Guest Post on A Hopeful Sign: How Mama Got Her Happy Groove Back.

Today’s crankiness crusher: I was honored to write a guest post about what motivated me to start my blog for an inspirational new magazine blog called A Hopeful Sign. Their mission is to spread hope through living-learning-leading and I’m thrilled to be a part of it!

Originally posted on A Hopeful Sign on June 26th, 2011:

Even when there's lots of icky stuff happening around you, there's always a reason to smile.

How Mama Got Her Happy Groove Back.

crank路y [krang-kee]鈥揳djective, crank路i路er, crank路i路est. 1. ill-tempered; grouchy; cross: I’m always cranky when I don’t get enough sleep.

Yep, this definition pretty much sums up how I was feeling most of the time: Cross, grouchy, and in a semi-permanent state of aggravation. I grappled with these negative feelings, especially since I鈥檓 usually the person who people turn to when they need a pick-me-up! Always a people-pleaser, I didn鈥檛 want to let my friends down, so I became a somewhat 鈥渃loseted grump鈥濃攎eaning that I鈥檇 still smile brightly and say, 鈥淚鈥檓 doing great!鈥 when others asked me how I was doing, but on the inside I felt uninspired, blah, and to be honest, kind of bitchy!

As a mom of two kids under 5, I was growing more and more exhausted by my overwhelming to-do list and the constant multi-tasking yet lack of productivity. I was trying to be the perfect stay-at-home mother, while also freelance writing from home, which meant that I was usually up to the wee hours of the night trying to finish assignments. The lack of sleep made me irritable, and I also felt bummed out that my career wasn鈥檛 going the way I鈥檇 hoped. Then I鈥檇 feel guilty for fretting about my professional status instead of being appreciative that I could stay at home with my kids, and the vicious crankiness cycle continued.

Luckily, something happened one Saturday morning in March that made me view life from a healthier perspective. I was driving my 4 陆-year-old to swim lessons, and as we crossed over the bridge into the next town, I pointed out how pretty the river looked with the sun reflecting off of it. My son agreed, but said that he likes it more when the sun sets 鈥渂ecause it鈥檚 orange鈥. When I told my husband about our exchange, he replied, 鈥淲ho doesn鈥檛 appreciate a good sunset?鈥 And as I sipped my coffee, their combined comments got me thinking about happiness, and how refreshingly easy it is to feel a moment of joy when you look at or think about something you like. The key is to appreciate it while it鈥檚 happening and to embrace those feelings of hope and optimism, as well as the contentment it brings.

I used to write a monthly column for a national women鈥檚 magazine called 鈥淭ime for You鈥, and on that page I鈥檇 list 5 things to be happy about. While it was sometimes challenging to come up with these cheery little nuggets, I always smiled while reviewing the final list each month. With that in mind, I decided to start a blog that would encourage me to feel the same way. I desperately needed to learn how to focus on the good in each day so that I could start chipping away at my alter ego who I comically refer to as the evil Dr. Crankenstein. Over the last four months I鈥檝e been writing about something specific that crushed out my crankiness. Chronicling these experiences has been cathartic. As a writer, it satisfied my need to get things down. I鈥檝e been able to reveal the rawest parts of myself and take my crankiness out of the closet, and hopefully help others deal with their own.

The Crankiness Crusher blog is not so much about maintaining a constant good mood, but more about remembering to look for and appreciate the happy in each day鈥攅ven if it鈥檚 something small like a freshly-mowed lawn, your favorite summer song on the radio, or eating an ice cream cone with your family. When you鈥檙e encouraged to find at least one good thing that happens daily, that positive thought can make you feel saner, more balanced, and less blah.

Throughout my anti-crankiness journey, I鈥檝e realized that when you鈥檙e not uber crabby, it鈥檚 much easier to deal with minor annoyances and issues. It鈥檚 also made me feel more generous, forgiving, and compassionate. As a mom, I鈥檝e had more energy and the emotional balance to tackle things that would normally set me off (like the perpetual whininess in my household!). The truth is, when you鈥檙e happy, you鈥檙e empowered to be a better person. And who doesn鈥檛 strive for that? I hope you鈥檒l consider joining me on this mission. Let鈥檚 crush the crank together!

