Sunday, May 30, 2010

Parenting by Example

First, let me make it clear that I don´t consider myself a perfect parent. I am just as guilt-ridden and doubtful as the next mother – feeling guilty for working too much or not enough: take your pick; doubtful about giving them too much or not enough (of different things to include time, clothes and attention), … Being a mother seems to be naturally tied into that.
I do, however, feel a sense of pride when I see my kids behave in certain ways and like to think I had something to do with it. I also know that the small victories I may achieve as a parent do not come from lecturing my kids as much as they come about by setting an example. Mind you, not everything I do is intentionally geared towards raising my girls to be the best people they can be. But, by striving daily to become the best version of myself, I realize I am modeling exactly that for them.
Children may not always listen to what you say, but oh boy, do they watch what you DO! Their values are, whether you like it or not, the values they have picked up from you. If you don´t lead them in the right direction by example, be assured society will, and that may not render the results you´re after.
My 6-year old surprises me often with statements that show me how much she observes how I deal with life.

“Mommies need to exercise to feel better.” (I was thrilled she didn´t say ¨to look better¨)
“You did that because you´re a good friend.” (I had stopped to offer a parent from her school to jump-start her car)
“Mommies have to read a lot to learn things.”

Recently I went window shopping with my girls. We tried clothes on, browsed and had a fun time. My 9-year old really wanted to spend the $15 she had in her pocket. Every time she chose something I asked her: “Do you really need that?” She wasn´t happy with my question and grew annoyed when she saw me pick out a T-shirt for myself. In the end I left it behind. She asked me: “Why didn´t you get it?” My answer: “I didn´t really need it”. My daughter put down whatever it was she had picked out and announced that she would like to treat her sister and me to dinner with her allowance money. I was pleasantly surprised.
My kids are readers because I´m a reader, they enjoy the outdoors because I do, they enjoy time alone because I embrace solitude. I don´t tell them about it, I just do it and they watch – and emulate. And then, I´m a reader because my father is a reader (dare I say I´m a writer because he and my grandfather are writers), I enjoy exercise because I practiced sports with my dad when I was a kid and up into adulthood.
Of course there are other things I wish they didn’t emulate: my eldest is very emotional, as am I, and she says “trust me” more times a day than even I do! The little one likes to sleep in, like her mom, and she also marches to the beat of a different drummer (unfortunately, also different to the one I march to!).
You can´t really tell your kids to knock off the junk food if you´re piling it on your own plate. If your TV set is on all day to keep you company, your kids will learn silence is not ok, plus they will absorb the information you are tuning in to - be it useful or harmful. If you have regular outbursts of anger in front of them, if you can´t control yourself - don´t expect them to be even-tempered and polite.
I don´t mean to be coy about this, but … if you have young kids … know that they are watching you, even if you think they aren´t.
Become the best person you can be, and they will become the best people they can be. It really is that simple.
How do you parent by example?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lola Belmonte, magazine editor, turns loss into personal growth

Over ten years ago, when I lived in Spain, the editor of a magazine (Verdemente) wrote to me regarding one of my books. She interviewed me and then I went on to write monthly articles and stories for her monthly publication. Then she founded another magazine (Gente) and I collaborated with it too. I had two kids, moved to the U.S. and time and distance did the rest, until Facebook reunited us. Thanks to that, today I am the one doing the interview on Lola C. Belmonte and feel honored to tell her personal success story.

LCL.- Which do you consider to be your biggest success?

LCB. – My biggest personal success was getting back on my feet after losing it all. In 2001 I lost my first magazine, Verdemente, which I created on my own, putting a lot of work and effort into it. I directed the magazine for 8 years and I left it with many clients and readers. After my first business partner, who came on board after I had launched the publication, I had another partner who made things really difficult for me. Later on I found it had been premeditated. Those who have launched their own business know that it is not only a question of work. It is excitement, risk, creation and effort; it is almost like having a child.

In the same year, Lola lost her mother, and had to grieve two losses.

LCB.- Thank God and destiny, after a while I got back on my feet and launched another paper magazine, that then went on to be a web publication and is now moving on to video.

