Saturday, December 11, 2010

Five Holiday Stress Relievers

My sister called me this morning and told me she needed some of that "work/life balance stuff."   Sick kid, broken computer, school deadlines, rude Starbucks clerk, yada, yada, yada. Yikes - poor thing was ready to go right over the edge.

As I told her that true life balance is internal, I realised I was reminding myself of these words as much as I was saying them to her.

"Dude, we gotta pay even more attention to what's happening on the inside when clearly we have no control over the madness around us."

Still, the holidays are practically synonymous with the "slippery slope."   So many potential pitfalls.  Nevermind the usual stress of work, school and home.  (Does anyone take a vacation anymore?)  Now there are shopping crowds, poorly timed man colds, holiday traffic, cooking nightmares, screaming kids who are not yours so you can't beat them (j/k), too many dysfunctional family members in one place at one time.  

Let's face it - crazy is the gift that keeps on giving!

All this in mind, last year I wrote this list of things which can help anyone stay cool as a cucumber over the next couple of weeks.  Cuz ya know, Santa would probably frown upon us taking a hostage or something.

1. Attitude of Gratitude.  Thank you. Thank You. Thank You.  Say it early and often.  Another thing I've been working on is when someone says "thank you," to respond with "my pleasure."  Okay, so I got this from the mom on 19 Kids & Counting.  It's still valid.  Try it. 

2. Square Breathing.  This is one of my favorite stress relievers.  Breathe in for four slow counts (1....2....3....4).  Hold the breath for four slow counts (1....2....3....4).  Breathe out for four slow counts (1....2....3....4). Hold for four slow counts (1....2....3....4).    Do this cycle several times until the urge to scream goes away.    Keep it calm and slow.  If you find yourself breathing in and out too quickly, count to eight.  Hyperventilating and passing out is not the goal.  No blue people.

3. Heart Glow.  Another meditative technique which I love, love, love.   Close your eyes. Take slow, deep, calm breaths.  As you breathe in, imagine a little glow in your chest near your heart.  Like a pilot light or the flame of a match. As you breathe out, picture the light getting bigger.  As it grows, imagine feelings of peace and happiness also growing.  Keep breathing as the light and happiness fills your whole body.  Then, the glow completely surrounds you.  Finally, imagine that you are a beacon of light and happiness radiating out into the world.   Rinse.  Repeat.

4. Smile Dammit!  Go ahead.  Turn that frown upside down. Smiling has been called "free therapy."  There is a scientific theory that smiling actually "provides enough peripheral information to drive positive emotional experience." Basically, faking it helps make it.  For me, it also helps me if I see other people smiling and laughing, especially my kids.  So give a tickle, tell a joke, sit on a whoopee cushion. Yuck it up.  It's all good.

5. Let Go & Grow.  Send that inner control freak on vacation.  If you've ever planned any big occasion or event, you should know by now that things often don't go as planned.  I tend to be overly organized as a coping mechanism.  So when someone messes with my best laid plans, I really have to remind myself to go with the flow.

The bottom line is this:
       Regardless of religious beliefs, holidays are about being together, appreciating, enjoying and rejoicing.  Getting all stressed out somewhat defeats the purpose, right?

Wishing you health, happiness & prosperity!
Best,
Charlene
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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Life Balance and Blogging - 10 Tips

In conversations with other bloggers and wannabe's, two questions usually arise:       
  
    * How do you find the time?
             * How do you get readers?

At a high level, I believe that the answer to those questions is the same as everything else in the great juggling act

We need to prioritize and have a plan which includes confidence, effective actions, and support. 

To dig in a little deeper, here are 10 other tips on how to be a successful blogger and also make it work with life balance. 

1. Define "success."  Know why you are blogging and what your goals are, if any.  For me, it's just the joy of writing and getting my message out there to help people.  Therefore, I define success more by readership; by followers and comments rather than "traffic."   If your blog is monetized, you will probably care more about the latter.   (And will likely be disappointed by my lack of focus here on such things as SEO and stat analytics.)

2. Set reasonable expectations for posting frequency.  While research shows that posting on a consistent schedule increases loyal readership, there is no rule that says more often is always better.  Think quality over quantity.  Consistency is more important than frequency.  As a side note, size matters.  For a variety of reasons, posts between 300 - 800 words are ideal.

3. Set aside dedicated writing time.   Since I write on the weekends, this means getting agreement from my family for a couple hours of "quiet time."  It also means dusty baseboards.   I could ask them to pick up the extra cleaning while I write, but I try to quit while I'm ahead.

4. Tell a story.  No matter what the content, make it relatable.  When I first started writing about life balance, I thought my blog had to be a preachy "how to" guide. When I started connecting advice to real experiences, memories and mistakes, it was not only more fun but my follower base jumped 250% and I started getting many more comments.  Apparently misery really does love company.

5. Take notes.  Even if you are not writing every day, you can still be inspired 24/7.  I've done everything from carrying a small notebook to recording voice messages on my phone to sending myself emails.  Whatever works for you, find a method which allows you to capture that inspiration as soon as it comes into your brain and record it for later when you actually have time to use it.   Especially if you are over the age of 40.  Or have given birth.  I fall into both categories and I can tell you, the ol' memory just isn't what it used to be.

6. Find a community that "fits" you.  There are lots of blog forums out there (just Google) but sometimes it takes a little trial and error to find the best for you.  Here's a tip:  If you see more than one post on a page titled, "Follow me and I will follow you!"  Don't walk.  Run.  But don't give up.  Finding the one or two communities where you feel really connected and supported is critical to success.

7. Share the love.   Key in both life and blogging is putting out what we want back.  Want people to read, comment and subscribe?  Go forth to read, comment and subscribe.  This is not the same as the cold, obligatory "Follow me and I'll follow back."  This is about sharing genuine interest.  Find other bloggers in your niche and/or to whom you can relate and leave them thoughtful comments. 

