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You’re Right! Life Changed, Now What To Do About the Holidays?

Sunday, 23. November 2014 5:30

Even with all its merriment, the holiday season can be an emotional rollercoaster for those of us who have experienced a recent life change. Some of us may face uncertainty about where, how and with whom to celebrate due to divorce, illness or a death in the family.iStock_000008261335_Small

It’s pretty easy to conjure up a mental vision of the perfect holiday, complete with loving, smiling faces, big family gatherings and joyful hearts.  And for many of us, that is just not the way it goes. Often it is the image of what we believe we can’t have that causes us to suffer.  We feel deprived, and we get stuck there.

So what to do?

Start by realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect holiday!  Drop the “shoulds” in your vocabulary.   Abandon the “it should be like this, or like that.”  Your holiday will be whatever it is, depending on your circumstances.

Next, try getting really clear about what you are feeling, what you value and what you want from the days you do have.

Here are a few questions to help you focus:

What are you longing for this holiday?

If you are struggling with this question because you can’t get the picture of how it used to be (or how it should be) out of your head, then start looking at it with a magnifying glass.  What was so great about the “olden days?”  Be specific.

For example, if a loved one has died (or left), there’s no way to replace him or her, but what did that person bring you? Was it laughter, comfort, ease?  What is the underlying need that was provided to you in that situation?  Appreciate that, mourn it and allow the longing for it to live in your heart.

And then, (perhaps after a good cry) since the lost loved one(s) can’t be there in real time, get creative. How else might you access comfort, laughter and ease for yourself (and maybe others) on this new holiday?

Your day may not look the way it used to, but if you can cook up some things that you feel good about, why does it matter? Avoiding  “compare despair “may just let you focus on what you do have, and allow you to access your gratitude.

What do the holidays mean to you?

When your situation changes, figuring out what’s important to you about the holidays can be very instructive.  My son and I faced this challenge last year.  We spent a sweet Christmas together hiking and cooking.

He admitted being a bit disappointed at first with the prospect of our day.  To him, holidays had always seemed to be about large family gatherings.   And, since we were far away from our relatives, (and I recently divorced), we weren’t able to replicate the old days, so we had to rethink it.

I shared with him, that to me, the end of year holidays are a time to slow down and appreciate all the love and friendship in  my life and to reconnect with friends.  It is also an opportunity  to take stock of what I have accomplished and what I still long to do.  And, while I often enjoyed the large gatherings, that was never the focal point for me.   That being said, now knowing his perspective, perhaps we could plan a larger celebration next year.

That’s not to say that what I value in my holiday is what anyone else should value. I just want to point out that if you know what makes your holiday meaningful, you have a better opportunity to take charge and create a holiday that comes closer to what you want it to be.

Here are a few ideas along those lines: If you enjoy giving, I am imagining there a million ways to donate time, energy and kindness to those less fortunate than you. That could make a beautiful holiday.  Or, maybe holidays are a great time for you to travel. Since little is happening at work, so why not see the places you keep meaning to visit?  Holiday weeks can also be a great time to catch up on all the projects you never seem to have time to complete during the year.  Or, maybe it’s simply a great time to rest.

In short, the holidays  take on the meaning that you give to them. What ever you choose, my hope is that it will be just right for you.


If you might enjoy some companionship  strategizing about your how to improve your holidays, send me an e-mail at and let’s chat!


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Because Each of Us Matters

Tuesday, 19. November 2013 15:02

Swallowtail Butterfly share flowersHave you ever thought about who makes up your “we”? Is it your family, your partner, your political party, or your work associates?  Or maybe it’s the human race, or all the creatures of the earth?  Perhaps your answer changes depending on the issue at stake.

The way you navigate between the needs of I, you and we in your life can be tricky. How do you meet your needs and the needs of others when they compete? For example, if your “I “ almost always comes second to your service to others in your life, how does that feel for you?  Alternatively, how does it feel if you almost always seek to meet your own needs before considering the needs of others?

