest days – which are actually when you need these tips the most – try to set aside just a few moments twice a day to de-stress. Practice makes perfect and relaxation techniques are no different.

And if all else fails, keep your sense of humor. It’s like this joke I saw on Pinterest on how to handle stress like a dog. “If you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.”

Sounds good to me. I just might try that!


Why Losing Weight Doesn’t Bring Happiness

Image courtesy of sattva/

Image courtesy of sattva/

I’m forever trying to lose those 10 extra pounds. But a recent study shows that I shouldn’t worry about it so much.

We all grew up with the myth that if our thighs weren’t slapping together and we could fit into that pair of skinny jeans or wear a bikini again, we’d be SO much happier.

Think again. Although there are reasons to watch our weight – like improving our health – it turns out chasing after happiness shouldn’t be one of them.

According to a recent survey for So Fabulous, a plus-size clothing line from the U.K.-based retailer, losing weight doesn’t necessarily make you happier. The survey asked 2,000 women about their current size, happiness, and body confidence. Researchers discovered that 49 percent of those whose weight had fluctuated in the past few years were happiest at a size 12 to 14. Fifty-two percent of size 2-4 women would prefer to be curvier. In addition, women who wore smaller sizes (2-8) were more critical of their bodies than those women who wore larger sizes.

Even more startlingly, according to a new study from the online journal, Plos One, researchers found those who slimmed down were 80 percent more likely to be depressed.

Should this come as a big surprise? Maybe not.

As a society, we tend to admire all those super skinny celebrities. But are they happy? How often do we read about their addiction problems, painful divorces, serial cheater husbands, and miserable lives? However, we often push those facts aside as we diligently imitate their latest crazy fad diets and weight loss methods.

“It’s not the external achievement of some goal that’s going to make us happy,” says clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. “You think that will automatically change your life in some meaningful way, but it could be that your life pretty much remains the same.”

Let’s face it. Happiness doesn’t—nor should it—depend on your weight. Your spirituality, finding purpose in life, your relationships with loved ones, and your overall health are much more important. These are the keys to finding joy, fulfillment, and happiness.

Most of us are aware of that fact, but can’t seem to quit striving after that perfect number in our heads. Even if the constant stress of dieting and depriving ourselves of foods that we enjoy makes us cranky and then depressed when we inevitably gain those 10 pounds back.

This obsession reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books, Lonesome Dove, when  Gus McCrae tells a prostitute who thinks if she can only get to San Francisco, she’ll be happy: “If you want one thing too much it’s likely to be a disappointment. The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen.”

I’m not suggesting drinking buttermilk or seeking out feisty gentlemen, but hopefully, by now we’re older and wiser. Most of us have watched our weight yo-yo over the years and know that skinny doesn’t always equal happy.

Don’t get me wrong. I still would like to lose those extra 10 pounds (or maybe it’s more like 15 now). But that’s because I’m aware of the health benefits, not because I want the perfect body or because I think losing weight is the key to enjoying life.

And if I never lose those extra pounds, well, I can live with that.

Happiness as a Writer

Image courtesy of Feelart/

Image courtesy of Feelart/

Don’t get me wrong. As a professional writer, I am eternally grateful to make a living from what I love to do best.

However, following your passion certainly has its ups and downs. There’s the financial challenge of earning a living, the constant deadlines, the inevitable rejections, and the isolation.


Famous writers have explained the torture well:

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” —George Orwell

“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” —Robert Benchley

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” —Harper Lee

All true. Writing is one heck of a rollercoaster ride!

Twenty years ago, I decided to jump into writing full-time after having several articles published in magazines. Let’s just say, it didn’t go so well. Writing as a hobby was different; it was a thrill just to see my byline. But as a business, writing was super frustrating. Editors didn’t answer my queries. Smaller magazines paid on publication, not acceptance, which often meant waiting months or even a year for payment. A few editors held articles for possible publication for months then sent a standard rejection letter.

By jumping the gun too soon, I was forced to temp as a receptionist at a hotel chain to make ends meet – a job I absolutely detested. Some days were spent crying in frustration and I swore off writing – not for the first or last time.

Many years later, I was finally able to write full-time, but the highs and lows continued. For instance, when an agent agreed to represent my first YA novel – oh, what a high that was! I was dancing on tables. But when the book didn’t sell and my agent dumped me, my self confidence and emotions took a dive. Later, I received three journalism awards and had a book I co-wrote published by McGraw Hill. I was on top of the world! Then my second novel was rejected by agents and publishers sending me crashing to the ground.

You get the picture.

So how do you stay happy through the crazy ups and downs if you want to be a writer?