Thanks to loss, I did not stagnate and now I keep on working with media I enjoy a lot more. My father told me I was nearly born in a movie theater. They had to run out because my mother went into labor. I never knew what movie I interrupted for them, but I obviously wanted to see it! That’s why I believe that I’m in the perfect place. I’m good at videos and one day I will take myself a little further and perhaps create my own stories with even greater freedom.

LCL.- What character traits helped you move forward?

LCB.- Determination, perseverance, not allowing myself to be thrown off by the first obstacle, creativity for problem-solving and my ability to improvise that always amazes my clients.

LCL.- Who has helped you along the way?

LCB.- On the one hand, the people who supported me and gave me strength: my family and friends. And on the other hand, those who challenged me by stepping on my toes and teaching me to fight back. Also my loved ones, who gave me joy.

LCL.- How do you keep your spirits up?

LCB.- In several ways. When I still have strength, I walk. I’ve walked all over the city of Madrid. But when I don’t feel so strong, then I board a bus to nowhere in particular. Movement makes me feel relaxed and open-minded. It opens my soul and when I get off the bus, I feel a lot better and perhaps having discovered new parts of town.

LCL.- In one sentence, sum up what you would say to someone who is going through a rough patch.

LCB.- It’s an old saying. He who wants to, does more than he who is able to. But you must really want it, and not half-heartedly. Ask and you shall receive.

LCL.- Thanks, Lola, and good luck on your new venture. Although, you make your own luck!

To see the work of Lola C. Belmonte and practice your Spanish:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Excuses Begone, by Wayne Dyer as Seen by a Former Self-help Skeptic

Laura Carbonell was a skeptic regarding self-help books and inspirational speakers. The 44-year old Spanish teacher in SF, CA recently attended a seminar by Wayne Dyer, and says that experience completely changed her outlook. Laura happens to be a fighter and has overcome incredible odds in her life. One of her great accomplishments is that she has stayed clean and sober for 16 years.
I have profound admiration for her and I´m lucky that apart from being an inspiration to me, she is also my sister.
Laura read her first self-help book - You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay - when she was 28 and had just quit drinking.
“It helped me get back on my feet”, she says.
Then our father gave her Your Erroneous Zones, by Wayne Dyer which she also read.
“I felt I had had enough of self-help books. I felt most authors were full of it, but Wayne Dyer´s books spoke to me and felt honest and true. Reading him was like talking to a friend. I got more from his books than from years in therapy”.
Unbeknownst to me, my sister was depressed this past December. For the record, we spent Christmas together and I didn´t realize how bad she felt.
“I thought of seeing a shrink and took a test on my medical insurance website; not that I needed to make sure I was depressed”, she told me.
“Around that time, I found a deal in a book store on Wayne Dyer's latest audio book and I felt relieved listening to him and more at peace. Then I became fan of Wayne Dyer on Facebook and saw that he was coming to SF”.
My sister is not one to attend this kind of function and she asked several people what we thought of it, and I believe we all told her she should go!
“Never in my life would I have considered going to listen to a self-help guru. And I mean never! Plus, it wasn't cheap. Not that I think it wasn't worth it. Hey, I thought: ‘it's way cheaper than therapy!’ Also, I must add I would usually not consider going alone!”

She did go alone, however, and I was excited when she sent me pictures and live updates of the seminar as she sat through it. That was when I asked her if I could interview her for my blog.
“During the seminar I was very excited, moved to tears and I am a bit embarrassed to admit it! I also felt totally at ease because that is what he does: make everyone feel calm. However, when I walked out I felt a bit sad and cranky. I had been so excited and had enjoyed it all so much that I was a bit down... Like a kid having left the best party! I wanted to feel the way he describes he feels – at peace”.
Funny how someone’s perception can change so much and I believe it happened because my sister had changed herself – she is more evolved than ever before. She does admit to being a Dyer groupie, in the sense that no other inspirational writer has touched her as Dyer has.
“I love his CD collection "The essence of being in Balance" (I think it's this one)" and "Excuses Begone". Actually, I recommend any of his books. Lately he is more spiritual, and that's fine, although I kind of cringe at the mention of the word ‘God’ but somehow, with him, I get over it”.
What inspirational speaker or author has touched your life?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Running in the Rain

