Reviewing 2014: My Successes and Failures

Yes, it is again that time when many of us decide to write about the year that is ending, in this case the year 2014.

Although I have not always done it during the last 5-6 years, I still think that it is a good exercise to write about the challenges, successes and failures of our year. I am one of those people who believe that we always learn something from both successes and failures. Writing about successes and failures forces us to think about our life in a critical way. It also helps us identify what we did, and what we didn't do as well.  

My Failures

Did not work out regularly (4-5 times) during most of the year. I was only able to keep a regular workout program for about 3 consecutive months (early in 2014). After that, it was very hard to motivate myself to exercise regularly. All my goals about losing some weight and exercising regularly did not last for much longer partially because I have trouble establishing goals for myself. I really need to work on these issues this year if I want to go leaner and focus on my goals.

Procrastination won the battle almost every single time. Whether it was an issue related to work or something that had to do with money/budget or paperwork, I was unable to dedicate the time and effort to these things when it was needed. The reality is that I simply avoided to deal with these issues as long as it was possible because I don't like to deal with them. I have to work on my procrastination problems this year because they caused me too many problems in 2014.

Not Enough Quality Time with My Husband.  This year, I failed in having enough quality time with my husband. With all the work- and children- responsibilities that my husband and I have, it is very difficult to find quality time for our couple. We have been trying to be creative, but sometimes even with lots of planing, things didn't work the way that we wanted or expected. Neither my husband and I want to give up with respect to this, so we keep trying to be creative and improve our current situation. From my part, I know that I have to work on this during 2015.

Improve How We Deal with Family/Marriage Conflicts. My husband and I are what many people call "type A" personality. We are both very dedicated, energetic and intense people. Unfortunately, we can also be very explosive and impatient, especially with each other. Very often, we don't know when to detach from issues or when to stop a discussion. The good thing is that we usually tell to each other our feelings whether they are negative or positive. So, we are capable to recognize our mistakes, although this may happen sometimes a little bit late. We both know that we don't always handle well conflicts or disagreements. Although we are continually trying to find new approaches or ways to deal with conflicts, we both struggle with our reactions. We certainly need to work on the issue this year. I don't know how, but I feel that finding more quality time may also help us to deal better with conflicts.

Communicate with my mother and siblings more often. It was my intention for 2014 to communicate with my mother and siblings more often, but I did not do it mainly because of busyness and possibly a problem of priority. I did manage to call all my mother and siblings for their birthdays and a few other occasions, but it was generally my mother who called me. I did not use skype or other similar communication method to talk with them. I want to improve this and communicate via skype with at least one of my siblings and my mother once per month. I miss them.

Not Enough time for Meditation and Silence. One of the things that I missed the most from the years that I was single is silence. Don't take me wrong, I love my husband and my children (including our puppy!), but our house is small and the moments that I am just by myself are rare. I feel that if I would be more organized, I may be able to find time for myself. I enjoy so much when I am able to close my eyes and free my mind of all thoughts. I need to work on this, so I can have more time for meditation and silence in 2015.

Speak Spanish and/or French to my Husband and Children. Although Spanish and French are my first and second languages respectively, I can't simply don't remember to include these languages in my daily conversations with my husband and/or children. The problem is that I feel that my little boy (5 years old) will never be able to speak Spanish fluently. Both my son and stepson started French immersion this year and are now focusing in learning French. Although I speak French fluently, I am not speaking French at home. I am simply too accustomed to speak English even though I am still very comfortable speaking Spanish or French. I definitely need to change this and force myself to speak French, and perhaps Spanish (I don't want to confuse the kids -- French and Spanish are too close sometimes) during 2015. I need to find tricks or ways to remind myself to speak French or Spanish at home.

My Successes

I should mention that it took me much longer to identify my successes than to recognize my failures. What did I achieve this year? I am not certain -- did I really achieve or succeed in something? I really don't know. Perhaps, I am too negative, but it's difficult for me to recognize or speak loud about my successes or achievement. So, most of what you will read below could be listed as "work in progress" instead of successes. Did I sound too negative?

Spending Quality Time with Elijah. I always tell my son Elijah that he is my gift from God -- and, I really mean it. I love to spend time with him even though I don't know the name of all his toys, video games or pokemon figures. I enjoy so, so much to be with him. It was not always easy, but I did my best to have quality mother-son time whenever it was possible. I really want to be an active participant in his life, so I need to make certain that there is even more mother-son time in 2015.