8. Be "social" not "soapbox." Many blogging articles will give you lots of advice about ways to use Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to promote your blog.  My added advice is instead of making it all about "Look at me!  Read my blog!" post a status update or tweet to find out who else has a blog.  Take the time to visit them and leave a thoughtful comment.  People are much more likely to travel back up a two-way street. 

9. Multi-task.  Whereas writing takes chunks of dedicated, focused time (for me anyway), the ancillary activities can be done in much smaller doses.   I respond to comments, check-in on my blog community and visit other blogs every day.  Yet, I do these things for only moments at a time - usually while waiting for or doing other things.  That way, it doesn't feel like "work."  I don't watch a lot of TV but when I do, I have my iPad in my hands and am promoting my blog during the commercials.  (Go Top Chef All Stars!)

10. Let go of perfection.  This is especially true if you are one of those type A, "If I can't do it well, I won't do it at all" people.  I say this with love since I am one of you: Get over it.  Overthinking not only wastes time but greatly inhibits creativity.   If you are a newbie and it's the design which is holding you up, just start with one of the many templates out there. I've upgraded my design five times.  Most likely what you start with won't be your final version either.  The content is easily transferable from one design to another.   So, what are you waiting for?

If you have any specific questions about blogging or life balance, I'm happy to help.  Just let me know. 

Happy blogging! 



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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Celebrating Kindred Spirits

Ever since my awkward pre-teen years when I first read Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, I've been a huge fan of of the book series.

Don't worry - this post isn't a 1908 book review.  We'll get to the life balance stuff.

Anne (with an "E") reminded me of both who I was and who I wanted to be.  Like Anne, I was peculiar, curious, imaginative and chatty.  My "Diana Barry" was my best friend Lisa who had similar qualities but in ways which flattered her like a perfectly fitted frock, much unlike the odd shift of characteristics which hung around me, just slightly "off."

Still, we had great fun.  I used to imagine that Anne, Diana, Lisa and I would meet in some wrinkle in time (another one of my favorite books) and play together.  Kindred spirits.

Something about Thanksgiving breeds this kind of nostalgia.  Basking in gratitude inevitably leads to thinking about the kindred sprits of our lives.

Like my dear ol' dad.

He was kindhearted and gentle by nature but never a pushover, and certainly no saint.   Once, after unsuccessfully trying to return defective software, my father went back to the store, very calmly put the box on the counter, looked the salesclerk in the eye and told him to shove it up his arse.  Then Daddy left the store with a smile, considering it a well-spent $20 for the final satisfaction.

Last Thanksgiving, dad was sitting in my kitchen eating dates with cream cheese and chuckling at my awful jokes.  He had snuck out before dawn to the 24-hour store to get some last minute ingredients I had been fretting about, saving me an extra trip on a busy day.   He filled my house with an easy presence and a great wit that made everything lighter somehow.

I find myself scanning the recalled details of that visit for any sign that he would not be with us today.  It was as unimaginable then as it is now. 

Even seven months after his death, there's still a part of me which expects him to come walking out of the guest bedroom any minute now and say, "How ya doin' little kid?"

Ironically, I had somehow blocked out the part of the story in Anne when her dear adopted father Matthew Cuthbert dies suddenly.  Until now.  I guess that makes Anne and I kindred spirits in more ways than one then.

Still, Thanksgiving is supposed to be a happy occasion. 

If I have a life balance strategy to share on this day, it's inspired by Anne as well as my dear ol' dad:

Be a kindred spirit.  When you find yourself getting stressed and focusing on all the little crazy details, remember that what's important is connecting with people

Find ways of making your shared space happier and lighter.   Be easier on yourself and everyone around you.

Happy Thanksgiving,







PS:  I love you Daddy.
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Saturday, November 6, 2010

The "You Can Totally Wear That Again!" Fitness Plan

So, my older sister is doing P90X now. In search of motivation, she did a web search for photos and experiences and landed on my blog of all places.   Small world.

It's amazing to me that my "day one" of this fitness program was right after Thanksgiving almost a full year ago.  As I think of this, I feel slightly guilty that my maintenance hasn’t been better. Sure, I've been jumping on the treadmill here and there. I'm still eating a mainly vegetarian diet.  Though I've gained, I'm still within five pounds of my "ideal weight".

But do I look like my "after" pics anymore?  Um... Not so much.

It's not an excuse given that I'm supposed to be good at the whole "life balance" thing, but somehow I just lost steam after my dad passed away in April of this year.

The easy thing is always to blame work and being busy and life demands. Yet, I know it's primarily mental. Emotional maybe. In either case, I've been in my own way more than anything external I can name.

To snap me out of my slump, I recently found out that I am going to be a bridesmaid in a wedding very soon.  On New Years Day, I will be required to wear a fitted, strapless, cornflower blue taffeta dress.

God help me.

Mind you, I'm not complaining about the dress. It's lovely. These things just are what they are. I deserve much worse for making my maid of honor wear that awful, super shiny satin, bright hunter green off-the-shoulder number.

It must be a similar phenomenon to how new moms always think their wee babies are beautiful. Or, how people in love think they are invisible.

Brides mean well when they say, "You can totally wear that again!"  But let's face it; the bridal attendants are just there to make the real star of the event look good.

Anyhoo, the bottom line is that this wedding is less than two months away and I am soooo not in "gala" shape. 

Provided I don't need to breathe or anything, there are undergarment options which may somewhat disguise my recent laziness.  However, I'm still concerned that my arms will look like two tubes of marshmallow oozing out of the top of my bedazzled gown.

Time to get off my blumpy and motivate.

In the spirit of practicing what I preach, here's my plan per Personal Strategic Management...

Internal:
   1. I will affirm and encourage myself towards good health and energy. I will be positive and confident.

   2. I will monitor my thoughts and words. If I catch myself saying or thinking things like "I feel fat" or "I'm so tired", I will immediately reframe thoughts and words to the positive.

   3. I will meditate daily to keep myself balanced, keep my stress at bay and attract my goal. (The very simple pink bubble technique is one of my favorites.)

External:
   1. I will exercise at least 45 min per day, six times per week; alternating cardio and strength training.