Tara Rummell Berson is freelance writer who lives in Middletown, New Jersey with her husband, two kids, and dog. Not surprisingly, she鈥檚 always looking to find simple ways to be happy/grateful/not cranky on a daily basis. You can find her at crankinesscrusher.com, on Twitter at @crankycrusher, or you can join her anti-crankiness community on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/crankinesscrusher.聽

A helpful detour.

As I was darting to my car to head to a doctor’s appointment that I was already late for, I glanced over and noticed a car running idly at the corner of my road.聽 Curious and not willing to ignore it just because of time constraints, I pulled out of my driveway and peeked into the window and saw a young blonde-haired woman gesturing feverishly with her hands. She looked really distraught, so I motioned for her to pull up alongside my car so I could get to the bottom of this.

You never know where a road block might lead you.

After we rolled down our windows, she explained that she’s a visiting nurse who needed to get to her next patient and couldn’t figure out how the heck to get out of my development. There’s a DETOUR on the main road that I’m off of, so it’s been confusing a lot of people–and in this case her car’s GPS.聽 Normally I’m the most directionally challenged person I know, but this was something I could help with (particularly since I’d already screwed up the detour a few times myself!). While explaining what route to take, I was simultaneously feeling anxious about being late for my appointment, but also keenly aware that this was way more important (and perhaps our paths crossed for a reason?).聽 For all I know, her next patient could have been extremely ill and needed her to get there a helluva lot faster than I needed to get to my appointment. Besides, how could my doctor be annoyed that I was delayed due to helping out a fellow medical professional?! That would just be wrong with a capital W! 馃槈 To tell you the truth, I really didn’t care at the point. The “rushy-rushy” feeling I had was practically erased when I saw the look of relief on the nurse’s face. Getting her out of a jam and listening to her thank me profusely was more than enough to crush my crankiness and anxiety.

While it’s often easier to stick to our game plan, we also have to be prepared when we encounter minor road blocks and figure out the best way to confront them. I opted to go off route a little and help out a stranger and it was totally worth it. I felt so much pride that I was able to lead someone in the right direction, and in turn I was able to lead myself in the right direction–far, far away from my evil and anxious Dr. Crankenstein! When given the choice to either stay on track or to veer off so you can help someone else back on, I hope that you’ll always choose the latter. It could prompt you to move forward in a different way than you originally imagined.

“Actively appreciating” chips, dip & life in general.

Dear chips and dip. I love you.

As I sit here dipping way too many kettle cooked potato chips into some leftover onion dip from our Father’s Day BBQ, I’m reminded yet again that it’s really the simple pleasures that bring you happiness. Sure, this feeling of contentment is most likely fleeting (and will probably only last as long as I’m shoving chips into my mouth), but if I can wholeheartedly appreciate the moment, I know it’ll last longer. Right now I’m savoring the creamy texture and salty flavors that are bursting on my taste buds (and satisfying yet another PMS-driven craving!) and I’m deeming it as my calorie-ridden crankiness crusher.

I’ve been reminded on several occasions over the past week to have this sort of “active appreciation” mentality. The first time was when I posted on my Facebook page that it was a good start to the day simply because I was alive. I kind of giggled to myself when I was typing it because it sounded so…basic. And then when someone commented “just add breathe”, it got me thinking that when you break down life to its bare essentials–to what’s really important–you tend to be far less irritable when you’re thankful that you’ve actually been given another day to live and breathe. Another day to make choices that can guide you to a happier place.

Then, while sulking on the car ride home from my physical therapy evaluation for my back, I heard a radio spot that immediately stopped any “poor me” thoughts that I had running through my head. The woman in the commercial is talking about her heart. “The heart that was broken twice in the eight grade, the heart that leaps out of her chest whenever she watches a scary movie, the heart that she thought would burst when she first laid eyes on her son, and the heart that sank when she heard that she needed cardiac surgery.” She goes on to say that she put her heart in the hands of some great surgeons–and now she has a heart that doesn’t take a single beat for granted. Her words (which sound far more dramatic when you’re actually listening to the commercial) quickly put things into perspective for me; namely to quit my moaning and acknowledge that I’m blessed to be as healthy as I am!