The adoption of Lola; our beautiful puppy. This year we added a new member to our family, Lola. She is our adorable chocolate Labrador puppy. Although she represents more work for both my husband and I, the influence that she is having on each member of the family is very positive. I must give myself credit for the presence of Lola in our lives (I can't believe that I am saying this!) because I was the one who found the breeder. I am very glad that I was patient during my search for a puppy because it took me many hours, and numerous phone calls to find the proper breeder. It was so much work, but I am glad that I did it because Lola is a wonderful addition to our family.

I created a blog and a website. One of my biggest accomplishments this year was the creation of my blog, and recently my website ( -- will be working very soon!). It has been an amazing learning experience to write and publish posts, as well as to read the work produced by others. I learned so much about the positive sides of social media; just incredible! Although I have not been able to consecrate enough time to my blog over the last few months, I was able to write a post at least once every two weeks. Ideally, I would love to write a couple of posts per week, but it is simply not possible during the academic year.

I became better at accepting my mistakes. Although I always knew that we can learn from our own mistakes, I finally try to stop making excuses for my mistakes. This year, I tried to focus on accepting my responsibilities instead of blaming others. It is very difficult to do this because it is so easy to blame others for our problems and errors. Unfortunately, we often times create our own problems, frustrations and disappointments. Accepting and learning from my mistakes is work in progress even though this year was a good beginning. 

The One Skill: How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life by Leo Babauta

One of my favorite websites is Zen Habits. This blog/website is the creation of Leo Babauta, a father of six kids, a husband and a writer from Guam (now living in San Francisco). 

What is Zen Habits?

Using the definition provided by Leo Babauta, Zen Habits is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness. Clearly, this is something that we all want!

Zen Habits is also one of the Top 25 blogs and Top 50 websites in the world, with more than a million monthly readers. This fantastic blog/website features articles about simplicity, health & fitness, motivation and inspiration, frugality, family life, happiness, goals, getting great things done, and living in the moment. It's a website/blog that I highly recommend to visit.

The Letting Go Ebook for Free

Recently, Leo Babauta published an ebook (available for free) called "The One Skill: How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life". The book is about learning the skill of letting go, and how that can help us with every problem in our life. Topics discussed in the book include procrastination, difficult people, fear, habits, distractions, change, loss, letting go, etc. 

Although I have not had the chance to read the book yet, I am certain that this book is worth reading. I have had the chance to read articles and other documents written by Leo Babauta and they are always very well written and filled with useful ideas and inspirational messages.

The book is free and can be downloaded here: The One Skill ebook (pdf). He has also exported the book as an epub (download), although the link was not tested yet. And here’s the mobi file for Kindle & other ebook readers.

I am certain that this is very good book that deserves to be read. 

Family Criticizing your Weight? You Might Add More Pounds

According to a recent study conducted by Professor Christine Logel from Renison University College at the University of Waterloo, women whose loved ones are critical of their weight tend to put on even more pounds.

The study conducted by Dr. Logel recently appeared in the December issue of the journal Personal Relationships. According to the research, "when we feel bad about our bodies, we often turn to loved ones -- families, friends and romantic partners -- for support and advice. How they respond can have a bigger effect than we might think,".

The study found that women who received a higher number of what the researchers called acceptance messages about their weight saw better weight maintenance and even weight loss than their counterparts who did not receive this positive messaging from their loved ones.

A team of social psychologists led by Dr. Logel asked to a group of univeristy-age women several questions, including their height and weight as well as how they felt about what they see on the scale. About five months later, they asked them if they had talked to their loved ones about their concerns, and if so, how they had responded. About three months after that, they tracked whether their weight and their concerns about it changed in that time.

Dr. Logel said that "On average, the women in the study were at the high end of Health Canada's BMI recommendations, so the healthiest thing is for them to maintain the weight they have and not be so hard on themselves". But, many of these women were still very concerned about how much they weigh, and most talked to their loved ones about it."

Overall, the women in the sample gained some weight over time, which is relatively normal for young adults. However, the interesting thing that the researchers noticed is that if the women got the message from their loved ones that they look fine, then they maintained or even lost a bit of weight. However, women who received few weight acceptance messages from their loved ones gained almost 4.5 pounds on average.

An important conclusion of this study appears to be that when women concerned about their weight heard that their loved ones accepted them as they are, then they felt better about their bodies, and subsequently they did not gain more wait like other women did. 

