What If…

You stopped making excuses?

You stopped trying to convince them to do what you want?

You held yourself to the highest possible standard?

You looked for the ways in which you contributed to a situation and took a proactive approach in changing it for the better?

You found a balance between analysis and fun?

You let it all go?

You smiled more often?

You allowed yourself to be who you are and others to do the same?

You took more walks?

You appreciated the value and joy in simply being alive?

Things I Am Loving Right Now

Stella Illuminating Foundation and Powder: After plenty of buying and returning, I finally found a foundation and powder that A) doesn’t go on too thick, B) makes skin glow (but not in a greasy “you-really-need-to-blot” way and C) doesn’t cost a fortune.

Edith Piaf:  I am such a fan.  I adore the EP station on Pandora, it makes me feel like I am in 1950’s Paris (as if I know what that was like).

Letting People Be Who They Are:  One of my dearest friends is going through something and has just completely disappeared from my life (in a way that left me a little confused and deeply hurt) but instead of getting angry at him or making a black-and-white “blacklist” call, I have decided to simply wait for the storm to pass and wish him well while he goes through it.  Sometimes people do things–terribly hurtful things–for reasons that have nothing at all to do with us.

My Newly-Decorated (painted) Apartment:  It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint and a new perspective can do.

Dior Airbrush Makeup: Fabulous for special occasions when camera’s will be present.

Meeting New People:  I met the most peculiar, brooding, intelligent someone while sipping sangria at a favorite neighborhood hangout.  Our conversation reminded me that the world is a different place foreach one of us.  I like hearing others describe the view from where they are sitting.

Going for It, Whatever “it” Is:  Sitting on the sidelines has never gotten me anywhere, so I finally got up and started running.

Staggered:  I am very, very proud of our little company.

My new Dermatologist:  He prescribed a cocktail to “chill” before I see him ;)  Hilarious and fabulous.  If in NY and you need one, private message me.

Grilled Fish: So cheap, so easy, so healthy and so super-yummy!  I served my last one with this delicious little avocado/tomato/corn salad from Martha (my adopted mom).

Air Conditioning:  How flippin’ Hot is The EnWhySee? TOO HOT!

What Are You Loving Right Now?

 

It’s True

Your mind finds what it looks for.

Your boundaries determine how much you will take.

Your love, friendship and hard work is worth being respected and appreciated.

Manners and kindness shown to others will open doors, arrogance and rude behavior will close them, regardless of your credentials.

You need to believe in the cause and efforts of you.  If there is anyone in this world who you should be able to count on, it is yourself.

Friendships are meaningful, regardless of how long they last, or how they end.

People will disappoint you in life.  You will disappoint others. No one is perfect.  To have someone in your life long-term, you will both need to know how to forgive.

Your life is still in motion.  The day is new.  What will you do with it?  Where will you go?

Putting a Little T-L-C into the A-P-T.

Since I am always talking about taking what you have and making the best out of it, I decided to walk the walk. After much hemming and hawing about whether I would re-sign my lease, I decided the best thing I could do was put all of my energy into making my space just what I wanted it to be (in Europe) and see if I could make  it more of what I wanted it to be.  The issue, of course, was money.  There was no way I was going to put hundreds/thousands of dollars into an apartment I didn’t own, and let’s be honest here, I don’t have hundreds/thousands to spend.  So, how would I turn this little pad around? With a whole lot of imagination and even more elbow grease.

Having heard tales of the magical place known as “Home Depot”, I decided to venture into the building with the orange sign and find a few cost-efficient materials to help me in my quest.  The first stop: The paint section.  Now, every New Yorker knows that what you paint, you have to paint back, so mama wasn’t about to go crazy with Sienna walls.  I decided to get creative in the kitchen (small space) and play with the trim in the living room.  White paint would be purchased to clean up mistakes and freshen up areas of the wall that had grown a little gray over time.  The results were a lot of sweat, plenty of lessons (one needs tape, gloves and lotsa plastic when painting) and a happy little space I would be crazy to leave.  Here are a few pictures.

 
 

Letting Go Of Your “Story”

I have received a few emails asking for a re-post because some readers have trouble finding the piece on the site.  I adored your comments on the initial post.  Thank you.

 

When I was an infant, my mother left me.  As a child, my father beat me for any reason he could come up with, including the fact that I was not a boy.  As a teenager, I woke up one Sunday morning to find that the only person who ever showed me unconditional love, my beloved Grandfather, had left this world in his sleep.

This has been my “story” for most of my life and with it came all kinds of strange ideas, thoughts, feelings, wants, needs and desires.   For many years, I lived my life with a Scarlet “A” for “Apology”. I was sorry that I was not good enough to make my parents love me, sorry I was not a boy, sorry I could not protect my grandfather from my father’s rage, sorry that I didn’t make my bed properly, sorry that I was in the way or didn’t look as pretty as the model in the magazine.  There were many people who found my apologies (both spoken and unspoken) awkward and strange but children who grow up “unwanted” by those who are supposed to want them most (mom and dad) do not think and feel like other children.  To be rejected by the very people who made you introduces a burden of insecurity so heavy that it crushes you and even those who meet and begin to love you. Even worse, it makes you perfect prey for those who are looking for someone to crush.  Of course, one does not have to be physically abandoned to suffer similar consequences. Often times, it’s worse when the emotional abusers stick around.

For many years, my “story” was that of  the unwanted and unworthy child. I was the girl in the torn dress, the child with nowhere to go on Christmas, the young woman who stayed too long with the wrong man in order to have the family she’d had hoped they could build if only he’d see how worthy/loving/supportive she was and treat her accordingly.  When he refused to, she wouldn’t write him off as unworthy of her, she’d simply try harder, just like she did with mom and dad (sound familiar?)

I’d long wondered why I would do the things I would do or say the things I would say about myself.  I was always polite and kind to others but brutal to ole Brenda.  If I was complimented on something, I would brush it off.  If someone mistreated me, I would forgive easily, assuming that I didn’t matter enough to stand up for myself (a way of doing this is playing the “they didn’t mean it” game).  Finally, after one particularly difficult experience with someone, my very dear friend asked me, “What does it say about the way you feel about you if you tolerate this?”  Her mother chimed in, “What would you say to your friend if you saw her tolerate this?”  I admitted I would be appalled. “Then why should you deal with it, my dear?”

