Got goals? Think of back-to-school time as back-to-YOU time!

Today’s crankiness crusher: I was thrilled to write another guest post for the magazine blog, A Hopeful Sign. AHS’s mission is to spread hope through living-learning-leading. If you have time, you should really check out all of the inspirational stories and photos on the site. And I’d LOVE it if you’d check out my latest piece about how you can put the back-to-school energy that’s in the air towards setting and accomplishing your own goals this school year. Life is short, make it count!

Originally posted on A Hopeful Sign on September 11, 2011:

http://ahopefulsign.com/living-to-learn/think-of-back-to-school-time-as-back-to-you-time

Decades of amusement.

In my last blog post, I mentioned that Vlad (my husband) and I took the kids to an amusement park that my brother and I used to go to when we were tots. Here’s proof:

This is my brother Tommy and me on the fire truck kiddie ride at Keansburg Amusement Park circa 1979(ish). Check out our groovy duds!

I wanted to replicate this photo with Colin & Anna, but the fire engines have now been replaced by a train (which you’ll see in the video I took below).

I was happy to see that the amusement park was still clean, and that it provided just as much inexpensive entertainment as it did over three decades ago. Colin enjoyed playing the water gun balloon game and somehow managed to make his pop exponentially faster than my husband. Vlad claims his was broken. Sore loser. 😉

We had pizza and ice cream (don’t judge–it’s dairy!), and I bought some watermelon slices to ease my conscience about what we were eating. But on a day like this, sometimes you have to let go of all the, “This is what I SHOULD be doing” thoughts and just say to yourself, “What the hell, this is what I WANT to be doing!” When you let yourself chill, others around you can relax more easily, and you leave the day WIDE OPEN for lots of crankiness crushers.

Check out my wee ones chugging around on the choo choo. (Colin is wearing a green shirt and Anna is sitting behind him.) Ignore my brief commentary about it being the same train my brother and I used to ride. I didn’t realize that it was a fire truck until I came home and dug out the old photo!

The big and little pictures of happiness.

I often talk about the importance of appreciating life’s small moments in my blog posts, but when BIG things work out, there’s even more reason to be thankful. Two people who I’m very close with just got back healthy test results and I couldn’t be more relieved. Whenever I start huffing and puffing over some little annoyance, I take a step back and remember that this miniscule issue pales in comparison to a friend or family member having to battle a terrible disease. Take some time today to savor the short & sweet moments that bring you happiness (like I’m going to do below), but also reflect on the big picture. If most of your life’s major things are in check, then you’re a very lucky person!

Here are a few pics of things that have been my crankiness crushers over the past few days. Hopefully they’ll bring a smile to your face too!

My mother-in-law usually comes over on Thursdays to visit with me and spend some quality time with the kids. She never fails to bring us something thoughtful, delicious, and/or beautiful. This week she baked us a margarita cake and brought me some pretty wild flowers from her garden.

On Friday, my parents treated me to lunch–and I even got to pick the place! I chose Bahrs Landing seafood restaurant because it’s on the water and I was having a major craving for shrimp salad (which was thoroughly satisfied). We all decided to order a drink, and I was quite pleased with my frozen vodka lemonade with mint. 🙂

And this is part of the view that I had from my seat. Looking at boats, seagulls, and the bay will never get old for me!

Another crankiness crusher this week was heading to the Disney Store at the Freehold Raceway Mall with my husband and two kids. They loved the coloring/craft station which also showed Disney movies as well as playing in the various hiding spots throughout the store (and of course grabbing every stuffed animal they could along the way!). As a girlie-girl, I was fascinated by the miniature sparkling castle that has gilded mirrors for dress-up.  Here’s my mini-Rapunzel admiring herself. 🙂

Yesterday we went to an amusement park that my brother and I used to go to over 30 years ago. Taking my kids there brought back some wonderful memories–but I’ll save that for another cranky crushin’ blog!