To drive home the whole being grateful in-the-moment point even further, I was directed to a story in the HuffPo via my friend’s blog about being thankful for what you have on a continuous basis (and where I learned the term “active appreciation”). So as I put away my half-eaten bag of chips and onion dip (and actively appreciate that I don’t yet have a stomach ache!), I ask you to climb aboard my gratitude train. Let’s take the time to be thankful for what we have while we have it. Let’s pay attention to the crankiness crushers, big and small, that can make our days brighter. And let’s make a pact to NOTICE and APPRECIATE the good stuff before we let anything or anyone cloud our vision. Deal?!

When your mind is on overdrive, don’t let yourself crash.

Try not to hop on this when driving through life.

Having been laid up with a back injury for the past week, I’ve had more time than usual to stare up at the ceiling and think. Being able to sort through your thoughts is usually a good thing–unless you have a brain that works like mine. I tend to start off driving along Sanity Boulevard until I hit a speed bump (namely insecurity) which knocks me off course right onto Crazytown Lane.

Ever since starting this blog, I’ve been uber-sensitive about who’s reading and ‘liking’ what I have to say, who’s supporting me on my Facebook page, and how many Twitter followers I have. Putting yourself out there is difficult, but accepting that not everyone will have as much gusto for what you’re doing is a far more difficult pill for me to swallow. After all, I’m the girl who polled my 1st grade classmates about whether or not they liked me. When one boy jotted a check mark in the “No” column, it literally tore me to pieces. (He’s now a Facebook friend of mine, so HA!) This overwhelming need to be liked is still part of my core being, which is also evident in my previous post, and I just wish it would go away!聽 It would be so freeing to care less about how people view you, but that’s just not who I am.

So when I was stuck in bed, my mind started to wander to a less-happy place where I let my inner 6-year-old take over. While mulling over my career/blog aspirations, I started to obsess over the lack of support from certain individuals who I thought for sure would cheer me on. I started to get angry, and wonder why they didn’t give a rat’s tush. (I swear I’m not usually this self-absorbed. I’ll blame it on having too much time on my hands.) But before I could get too far on this negative little journey, I decided to change gears.

Instead of focusing on the people who would most likely fall into the “No” column on that questionnaire from over 30 years ago, I started to think about all of you who have rallied for me–and there are tons of you! When I altered my mindset, it was a huge crankiness crusher for me. I thought about the amazing shout-out that my friend and mentor Ellen Whitehurst announced on FB and Twitter, the “I Love This Blog” award that Melissa’s Meanderings gave me (please check them both out; it’ll be worth your while), and I allowed myself to eat up all of the positive feedback that I’ve received from those of you who have been kind enough to read this blog and share it with your friends. When I stopped being consumed by unhelpful thoughts, the dark clouds that I had created began to disappear. Little by little, as I thought of all of you, rays of sunlight danced through my crazy little mind.

From now on, I’m going to get that darn “Do you like me?” poll out of my head, and try to move forward with confidence, positivity, and gratitude for the support I have. As we drive along this transient and bumpy path called life, this type of attitude should be sitting in the passenger’s seat right next to us. With positivity as your driving companion, there will be fewer opportunities to get lost on WhinyandInsecure Avenue.

Winning over Babushka.

During the walk of life, we encounter many individuals with lots of different personality types. Some are gregarious, while others are introverted. Some are generous, while others are selfish. And some people are warm and open-hearted, while others are less trusting and perpetually keep you at arm’s length.

She'll always tack on 'in-law' but I won't take it personally anymore. 馃槈

Twelve years ago, I was introduced to a woman whose personality was pretty tough to read–and I was forewarned that she didn’t like most people. “A challenge!” I thought. This tough cookie of a lady was Vlad’s grandmother, Baba Lea. (For those of you who are new to the blog, Vlad is my husband.) A former engineer from Russia, Baba Lucia (as the family calls her) is highly educated and well-versed in politics, but when it comes to matters of the heart, she’s not the type to really express her feelings. I was seriously nervous about meeting her for the first time, but from the moment I said “Privet” (hello in Russian) and complimented her pretty dress, she smiled and I’d secretly hoped that I’d be able to win her affections. Over the course of time, however, I never really knew where I stood with her. I mean, we always exchanged hugs and pleasantries in half Russian and English, but her true feelings for me were a complete mystery–something that I wasn’t used to. Between the slight language barrier and the fact that I knew she wasn’t a huge fan of most humans she came into contact with, our relationship kind of baffled me–and insecure thoughts of whether she REALLY loved me would pop into my head every so often. The fact that she’d write “in-law” in marker after the word granddaughter on every card she’d given me didn’t help either!