She was right. 

I started to think about my “story” and how it was destroying my chances at a happy ending. When one spends a couple of decades reading the same text day in and day out, one gets brainwashed into believing it is true.  The lessons I learned in childhood taught me that my life was going to be hard, that I was not worthy of something more, that I could not have unconditional love or play with the other children without being made fun of or shamed  back into the house.  I took these lessons in and repeated them to myself daily.  “You are not worthy” became my mantra and it ruined many beautiful moments.  Not only was I unable to create proper boundaries or enjoy achievements, I wasted too much time trying to convince the ghosts of my childhood that my life was worth something, that I belonged on this earth, too.

This was my life, painful and bleak, though full of the love of friends and achievements any healthy person would recognize and be grateful for.  That’s important to mention.  The more pain we choose to live in, the less able we are to be grateful and gratitude is the seed from which happiness grows.  It was not easy to recognize the ways in which I was destroying my own life, but fortunately, I have amazing people in it who won’t mince words and who have enough patience, love and respect for me to help me move down my path.  I wanted to give this gift to you–the gift of honesty and reflection.  Your “story” is ongoing and one chapter should lead to another.  In your story, you choose whether or not you will grow and blossom.  You choose the characters you will introduce and how long they will stay.  You choose how many dragons you will slay.  But most of all, you choose whether or not you will allow yourself the space, time and freedom to be happy.  Just know that the execution of such a choice won’t be an easy one.  You’ll likely have to let go of some things that you enjoy clinging onto.  You’ll have to let go of some relationships that are comfortable but destructive.  You’ll have to look into the mirror and into the eyes of the person you have allowed yourself to become.  You’ll have to take ownership of your choices.  You might have to start completely over and feel lonely, scared and isolated awhile.  But, as my friend told me once, “The key to success is knowing the pain or discomfort you feel won’t last; Nothing feels awful forever.” 

Good Luck.

-Brenda Della Casa

Change of Energy

“You can tell the moment you walk into a room that your aura is off right now,” said my friend, Holly, when I complained that a wrinkle had appeared overnight (no joke).  “It’s a stress line,” she said.  “You’re energy is just all out of whack.”  She went on to prescribe equal parts sleep and lovin’ and insisted I do a spiritual detox.  Now, before I go on, Holly is not walking around talking Chakra’s most of the time.  In fact, her very mention of this came as a surprise. I took her words in (especially when two other friends started nodding their head and chiming in about how tired I looked) and decided to take de-stressing seriously.

So, off to the chair masseuse I went (Susy near 14th Street treats my back very badly and I love it) and after that, it was into Whole Foods to buy Sage.  I don’t know that I really believed the sage would do anything but it was worth a shot, right?  This AM, I woke up and “smudged” my house, myself and Tony, who went running out into the backyard (clearly an east coaster who is not into the hippy-dippy stuff).

Maybe the energy changed or perhaps it was a lovely placebo effect, but within 20 minutes, I was reorganizing and decorating my space in a way I had wanted to for a year but did not have the energy or inspiration to. I worked for 5 hours straight–and liked it (a big deal since you can’t usually get me to clean more than 10 minutes at a time). A bonus:  I found 50 bucks in change along the way.

Alas, the damn stress line is still there.  Botox fund?

 

All jokes aside, stress is a serious matter and it’s started to run me down in ways large and small.  My smiles have turned into snaps and I look like I haven’t slept in ages because, well, I have been waking up at 3:00AM every morning and laying there thanks, to well, stress.  Are you nodding your head saying “that’s me”?  If so, I have a plan.  Maybe it will work for the both of us.

Brenda’s De-Stress Plan

- Grab a pad and a pen and carry it around with you for the next couple of days.  Write down everything that stresses you out.  Maybe you’re always running late or can’t find anything.  Maybe you’re taking on too much or spending time with someone who makes you anxious.  After day 2 or 3, try to find patterns.

- Now, make a plan.  Example:I can’t sleep and I don’t love the idea of taking serious drugs or sipping wine as an aid so I bought Melatonin and for the first time in 3 weeks, I slept-gasp- 7 hours! Just be sure to ask your doctor before trying anything new.   I am also always running late so I started to write down a schedule that alots specific amounts of time for me to do certain things “10 minutes for shower” etc.  So far, so good.

-Drink up!  No, not those kinds of beverages.  Water.  It’s weird but the more hydrated I am, the more upbeat and happy I am. Strange.

- Meditate. Pray. Sit and listen to soft music.  Just rest that mind for at least 10 minutes every day.

- Go old school and prepare for tomorrow.  Lay your clothes out. Pack a lunch. Plan your day.

-Play a mental game.  The next time someone ticks you off, try and give them a reason.  Maybe the woman shut the door in your face because she just caught her fiance cheating with her best friend and her mind is on how she’s going to tell 200 guests the wedding is off.  Trust me, it works.

- Smile.  It’s hard to stay angry when you’re smiling and those who are faced with smiles have a hard time not smiling back (they’ve done studies on this).

- Place flowers or a plant somewhere.

- Create a bedtime ritual.  I am back to shower/candle/diary/magazine reading in the evening instead of playing  with my BlackBerry and surfing the net.

-Yoga.  I bumped into my friend who started teaching Yoga a year ago.  He looked so relaxed.  I want that :)

Your tips?

Sometimes…

The best thing you can do is give someone exactly what they asked for.

You have to let go of the ideal job/home/relationship/look in order to get to something better than you have now (if only the same thing you have infused with appreciation).

You’re going to be working for a jerk.

You have to accept that, maybe, it’s your fault, too.

There is more to it than what has been revealed.

You have to be a little calculating.

You have to believe in yourself enough to take the risk.

Whether You’re Able To Love Or Loved, You Are Gifted.

Lately, I have begun to understand that being open enough to give unconditional love to another human being is as much a blessing as receiving it.

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Little Realizations That Have Made Life Easier

You cannot change another person and being friends with or in love with the “ideal” them is stressful for everyone involved.

Doing new things does for your soul what water does for a dry houseplant.

If you lie, you’re a liar.  If you steal, you’re a thief.  If you cheat, you’re a cheater.  If you tell the truth, you’re honest. You are what you do.  Simple. 