New friends: A reason to practice the art of conversation.

Have you ever been sitting across from someone–a friend, spouse, colleague, or even your own kid–and then suddenly realize that you missed half the stuff they just said to you? Based on context clues, you can figure out what they’re talking about (thank God!), so it saves you the embarrassment of letting them know that you weren’t really listening.

It’s so easy to become passive when it comes to conversation, especially in a world where fast-paced technology is teaching us how to abbreviate everything we think or say (i.e. texts and Tweets). It’s also this same technology that’s making us so distracted that our mind is never fully in the game.

For example, you can be having a perfectly lovely and interesting discussion with a friend over brunch, but your continuously buzzing smartphones, always within a finger’s reach, are encouraging you to focus on 25 other things besides each other! Granted, you’d only succumb to the temptation of responding to a text or laughing over someone’s Facebook status if you’re truly comfortable with the person you’re with, otherwise you’d seem ridiculously rude. And to be honest, it’s still impolite even if it’s a close friend or relative. Seriously, is it really that hard to put away your phone for an hour so you can devote your undivided attention to someone?

I realize that I’m also guilty of indulging in this rude behavior, and I’m sure that I’d get a slap on the wrist from Miss Manners for doing so. However, I’m feeling somewhat redeemed after realizing that I’m still pretty adept at having an engaging conversation with new people–an art I thought I’d lost based on the toddler-speak that often falls from my lips with the kids and the half-sentences I mutter between doing chores while attempting to catch up with my husband.

This past weekend, my husband and I actually had to practice the art of conversation with a couple we’re getting to know, and it was very rewarding. Our children go to preschool together and we’re starting to develop a friendship outside of school after attending lots of kids’ birthday parties and school functions together. They were recently at our home for my daughter’s second birthday, so they kindly invited us to their house to go in their pool and BBQ together. Because we don’t know each other very well yet, we got to spend hours talking about our backgrounds, political views, goals for ourselves and our children, and even pop culture type stuff like what TV shows we watch. (They now know that we’re huge Sci-Fi geeks.) It was refreshing to be tuned in to everything they were saying because we really wanted to hear their thoughts and views and be able to respond (intelligently) with our own opinions. It’s somewhat rare to make new friends as you get older, but it’s a real crankiness crusher to know that it’s possible and very enriching. You just have to be willing to turn off your stupid smartphone for a little while and connect with the person who’s sitting right in front of you!

Disappointed? Use that feeling to light a fire under your tush!

Don’t you hate when disappointing news can ruin a perfectly wonderful day? Happily exhausted from a play date with a few friends and their kids, I was thinking about how lucky I was to be able to enjoy this time with them. But what was making me extra-cheerful was an upcoming job interview with the English Chair at my local community college to be an adjunct writing professor. While I love the flexibility of being a freelance writer so I can stay at home with my little ones, I was thoroughly excited about the prospect of teaching as well as contributing more money to our household.

But just as I was leaving the play date, I checked my voicemail and listened to the English Chair’s assistant cancelling my appointment. She went on to explain why, but I found it hard to concentrate because my heart was sinking with each word she uttered. My disappointment was amplified because I’d also found out that I didn’t make the cut in that Hallmark competition I entered, and almost every editor I’ve contacted regarding freelance assignments over the last few months has pretty much blown me off. I’ll be honest with you, my professional self-esteem is feeling kind of shattered at the moment. It seems like doors are either closing on me or never even opening up in the first place!

I needed a crankiness crusher STAT, and it couldn’t be yet another salted caramel sweet square from Starbucks. Fortunately (for my thighs), I found one in The Digital Mom Handbook. The book is written by two women (Audrey McClelland and Colleen Padilla) who left their swanky careers when they had kids and then turned themselves into super-successful entrepreneurs/mom bloggers. Their success didn’t happen overnight, of course, but I became incredibly inspired by their stories and advice. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and crying over what felt like professional disses, (although admittedly I did break down when I told a friend about my interview being canceled while chatting on the phone with her), I opted to turn off the “Real Housewives of Wherever” that I was watching and curl up on the couch with this book while everyone else in the house slept.