   2. I will eat a healthy, balanced diet with special caution towards sodium and sugar intake.

   3. I will record my food/drink and fitness in MyNetDiary.

Support:
   1. I will ask my husband and kids to help out more so I have more time/energy to put towards my workouts and food prep. (They also need to hide the Halloween candy.)

   2. I will write about my journey and progress here over the next several weeks.

   3. I will leverage my membership with the online community at BeachBody.

Anyone else looking to achieve a fitness or weight loss goal before the New Year?  

What is your Internal/External/Support plan? 

Best,



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Friday, October 29, 2010

Open House - Come On In!

I've already exposed the guilty secret that I very much enjoy reality television shows.  I know, I know. Trust me - anything you are thinking, my husband has already expressed with reproach.  Multiple times. Usually while I am actually trying to hear who is the next great whatever, who is being voted off or who is not there to make friends.

As I bask in the swirliness of my brand-spankin' new blog design, I can just hear the voices of the What Not To Wear co-hosts Stacy & Clinton haunting me.

"It doesn't have to match. It just has to go." 

Knowing things are intentionally now a little matchy-matchy here, I'm counting on it being a rule only applicable to fashion design and not to blog design.  (Oy - I can't even type the words "matchy-matchy" without hearing the voice of Michael Kors re: Project Runway in my head.)

Clearly there are hours of my life I will never get back from those shows. The next time I use the excuse "no time," feel free to remind me of this. That goes for you too.

Anyhoo....
Welcome to my new space!

For those of you who are relative newcomers, I thought this might be a good time to give a bit of a tour.   If you are an email or feed subscriber, you may need to clickety-click into The Balance Beam to get the full effect.

Whether I'm writing about life or balance (or both), the posts which seem to resonate most with people are those which connect on some emotional level.  Sure, tips and tricks are nice.... But I think people most remember the stuff which creates a visceral reaction.

To that end, here are a few bits to evoke something and provide a peek into my personal corner of the blogosphere. (Click on the post titles to view.)  
Laugh
Advice for all, but you really need this if you are going to your partner's reunion.

Cry
Dedicated to anyone who has ever lost someone they love to cancer.

Point & Laugh
Hopefully it's a sign of personal growth that I can not only share but "reshare"
 one of my most embarrassing moments.

Cringe
I swore I'd never be one of those mommies who talks about their kids poop,
but here ya go.

Relax
Feeling the stress of too much to do?  Read this now; thank me later. 

There's also a handy "Past Posts" section and a "Labels" tool on the sidebar if you want to be extra nosy.  Please, be extra nosy. 

Thanks so much!

Oh - and if you're a fellow blogger and want to leave me your blog link with your comment, I'll be sure to swing by your place as well!


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Thursday, October 7, 2010

All Foam, No Beer

In thinking more about the two events I attended last week, an old saying came to mind:

    "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice... but in practice there is."

In other words, there is a huge distinction between talking about problems and solutions vs. actually taking action.  Even harder, executing the right actions which lead to successful outcomes.

Personally, I spent two decades of my professional career talking about the greatness of "stuff" without having to worry about the execution.  Yep, sales.   Baddabing.  Baddaboom.  A lucrative career from making promises on which other people had to deliver.

Several years ago, a true snake oil salesman visionary convinced me of the value in the theory of this great new thing.  A thing which could change the world.  He offered me a "sales gig" with promises of grandeur.  I bought it hook, line and sinker.  I made the most significant career move of my life.

But there was no thing.  I had to create the thing.  And then sell it.

Then, I had to figure out how to actually deliver it and make sure it worked.   Not just sales... but product development and execution.

My new mantra became, "Shoot me. Shoot me now."

Luckily it all worked out and the thing has become a resounding success.  Never you mind about all that blood, sweat and tears.  Okay, no blood.  (Well, maybe almost.)  But it was worth it. 

Even better, I now get to work with an amazing team of people who also saw the vision in the thing and worked (are still working) their arses off as well.  They totally rock.

The point is, it takes work to get beyond the theory.  It takes action and energy to make a difference.

Whether it's a personal goal or starting a business; talking about how much we believe in something or even want to do it, won't make it so.

Remember my P90X quote from Tom Kinsman:
     "Successful people do the things that people who aren't successful won't do."

The reason why not everyone does the work is because the work is hard.   It's a lot easier to talk about that great new exercise program or an inspiring theory or a cool self-help book.   

Basking in theory is even more fun in groups. "Hey - we should start a walking club!  Let's talk about it over lunch!"

Of course, I say all of this without judgment as it's something I have to really work on in my own life.    If I were better at taking action, I would have finished my book by now.  I would have been a keynote speaker at one of those events last week instead of sitting in the audience thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.

Practicing what you preach sure is a b*tch.

One of the more inspiring people I met last week sent me this great quote from the movie Scent of a Woman where Al Pacino says,  "I've been at the crossroads in my life and I knew what the right road was; without question I knew. But, I didn't take it. Know why?  It was just too, damn, hard."

So what's your crossroads?  What is the thing you've been talking about but not actually doing?  What have you been "meaning to do"?

Stay tuned,
Charlene
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Monday, October 4, 2010

What is Your Passion?

I've been slightly MIA in the blogosphere for the past week or so.  You noticed right?  Right?

Oh well.  Anyway, I've been traveling and working pretty solidly for the past eight days straight.  Reminiscent of my circus days, I did two conferences in one week.  Both were on the opposite coast and both required schedules which started with breakfast, ended with after-dinner cocktails and offered few breaks in between.  Both involved meetings, filling my brain with information and much "networking."

And yet, these two "events" were also very different. 

In a nutshell, I spent the first half of the week talking about the "state of the state," how messed up certain things are in business and the theory about what smart people and companies will work towards. 

I answered the question, "What do you do?" roughly 134 times.

The second half of the week was spent in collaborative discussion about the solutions to some of these major problems opportunities. 

I answered (and asked) the question, "What are you about?" exactly 58 times. 

It may seem subtle but the difference is light years.   At this moment, I find myself wishing I wasn't so damned jetlagged and could find a way to eloquently describe all the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in greater detail.