Once you’ve had a couple of drinks, put the phone away.

Fight to “win” and you might enjoy victory in the moment but you’ll lose the respect of those who witness your actions.

Your financial situation gets better when you make better decisions.

It doesn’t matter who is “right” unless important decisions are being made.  Who cares if your coworker thinks Anderson Cooper is a better journalist than Diane Sawyer?

Some people like to talk about feelings, thoughts, dreams and how their day went and others do not.

Knowing your audience is key. There is a way to be authentically you without offending others or remaining disconnected from them.

All people like to be treated with dignity.

Being “nice” does not mean being a doormat. If you’re going to be a nice person, you need to be nice to yourself as much as anyone else.

One should not attempt to have a serious conversation when alcohol is involved.

Happiness comes in waves, and it comes more often when you look for it in daily life instead of big achievements.

No one is as impressed by you or as judgemental of you as you think.

Nothing will ever be “perfect” except a moment. And even that will be imperfect to someone else. The bottom line is that perfection is arbitrary.

You choose how much you’ll take.

No one has walked in your shoes. You have not walked in the shoes of another. Save your judgements for your own behavior and actions worthy of judgement such as harming another person.

One should never hand over chunks of their self-esteem, safety or security in exchange for “love”. That’s not love.

We are all imperfect beings and we’re going to make mistakes. Forgive as you would like to be forgiven. But be smart. A mistake is different from a habit.

Most people are insecure and say or do things to make the pain of their insecurity go away. Taking it all personal would be a grave mistake.

You will have to reinvent yourself at some point. Everyone gets to a point where they need something new and fresh. You can either work it out and enjoy your comeback or move closer to failure.

If you’re alive, there is time.

Music can turn it all around.

Sometimes an apology is everything, other times it’s nothing.

Ms. “Fix It”

Up until very recently, I was a strong believer in the old “when you help someone it’s always nice” theory.

Boy, was I an idiot.

No, this is not a martyr post there’s not a hint of sarcasm to be found anywhere in its four corners. I am being dead serious. Recent events have shown me that sometimes “helping” someone might very well hurt your relationship with them.

The truth is that I am a “fix it” gal.  Looking for a job? I’ll reach out to every contact and blast over job listings.  Have a problem with a lover?  I will sit with you and analyze it to no end until you feel better.  Want to learn to cook?  Expect cookbooks and Martha DVD’s to arrive via Amazon in two weeks or less.  I often offer to “help” without being asked  and never once did it occur to me that I might be making the other person uncomfortable.  The reality is that some people don’t want to be helped, even if (you think) they need it.

It never occurred to me that my reaching out might make the other party feel inferior. Or angry. Or that my well-planned “casual mention” might send their mind running circles around everything they need to do in order to get what they want and all they wanted today was to think about it tomorrow, and well my bringing it up just screwed up their day.

It was because of this lack of understanding that I would sit there–flustered– when they didn’t respond with gratitude . I would sit and stew and think, “I was only trying to help, and that makes me a good person. You’re being a jerk, so there.” 

They’d be thinking, “Great, now I have an argument to deal with on top of everything else.” 

Sigh.

New Rule: Ask if there is anything I can do to help and leave it at that.

10 Things I Am Loving Right Now

Staycation:  Super fun, super relaxing, super eye-opening.

Diet Ginger Ale: President Clinton used to sip the stuff all day, every day and now I know why.  This little cousin of Sprite Zero is quite tasty.

Soul Music: OK, always liked it but now I really, really like it.

The Scarlet O’Hara “I’ll Think About That Tomorrow” Approach: My grandpa used to tell me that worrying was extra stressful because you spent your time stressing out about things that may or may not happen.  This week I have allowed myself to live worry-free and it’s been liberating.

The Fighter: What. A. Movie!

Karaoke: Always hated it but my friends and I have been doing it more and more.  Anything more fun than 20 good friends drinking and singing “Sweet Caroline” while dancing terribly on a Karaoke room couch? Nope.

My Brother: He Rocks.  There’s something about having someone in your life who really just accepts you as you are and will yell at you when you’re acting like a jackass.  That said, I never act like a jackass, he does, and that’s why he’s lucky to have me. :)

BBQ: Well, I don’t actually BBQ, someone else does.  But I have the grill so I have the power.

New Opportunities:  Seize them, every one.  What else you got goin’ on?

Letting Go of The Past: It happened.  A lot of it stunk.  Moving on.

Close To Home

After a few false starts, I finally put in my vacation days last week, thanks to an growling expiration date. Knowing there was no way I could do Italy (wanted to desperately) and a short stint to Miami was out (friends were all tied up in obligation) I decided to visit New York City.

Yes, I know I live here, silly. I’m on Staycation.

Now, never having planned a staycation  (the very idea sounded a bit pathetic, to be honest) I decided to make a list of things I have always said I wanted to do but rarely–if ever–did them. I wanted to take private Tango lessons, bake a cake and visit The Met. I longed to take a walk in Central Park (something I used to do every morning but have not done in 2 years!) I wanted to nibble on mussels for lunch at a French bistro while jazz played.

But you know how it goes, you make these plans and the internet/habit/laundry beckons, so how would I actually follow through? I got someone else on-board.

In the past 3 days I have worked out every morning, meditated (so much harder than you think), walked through Central Park, visited the Zoo, gone to the Met (closed so going again), gotten a week ahead on my blogging, played darts/basketball and air hockey, listened to Jazz while dining on mussels at a French bistro, given my dogs a bath, drank wine and listened to music while nibbling on cheese and Italian meats al fresco and had some of the best conversation I have had in a long time.  I have scheduled the Yoga class, the Tango lesson, marinated the meat for the BBQ, made plans to hit up The Met and Museum of Moving Images, scheduled a movie date and plan to have a mani/pedi/cocktail date with a friend I rarely get to spend time with.

And that’s not all.

This whole experience has re-opened my eyes and the bright lights of life are helping me see myself and the world around me in a whole new way. Suddenly, my days are more than commutes and complaints. There is a newfound appreciation for a walk in the park (where I bumped into a dear friend who invited me to that Yoga class I intend to take). The world has opened up again and I remembered that life was for the living.