So, this study suggests that pressure from loved ones about weight loss is not helpful for women already concerned about their weight. In fact, it may actually have the opposite effect, causing women to wain some weight.


CHRISTINE LOGEL, DANU ANTHONY STINSON, GREGORY R. GUNN, JOANNE V. WOOD, JOHN G. HOLMES, JESSICA J. CAMERON. A little acceptance is good for your health: Interpersonal messages and weight change over time. Personal Relationships, 2014; 21 (4): 583 DOI:10.1111/pere.12050

What I Know for Sure about "Connection" According to Oprah

In this 3rd chapter of "What I Know for Sure", Oprah discusses the issue of connection in our lives. 

Oprah starts this chapter by saying that "Whether you're a mother in Topeka or a businesswoman in Philadelphia, each of us, at our core, longs to be loved, needed, understood, affirmed -- to have intimate connections that leave us feeling more alive and human". Throughout this chapter, Oprah emphasizes the fact that a basic human need is a desire for mutually empathic and empowering connection with others.

According to Emma Seppala, People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, are more empathetic to others and are more trusting and cooperative.  Social connectedness therefore generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being. All of us need other people in order to be well and thrive. We feel better just being around other people. And we need close relationships in order to be happy.

When reading this chapter of Oprah's book, I was particularly touched by the following ideas or statements regarding connection:

"A lack of intimacy is not distance from someone else; it is disregard for yourself."

"If you don't already know that you have worth, there's nothing your friends, your family, or your mate can say that will completely convince you of that."

"You are the one best mother, father, sister, friend, cousin, and lover you will ever have."

"Look inward -- the loving begins with you."

"The key to any relationship is communication."

"Everything happens for a reason"

"Love is all around."

To know that people care about how you're doing when the doing isn't so good -- that's what love is.

Without any doubt, this was another inspirational chapter, filled with powerful statements about relationships and connection. So, I decided to do a little online search about the importance of connection in our lives. I found many interesting things and here is one finding regarding connection that I like to include in this post. 

Some scientists have have found that people are happier when they are with other people than when they are alone—and the “boost” is the same for introverts and extroverts. It appears that happy people are more pleasant, helpful, and sociable.

So being around people makes us feel happier, and when we are happier we are more fun to be around, creating an “upward spiral” of happiness.

What do you think about this? How important is connection in your live?

Zen Parenting

As a nanny for over three decades, Marva Soogrim has seen first-hand that chaotic households are more common than not. But, an interesting thing that she always says is the most important thing to do first is to fix the parents, not the kids. What is the best way to keep mom and dad more at ease?

In an article written for the Huffington Post, Marva Soogrim suggests six ways to bring more Zen into the life of parents. 

Mediation Is a Must: This is essential for new parents or veteran ones. By mediating once for twenty minutes a day, you will be taking a vital time-out for your body, mind and soul. It will help you to put things back into balance.

The Write Stuff:  By writing down your most important thoughts every day, you will keep them in your day-to-day awareness. 

Every Day Is a New Day: Each day comes as a new gift to you, so treat it as such. View each day as a brand new promise to a beautiful life. It will become easier to live in the moment and not be flustered about past woes. 

Ask for Help: A quality way of being and maintaining the person you are as a parent is also by learning to not carry the load alone. Ask the people around you to pitch in and they should be willing to carry their load, too. Keeping family peace requires a team effort. 

Take the Bad Days in Stride: Sometimes the responsibilities on any given day can be overwhelmingly harsh. Take a few deep breaths and carry on with your day by simply knowing that this is part of what it means to experience a bad day. Don't harp on it, as they are all little speed bumps that we hit along the way in life.

Here Lives the Love: At the end of your week, you will surely be tired from the bustle and hustle. The weekend is a chance to recharge in a Zen-like way that involves your family. On the weekends, sit down as a family to meals that you all prepared together. Let everyone know how much you cherish them and that you will never trade your life for anything else. 

Click here to read the whole article written by Marva Soogrim for the Huffington Post.

Christmas Traditions Around the World

Christmas all over the world is celebrated on Christmas Day which may, or may not fall on the 25th of December. Most of the world uses the 'Gregorian Calendar' implemented by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Before that the 'Roman' or Julian Calendar was used (named after Julius Caesar).

The Gregorian calendar is more accurate than the Roman calendar which had too many days in a year! When the switch was made 10 days were lost, so that the day that followed the 4th October 1582 was 15th October 1582.