However, this does not diminish my desire to share this great energy with you.  Put it in a bottle and save it up.  In case of emergency, break glass.

Anytime you need a little boost, just ask someone to share their personal dreams with you. 

Ask them, "What are you passionate about?"  

It's amazing what comes out!  Personally I think it's impossible not to "catch" the enthusiasm of someone talking about something which makes them truly excited to be alive.

This experience also really emphasized for me what I am passionate about.  Being here with you!   Personal Stategic Management.  My desire and ability to help people find true life balance from the inside out.

I feel so completely inspired and motivated by the people with whom I've interacted over the past few days.  It's like discovering a roadmap to a better place where the journey is as great as the destination.    I am so grateful and excited.... Stay tuned!

Carpe diem!
Charlene
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Overwhelmed Much? Here's a Tip...


Yesterday I got a phone call from my older sister Tina, who now lives in Alabama.  Despite not getting too many breaks in life, she really is amazing.  In addition to being a single mom, having given birth to ger first child at the young age of 42, she also has a demanding full-time job and is working on a degree through the University of Phoenix.

I barely got out a “hello” when she started reading me her current assignment, a tinge of desperation in her voice.  Feeling overwhelmed, she wasn't sure she understood the question -- let alone the solution.  Yet, pretty quickly I was to help her break the problem down into manageable bits, find her confidence and realise she actually knew the answers.

I have to admit that it’s somewhat gratifying when Tina calls me asking for homework advice. Growing up, she was “cool.”  Me?  Um, not so much. I was a Glee kid.  It makes me happy when my geekiness adds value.

Despite being considered a few fries short of a Happy Meal when we were kids, the truth is that my sister is smart.

I’ll never forget when Tina first moved down south from Boston. She called home after being there maybe two weeks.   In her quickly adopted southern drawl she explained, “All these years everyone told me I was slow. Turns out, I was just born in the wrong part of the country.”

In our conversation yesterday, she also shared that she's trying to figure out how to best balance motherhood, work, school and her own wellness.

I live for these conversations of course.   (Thus, the blog.  Hello.)

Let's discuss...

- Have you ever felt overwhelmed?
- Have you become controlled by endless to-do lists? 
- Do you worry that maybe you can't do it all?
- Do you sometimes wonder if everyone else around you is completely oblivious?
- Have you ever hoped that someone else might actually appreciate that you are doing it all?

Like with Tina's homework assignment, sometimes we just need a manageable view of what is in front of us and the belief in ourselves that we can do it. (Perspective, prioritization, confidence...yada, yada, yada.)

However, lately I've been really focused on that last question about appreciation. Sometimes the truth hurts. Whether it’s our kids or our partner or our boss; the reality is that they really don’t have a full appreciation for what we do every flippin’ day.  

Hey - it's our own fault. We do way too much for everyone else and make it look too damn easy to boot.   Can we really complain about people crossing boundaries which we've neglected to set?
It's only natural that people take for granted what they’ve come to expect as the status quo.

Oh, they will say they appreciate you.   My husband (and my kids and my boss) might actually be offended at the insinuation that they don't appreciate me.

If you ask me if I appreciate having electricity, I would say “yes.” Of course I do honey.

But the truth is that on a day-to-day basis, I've taken for granted that the lights come on, the fridge keeps food cold and the toilet flushes.

UNTIL 70 mph winds come through and rip down the power lines so all of that is gone for two days, such as happened in my neighborhood this past weekend. Yikes.

Your life balance lesson for today is ridiculously simple:  DO LESS.

This means setting boundaries before your sanity blows away to the Land of Oz. (And, before you become the Wicked Witch of the Western hemisphere.)

As soon as you have the sense that you’re doing way too much and you are losing that precious inner balance – trust that feeling and make a change.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

Whining doesn’t count. (Did somebody call a waaa-mbulance?)

We’re "doing it all" because we’ve created that pattern.   But why?  Why oh why have we gotten ourselves into this unmanageable situation?   More importantly, how do we get out of it?

Here are three myths which get us into trouble at both work and home:

   1. If I want it done right, I have to do it myself. You know that whole confidence = capacity thing I am always blathering on about? That applies to our confidence in others as well. The people in our lives are way more capable than we give them credit for.  Stop being such a freakin' control freak.

   2. If I admit I can’t do it all, they won’t love me. Attention fellow perfectionists and over-achievers: There is no one on this earth holding you anywhere near the standard to which you are holding yourself.  Let it go.

   3. If I don’t do it, nobody will. The main reason nobody else is doing it, is because you are. Unfortunately, the idea of just not doing it and seeing if anyone will pick up the slack doesn't work. (I tried going on "strike" from doing laundry once; my husband just started buying new clothes.)   Sadly, if you want others to take over some stuff, you will need to ask them to do it.  If you're thinking, “I shouldn’t need to ask.” Get over it. You do.

Rest assured that when you start setting boundaries, you may meet resistance for obvious reasons.  Or not. I have definitely been surprised before. (See #1)  

Bottom line is to tune in and know when what you are doing is not sustainable. Although most likely you created it, know that it is also within your power to make it better.

Best,
Charlene
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Monday, September 13, 2010

I Know He's a Jerk but I Love Him

February 2009
One thing you'll learn about me is that I travel a lot for business. On every flight, there’s the part where the flight attendant tells us that if the oxygen mask comes down, to put our own mask on first and then help others with their masks.

I love flying Southwest when they say, “If you have more than one child, now is a good time to pick a favorite.”   But I digress.

We probably all know someone who is living the equivalent of slowly suffocating to death while they hold the oxygen mask onto someone else’s face. They constantly do for others before themselves to the point of exhaustion, frustration or even depression.

A key component of my Personal Strategic Management methodology is that YOU are the central point of energy.
YOU are the CRITICAL CORE.

YOU have the find the energy source within yourself and nurture that to the point that no matter what else is going on around you, you will survive and thrive. This is not only possible but absolutely vital if you are going to love this limited and undetermined time on earth.