And so, while work beckons next week, I have decided to continue to make an effort to stretch my days, say “yes” more and to really drain my moments and enjoy what they have to offer. Instead of looking to “run away”, I have decided to stay and when you’re doing things that enhance your life and understanding of it (and who you are) there really is no place like home.

A Few Truths About Love

No one has to believe in your relationship for you to succeed.

A liar is not someone who tells a lie.  A liar is someone who is afraid of the truth and when you live in that kind of fear, lying is often habitual.

What you say means very little compared to what you do.

Love is rarely comfortable.

What was done to you does not offer you the right to do it to someone else.

If you want peace, you must give peace.

Compassion, respect, honesty, empathy and solid communication are the keys to successful relationships.  It’s really that simple.

Fairy Tales are not happy stories if you read them in all of their unedited glory.

It’s True

If You Want Something:

You’re going to need to be clear about it.

You’re going to have to fight like hell for it.

You’re going to need to make a plan.

You’re going to have to lead others to it.

Waiting around for someone to read your mind, get wise or do something for you is a direct path to more waiting.

Songs For Your Balmy Summer Night Playlist

Ooh La La (I heart Goldfrapp)

Hanging on Too Long Duffy

Set Fire To The Rain Adele

Get Together Madonna

Strict Machine Goldfrapp

Paris (Ooh La La) Grace and The Nocturnals

You Know I’m No Good Amy Winehouse

Hands All Over Maroon 5 (Hot, Hot, Hot, Hot)

Makes Me Wonder Maroon 5 (I want to be him/date him at the same time!)

Life Is Not So Definite

It could be that they don’t care, but more likely they do not know.

It might be that you can’t, but equally as likely that you can and aren’t trying hard enough.

It’s possible it’s black and white, but more probable that it’s grey.

It might be over or it could be on pause.

They might be judging you, but often that’s just projection.

You might have run out of time, but there’s a good chance that you just need to put in new batteries. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Own It

You have something to bring to the table.

You have talents to share.

You have dreams worth working towards.

You have a voice that has a right to be heard.

You have trust that deserves to be protected.

You have boundaries that deserve to be respected.

There is a better version of yourself waiting to come to the surface.

You’re beautiful.

 

12 Things That Will Make Your Summer Better (I Swear!)

 A Grill:  Whether male or female, one needs a grill in the summertime.  Walk thee to the Home Depot and get yourself a little/big/fancy/basic (charcoal) grill.  Weber lasts longest but I got the little red sale grill for $40 bucks and it works just fine (and hello, what are my chances of finding another place with an amazing backyard in NYC if I move in the fall?).  For great grilling recipes, check out Martha’s Site!

A Decent Playlist: There is nothing fun about walking through the streets of EnWhySee on a sweltering hot day–unless you have some good tunes in your ears.  My iPod is good friends with Enrique (sigh), Maroon 5, Adele, Jay z, Rihanna, Eminem, J.Lo and even a little Led Z and Jefferson Airplane (one pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small…)

The “Off” Mosquito Candle: Trust me.  I looked like I had chicken pox part deux after my first dinner al fresco.

A Fan.  No, not someone to applaud you (though that would be nice and kind of weird at the same time). One that blasts away beads of sweat. I know, I know, many of you fancy people have A.C. (or-gasp!-central air) but for those who aren’t rich (so expensive to run all day) or who live in pre-war, rent controlled apartment’s with a super who plays  “God of The Basement Where The A.C Lives,” a fan might do you some good.  I got myself a little  four-speed stand-up fan  (complete with a remote control) for 30 Washington’s at Costco.  Don’t be jealous…  BTW, this is how I have felt all month!

A Movie in The Park Plan: Here in The City, we have movies in Bryant Park–Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is playing this year!–and I always gather a few friends, a couple of bottles of wine and pack a picnic.  It’s a great deal of fun and a wonderful (cheap!) way to spend a balmy summer night.

A Fling. Maybe it will be with your wife.  Or your neighbor.  Or your neighbor’s wife (hope not; Karma). Just flirt like crazy and get yourself someone to smooch under the fireworks and by the beach bonfire.

Protection.  Not that kind (unless you need that kind, and if so, hopefully it’s not involving your neighbor’s wife).  I am talking about sun protection.  Unless you want unsightly sun spots and wrinkles (or worse Cancer) I suggest you shell out for the 85 SPF (I don’t play) and–if you are a lady or a very secure and fabulous man– get yourself a big, floppy hat. 

A Summer Bucket List: Seriously, we only get so many summers here on this earth, so why not take advantage of the warm weather (or find new appreciation if you’re a lucky so-and-so who sunburns on Christmas) and do something fun?

A Dog.  Tony Montana is the little four-legged love of my life.  Everyone should be so lucky.

Darts: I walked through a Queens street fair (aka “Mafia tailgate sale”) and got this nifty little magnetic dart board that is so awesome that I can’t help raving about it to strangers.  OK, so maybe that’s just me, I rave.  Still, darts are fun–especially when accompanied by one or three cold (insert adult beverage name here).

A Boat: Who doesn’t love a boat?

This song while on a boat. (Warning: Curse Words)

Happy Summer!  What will make our summer better?

Creating Your Own Happiness

I don’t know many people who don’t want to be happy, but I do know a hell of a lot of folks who want something for nothing.  It’s a simple fact that bliss comes at a cost.  The concept that the universe is one big cosmic bank account isn’t going to spread through the masses like, say, Power Ball fever, but your chances at finding joy (the true, touching, deep and meaningful kind) while you sit on your butt and wish it your way are about the same as buying Oprah’s place on the credit provided by a quick pick.  

After years of searching (and rarely finding) happiness, I have found that I had it all wrong.  Happiness is not sitting anywhere, waiting to be “found”, it’s created.  If you have the staple ingredients (gratitude and will power) you can mix and match ingredients and create your own brand of joy.  Toss in friendships, opportunity, self-worth, the smell of a flower, a walk on the beach, a prayer or meditation, a drive, a kind gesture and before you know it, you’ll be smiling more.  The smell of a rose can bring a smile to your face but taking in the scent and allowing it to remind you that there is more to life than bills and arguments and missed subways can bring you a sense of peace. But you’re going to have to plant, buy or at least walk a little out of your way to get there.

Make sense?

Overheard

Little pieces of wisdom from friends, colleagues and strangers.