Here are a few tips:

  • As I learned the hard way, don’t quit your daytime job before you have a steady income. By the way, most writers have a source of back-up income or a part- or full-time job so they can live out their dream.
  • If you want to write full-time, come up with a plan of action. List your monthly and yearly goals. It’s great to have a passion and a dream, but if you don’t have a plan in place, it won’t become a reality. Be prepared. Becoming a professional writer takes time, effort, patience, perseverance, and sheer determination.
  • Talk to your partner. You are going to need his or her support. Be honest and realistic. Have a time-frame for meeting your goals. If it takes longer than anticipated, and there’s an excellent chance it will, have a good backup plan.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In other words, don’t make your whole world about writing and publishing or you will go completely bonkers. Have a well-balanced life that includes time for your spirituality, your loved ones, and other interests.
  • Writing should be a satisfying experience on its own. Getting into print is just a bonus. Don’t live and die by whether you get published or not. As Allen Ginsberg said, “To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” Simply writing in a journal can be rewarding as I wrote in my blog. Or expressing yourself through poetry is a wonderful creative outlet.  Financial success is not the measure of your success as a writer.

If you are truly meant to be a writer, you won’t give up or allow all the many setbacks to discourage you to the point of quitting. Use the tips above to retain your joy and enjoy the journey.

If you’d like more advice on becoming a writer, you can check out a recent guest blog I wrote on how to get published on Editing Addict. If it’s  writing in retirement that you are looking for, take a look at an article I wrote for Retirement and Good Living.

Ray Bradbury, who I was privileged to hear speak at a writer’s conference years ago, always had the best advice. I’ll end this article with one of his great quotes:

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

Fifteen Awesome Happiness Quotes

Image courtesy of Pixomar/

Image courtesy of Pixomar/

Since I’m a writer, it’s no surprise that I’m in love with words.

Words can inspire, motivate, comfort, uplift, and encourage us. Words can help us have a positive outlook on life and even make our spirits soar.

With that in mind – since this blog is all about finding happiness – I wanted to share several of my favorite quotes on the subject.

These sayings are brief and to the point, but will help you feel a bit wiser and happier. Why not ponder on these tidbits of wisdom and try to incorporate their messages into your life?

Before you begin reading, perhaps it’s good to remember that happiness itself should not be our ultimate goal. As Albert Einstein said, “Happiness never appeared to me as an absolute aim. The ideals that have lighted my way are kindness, beauty, and truth.”

Well said!

So ready, set go! Hope you love these quotes as much as I do!

Image courtesy of graur codrin/

Image courtesy of graur codrin/

1.  It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about. ― Dale Carnegie

2.  There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving. ― Apostle Paul quoting Jesus

3.  Sometimes  the things you are most afraid of are the things that make you the happiest. ― Kiara Leigh

4.   The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us. ― Ashley Montagu

5.  We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. ― Frederick Keonig

6.  Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need. ― Matthew 5:3

7.  When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us. ― Helen Keller

8. The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one does. ― James M. Barrie

9.  A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor — such is my idea of happiness. ― Leo Tolstoy

10. Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. ― Nathaniel Hawthorne

11. Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ― Abraham Lincoln

12. Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product. ― Eleanor Roosevelt

13. Joy is a flower that blooms when you do. ― Author Unknown

14. Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond imperfections.― Gerard Way

15. If you want to be happy, be. ― Leo Tolstoy

What are your favorite quotes on happiness? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to share in the comments below.

Chocolate and Books Blog Tour

What are two of my favorite things in the world that make me happy? Books and chocolate, of course!

Image courtesy of adamr /

Image courtesy of adamr /

So when I was asked to join a chocolate and books blog tour, how could I resist?

The idea is to list six of your favorite books and pair it with a chocolate that best represents that book.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman /

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman /

How fun is that?


Before I delve into my choices of chocolates and books, I first want to thank author and fellow blogger Cat Michaels for asking me to join her on the tour. After earning a M.S. degree in special education from the University of Kansas, Cat spent two decades helping students from kindergarten to college reach their potential and then served at a community college as a writing coach for students with Asperger’s syndrome and learning disabilities.

Cat builds on her teaching experiences to write illustrated chapter books for young readers of all abilities to develop imagination and critical thinking skills. Watercolor illustrations by Irene A. Jahns help bring the stories to life. Cat’s books, Sweet T and the North Wind and Finding Fuzzy: a You-Decide Tale of a Lost Friend, can be found on Amazon and ordered from local bookstores. To connect with Cat, please visit her website. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this talented author’s literary offerings.