Many Orthodox and Coptic Churches still use the Julian Calendar and so celebrate Christmas on the 7th January (which is when December 25th would have been on the Julian calendar). In some part of the UK, January 6th is still called 'Old Christmas' as this would have been the day that Christmas would have celebrated on, if the calendar hadn't been changed.

Although all Christians celebrate Christmas, traditions and celebrations vary throughout the world.

Image taken from
​In Russia:
In the traditional Russian Christmas, special prayers are said and people fast, sometimes for 39 days, until January 6th Christmas Eve, when the first evening star in appears in the sky. Then begins a twelve course supper in honor of each of the twelve apostles - fish, beet soup or Borsch, cabbage stuffed with millet, cooked dried fruit and much more.

In Peru:
Nativity scenes with Retablos inside are very popular. When priests were first taken to traveling they would carry small altars around with them for festival days. These gradually developed into portable boxes with saints above the altar and scenes from everyday life below it. Now the retablos depict Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, with local people crowding around.

In Canada:
In Canada the traditional Christmas dinner is roast turkey with vegetables and sauces. For dessert it is rich, fruity Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. Mince pies, pastry cases filled with a mixture of chopped dried fruit. In the province of Quebec, people display Crèches or nativity scenes in their homes as the Christmas decorations. After attending midnight mass, families may be served tourtiere or pork pie. Another favorite food is Boulettes or small meatballs. A Christmas banquet is called a reveillon. Masked mummers are a Christmas tradition from Newfoundland.

​If you want to celebrate Christmas a little bit different this year, or if you want to start a new Christmas tradition, you may want to use the links below to know how is Christmas celebrated in other places. 

Teaching Children to Be Generous and Givers

Image obtained from

December is one of the best times of the year. As you can easily guess, the main reason is the holiday season.

December encompasses several important holidays, including the Christian and Jewish celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah. It also includes Kwanzaa which is a week long modern African-American and pan-African celebration of family, community and culture. In our house, we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas because my husband is Jewish and I am Catholic. We all enjoy the holidays and the time that we spend together.

The Holiday season is a wonderful time, particularly for our two boys who get presents, too many presents! Our kids receive presents from us, their grand parents and other relatives. So, when you do the numbers, our kids end getting many, too many presents!

Although as parents we all want big smiles on our kids during the holiday season, we also don't want to feel that we are spoiling them. We also don't want to go broke after the holidays. Don't get me wrong, like most parents, we're looking forward to seeing our children's excited faces as they tear into that special item they've been longing for. The problem is that when children get too many presents, they often stop enjoying playing with them and focus more on opening presents. 

I may appear a little bit old fashion or too traditional, but I  would sincerely prefer to see my kids forget a little bit about the presents, and focus more on the real meaning behind both Hanukkah and Christmas. 

Tips to Teach Children About Generosity and Values

My husband and I always take the time to explain our kids the stories behind both Hanukkah and Christmas. We also remind them that this time of the year gives us an excellent opportunity to be generous and appreciative of what we have in our lives. But, are there other things that we can do?

I did a little online search to find simple ideas or ways to teach children to be generous and focus less on the presents during the Holiday season. Here is what I found. 

Family Traditions: If you think your kids are too focused on gifts, Beverly Cathcart-Ross, a certified parent educator and founder of The Parenting Network suggests you emphasize the family traditions around the holiday season. It's important to establish family values around the holidays early in your children's lives, "because it's harder to go back." Before your holiday dinner, hold hands and have each person tell something for which they are thankful. 

Be a Model of Generosity: If you want your children to have the true holiday spirit, you need to display a good example of that spirit yourself. Model the spirit of generosity and giving that you would like to see in your children. If we want children to view the holidays as a time of giving and loving, then we must demonstrate giving and loving behavior in ways that they can recognize and understand.

Teach Children to be Generous and Givers: In the season of overconsumption, as the Holiday season is often called, it is essential that children learn to give back. Here are some ways to achieve this:

 - Ask children to help you select extra groceries to place in food boxes for the needy at food stores.

- Help your child chose a charity or cause that he/she is interested in and then get them involved. 

- Donate a turkey to a homeless shelter.

Visit a nursing home to sing carols.

Ask your children to help you wrap presents for those outside the family, so that they can learn that you believe in giving to others.

Invite people who are away from their families to share your holiday meal and traditions.

Encourage your children to call Grandma and Grandpa -- just to say, "I love you."

Adopt someone into your family who doesn't have any family.

Make sure your children send out thank you cards for gifts, parties, long-distance calls, and any small kindness.

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