This morning I slathered on sunscreen before going out for my run. As I parked by the beach, I realized I wouldn´t need the sunscreen, since it was – all of a sudden - cloudy and raining (I live in Florida). So much for “waterproof sunscreen”, I thought, as I felt it sting my eyes when I set out to run in the rain. I had nothing to dry my eyes with other than my ponytail, which was soon drenched too.
As I trudged on, wet sand under my feet and pelting rain on my face making every step that much more difficult, I thought how easy it would have been to turn back. Short of a thunderstorm or illness, however, there are few things that will deter me when I am determined to go on a run.
I must explain I am not a daily runner, I don´t run marathons and I don´t train. I´m not a masochist or at least I don´t think I am. I run regularly because I´m hooked on endorphins and because I meditate better when in motion. I don´t count time or miles, I simply run, jog or shuffle, depending on the day, and make every breath count. I don´t always enjoy running, but I always enjoy having run. The same applies to my writing, by the way.
I realized today that by not even considering turning back because it rains, because it´s cold, because it´s hot, because it´s late or early is how, over the years, I have become true to myself. Running under the worst weather conditions has taught me that if I keep showing up regardless of the conditions, then one day – usually out of the blue - everything is perfect. The temperature is just right, the terrain is leveled, I am rested, in good spirits, and then it feels effortless and joyful.
Today, I was filled with satisfaction, with self-love and admiration, realizing that I do in fact walk the walk, or run the run, write the book … rain or shine, and that I apply it to every other aspect of life. This has helped me achieve things such as overcome a severe eating disorder and depression, end dysfunctional relationships, write and publish inspiring books and raise two great kids.

How do you figuratively keep on running in the rain?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to Deal with Toxic People

People have called me an “angel” so many times that I had it tattooed on my ankle. I´m mostly a nice and gentle person, diplomatic although not always politically correct and I mind my manners. A saint, however, I am not. There are still a handful of people in this world who have the ability to push my buttons and then I become a she-devil. Over the years I have learned to tame the fire I sometimes feel rising in my throat when rubbed the wrong way or viciously annoyed by a certain person. I don´t act upon it usually, but I also don´t win over my animal instincts every time. If I do lash out, despite my better judgment, I´ve learned to make amends or at least apologize.

Following are some thoughts about dealing with toxic people. They are by no means absolute, and while they work for me, you may have your own, which I hope you will share too with a comment on this post.

- Sometimes it´s a matter of chemistry. We all have people we simply do not feel good with or who bring out the worst in us, and when I sense that kind of energy around someone (which tends to be mutual) I avoid the person if possible. Unfortunately two of these people at a certain point were in my extended family. I had to learn self-control, and then find ways to replenish my energy after I had been in their presence. Avoiding head-on arguments at all costs with toxic in-laws, step-parents or a boss while being assertive and graceful is no easy feat but it is possible.

- When someone I have a casual interaction with seems to be nasty for no apparent reason, I wonder if they had a bad day. If I don´t know the person, I breathe deeply instead of bickering and smile and offer a kind comment. This has resulted in the person smiling back and improving their attitude.

- If the difficult person is a client and the reason is I made a mistake, I do not get defensive, which is usually counterproductive, and I correct the mistake. We are all human and we all err. People usually relate to that if you are humble. If the client is a nasty person per se then I will not work with him or her again, but there will be no harsh parting on my side.

- I ask myself often: “Do I want to be right or happy?” Life is too short to spend it arguing over trivialities. Some people, however, do trigger that fight or flight response in me, while others bring out the best. We all have a dark side, but thankfully it just takes one ray of light to dispel the darkness. The most important thing is to be aware of it. Self-knowledge is power.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Having less leaves room for getting more (of what really matters)

If you´ve been hit hard by the recession, I feel for you. I do, because I know what it´s like to lie in bed awake wondering how to pay the electricity bill, or how to cut back on groceries to be able to pump gas to drive the kids to school. Maybe you and I arrived at that place for different reasons, but the fact remains that it´s stressful. In the darkest hour I reminded myself that “this too shall pass, but not before I learn from it”. And learn I did.
The biggest lesson was that there is a huge difference between “want” and “need”.
Another lesson is that there is life without credit. Not only that, there is a simpler more down to earth lifestyle, rooted in reality. There is a greater appreciation for the things that matter.
Perhaps the most important lesson was this - even when there was little food in the fridge and no money for gas, there was no reason to stop having fun with my kids or taking care of myself. I just did things differently and they have stayed that way. It is, I admit, easier to do it by choice than out of need. That´s why I plan to keep it just as simple in the future.