Say these definitions to yourself:

Loving only you is self-less;

Loving only me is selfish and

Loving me and you is self–full.

And these:

Each of us is responsible for meeting our own needs; and

Your needs and my needs matter equally, not more or less.

How was that for you?

I find it empowering to know that our needs matter equally and that I can trust you to take care of yourself. It means I can care about others (you and we) in my life without abandoning me. It enhances my respect for both of us.

I can always choose to consider our needs together in my solution set.  That’s not an obligation, it’s a choice, and that encourages me to discover creative solutions that solve problems in ways that benefit more of us.

In this context, one of my favorite questions is this:

“What choices bring more love and abundance to me, to you and to us?”

Finding your way to meet the needs of I, with you and we, may fill a lifetime.  Hopefully, each of us seeks a balance that not only nurtures us, but also allows us to contribute to our community and to our world in meaningful ways.   Because each of us matters – and how we live this consciousness makes all the difference.




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Reconciliation and Healing

Monday, 2. September 2013 13:01

I so loved this post, entitled Reconciliation by blogger and yogi Jennifer Pastiloff. I wanted to share (what was for me) the most resonant piece of the essay.

How does the heart reconcile? Does it?

We move on. We get up and go and come home and pour a glass of wine or not, but we never fully get over things. What does getting over even mean? It sounds like some kind of vengeful expression that they would make a movie out of like Die Hard. Getting Over It Part 7.

I am going to get one over on you. I am getting over. It suggests that there is something underfoot, something to be trampled on and overcome.

My heart does not want to overcome or trample on my losses but rather assimilate them into my life so I can function like a “normal” adult with responsibilities and schedules. Right now, I stay in pajamas and write unless I have to go and teach, and I worry about things like having a girl because how do you even braid hair? I worry about having children. Period.

How do you make a diorama? How do you do algebra? What if I don’t want to watch their soccer practice? 

What is a normal adult? Is there such a thing?

I am a woman of a certain age. (Yes, yes, in comparison, I may be very young. I am sure some of you reading are rolling your eyes and saying, “Girl, you are so young.”) Not in baby-making years. I am not at all. Trust me on this. I am young at heart and maybe young looking, but when it comes to ovaries and eggs, I am meh at best.

Do I need to reconcile all my losses before I bring life into the world? Do I need to do the proverbial getting my sh*t together before I make a move?

(What do I do? Who do I ask?)

I have always fantasized about having someone who would give me answers, which is why it was especially devastating that my father died so young because, although I am sure his answers would be fifty percent bullshit, I would take them as The Word, happily and without question. (I would!)

Here I am a teacher and a leader, and I am still searching for someone to tell me what to do.

As I have written about before, one of the worst things for me is deciding what to eat. Recently, in Bali, I went out to eat with someone who takes my yoga classes, and I couldn’t decide what I wanted. I hemmed and hawed and changed my order. I fretted.

She said something to the effect of I have never seen that side of you.

What side? The pressure I feel to be somebody that always inspires, that always knows what to do and what to order and what to eat. I don’t even know if I want a baby, and I am in my late thirties.

So yes, there is this side of me. The side of me that doesn’t know. Who has lost a lot. Who has anxiety, still, yes. Who, sometimes, doesn’t leave her house and who would prefer to write than do or teach yoga and who tends to take things too personally and drinks too much coffee and gets stuck in the past and novels, too.

I have reconciled those things for the most part (some I’d like to keep). But the questions are looming.

I am not looking for answers necessarily.

I think life exists in the questions.

I am looking to never stop asking the questions. To always look and uncover and dig and smell and retrieve and throw back. If I stop asking the questions, I die.

It may take a while for my body to die, but my mind and soul and all other parts of me will wither away immediately if the questions stop. The heart can never reconcile all of it until it stops beating.

I think that is why that line chokes me up. I know the truth behind it.

How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses? It doesn’t.