This year, everything changed. Baba Lucia and I hit a relationship milestone when I opened the birthday card she gave me and read the most heartfelt words she’d ever said to me. And I cried–tears of happiness of course. To know that I’d truly won over this woman’s love, and more importantly her respect (she actually wrote that I was a good wife, mother, and housekeeper!) meant so much to me. When she called this morning to say happy birthday, she wished me good health and happiness and everything under the sun, but what she said next was mind-blowing. She went on to tell me that she loved me like I was her own grandchild. My heart leapt; this was a HUGE and noteworthy admission in Baba Lucia Land. Smiling, I hung up the phone and decided that I just had to write about this. Knowing exactly where I stand with Baba Lucia, and the fact that she’s actually quite fond of me, is today’s crankiness crusher (and a great b-day present!).

My hope for all of you is that you’ll come to know exactly where you stand with someone you love if you’ve been pondering their true emotions. There’s nothing better than learning that they may be one of your biggest fans.

Lessons learned while laying flat on my back.

I’m going to be honest with you, folks. I’ve been at a loss for crankiness crushers ever since I banged my head against the toilet on Saturday night after drinking way too much wine at a 5th birthday bowling party-turned-BBQ. (Who knew kids’ parties could be such rockers?!) It appears that as I dizzily plummeted to our bathroom floor while chasing my contact lens that night, I must have twisted my already messed up lower back in addition to getting the huge lump that quickly sprung from my temple.

Here’s how it went down: I woke up on Monday morning after a fun-filled weekend (remind me to tell you about the AMAZING Cajun-style restaurant that we went to!) and as I went to hoist my almost 2-year-old onto her changing table, my lower back freaked out and took me directly to Spasmville. OUCH. I dropped to the ground (yeah, again) and started crawling towards the phone but ended up being held hostage by a ridiculously painful contraction. Having been through this before (like only 3 months ago), I knew that if I moved the wrong way, it would feel like a fire was raging in my spine. I asked my little guy to call my parents for help, and because they’re awesome and only live about 15 minutes away, they came to my rescue. A huge relief–especially since my husband had to leave for a 4-day business trip. Great timing, eh?

Over the past few days, I’ve been a mega-grouch. I feel guilty that I have to rely on my parents to handle everything that I’m supposed to be doing, and I don’t like my kids seeing me in such a vulnerable state. However, being unable to move around has taught me a few valuable lessons that I hope to live by once I’m back on my feet again, and perhaps you can learn from them too:

1. Most of the crap you worry about doesn’t really need to get done. When you’re injured, you’re thrown into survival mode. It’s so much easier to prioritize what has to get done over what to-dos can wait. Being able to clearly see what’s most important (like making sure the kids were fed) was freeing for me, and made me realize that life goes on even if you don’t deal with your ever-growing pile of laundry or dishes in the sink. It’s a lot easier to say “Whatever!” when you don’t feel well and go to sleep instead of running around like a maniac at midnight to straighten up your entire house or play catch up when a day goes completely awry.

2. If you ask for help, you’ll get help. Often I mumble things under my breath when I’m unloading the dishwasher or putting away toys for the umpteenth time that day. Instead of getting annoyed that I’m the one always doing these tasks, perhaps I should relinquish control and ask another family member to take care of it? So what if it’s not done the same way I’d do it; it’s one less thing that’s on your plate!

3. Respect your body. If you feel like you’re overdoing it, rest. Don’t try to be a super hero.聽 If you’re feeling tired, then go to bed early and leave some of the things that are lower on your priority list for another day. Because you know what? It’ll all still be there! Most of the stuff that we think has to get done can honestly wait. But what shouldn’t wait is making sure that you’re taking care of yourself.

On that note, I’m going to heed my own advice, turn off my laptop, and get some shut-eye. Hopefully it’ll take me less than 15 minutes to get out of bed in the morning! That’ll be my crankiness crusher. 馃檪 When the chips are down, you quickly realize that it’s the simple things that you take for granted that really matter.

Rockin’ for a Cause.