For my martyrs out there… no matter how much you think your purpose in life is to help everyone around you, what I’m telling you is the absolute truth. If you turn blue, everyone else is screwed.

(** OVERSHARE WARNING**)  Here’s a little story about how I started figuring this out:

It was the early `90’s and I was married to my first husband.  He was an alcoholic with multiple other addictions.  Let’s call him “Jim.”  Admittedly I came into the marriage with a self-storage bin of emotional baggage and no key.  But Jim was also a professional manipulator.  No matter what he did or what we fought about, I’d end up apologizing.  My self-esteem at an all time low, Jim had me convinced that if I left him I’d be alone forever because no one else would want me.

Eventually I started seeking support in a quest to change my reality. To be honest, what I was searching for was how to change him.

I proclaimed, “I know he’s a jerk, but I love him!”

I resisted the unsympathetic feedback I received, particularly from a counselor who often reminded me, “Um, yeah… but he’s still a jerk. Just so you know, that part probably won’t change.”

One day I was sitting in a Friendly’s restaurant commiserating with a friend from Al-Anon about how different my life would be if only Jim would stop doing what he was doing and if only he would go to therapy and if only he would do x, y, z.

I recited scripts of carefully crafted conversations I would conduct to make him wake up and finally admit, “Oh wow – I’m so sorry. I’m SUCH a jerk.”

I was desperately trying to get some sense of control.  I was convinced that my happiness depended upon having a happy marriage and that to have that, Jim would need to get with the program.

My Friendly's friend who was herself a “recovered codependent” patiently listened to me cry and rant and ramble.

Finally she took a last sip of coffee, pointed to a server nearby and said, “Do you see that waitress?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“Do you think you have any control over what she thinks or feels or what she is going to do after work?” my friend asked.

Of course I acknowledged I had no control over the waitress whatsoever.

She continued, “So what makes you think you have any more control over Jim, than you do of that waitress?”

I think about what she said next constantly:

The only person you can control and are guaranteed to be with twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, for the rest of your life, is YOU.  You better make damn sure you are happy with that person.  If you’re not, you don't have a chance in hell at true happiness.”

Okay, so I know some of you are thinking, “Take care of you. No kidding. I already learned that from Oprah.”

But just think about it.   What's the external thing in your life that you secretly feel is keeping you from being as happy as you could be?    Maybe your job or your boss is the problem?   Maybe this "difficult economic climate" is the problem?   Your mother-in-law?   Your teenager?

It is possible to get to a place where no matter what our expectations are of those around us or our external situation, we have the ability to be content.  From that place of balance, we are better able to positively affect our own lives and the world around us from the inside out.

True life balance is internal.

Carpe diem,
Charlene
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Warn the Neighbors - It's Back2Blogging Time!

Over the next several days, I'll be participating in an event called "Back to Blogging" along with all my fabulous SITStahs .  

I am determined to be more diligent with this challenge than the last couple I kinda sorta tried to do. 

In addition to lots of other rules that I am sure not to remember, there is some specified blogging we need to do each day.  In line with my own life balance strategy, I am going to follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) and just focus on the writing assignments.  This may ruin my chances to win the Electrolux washer and dryer which is up for grabs, but hopefully the exercise will still be interesting for y'all. 

So... here is what you have to put up with look forward to over the next week or so:

     * Monday, September 13:  I must re-post the first thing I ever wrote on my blog.

     * Tuesday, September 14:  I must re-post a piece I wish more people had read and explain why it was important to me.

     * Wednesday, September 15: I must re-upload a post with a title that I am particularly proud of and explain why.

     * Thursday, September 16: I must write a new post about a woman who inspires me.

     * Friday, September 17: I must write about what blogging means to me. Why do I blog? What purpose does it serve me and how have I benefited from sharing a piece of myself online this way?

If you are a fellow blogger, feel free to play along and leave a link to your post in the comments.   I'll be sure to check out your posts as well!

Enjoy!
Charlene
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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Winning the Game (Set & Match) of Life

Did I mention that my work commute is 50 miles each way?  It's a journey that can take an hour or two or three.  It all depends on day, time, weather, and how much the universe wants to screw with me at any particular moment. 

Thank goodness for podcasts.  I have a few special favorites:
     * Get-It-Done Guy
     * Grammar Girl
     * Car Talk
     * NPR Fresh Air (as well as All Things Considered, This American Life, etc.)
     * The Onion Radio News

My fabulous pod friends help pass the time whilst also teaching me how to "work less and do more" and how not to butcher the English language.  (Mind you I am known to break the rules intentionally.  Creative license and all that.)  Thanks to podcasts, I also know what to do when my 'check engine' light comes on and am fairly current on the world around me, both real and satirical. 

It's a beautiful thing indeed.  Particularly since drinking while driving is illegal.  I need something to keep my mind off the long parade of brake lights, horn honking and other related annoyances.

So, yesterday I was wading in an endless sea of cars, all also heading north for the long Labor Day weekend.  I found myself fantasizing about a world where there is a "fast lane" for people who actually need to get home vs. those who are in no real hurry except to swim, cook meat and drink beer all weekend. 

I'll admit it. I struggled to stay in my happy place.  I'm only human ya know.

Luckily, Terry Gross at NPR came to my rescue with a Fresh Air rebroadcast.  Perhaps technically a rebroadcast podcast; a 2009 interview with Andre Agassi.  (I'm tempted to clarify "the tennis star" after his name but seriously, who doesn't know that?)

Although I never read his memoir Open, I remember the swirl around the drugs, the pain and the myriad of relationships, including his overly-driven father and one Blue Lagoon actress.  And of course, the hairpiece which always makes me think of Gallagher, who had a similar pseudo-coiffure.

In retrospect, I may have even heard this specific interview when it aired the first time.  The ol' brain cells just aren't what they used to be so it's hard to say for sure. 

Yet, one piece of the conversation really piqued my interest this time around.  (This is not to be confused with having my interest "peaked" or "peeked."  Thanks Grammar Girl!)  