Okay, time to move on to my tasty tidbits of chocolate along with some delicious literary delights. Need I mention, that as a lover of books, how hard it was to narrow my list down to only six choices? But here we go:

Lonesome Dove

lonesome doveOkay, normally I’m not a big fan of westerns. But Larry McCurtry’s grand novel realistically depicts the violent Wild West during the 1870s in a way that makes your heart ache. If you want to learn how to write a multi-dimensional, unforgettable character, look no further than the courageous, lazy, hard-drinking hero Texas Ranger Augustus (Gus) McCrae. This book starts off slowly, but quickly gains momentum with tons of non-stop action. If you don’t have time to read this lengthy novel, the TV miniseries stuck closely to the book and Robert Duvall (who says this was his all-time favorite role) does a fabulous job playing the lovable Gus. McCurtry also wrote Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment (in the latter case, the movie is better than the book, in my opinion) but this is his jewel.

Because this book accurately and brutally depicts the violent and short-lived lives of beastly buffalo hunters, murderous and destitute Indians, brave pioneers, shifty gamblers, talented scouts, and prostitutes with big dreams, I’m going to pair this book with unsweetened chocolate. No sugar coating here, but oh, what a read!

The Prince of Tides

prince of tidesThis sprawling saga about a family who endures sorrow, pain, and unmentionable horror managed to put me under its awful, wonderful spell right from the start. The story is narrated by former high school teacher, Tom Wingo, who is unemployed after a nervous breakdown. Alternating from flashbacks of Tom’s younger years spent on Melrose Island to the present time in Manhattan where his twin sister and renowned poet, Savannah, is recovering from a suicide attempt, this novel keeps you guessing as family secrets unravel. Tom’s older brother, Luke, is dead although we don’t know how he died or why. And although the reader is aware that something awful happened on the island when the three siblings were young, I promise that you’ll never foresee the grisly scene of horror and carnage that unfolds. Pat Conroy beautifully writes about the South Carolina coastline in such poetic language that you’ll yearn to visit this marshland country. Do NOT see the movie – it did not do the book justice.

This one is easy. I paired it with Ghiradelli’s Intense Dark Midnight Reverie chocolate – but with a secret surprise inside that bursts with flavor.

And The Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains EchoedFirst of all, I must confess, I’m a fan of Khaled Hosseini. In addition to this book, I also loved A Thousand Splendid Suns and Kite Runner. This author’s remarkable descriptive talents give us intimate glimpses into the daily life in Afghanistan — a country I only was familiar with through news stories about war and terrorism. Like my last book choice, this book delves into the lives of siblings who are haunted by the past. From the telling of a compelling folk story in the beginning of this novel to the heartbreaking separation of two siblings to interlinking tales from a wide cast of fascinating characters, I found this book to be stirring, absorbing, and captivating.

This story definitely is bittersweet chocolate. Read it and you’ll see why.

East of Eden

East of EdenI had to include one of my favorite classics. John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors and I loved Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath as well – but this by far was my favorite addiction. Along with other Steinbeck books, this story is set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley (where I briefly lived as a small child). With brilliant comparisons to the venomous and murderous sibling rivalry of Cain and Abel, Steinbeck creates some of his most memorable characters in this epic and sometimes fierce novel. Please read the book, but if you must watch it – the mini-series starring Jane Seymour, who was perfect as the bewitching, evil, corrupting Cathy Ames – stays more faithful to the book than the 1955 movie with James Dean. I hear Hollywood is making a remake starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by her “Hunger Games” collaborator, Gary Ross. I’m there.

I’m a self-confessed chocoholic that finds all kinds of chocolate addicting but my favorite is caramels with nuts – like Snickers. Since Cathy is kind of nutty and this book is downright addicting, it’s the perfect match.

Flowers for Algernon

flowers for algernonSince I have written two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody-Two-Shoes and Time to Cast Away, I thought my next selection would be one of my favorites from my teen years. I also wanted to mention this book in honor of the recent death of its author, Daniel Keyes. This heart-rending, and ultimately tragic classic was brilliantly written using journal entries from the viewpoint of the beloved main character, Charlie Gordon. When the book opens, Charlie is 32 and works as a janitor in a small bakery. He is severely intellectually disabled but learns that he may be a candidate for an experimental surgery to artificially increase his intelligence. I won’t say anymore in case you’ve never read this sci-fi, philosophical, beautifully-written story.

I’ll pair this story with a simple Hershey bar to match Charlie’s simple mind in the beginning of this book along with the more complicated Lindt Excellence Bars which involves a complicated, hours-long churning process like Charlie’s evolving, increasingly intelligent brain.