Today’s crankiness crusher is signing up to be a 2011 Class Ambassador for a cause I believe in: universal education.

I’m sure that most of you reading this post have either gone to college or at least had the opportunity to do so. People aren’t as fortunate in other countries–especially women. In fact, of the 130 million youth who are not in school worldwide, 70 percent are girls. Sadly, less than two cents of every development dollar goes to them. (Check out some more staggering facts here.)

As one of the first women in my family to pursue a higher education, I find it completely disheartening that others won’t have that same chance simply based on where (and how) they’re raised. So much good could come from ensuring that everyone has an equal shot at having the education they deserve. After all, knowledge is power–the power to make a difference.

That’s why I want to introduce you to an inspirational event called GIRLS WHO ROCK, an annual concert held during Internet Week (which is this week!) in New York City that advocates and raises money for girls’ education on a global level. The concert is a partnership with the not-for-profit organization She鈥檚 the First and sponsors girls鈥 education in developing world countries, while mentoring local student volunteers to be leaders.

So if you’re yearning to be an everyday change-maker like I am, I strongly encourage you to do one (or both) of the following:

1. Donate $11 to the Class of 2011 on their Causevox page. You can even donate in recognition of a 2011 graduate. It’s a nice way to honor their achievement in a pay-it-forward kind of way. This year’s goal is to raise at least $2oK for the girls of the Arlington Academy of Hope in Uganda. All proceeds and donations go towards the cause.

2. Buy a ticket to the GIRLS WHO ROCK event. (They start as low as $35.) The concert will take place THIS FRIDAY JUNE 10th at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City. Doors open at 8 p.m. Click here for more info and to see their amazing lineup of performers.

To stay connected to GIRLS WHO ROCK and the cause, check it out on Facebook, Twitter, and websites girlswhorock.org and shesthefirst.org for more updates. Together we can help others make groundbreaking achievements, big and small, that will better our word!

Learning to love your to-do list.

As if this would ever happen!

I’m the type of person who loves to jot down everything I have to do. When I got married, I actually scheduled relaxation into our wedding itinerary. My friends and family mocked me, but I find joy in structure. (Okay, okay I’m totally anal!) And while I’m often consumed by the nitty-gritty details, it makes me happy to know that I’ve got a plan.

Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by my massively growing to-do list, mostly because it’s just floating around in my messy head. I’ve been anxious about forgetting something important. (I’m sure you’re all quite familiar with the feeling!) In an attempt to combat my anxiety, I took some time to input upcoming appointments, birthday parties, etc. into my calendar and then typed up all the other stuff that I need to get done. Some things won’t get crossed off for months to come (especially since I’m due for every check-up in the world at this point in my life), but it felt good to map out what needs to happen.

Today’s crankiness crusher was printing out my list and actually crossing off a few things that have been hanging over my head. Suddenly I felt like a 10 lb. weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Getting organized can be a pain in the you-know-what, but it definitely gives you peace of聽 mind to know exactly you need to accomplish. And it’s refreshing to see a light at the end of your to-do list tunnel. Once you plow through a few items, take a sec to pat yourself on the back and say “GO ME!” Reflecting on what you’ve achieved will definitely put a smile on that stressed-out face of yours!

Rub me the right way!

While it sucks that I have a bad back and occasionally end up walking around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame when it goes out, without it I wouldn’t experience my monthly crankiness crusher: the pre-adjustment massage at my chiropractor’s office.

The woman who gets out my kinks and warms up my muscles is seriously gifted. Her fingers guide her to wherever there’s pain and by the time she’s through with me, I breathe more deeply, I feel my shoulders drop, and I’m reminded that I should learn how to chill out so my body doesn’t end up contorting into weird positions because of negative emotions and stress.

I may not be getting an hour-long warm stone massage with nature-like sounds playing in the background and a glass of refreshing cucumber water waiting for me at the end of it,聽 but it’s enough to get me to relax and reconnect with my body and mind.

I hope you find a moment to allow yourself to unwind–even if it’s just slowly breathing in and out for a few minutes while sitting quietly.聽 Try thinking of something pleasant (like the sound of ocean waves or visualizing the beautiful flowers in your garden) so your mind doesn’t drift back to what you’re worrying about. The more you learn how to take care of yourself, the less likely you are to snap!

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