Agassi was talking about his coach, Gil, whom he described as both his physical trainer and his "soul trainer."  (Love that!)   Early on, Gil questioned why Andre was doing the kind of training he was doing.  Specially, why he was running five miles a day when the game of tennis was about constant starting and stopping; a totally different set of skills and muscle conditioning.   Gil got him to start focusing on working the muscles and skills which were in alignment with the game he wanted to win.

It made me think about the kind of fitness conditioning I do every day.  (Yes, I am using the phrase "every day" very loosely.)  Does my workout routine align with the needs of my life?  I don't play tennis or any sport for that matter but even normal life has physical demands.    For example, I need to have enough energy to work 15 hours straight if needed, be able to sit without back pain for long periods of time and lift / carry a fifty pound child.   Sometimes two. 

I also have this weird goal to live and enjoy said heavy children for as many years as possible.  

To achieve my goals, I clearly need to engage in activities which build endurance, core strength and overall health.

Although Agassi was talking about physical conditioning, you don't have to be Oprah to make the connection about how this applies to the mental, spiritual and emotional as well. 

In my life balance methodology, "Personal Strategic Management" my mantra is that true life balance is internal.

That means that my thoughts, words and actions all need to be in alignment.   For example, if I exercise an hour a day but then look in the mirror and say, "Holy crap, my legs look like cottage cheese!" or "I am SO tired. Look at these bags!"  Not in alignment. 

It's kinda like drinking a diet coke with a donut. 

Tying it back to the Agassi thing... what I say, think and feel has to be working towards the "muscle tone" of my mental health and happiness, in the same way that my fitness routine needs to meet the physical demands of my life.

So, food for thought: 
   Do the activities you engage in every day support your mental, physical, emotional, spiritual goals? 
   Do your thoughts, feelings, words and actions put you in the position to win at the game of life?

Carpe diem,
Charlene
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

This week's travels took me to Kansas by way of Kansas City, Missouri. 

As a kid, I was so confused by the fact that Kansas City is not the capital of Kansas.  Not even in Kansas for that matter.

I remember telling the teacher defiantly, "That would be like New York City being the capital of Connecticut!"

Just not right, I tell ya.  Just not right.

On the plus side, I was always able to remember that the capital of Kentucky was Frankfort.  See, "frankfort" reminded me of frankfurters (hot dogs) which reminded me of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Frankfurters, Kentucky.  Who could forget that?  (I was a twisted kid, what can I say?)

On one of my previous business trips I wrote about the Alamo for no other reason than I was there.  Clearly I need more hobbies when I am challenging myself to write a blog post tying life balance to the battle at the Alamo.    (Okay, so I'm still twisted.)

So, there I was sitting in the lobby of my Kansas hotel waiting for my ride to the client site.  Knowing I wanted to do some blogging during my trip, I passed the time trying to come up with a good writing challenge. 

Something about Kansas.  Hmmm...   The Wizard of Oz.   Of course!  There must be a way to tie life balance to such a great, iconic story.

Too bad I'm not staying in Wichita, I thought.  Wicked Wichita.  Wichita of the West.  The Good Wichita.    My mind searches for more ideas.    What else?

Trying not to let my inner brainstorm die down, my eyes scan the room for inspiration.  It's a standard issue Marriott. 

I got nuthin.

My co-worker arrives with rental car keys in hand.  "Me" time is officially over.  I give up with a sigh and reach down to pick up my computer bag.

My eyes lock on my shoes.  My red shoes.  My ruby red, I'm-not-even-kidding-you, pointy toe, patent leather shoes.  In my mind it is a totally amazing fluke that I am in Kansas wearing my ruby red pumps.  What are the chances?

But what I think of next (after I snap a quick picture; see right), is that these are my 10-year old Miss M's favorite shoes.  And I have a lot of shoes.

She calls them my "fabulous" shoes. 

For the rest of the day, whenever I got a pang of stress or fatigue I just looked at my shoes, thought of Miss M and let the joy of her spirit wash over me.

"There's no place like home," I thought and chuckled inside.  My own little private joke kept me company and kept me smilin'.

When I finally got home after several hours of planes, trains and automobiles, I told Miss M. about my trip and the fabulous shoes in the land of Oz.

Without skipping a beat she said, "Mom - you could have gotten home so much sooner if you had just clicked your heels!"

Not sure if my fabulous shoes will be the thing to put Delta Airlines out of business, but it's a great reminder that home is always just one thought away.

Best,
Charlene
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Got Stress? Take Five.

Whew - what a week!   In addition to the usual stuff with work, travels, house repairs, getting the kids ready for school (etc etc), I started my second round of P90X and am also looking at my own next educational adventure. Crazy land!

When things get especially hectic, it helps me to have a few mantras that I can quickly pull out of the mental toolbox.  Some days I may sound like a broken record but these are the basics which keep that "overwhelmed" feeling away.   Balance from the inside --> out and all that.

As we prepare for the new week ahead, I thought I would make some of these mantras handy:

1. This is not life or death.  I use this at the office a lot.  Whenever I need to talk someone off a ledge at work, I remind them (and/or myself) that we are not doing brain surgery.  Personally, this reminder helps me keep things in perspective.  Sometimes we make little things far bigger than they deserve. So not worth it.  (My experience in Cannes helped me learn this.)

2. This too shall pass.   Sometimes you may feel like you won't live through certain situations.  But you will.   (Well, most likely... unless you are going in for brain surgery and your doctor ascribes to philosophy #1.)  I just think of all the other crap I've survived which is now a mere memory.  This will pass.  The good times pass too so this is also a great gratitude reminder.

3.  I choose.  While we do not have any control over other people, places or things, we do have control over our reactions and (to some extent) our feelings about what happens around us.   Still, when I feel like I'm giving way to much power to others to the detriment of my own sanity, I take that power back.  I choose peace, health and happiness.  Very Oprah, I know.

4.  Put it in a bubble.  Sometimes, in order to get to #3 we have to let go.  Put it in a bubble and let it float away.  This is in the category of "it is what it is."  You can also sweep it or flush it.  As an admitted over-thinker, this is an important one for me.