“When someone bad leaves your life, it might hurt because you’ve grown used to them and will miss them, but really, you’ve won the lottery and you need to keep reminding yourself of that,” H.L.

“Even the most beautiful things in this world rot so don’t keep putting things off.  Drink the wine when it’s peaked, get out of the relationship that you cannot save, enjoy your youth,” M.H.

“I don’t allow my mind to play tricks on me.  I have a lot of faith in myself that I am always making decisions that are the best thing for me at the time–and I don’t mean that in a selfish way, but I know I have my own back. That helps me get through hard times,” Y.A.

“I think we should all have some basic ground rules and direction to help us make healthy decisions.  If we just float from one moment to the next or one situation to another, we’ll never get anywhere,” B.H.

“No one knows why someone does what they do.  Many times the person doing it has no idea,” B.H.

“Bad Karma is stirred up by trying to control others and situations.  You need to let things unfold while being the best you that you can be.  That means learning to accept things and people as they are and make your decisions about your own life accordingly,” G.A.

“I have learned that you have to know what you are really worth.  You need to assess your value as a professional, friend, relative and partner.  If it’s low, accept it and change it.  If it’s high, demand your proper compensation in terms of love, respect, money and responsibility.  You can’t walk around demanding a raise from your boss or trust from your partner if you have proven yourself irresponsible or untrustworthy. And if you’re giving everything you have away at a discount, you’re just going to be used and played a fool,” Me to one of my colleagues.

“Pay attention to how happy you are.  When you feel really happy, stop and pay close attention to what got you there and do more of it,” J.F.

“Love is friggen hard.  Relationships are hard. But it should be at least 75% good if you’re going to put up with 20% OK and 5% really crappy,” R.L.

“When you’re at a job you don’t like, remember they have hired you to do the job and you accepted it. Go in, do what you’re supposed to do and be grateful you have it while you look for something else,” B.H.

Letting Go of Your “Story”

When I was an infant, my mother left me.  As a child, my father beat me for any reason he could come up with, including the fact that I was not a boy.  As a teenager, I woke up one Sunday morning to find that the only person who ever showed me unconditional love, my beloved Grandfather, had left this world in his sleep.

This has been my “story” for most of my life and with it came all kinds of strange ideas, thoughts, feelings, wants, needs and desires.   For many years, I lived my life with a Scarlet “A” for “Apology”. I was sorry that I was not good enough to make my parents love me, sorry I was not a boy, sorry I could not protect my grandfather from my father’s rage, sorry that I didn’t make my bed properly, sorry that I was in the way or didn’t look as pretty as the model in the magazine.  There were many people who found my apologies (both spoken and unspoken) awkward and strange but children who grow up “unwanted” by those who are supposed to want them most (mom and dad) do not think and feel like other children.  To be rejected by the very people who made you introduces a burden of insecurity so heavy that it crushes you and even those who meet and begin to love you. Even worse, it makes you perfect prey for those who are looking for someone to crush.  Of course, one does not have to be physically abandoned to suffer similar consequences. Often times, it’s worse when the emotional abusers stick around.

For many years, my “story” was that of  the unwanted and unworthy child. I was the girl in the torn dress, the child with nowhere to go on Christmas, the young woman who stayed too long with the wrong man in order to have the family she’d had hoped they could build if only he’d see how worthy/loving/supportive she was and treat her accordingly.  When he refused to, she wouldn’t write him off as unworthy of her, she’d simply try harder, just like she did with mom and dad (sound familiar?)

I’d long wondered why I would do the things I would do or say the things I would say about myself.  I was always polite and kind to others but brutal to Brenda.  If I was complimented on something, I would brush it off.  If someone mistreated me, I would forgive easily, assuming that I didn’t matter enough to stand up for myself (a way of doing this is playing the “they didn’t mean it” game).  Finally, after one particularly difficult experience with someone, my very dear friend asked me, “What does it say about the way you feel about you if you tolerate this?”  Her mother chimed in, “What would you say to your friend if you saw her tolerate this?”  I admitted I would be appalled. “Then why should you deal with it, my dear?”

She was right.

I started to think about my “story” and how it was destroying my chances at a happy ending. When one spends a couple of decades reading the same text day in and day out, one gets brainwashed into believing it is true.  The lessons I learned in childhood taught me that my life was going to be hard, that I was not worthy of something more, that I could not have unconditional love or play with the other children without being made fun of or shamed  back into the house.  I took these lessons in and repeated them to myself daily.  “You are not worthy” became my mantra and it ruined many beautiful moments.  Not only was I unable to create proper boundaries or enjoy achievements, I wasted too much time trying to convince the ghosts of my childhood that my life was worth something, that I belonged on this earth, too.

This was my life, painful and bleak, though full of the love of friends and achievements any healthy person would recognize and be grateful for.  That’s important to mention.  The more pain we choose to live in, the less able we are to be grateful and gratitude is the seed from which happiness grows.  It was not easy to recognize the ways in which I was destroying my own life, but fortunately, I have amazing people in it who won’t mince words and who have enough patience, love and respect for me to help me move down my path.  I wanted to give this gift to you–the gift of honesty and reflection.  Your “story” is ongoing and one chapter should lead to another.  In your story, you choose whether or not you will grow and blossom.  You choose the characters you will introduce and how long they will stay.  You choose how many dragons you will slay.  But most of all, you choose whether or not you will allow yourself the space, time and freedom to be happy.  Just know that the execution of such a choice won’t be an easy one.  You’ll likely have to let go of some things that you enjoy clinging onto.  You’ll have to let go of some relationships that are comfortable but destructive.  You’ll have to look into the mirror and into the eyes of the person you have allowed yourself to become.  You’ll have to take ownership of your choices.  You might have to start completely over and feel lonely, scared and isolated awhile.  But, as my friend told me once, “The key to success is knowing the pain or discomfort you feel won’t last; Nothing feels awful forever.”

Good Luck.

-Brenda Della Casa

Judge Much?

If you have ever felt the harsh burn of someone else’s condemnation, you know that there are few things that sting like being judged.  For whatever reason, knowing that someone else does not accept you as you are or accepts you but considers you (or your actions) “less than” is enough to send most people into one of two directions; they either fight like hell to win the person over or start judging them in a “You don’t like me? Well, I don’t like you” dance. 