Some turn to legend, some to fact, some to dust, and, the rest, well, the rest you bury inside of you and reach for it when you are drowning, knowing it will be there. And it will.

Visit Jennifer’s amazing site here:  To read the post  in its entirety, click here.  




Category:Relationships, Self Actualization, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Wellness | Comment (0) | Author:

How To Transform Conflict Into Opportunity

Tuesday, 27. August 2013 21:34

Join us for a Free Teleseminar…

Does the idea of conflict cause you to freeze up or feel anxious? Do you avoid conflict as a result and sell yourself short? Or, do you get so angry and frustrated that you behave in ways you wish you hadn’t?

Imagine how much more flow you might experience if you could handle conflict with calm and ease.

If this sounds appealing to you, our complimentary Transforming Conflict into Opportunity Intro teleseminar will help you to develop the skill to handle difficult situations effectively and with greater confidence.

Register here  for the free 60-Minute Teleseminar and get a recording if you can’t make it to the live session on September 4.

Here’s our little secret, the ability to manage conflict better lives within all of us.  You can learn to access your true self and effectively communicate during challenging times.

To introduce you to how to better solve life’s problems using our collaborative process of internal and external communication, we are offering a complimentary 60 minute teleseminar on September 4th at 4 PM eastern.  In this teleseminar you will learn to identify the basic “keys” to transforming conflict.  FREE REGISTRATION

Meet Your Coaches, Pam and Catherine

Pam Refling
Coach, Mediator, Communication Specialist

Pam Refling became interested in communication and the effects the words we use have on either creating or resolving conflict, after studying Nonviolent Communication with Marshall Rosenberg in 2006. Since  2008, she has mediated for the Community Mediation Center in Bozeman, MT. In 2013 she  became a trainer in the Mediate Your Life program in Boston, MA.  Pam has a mediation, communication and coaching practice, Communication Cues, in Bozeman, MT.

Catherine Saar Career, Wellness and Communication Coach

Catherine Saar
Career, Wellness and Communication Coach

Catherine Saar, founder of The Project Coach, has over over twenty years of experience delivering results as a coach and as a collaborative business leader in highly confrontational settings. Her practice supports business and artistic professionals in their journey to reduce stress, find clarity and to create a life they dream of.  Catherine received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University in Economics and Communication and her MBA from UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management. More

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What I Know

Friday, 4. May 2012 17:43

What I know is that there comes a time in your life where you have to do what is right for you, even if it is difficult and you will disappoint others.

What I know is that disappointing yourself is not a good practice; if you do it often enough, it can turn into a poisonous resentment and anger – toward yourself and toward others.

What I know is that you can love someone and decide that the relationship in its current form is not healthy or good for you and that you can still love that person – even after the relationship gets redefined.

What I know is that it’s not your job to make other people happy.  Your job is to be you.

What I know is that if you love someone, but you don’t know how to love them in a way that they understand or want to be loved, then your love may only serve you, not them – and that can be frustrating for everyone.

What I know is that having equanimity when things get tough doesn’t mean you won’t ride a roller coaster of fear, anxiety, anger, hope and sadness.  It just means that you can deal with the present moment more calmly, because you have faith that this too shall pass.

What I know is that we each experience grief in our own way and that there is no easy path through it. One must experience it, acknowledge it, and honor it and – eventually, let it subside, when it has done its work, and you, yours.

What I know is that the sun will rise over the horizon tomorrow and that I am blessed everyday that I have the privilege of witnessing it.

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Letting Go of Your Emotional Trigger

Monday, 23. April 2012 14:34

What triggers you?  Is there an annoying question from a friend or family member that regularly gets you pissed off?   Maybe it’s “Why haven’t you found a job yet?” or “When are you getting married?” It’s a comment or a question that makes you feel unseen, misunderstood or criticized for not being good enough.

Why is this situation so irritating – and why won’t that annoying question go away? The key is that it’s how you feel about yourself that matters. When you have confidence in yourself, you won’t be bothered by what others say, because it won’t matter.   In fact, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you – only what you think of you.