5.  It's five o'clock somewhere.   Hey, we all have our vices. Whatever works.

Hope you all have a GREAT week.  Let me know if you have any other favorite sanity-saving sayings!

Best,
Charlene


Photo taken behind my house - love the rainbow!

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Up in the Air Bender

As some of you know, my work requires a fair amount of travel. The downside of course, is being away from my family.   Apart from that, I have to admit that I kinda love it.

One would think that after more than thirteen years of planes, trains and automobiles my travel glow would have faded.  Okay, so the driving I could live without.  But I actually enjoy airports, especially when I am traveling alone.

What's not to love?
      - The usually free Wi-Fi, though suddenly a non-issue thanks to my brand new iPad.
      - People watching; I could spend hours creating stories of others' lives.
      - A blissful sense of solitude, despite the crowds. This may surprise you but I am so NOT a chatty Cathy when I travel. It's a relief to rest my mind and voice for a few hours.
      - Tasty treats; everyone knows that Hudson News takes the calories out of all their snacks (wink, wink).
      - Responsibility only for me, myself and I.  When I'm on the road, it's all about me. (This is in stark contrast to my usual days of course.)

My love of airports could go back to when my dad used to take us to go watch the planes take off and land.  More likely it stems from my senior year of college back in Boston.

My childhood home was within easy driving distance from my residence on campus. However, most of my friends lived outside the "close enough for mom and dad to drop by" range.

We'd start out as a crowd of maybe a dozen creative types, just "hanging out" in Logan International Airport. In retrospect, probably too full of energy for the hour.  

I want to say we started the day with coffee. Yet my memory of it is fuzzy enough that it was probably something alcoholic. A little "hair of the dog" given the prior evening's celebration of finals being over.  Plus, we were all newly of age to drink so there was a sort of novelty to being able to sit and imbibe in public. 

So then, I want to say we enjoyed some big, spicy Bloody Mary drinks. Except we were all pretty broke and were unlikely to sustain ourselves on such an expensive choice.  Not to mention that back then you could buy three packs of cigarettes for the price of one Bloody (and it was still legal to smoke indoors, despite how disgusting that sounds now.)

Maybe next trip I'll stop into the Samuel Adams bar for a cheap draft beer and see if it conjures up any memories.

Anyhoo... one by one, flights departed for New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Florida.  Even St. Thomas and Germany.  The crowd got smaller and smaller until I was the only one left.  I took the "T" back to campus and waited for my dad to come pick me up.   The car ride from school to home signified the temporary but welcome journey from (perceived) independence back to dependence again.

Since I knew I'd be seeing everyone again soon, it was au revoir but not goodbye. The memory was not about a bunch of hungover, obnoxious undergrads, drinkin' beer and smokin' "butts" but about friendship, laughter, support and the comfort of such ritual.

These days, I still like get to the airport plenty early. I like to be relaxed, not stressed. I enjoy being one of the shiny, happy people. The sort that asks the TSA agent how they are doing, has a smile on their face as they walk down the aisle of the plane and doesn't get impatient with the person who takes far too long to put their bag in the overhead.

If you saw the movie, "Up in the Air," you can picture a more positive, quirky female version of George Clooney.   (Though I don't have near the frequent flyer perks thanks to my preference for family-friendly scheduling over airline loyalty.)

Last week I had a day trip to Raleigh, NC. In a surprisingly long security line for 5:45am, I accidentally bumped the lady in front of me.

She was tall and thin (but not fit), probably in her late 40s but still 20 in her mind.  Her hair was clearly confused about being teased "big" in one decade only to be over-straightened as flat as a board in another.   I found myself wondering if she borrowed her outfit from her daughter, or if she had recently raided the Juniors section of Ross for Less, or if her clothes were just well-maintained items from the Tello's days when she actually was 20.  

My sister got me to stop me wearing my acid-washed jeans by enlightening me that, "Just because you can still fit into them doesn't mean you should."   

(So, I ain't sayin'.... I'm just sayin'.)

As if with double annoyance that I had bumped her and was thinking such rude, judgmental thoughts, she whipped around and glared at me.  Yikes.   If looks could kill.   Now she was not only in great need of a makeunder but clearly angry as well.

"Watch it!" she hissed.

"I'm so very sorry," I replied back in as friendly tone as I could muster. "Haven't had my coffee yet."

Somehow I guessed that this woman knew the language of caffeine.

The alternative response in my head was "Who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?" but I opted for adding my very best "olive juice" smile instead. A peace offering.

This encounter made me think of a film I talked about in a previous post.  After that movie, Miss M made everyone in the family take an online quiz to determine which kind of "Bender" we each were. I secretly wanted to be an Air Bender so the results were very gratifying for me. (Might be a Gemini thing.).

Anyhoo, one of the questions was actually about what your reaction would be if someone accidentally bumped into you.   No question that my Tellos friend in the security line was a Fire Bender.

What kind of bender (or traveler) are you?
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The TAH DAH! List

When I first started this blog eighteen months ago, the initial idea was to answer the question I get often which is, "How do you do it all?"   Since then, there certainly have been plenty of posts about how I don't do it all that well all the time.

Still, I like to think I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Okay, so some of them aren't exactly rocket science. It's more about the consistency of action. Good habits. Organization. Et cetera.

One of my very favorite tools is the TO DO list.  Simple, I know.  When life gets crazy and stressful, that's when we need simplicity the most.

There have definitely been times when I felt like I was going to throw up thinking about everything that had to get done in the day or the week or before a certain deadline.  Somehow keeping an organized list of all these tasks provides a special perspective, which is much needed at these times.

Personally it helps me to see on paper that it's really not so bad after all.  Okay, so sometimes it really is that bad.  Still, it's helpful not to have all that "stuff" swirling around in my head.

I've tried a lot of different organizers and pre-fab lists over the years and have finally settled on a simple 7x10 spiral bound blank notebook.  Maybe it's just me but the more formal systems stressed me out.  Plus, I like the idea of throwing the old list away each time I make a clean new one.  (That might be my OCD actually.)