I think both reactions stem from insecurity and shame (either you’re not sure you have a right to be you or you feel ashamed of something you did and are angry at the feelings being triggered by someone tossing your actions under the proverbial light). If we really believed we were OK as we are and that we are truly allowed to walk down our own path and make our own mistakes, we wouldn’t have much of a reaction.  We’d simply see if there was something we needed to change or consider ourself an apple standing in front of someone who prefers pears.

I personally believe that our strong reaction to judgement is based on the foundation put down by religion and our need to judge others from the same place.  To drop the gavel is to be “God Like” and to be judged harshly, the worst possible fate (fire for all eternity, uh, not all that enticing).

What if we all accepted that we are each on our own path and people are going to judge us as we walk past them because it’s a natural human reaction? What if we realized that we judge everything that comes into our lives from ice cream flavors to people to television shows?  If someone judges you harshly, you can take it as you are not good enough or that they are offensive so-and-so’s or you can simply take it as a sign that they hold a different set of values and be done with it. 

Also, keep in mind that it’s important to take your relationship and the person who is doing the judging into account. There are times when there might be a loving reason behind their actions–maybe, just maybe, they know you’re better than your behavior.

If you’re the one doing the sentencing, ask yourself how quickly you are to toss others into the black or white category.  Are you someone who allows room for others to make mistakes or find their own way or are you rigid and unyielding? 

Do you judge others harshly?

How do you react to criticism?

Do you judge yourself?

How does your behavior impact your relationships (including the one with yourself)?

A Few Songs to BBQ To

If you are living in the EnWhySee, I know you are smiling from ear-to-ear today thanks to the sun finally paying us a visit!  You know I love music, so I thought I would put together another Memorial Day playlist for fun.  Hope you find something new to add to your iPod!

D’yer Mak’er by Led Zeppelin

Hands All Over by Maroon 5 (This video is great).

Austin Powers Theme Song (I love to go-go to this!)

Cupid Boy by Kylie

Last Chance by Maroon 5

Bailamos by My Celebrity Boyfriend

Paris (Ooh La La) by Grace and The Nocturnals

I’m Into You by Jennifer Lopez (How hot is her African Dance?!)

She Bangs by Ricky (Warning: You might get stuck on this one).

Rehab by Amy Winehouse

Senorita by Justin Timberlake

Super Pop by Madonna (My friend, Jenny Lupa asked what song we wish we were born to, this was my answer).

Break Your Heart by Tao Cruz

Hypnotico by Jennifer Lopez

Be safe this weekend!

Henry Kissinger Changes Your Life

Last night, while talking over post-office coffee, my conversation companion shared a story about  Henry Kissinger.  A master negotiator, Mr. Kissinger had a tactic he used that always seemed to work to his benefit.  Whenever he’d get a proposal, he would leave it unopened, wait a few days and send back a note that said, “Is this the best you can do…”  The opposing party would re-work the proposal and send it again only to get the same response. He would do this three or four times until the opposing party would respond, “Yes, this is the best we can do” and then he’d read the proposal.  A ballsy and brilliant move by one of the most respected men in the history of the world.

Now, I am not sure how many of us could pull off Mr. K’s smooth move (do any of us carry that much clout?) but I started to think of how this approach might benefit us in our own lives.  What if we constantly asked ourselves, “Is this the best I can do” and never finished until we could give “Yes” as an honest answer?  How might our lives change?

Baby Choosing Its Own Gender (Hey, I didn’t make it up)

A Canadian couple has decided to let their infant “choose” its gender. Yup, you read that right.  I am all about being open-minded and letting people live as they see fit but this just seems downright silly to me.  I’d also question why they will let their baby choose his/her gender but not whether or not he/she wants international news coverage.

Your thoughts?

Getting To Know You

A few questions intended to help you get to know yourself better.

If you were a brand, what would you sell and how trusted would you be?

If you could go back in time and do three things differently, what would they be? How would changing them positively (and negatively) impact your life?

What three things are you tired of dealing with in your life?  What are three ways to go about changing each of them?

What do you love? 

What do you hate?

What habits are holding you back in life?

Are you someone who takes control of situations or allows themselves to be victimized?

If someone were to watch you when no one was looking, what would they find out about you?

What are you most afraid of?

What are you no longer afraid of?

What Goes Around, Comes Around.

It’s a funny thing, universal justice.  Just as you let go of the pain caused by someone who has hurt you, they begin to feel the sharp pain brought on by regret.

I always say that it’s never too late to apologize but I have learned that sometimes it is too late for the other person to care if you’re sorry or not.

All Will Be Revealed

“I just want to know what’s going to happen.”

“I wish I knew where this was headed.”

“What if I look back and realize this was a mistake?”

I have had three different people say essentially the same thing to me in the last 24 hours (and goodness knows I am the queen of trying to control outcomes). It can be frustrating to walk down a path and not know where you are headed, especially if you have allowed anxiety (fueled by fear and doubt, as my professor says) to take over where sweet anticipation could be.  But what if we accepted that part of the purpose of life is to live and one can only live by experiencing and experimenting? What if we understood that there is a balance in the universe and all things are as they should be in the sense that we are not psychic because we’re not supposed to be.  Think about it; we have everything we need to survive–teeth, limbs, eyes, noses, etc.  If we needed to see the future, we’d be able to.  There is a power in not knowing.  Take it as confirmation of the control we have over our lives. With every choice, every thought, every action and reaction, every word, we take a turn, move forward or backward, and pick up or abandon a companion.

Take your life day-by-day (moment-by-moment when necessary).

Let go of your need to know and open up your mind to learning as you go along.

Enjoy the surprises that come along with your creation.

What If…

You weren’t supposed to figure out your life’s purpose and the whole purpose of life was found in the journey itself?

You allowed yourself to believe that you could have as many chances as you needed to in order to get it right?

You found beauty in the scars of your heart?

You just accepted that others say and do things to you that have nothing at all to do with you?

You just said, “You know what? You’re right. Let’s move on.”

You appreciated the truth in the phrase, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” and started to really value what is still in your life?

You listened to yourself?

You started to love yourself more?

How might your life be different?

Brenda’s Gift Guide

I recently attended a lovely dinner party at a new friend’s place at The Plaza Hotel (which, by the way, has lost all of it’s charm, I am afraid).