- I found I had stuff at home that I could turn into cash on eBay. I sold all my gold jewelry and even though some if it was hard to part with because of the sentimental value, I realized memories live on in the heart.

- During the worst times, I found help from non-profit organizations, charities and other aids. A mother (and any hard-working citizen undergoing duress for that matter), should know when to set aside her pride.

- I don´t have cable. DVDs from the library work fine. My kids and I have a girl´s night watching a DVD on my laptop in bed once a week. It´s a special event! I know that if they had a tv in every room it just wouldn´t be that special.

- The library is my fave hangout. It´s free and quiet. As a free-lancer I work at the library a lot, and as a mom, I love to watch my kids read.

- Public parks, nature trails, the beach (I do have the good fortune to live close to the beach) are great places for picnics, exercise and fun.

- I love bookstores. You can read the latest magazines, research, read, chat with a friend, hang with your kids, or just think. And you don´t have to buy a thing.

- I´ve rediscovered home-cooking. I was never a fan of spending money on restaurants, but now I relish prepping food with friends or a loved one. Not only that, creativity can also be used to cook savory meals on a low budget. That`s the root of the best ethnic foods!

- Fewer clothes in my closet means less laundry to do and wearing most of what I own. Easier choices. It works for my kids too.

- Conversation is a big part of what I enjoy doing with my girls, friends and family.

- Running and walking are free, and a great form of exercise. A good pair of running shoes are the only must-have.

- With expenses pared down to the bare essentials, I became more relaxed, which enabled me to focus on getting more work in my field, so that I did not have the constant worry about where the money for the bills was coming from, which resulted in greater productivity.

- If I was able to make it during the worst financial times, I know I can certainly make it during the better times!

If you have any other suggestions about simplifying, living on a shoestring and enjoying life while riding out the recession, please tell!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fabulous after Forty!

I told myself that if I wasn´t a mom before 25, I didn´t want to have kids! I didn´t want to be an “old” mom. Of course life is what happens while we are making plans and circumstances did not allow for me to make my wish come true. My first significant other already had children and didn´t want more. I was so young that I agreed to that, but deep down I still wanted to be a mom. Perhaps I was not ready physically and most importantly, emotionally, plus I didn´t meet the person who would be the father of my children until I was 34 – and between waiting a bit, and dealing with infertility (which resolved itself on its own!) I didn´t have my first baby until I hit 37. The second came around when I turned 40.

Today, May 4 it is my eldest daughter´s 9th birthday and in June, my little redheaded princess will turn 6.
I didn´t have time to have a midlife crisis at the 40-year old mark since I was so busy being a mommy and juggling that with keeping house and with my career as a writer. In August I will turn 47, and somehow it just doesn´t seem to register. I mean this in a good way.
A frequent question I get is – how do I manage to look radiant, energetic and joyful, even when I have as many challenges and as full a plate as the next woman?
As I mention in other posts, we can all give a list of excuses for being down – in my case I could list being the child of a traumatic divorce, being depressed as a teenager, having had an eating disorder, relationships gone sour, separation, divorce, financial hardship – you name it. You probably have your own list !

But then there is another list, which is my list for feeling fabulous after 40, and which includes having two wonderful children, good health, a fit body, a calm mind, supportive friends, a passion for writing, empathy, the opportunity to use my skills every day, self-motivation, and simply – life. I am happier in my skin (even if it´s starting to sag) than ever before, and my biggest concern about ageing is that I´m running out of time!
That is why I decided to enter the Fabulous after Forty contest in More Magazine. I may stand a slim chance of winning, since there are so many other fabulous women out there, which is very nice to see (I enjoy being in touch with strong, positive and beautiful women inside and out), but why not try?

To see my entry, please click HERE and if you feel inclined to vote, my kids and I will greatly appreciate it!