Here are some other logistical details for what works for me:
  • keep different pages or columns for WORK to-do's vs. PERSONAL to-do's
  • organize tasks by similarities, i.e. for work, I group tasks per client or project; for home I group cleaning tasks vs. finance tasks vs. tasks per kid, etc...
  • be sure to include "me time" items on there, i.e. workout, blogging
  • file any emails related to the items on my list in a special TO DO personal folder in Outlook
  • check off items as they are accomplished (and move the emails into their respective personal folders by project/client or sender)
  • add items to the list as they come up; usually from scribbled notes on later pages
  • rewrite / reorganize the list as the last thing I do before bed (or first thing when I get to work, or when I realise it's been a few days and my list is a mess.)
I would love to know if you use "to do" lists and what works best for you!

My mother-in-law recently told me that the first thing on her to do list is always, "Make to do list."  This provides her with the immediate gratification of checking off one item right away.  Check.  One thing down. Yay!

It might be helpful to know that my mother-in-law is like Tinkerbell.  She needs applause in order to live.  I totally get it.  

There's such a great feeling of accomplishment which comes from checking things off the list.  In fact, I think I'll start calling it a "TAH DAH!" list now instead of a "to do" list.   Love it.

There is also the famous "honey do" list.  You know... that list of stuff you want your special someone to accomplish.  Today please. This year maybe?  Somehow they just can't be trusted to get it done without a helpful nudge from their schmoopie.  

Personally, I make lists for Big D as rarely as possible.  Trust me, there are days I would really love to unleash my inner control freak.  It's just not the best recipe for marital bliss.   Not to mention that Big D. suffers from a common ailment which afflicts many men:
Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS)
    
     Man yells upstairs to wife, "Honey, I'm going down to clean my workbench!"

     Ten seconds later, man is left unsupervised in basement... "Oh look - shiny object!" 

     And so, five years later the workbench is still a mess.

Call me lazy; I'd rather live with a messy workbench in my basement than nag 24/7.    Nagging is not on my "to do" list.  And, certainly not worthy of being on a TAH DAH! list.  

I almost had an epiphany about only putting things on my list which, when completed, are worthy of a TAH DAH!   But then reality set in and I realised that sometimes there are things that need to get done sans applause. 

Sorry Tinkerbell.

What's on your TAH DAH! list today??
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Friday, July 23, 2010

Takin' Care of the Pearly Whites

On all of the blogging communities I belong to, a common topic is about how to keep coming up with fresh things to write about.

My problem isn't thinking of ideas. I think of ideas constantly. The difficulty for me is remembering them. To counter this (and with my recent commitment to write more often), I try to keep a small notebook handy at all times.  Get an idea; take a note.  When that fails, I record voice notes into my phone and send them to myself.   No dissertation; just a few words to jog the old noggin.

So the last one was "Peggy Sue. Teeth."

Let's discuss.

Alone in my hotel room in Denver a few nights ago, my TV choices were Peggy Sue Got Married or a repeat of Deadliest Catch.

It was a tough choice but I went with the 1986 Kathleen Turner movie. (As a side note, Kathleen Turner was the keynote speaker at my college graduation.  She walked by me on her way up to the stage and pointing to my Golden Key Honour Society sash inquired, "What's that gold thing mean?"  I mumbled something as she walked away.  I'm sure it sounded like, "It means I can't form a sentence in the presence of celebrity. Blubbub. Fub. Dub. Wait - come back!")

Awful movie but the one scene in Peggy Sue Got Married which always stands out to me is when Peggy Sue asks, "Grandpa, if you had a chance to go back and do it all differently, what would you have changed?"

Barney replies, "Well, I woulda taken better care of my teeth."  

So of course that made me think of my step-mom / aunt, whom we'll call Moo Moo.  That's what my kids call her and you know how I love using nicknames here.  (No, she's not fat.)

Growing up, Moo Moo was obsessed with clean teeth. Or so it seemed in my youthful mind.

Oh yeah... in case you've been wondering about the whole "step-mom / aunt" thing, it's as simple as this:
My dad was remarried to my mom's sister. Yes, the younger model. No, that's not why my mom and dad got divorced. Everyone got along just fine.  Mom remarried years ago too. Yeah, maybe something which would be on Jerry Springer. "Uncle Dad" - yep, wicked funny.

You can imagine how many times I've said all these things in the past 40 years since it all went down.

But I digress. We were talking about oral hygiene.

Up until about about the age of eight, I got away with the toothpaste on the shirt trick.  My parents never asked "Did you brush your teeth?"  They just saw the mess in the sink and the white pasty spot on my shirt and assumed it was so.  They also assumed I was a total freakin' slob which wasn't ideal, but I had to pick my battles.

When I finally went to the dentist and had like, five cavities, they caught on.   I was screwed.

You know how the mothers in old fashioned TV shows would always ask their kids if they were wearing clean underwear before they left the house?

Every other weekend and during all school vacations (re: custody agreement), Moo Moo made my and my siblings' dental hygiene her personal mission.  Nobody left the house without a full inspection.

"Let's see those pearly whites," she would sing in her best June Cleaver voice. 

If I somehow escaped without going through the Colgate lineup, she'd hunt me down. You can only imagine how embarrassing it was to get a phone call at a friend's house and have to drearily explain, "I gotta go home and brush my teeth."

Don't worry, eventually I figured out on my own that not brushing the ol' grill was just plain gross.  Probably around the time I decided that boys weren't gross.

And then just the other day, I actually caught myself chiding my kids, "Let me see those pearly whites."  

I admit that actually have to hold Spidey's face in a headlock some days to get the tops of his gums to gleam.
It must be genetic.

In terms of a handy tip I can offer on the topic, it's BrushPicks.   I think I mentioned in an earlier post that when my dad died, we found these things everywhere.  Every room, every drawer, every pocket.

Now I know why.  BrushPicks totally rock.  (And no, this is not a paid advertisement.  I seriously can't live without these things now.)

Flossing is so 1986.

If you do nothing else for yourself today, take great care of your teeth. 

Best,
Charlene
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