My companion and I brought a bottle of wine but not after going back-and-forth about appropriate dinner party gifts.  Of course, this inspired a post. 

Hope it helps you come up with a fun little dinner party/birthday/ “Thank You” gift of your own.

Macaroons.  I personally adore the ones from Macaron Cafe (given to me by my dear friend, Yinh, at the Staggered launch party).

A bottle of MacCallan 18 will always be appreciated by a Scotch lover.

Maison Grove Candles are lux for less candles that can be found and Bed Bath and Beyond.  I adore the Tabacco and Bergamot  Pair with a nice box of Nicaraguan Cigars or humidor/Cigar cutter for Cigar lovers.

A gift certificate to a gourmet food market is a lovely gift for a cook.

We got our friends a bottle of Dom  Perignon for their engagement and it was deeply appreciated.  I filled the box with big faux “diamonds” so they fell out when they opened it.  Our friends enjoyed it very much.  Get yours for a little less at Costco.

The delicious lavender and Chamomile Aromatherapy candle from Bath and Body Works (take off the label) and a soft, lux sleeping mask (this one was inspired by Breakfast at Tiffany’s).

A bottle of Champagne and La Maison du Chocolate Assorted Truffles

A box of fresh cannoli or a nice pie from a mom and pop bakery with a good reputation will go over well.

A nice bottle of wine with a properly paired cheese and crackers is nice to bring to a party.

A bottle of Vodka, Martini Olives, a shaker and Breakfast at Tiffany’s on DVD.

A lovely box of soaps from Sabon.

Baked By Melissa Cupcakes (also found by Yinh).  These little suckers are so good and such fun for hosts/guests to eat!

Things I Have Heard Recently

There is wisdom to be found everywhere.  Here are a few bits that have come my way recently.

“I am sick of feeling bad.  I am going to see the upside of every situation for a while and see how it impacts me.” Someone very special to me.

Numbers are not a bad thing, they are representations of good things.  Your business may be doing great things but all businesses are about numbers.  Don’t devalue something just because there is money attached to it.” A woman I admire very much.

“There are some people who are just egotistical horses asses and I don’t waste my time sticking around to spend time with them.” A professor I know.

“I used to believe that I should stay with bad guys because there weren’t any good ones who would treat me right.  I finally found a great one and realized I was very, very wrong.” A new friend.

“Life is not all love, grace and dignity.  It’s hard out there and we’re all trying to carve a little piece of life for ourselves out of something that’s not very nice,” The same professor.

“I just watched her become 10 years younger.” This was said to me by a doorman when I told a clueless husband that someone ought to tell his wife how beautiful she was (she didn’t hear me).  He passed on the compliment and her whole aura changed.

“Couples have fights but what is there to fight about? Respect one another on the big topics, be happy, have fun and move on.  Who cares who is sorry, life goes on.” A gentleman I met at a dinner party last night.

“Where did you find her? This woman has balls.” Said to my special someone after I very matter-of-factly informed a dinner party companion that no one with a female sex organ would ever allow Tiger Woods to have a “full comeback”.

Honorable Mention:

“My cat is afraid to poop in front of me.”  Said to me by a dear friend who really does have a super-private cat who “Holds it” until she leaves the bathroom.

Change

The night before last, I came home and starting to share a strange exchange I had with a coworker the night before.  Before I could get my words out, my conversation partner jumped in. “Just tell me you took care of it and did what you needed to do in order to make sure it never happens again.”  I was stunned. “Uh, actually, I took care of it but that’s not why I am bringing it up.  I wanted to share a strange incident that happened in my life with you.” He looked at me. “These things always happen to you because you never take care of them from the beginning.”  It was a blanket statement intended to quiet me down (As if that ever works). I looked at him. “That may have been true years ago, but it isn’t now.”  He stared at me. “Don’t get mad at me.  I have impressions of you that are based on our history.”

He had a point–an irritating one–but a point just the same.  Because we had known one another for so long (seeing one another almost daily during that time)  it was hard for either of us to see how the other had grown. Because of this, we could not accept that it had actually happened. Like the parent who sees the grown man as a child or the old HS friend who refuses to allow you to leave the proverbial schoolyard, he was refusing to see me as I am now, instead staying irritated at who I was then.

How often do we do this to one another?  How many times have we laughed at the notion that those around us could make lasting changes or develop into someone different, even entirely new? The “Zebra never changes its stripes” mantra  (or some variation of it) is shoved down our throats so often that we not only start to believe it but abide by it.  If true change is unattainable, why bother trying? We stay stuck, convinced the way we do things is the only way.  What can even be more painful is to know that you are changing and have those around you grab at you and try to pull you backwards.

In order to be truly supportive and truly loving towards ourselves and others, we need to allow ourselves and one another to grow organically and move into the directions our life choices, karma and desires pull us.  To shame or convince someone that they are not who they say they are or should not be who they are isn’t loving, it’s controlling and cruel.  We don’t have to walk with those who don’t wish to go down our path but it’s wrong to block that of another.

Though I found my companion annoying and close-minded (just being honest) I also knew that I was guilty of listing things he has said and done under old headlines. What do you think might happen if we all really listened to one another with an open mind and took in what they said at face value?  What might happen if we allowed those around us who were once messy to be organized, those who were once dramatic to be calm, and those who were once liberal in their 20’s to be conservative in their 30’s? 

Change is just another word for growth and the whole point of life is to move forward and in different directions.  Agree or disagree?

We are who we are, from birth to death” seems to be the mantra.

It’s True (It’s All About You)

You are the only one in your way.

You call the shots in your life.

You choose what you will and won’t accept from others.

You are the one with the answers.

You know who you really are and it’s up to you to accept and change it.

You really do know right from wrong (for you).

You can achieve your dreams.

You set the tone for your day.

You are the one who will choose how to see things.

You make the decisions that lead to the consequences.

You take the risks that lead to rewards.

Your life has meaning, even if you don’t recognize it.

You decide how hard to be on yourselves and others.

Your life is under your control.

About.com

Brenda Della Casa is a columnist and author who specializes in writing about interpersonal relationships. She is also something of a rarity: a female raised by a grandfather. In this interview, conducted via email, Della Casa describes her experience.

What were the circumstances which led to your being raised by your grandfather?