Do you feel fabulous after 40 or whatever your age, and why?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

On Direct Sales or MLM - Network Marketing

I confess: I used to avoid direct sellers and MLM (multi-level marketing, also known as network marketing) like the plague. I did not have any experience with it, but I had heard it was shady business at best. Also, I also heard echoes of it being a Pyramid scheme, (where you make money by signing people up, but there is no real product or service involved). Well, waddya know! I became one of those “born again MLM people”, who – once I bit the bait – was a zealot in the field. I went from being an MLM skeptic to a network marketing convert, and then friends and family shunned ME like I had the plague!
The reality of what network marketing CAN be (a source of residual income and/or a flexible way to supplement or make your income), clicked when I listened to a presentation of beauty products – I signed up on the spot after having refused to go to my friends´ direct sales parties in the past! I did not particularly believe in the overpriced brand, but I spent money I didn´t have on buying a kit and samples. In less than three months I crashed and burned, and my sister, my friends and even my landlady had allergic reactions to the products! Setting out to recruit others to "get rich" by selling with me was like sticking pins into my eyes, only worse! Acquaintances stopped taking my calls and other moms at school looked the other way when they saw me coming.
I didn´t completely give up, however, because I did understand the potential of the model. I read a lot about direct selling and MLM and I knew there had to be something else I could enjoy selling. I then met a very nice woman who was wearing beautiful jewelry and it turned out to be designed by a direct selling company. Now, that was something that I could do! After all, I love silver jewelry, and surely people would compliment me on it if I wore it and want it for themselves!
So, I found out this company gave a lot more marketing material than the beauty one when you signed up, and required no minimum quotas or recruiting. I would make a commission on sales, and was not forced to purchase anything, but of course, I could.
Recruiting does add to your income, but this is a performance based sales model, so if you don´t sell, even if you have a dream team under you, you won´t get a dime from their sales.
With the jewelry, during the first two years, my average sales paid my rent, and I made my investment back and then some, plus I earned a lot of free jewelry. I had a lot of fun at the parties and made friends. I didn´t pressure people, heck, they almost had to BEG me to show them a catalog.
When my writing work picked up again, though, I found myself slacking on the jewelry business, and I asked myself why. I am still first and foremost a writer looking to make ends meet in other ways. I want to succeed in my career – the jewelry is a way to help me pay the bills, have fun and enjoy wearing the stuff. I do know other women who sell for a living and they are doing great, and I also know others who won´t make a call even if their lives depended on it, so they quit. It can go either way, but that depends on you.

Would I do direct sales again? In a heartbeat! For me, it sure beats the heck out of having a low-paying job that I don´t like, or cleaning toilets for a living, which I am not very good at anyway.

My humble recommendations for those thinking of joining a direct sales or MLM company –

- Pick a product or company that you really enjoy, like and trust. It is tough to sell something you don´t use yourself. I KNOW!

- Do not spend money you don´t have on inventory, and especially be wary of BEING FORCED to buy inventory. MLM sounds great in theory, but you don´t know if you like the IDEA of doing this or the ACTUAL doing it until you try! It may or may not be for you. Not all companies make you buy a kit - do your research.

- Give yourself time – don´t expect to be a millionaire overnight.

- Set goals – plan to make a certain number of calls or contacts a week, a certain number of parties. No goals mean that you will most likely take no action.

- Don´t be a zealot! Especially if, like me, you did not support other direct sellers before! There is nothing more annoying than someone who did not want to help you out in your biz and now is trying to convert you to theirs!

- Get ready to get a lot of NOs, but don´t take them personally.

- Know when to back off. If I risk losing a friend coz she won´t have a party, I cross her off my “to call” list.

- Know that there may be peaks and valleys, if you have other things going on in your life. Look at the big picture.

- Know that direct selling and MLM works if you work it, which is, incidentally, 12-step group talk. MLM companies seem to have a lot in common with religion and 12-step fellowships.

- Don´t “company-hop” indiscriminately. Do your research first, THEN join, so you know exactly what you are getting into and what else is out there.

- If you find the right product or company for you, join when it is not too young (it may go under) or too old (there may be more reps than customers!), you really dig their product, and you work it like any other job, direct selling and MLM do work.

Any thoughts?