The Box Car Children

Boxcar ChildrenFinally, with three grandchildren ages 6, 4, and 3, I wanted to include one of my favorite children’s books. Gertrude Chandler’s endearing story about four orphans who run away and find shelter in an abandoned boxcar in the woods during the Great Depression has been passed down through three generations of my family. I was absolutely fascinated by the way these kids managed to live on their own using their talents and resourcefulness to outfit their refuge. Of course, this story has a happy ending when the children find love and security from an unexpected source.

Let’s pair this with a delicious cup of hot chocolate.

There you go. If only I could share with you the other books that have brought me joy, comfort, and friendship through the years! Maybe sometime in the future.

In the meantime, The Chocolate and Book Tour will take a break for the Fourth of July weekend. However, you can continue the fun by checking out the following author’s choices coming up on the tour on JULY 12:

Kathrine LaFleur grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lurking beneath the stairs where her grandmother kept a small, dusty library is one of her best childhood memories. She loves reading and writing books for children and young adults, Her books are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Kathrine also enjoys visiting schools to talk with students about stories and writing. She currently lives in Oakland, CA where she joyfully pursues her passion of writing and publishing books. To learn more about Kathrine, check out her blog, The Persistent Author.

Kelly Wilson is a Portland author and comedian trying to maintain sanity through laughter. She is the author of Live Cheap and Free, Don’t Punch People in the Junk, and Caskets from Costco as well as numerous articles and short stories for children and adults. Kelly Wilson currently writes for a living and lives with her husband, two children, dog, cat, and stereotypical minivan in Portland, Oregon. Read more about her and check out her entertaining and funny blog at Wilson Writes.

Thank you for joining me on the tour.  Feel free to share with me your favorite books and chocolate pairings in the comments below.

Spend Money on Experiences Not Stuff

The economy is finally showing signs of recovery and maybe you have a bit of cash to spare. You’ve been working hard and haven’t had a break since the recession started. You deserve a treat. What should you spend the money on?

A.    A new pair of shoes

B.    The latest HDTV

C.    Diamond earrings

D.    A new couch

E.    A trip

F.    Tickets to a concert

G.    A romantic meal at a restaurant

Image courtesy of  digitalart/

Image courtesy of digitalart/

According to the latest research, answers E, F, or G may be your best bet. Why? Research suggests that, in the long run, experiences make people happier than things.

“One of the most common things people do with their money is get stuff,” said Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of the book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. “But we have shown…with research that stuff isn’t good for you. It doesn’t make you unhappy, but it doesn’t make you happy. But one thing that does make us happy is an experience.”

That’s in part because the initial pleasure of purchasing a new object, such as a new TV or pair of shoes, quickly wears off. Buying things has an instant drug-like effect – immediate and gratifying at the time – but the satisfaction doesn’t last long. Material objects, after all, depreciate and deteriorate. Memories of experiences, on the other hand, continue to provide feelings of joy and happiness long after the event happens. In fact, fond memories typically get better as time passes.

Think about it. After seeing a new necklace day after day, the newness wears off and the joy fades away as we become accustomed to seeing the jewelry and become bored with it. However, small, frequent pleasures tend to be different every time – whether it’s reading the latest summer blockbuster, a cup of tea with a friend, a weekend trip to the beach, or a picnic with our loved one. Because each experience is unique, instead of feeling bored, we treasure the memory.

My parents loved to travel when they were younger and often told me they never regretted spending money on a trip somewhere new. I took their advice to heart and if my husband and I had to forgo a new couch for a vacation – so be it. A word of warning, however, my parents, nor my husband and I, ever went into a debt for a trip. When you come home facing credit card bills you can’t pay off, it quickly saps the joy out of those memories.

In fact, several small indulges like a Starbuck’s latte or pedicure, might be better than one big-ticket item, such as a sports car or European vacation. The frequency of pleasures may be more important than the size.

For example, maybe you dream of a lakeside cabin or beach house with great fishing and spectacular sunsets. What you don’t think about are all the plumbing disasters or the countless long drives home with kids fighting in the back seat of the car. Or all the monthly expenses that make you feel even more stressed out. How about renting a cabin for a weekend with all the pleasure and none of the headaches? Instead of purchasing a sports car, consider renting a convertible for a weekend trip or while on vacation. You can have all the fun without the burden of huge car payments or expensive repair costs.

After all, when someone asks you what was the best part of your life, is buying the latest electronic gadget or a new ring the answer? Most likely, you would share an experience that you cherish.

That’s because we are the sum of our experiences and memories, not the sum of our possessions.