Grandparents often step in and take over after it has been established that parents are unwilling or cannot, for whatever reason, appropriately care for their children. My grandfather not only stepped in, he did so with 100% commitment, and, had he not, things would have been dire.

He was my mother, father, sibling and best friend from day one. There are photos of me at three months old in the crib in my grandfather’s room! Here was a 65-year-old man who was watching his wife deteriorate from cancer, and he was not only caring for her but also for an infant entirely on his own. People from the church we attended have told me that they were amazed at the care he gave me as a child. They saw him as a fishing and hunting “man’s man,” yet he was not only able to nurture and care for an infant but adored doing it. One lady told me it changed her whole perception of men.

My first memories are of my grandfather playing with me, disciplining me and caring for me. He was my grandfather only by a technicality, and yet my father retained custody of me because the courts worried an older man could not properly care for a young girl, something that I still don’t understand. My grandfather was the best, most loving parent I have ever seen, and I think it is extremely important to put it out there. Age and gender have nothing to do with a person’s ability to be a loving and attentive parent. I was the love of his entire life from the moment I was born, and he let me know it every day he was alive.

Did you have other close relatives? What about a female role model?

My grandfather and grandmother’s siblings were lightly involved in my life, but we were not geographically close to them. When I got older, I became closer to my great-aunt, but when I was a child, there were no females who were constants in my life. I started looking up to Marilyn Monroe and Madonna as mother figures when I was six years old, much to my grandfather’s chagrin! My grandpa worried about this and did speak a lot about my grandmother, using her actions as a way to teach me to be a young lady. It wasn’t until I was about 26 that those teachings really impacted me and I understood what he said when he told me, “There is a big difference between a woman and a lady.”

Was your grandfather still employed when he took over your care? Did providing for you cause him financial hardship?

Grandpa was retired when I was growing up, but he was a man who appreciated work and labor, so he was always doing something–fixing something, volunteering, hunting or fishing, and I was always there, right by his side.

My grandfather made great sacrifices in his life in order to be my only source of emotional, financial and physical support. While I didn’t feel it intensely as a child, I can see now that times were extremely tough for us, and I am sure he worried. We went fishing a lot and ate a lot of cheap frozen dinners, but I never went without. I may not have had the most dolls or the name brand cereal, but I wasn’t raised to appreciate those things as much as time spent together, good conversation and long walks, and we were rich that way.

What was your grandfather’s parenting philosophy and how did it affect you?

My grandpa was very well-mannered and valued emotional and intellectual intelligence. He wasn’t one to scream or yell, but I knew what the rules were and that they had consequences, believe me. A simple look would crush me! He was very respectful and dignified and treated me as a valuable human being. He was a loving, old-fashioned and very traditional man. My grandpa never missed a spelling bee or a student-parent night, and he adored having a little girl. He surprised me with dresses that I know put a dent in his budget. He talked to me about life lessons that I am sure now, he was concerned that I would not hear once he passed away. This was something that he brought up as I got older. It was the biggest heartache and shock of my life when that happened.

Did your grandfather’s age limit the things you could do together?

I think he felt it did, but I didn’t. There was never a time I wished my grandpa were like other parents in any way. I never felt limited in any way; in fact, I felt other children were missing out.

We did everything together: played checkers, did arithmetic, took walks and watched TV. Sundays we would go for lunch after church and it was such a special time. I loved just sitting there, talking and having a hamburger with my best friend.

What is the most important lesson you learned from your grandfather?

There are dozens of powerful lessons from him, gifts, really. I would have to say one of the most valuable was treating everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of how I might feel about their choices. My grandfather was also big on equality. I remember us not returning to a church because it was not diverse enough.

In what ways are you like your grandfather?

I think I become more like him as I get older. I definitely aspire to be loving, respectful and all of the things he was. It’s a goal of mine to be the kind of young lady he wanted me to be, but because he is such a hero in my mind, I always worry I fall short. 

In what ways are you different?

The differences we have would be based on the times we live in. I definitely know he would not approve of my still liking Madonna but he’d be happy I am not emulating her anymore! I think I went through a growing up phase where I rebelled a little bit but not too intensely. I definitely am more conservative than I used to be, but not to the extent he was. I also am more outgoing and thrill-seeking than he was, but that’s OK. I think we taught one another a few things when we were together. He brought stability and I brought a little spark.

I think grandparents who raise their grandchildren are angels here on Earth, truly.

Brenda Della Casa’s latest book is Cinderella Was a Liar.

The original piece can be seen here.

Looking for Writers ASAP

 I really need a few great writers looking for bylines on Staggered USA. Think fun, male-friendly wedding pieces that highlight everything from family drama to bachelor party planning. Your pieces will be blasted to our thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers and include your byline and a link to any product or site that you may have. No pay so it’s likely beneficial to experts with something to plug or up-and-coming writers who want to add to their clip file. Interested? Send pitches and a male-friendly writing sample to Brenda@ iamstaggered.com

Make a Good Impression

From Real Simple

By Anne-Marie O’Neilla

Want to learn the secret to a great first encounter? Five pros share their most effective moves.

Stop Talking

A lot of folks have a habit of imparting endless information during a first encounter. I call it male-pattern lecturing, though it’s by no means exclusive to men. The listener smiles, nods politely, and asks questions, and so the male-pattern lecturer keeps…on…talking. The lecturer comes away from the experience thinking that it went really well. He felt so confident and interesting! But for the listener, it was a bust. She didn’t feel affirmed or appreciated. It’s natural, especially when you’re nervous, to focus on whether the conversation is going well for you. But make sure you’re also thinking of ways to make the other person feel good. Honestly, that can be as simple as asking about her day.

Ann Demarais, PH.D., is an executive coach and a coauthor of First Impressions ($15, amazon.com).

Don’t Take All the Credit

When I interview a job candidate, I look to see if she is too self-serving. Does she appear to exaggerate her own contributions? Blame colleagues for things that went wrong? When you ask her to share his weaknesses, does she merely dress up her strengths? “I care too much.” “I work too hard.” (Ugh.) Just be humble, and let people know that you hold yourself to the same standards to which you hold others.

Ben Dattner is an organizational psychologist, a workplace consultant, and the author of The Blame Game ($26, amazon.com).  Read more here.