I’d been looking forward to reading it, but wasn’t making time for it, and now I knew that this was just what I needed to give me a swift kick in the you-know-what, as well as offer me something else that I really needed–hope. And these ladies certainly didn’t deny me that! My eyes and fingers raced through the first 100 pages until I finally had to get some shuteye. By the time I hit the sack, I no longer felt as helpless or pouty as I had around dinner time. Instead, I felt empowered to start making sh*t happen and figure out how I can turn my blog and brand into something BIG. It also got me thinking about how to make my children’s book become a reality, and it encouraged me to acknowledge that it’s time to shut the door on disappointment’s face and open it to all of the creativity that’s been waiting to be unleashed and opportunities to be won. Thank you, girls! ♥

Moral of the post? Take your frustration and turn it into motivation! There will always be disappointments in life, but it’s better to use them to your advantage than to sulk in a corner over them while scarfing down a pint of your favorite ice cream. Go for yours and get it done (and try to have fun along the way)!

Life is an everyday special occasion.

Wow! My summer schedule has really thrown me off. I’ve been outside more than I’ve been attached to my computer, which I know is a good thing, but boy have I fallen behind on my blog posts! I hope you haven’t felt neglected. Please keep in mind that if you’re ever in dire need of a crankiness crusher, you can always poke around on my Facebook page . I update it at least twice/day with happy thoughts, songs, videos, quotes, etc., so if you haven’t already, please join our anti-crankiness community there. It’s a fun place to procrastinate. 🙂

When you’re not busy procrastinating, though, I hope that you’ve been diving into the sea of life and swimming in its joys. There have been so many moments this summer that have made me stop and relish in how sweet life is: collecting seashells with my kids while walking along the beach, tailgating with my husband at a long-awaited U2 concert, and seeing fireworks unexpectedly while indulging in a slow-paced and sumptuous dinner with an old friend (to name a few). I hope that your soul has been nourished with similar bouts of sunshine, and that you’re being reminded that recognizing—and appreciating—these special moments is an everyday special occasion.

Speaking of any day special occasions, Hallmark was running a contest about just that! They asked for people to fill in the blank about what their everyday special occasion is and to submit a story that captures the magic of one of life’s little moments. I couldn’t resist entering since this is precisely what my blog focuses on, and I find out on Monday whether or not I’m a finalist. Eeeek! I know it’s a long shot, but if I didn’t even bother to take the risk, then I’d be depriving myself of the chance to win, right? And I’m a firm believer in risk-taking. Come to think of it, anything worthwhile that I’ve achieved has started out as a risk. I’m sure that when you reflect on the choices that you’ve made in life, you’ll see that rings true for you too!

Before entering the contest, I naturally checked out the competition and was thoroughly inspired when reading about the tiny moments that bring them the most happiness. Their stories are a total crankiness crusher and a reminder that even when there are petty annoyances that can frustrate you throughout the day, and bigger issues like financial struggles or health concerns that can bring you down, it’s those little snippets of time where everything seems just right that can help carry you when you spirits need to be lifted. I chose to share a story based off of one of my blog posts. If you have a sec, you should check out the others!

It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

Everyone has their go-to food. For me, it’s peanut butter & jelly. It’s my little taste of comfort. I want it when I’m sick. I want it when I’m hungry and have no idea what to eat. I’ll have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner–or all three meals!

My husband was flipping through one of the South Beach Diet cookbooks this weekend, and dog-eared a recipe that I just HAD TO HAVE the minute he told me about it: PB & J cookies! (Here’s a link to the recipe.)

He’s always looking for ways to cut out sugar from his diet, which is also helpful for me since sugar is pretty much all I want! I’m surprised that there isn’t a picture of my face next to the definition of “sweet tooth” in the dictionary. 😉

A little bite of nutty happiness.

I had my doubts that these cookies would satisfy my craving, but I was pleasantly surprised. We used regular peanut butter instead of fat-free, but stuck to the recipe with our sugar-free raspberry preserves. I made a few with real jelly (because I didn’t trust that it would taste right) but it made a hole in the center. Perhaps that happened because they’re flourless? I’m sure there’s some sort of scientific reasoning behind it. Where’s Sid the Science Kid when you need an explanation?!

Anyhow, if you’re a fan of peanut butter and looking for a low-calorie treat that’ll crush your crankiness, I highly recommend these cutie pies. The kids will eat them up too!

“Seaing” life more clearly.

The view that helped me gain perspective.

Despite the murkiness of the Sandy Hook Bay, it’s when I’m on this body of water that I see life, and what’s most important, much more clearly. I grew up near this bay, and looking up at the limitless sky while being rocked by rhythmic waves and listening to the familiar sounds of sea gulls squawking has always reminded me that there’s something much bigger than myself out there. The tranquility and grandness puts me in my place and hums a comforting message into my ear that says, “adjust your sails the best you can and simply go with the flow.” I try to go with the flow, really I do, but this is the first year that we’ve taken both of my little ones on my parents’ boat, so my introspective journey was a little less Zen. Fortunately for my sanity’s sake, going for a long, fast boat ride chilled everyone out, and the loud motor made it pretty easy to tune out their whining. 😉

Being on the water with my parents, husband, kids, and my friend Rachel who was visiting from NYC was a definite crankiness crusher, but the best moment of the day was when my mom called me up to the bow of the boat and encouraged me to dangle my feet over the side and dip my toes into the water as we cruised along the bay. The heat was stifling, so I smiled in relief as the refreshing breeze caressed my face and waves crashed above my ankles. In that moment, I closed my eyes and it was just me, the sea, and a spray of pleasant memories blooming in my mind. I thought about how my brother and I would lay down at the front of the boat when we were little, grasping on to the railing for dear life as our bellies bounced up and down with the huge waves made by the bigger boats. We’d turn around to our parents, flashing our wide, carefree smiles. And as I reminisced, I glanced back at my children who were enjoying this wild ride and wearing that same silly grin. That grin that I wore as a child, and the same one that I was flashing to my mom as a 37-year-old woman who was thankful to be happy.

This boat ride reminded me of the importance of doing some type of activity that both grounds you as well as recharges your spirits. Like the direction of the wind, you may not be able to control what life blows your way, but like a good sailor, you can control how you choose to cope with it.

G-rated role playing.

When I was little, I used to love to play dress-up (as I think most kids do). There was something about actually looking the part that I was envisioning that really made the story come alive. Wearing a costume also encouraged my imagination to burst with creativity, and act more daring or more confident and beautiful, depending upon my choice of garb.

Big & little pirate wenches! Credit: Catherine Commander

This past weekend my family and I went to a pirate party to celebrate my friend’s son’s 4th birthday. When we walked in, I saw that kids both young and old were wearing pirate hats and kerchiefs and it made me smile. I immediately grabbed a kerchief for myself and my daughter and we were instantly transported to the world of merriment that was going on in and around the pretend ship. I really got into character, almost embarrassingly so, but greeting people with the phrase, “Ahoy there me hearties!” and grunting “Arrr!” with one eye closed was a real laugh and a huge crankiness crusher. A few scallywags took some unflattering photos where I looked way too much like a drunken sea dog, but I’ll share these two that my talented friend Catherine took since I’m vain and only want you to see the cute shots. 😉

I never thought that dressing up like a pirate wench would be a pick-me up, but it just goes to show you that a little bit of role-playing (the adult kind too–ha!) can be a quick and fun escape from reality. It can help you find your buried treasure of positive thoughts so the crummy ones won’t anchor you down.

Hope you enjoy the weekend, mateys!

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