Perhaps that sounds easier said than done.  It all becomes less stressful when you have nothing to prove – especially to yourself.   Suddenly, the trigger becomes a gift because it informs you about your fears and insecurities.  Once you develop awareness of yourself, you can change.  You can handle whatever needs to be addressed.

Here’s a process that you can try:

  • First, identify your trigger(s).  What is it and who asks it?  What does it mean to you?
  • What is your internal answer to the question? Where do you feel it in your body? What negative thoughts does it bring up for you? The questions you hear from others often reflect the voice of your own inner critic; the negative things you say to yourself inside your head so frequently, you barely notice.  Hear them now.  Get to know them. Shake them out of the trees and question them.  Are they true or are you making false assumptions and engaging in unproductive self-flagellation?
  • Reflect.  How would you answer your difficult question if you had nothing to prove to yourself, much less anyone else?   What is the reason that you haven’t gotten a job, or that you haven’t gotten married?  What is true for you?  What do you want and how might you get it? This is not about beating yourself up.  This is about assessing what is really going on for you so you can take inspired action to change your situation or to adjust your thinking.
  • Make a plan.  How might you handle a situation that is causing you to self-criticize?  Do you need to have an honest discussion in your relationship?  Do you need to try a different approach to a problem? Should you seek professional help, like a therapist, a career counselor or some other resource that can help you break a pattern that is keeping you from creating the life you desire?

Once you know how you feel, you can start to handle your issue, and the confidence will come. You’ll have taken the first step toward understanding that you have nothing to prove.  You’ve done the work.  Although things may be difficult, you know where you are going and you know why.   Suddenly, all you have to do is gracefully manage the question next time it comes up.   Chances are, this will become easier as the trigger loses some of its sting.

So next time your Aunt Hilda asks you that awful question for the umpteenth time, recognize that she may not be able to hear what you say.  Perhaps she is simply mirroring her own fears and concerns.  Recognize that that is about her, not about you.  And with that knowledge, maybe you can give your Aunt a hug and a smile, tell her not to worry, and then politely change the subject.

More about Me…

I’m a life and career coach helping professionals and artists reduce stress in their lives and to achieve their dreams.  If you have a situation or a problem that is causing you to feel like you have cobwebs in your brain, contact me at for a complimentary 30-minute consultation, and get started back to clarity.  And, you can get more information at

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Love – It’s Not All Hearts and Flowers

Thursday, 9. February 2012 19:26

Guess what? The “seven year itch” isn’t just a myth!   Renowned authors and TV personalities, Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen say there is a biological component to love!  In summary, when we fall in love, our emotions trigger hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. For the first four years of a love relationship, we get a dosage of hormones that helps keep us close and bonding.  However, somewhere between five to seven years, these chemical levels drop off.  After that, couples really need to work to keep the love and sex fresh.  Check out the Roizen-Oz video The Biology of Attraction to learn more practical tips to keep the love light glowing.

Another terrific resource, Dr. John Gottman, researcher, author and Ph.D. psychologist known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis, wrote a book called The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work  that suggest  how to keep the marriage going during the tough times. Although I admit I haven’t read the book, I summarized a terrific list from his website:

  • Seek help early. The average couple waits six years before seeking help for marital problems (and keep in mind, half of all marriages that end do so in the first seven years). This means the average couple lives with unhappiness for far too long.
  • Edit yourself. Couples who avoid saying every critical thought when discussing touchy topics are consistently the happiest.
  • Soften your “start-up.” Bring up problems gently and without blame. Arguments first “start-up” because a spouse sometimes escalates the conflict from the get-go by making a critical or contemptuous remark in a confrontational tone.
  • Accept influence. Because research shows women are already well-practiced at accepting influence from men, and a true partnership only occurs when a husband can do so as well.  A marriage succeeds to the extent that the husband can accept influence from his wife. A husband’s ability to be influenced by his wife (rather than vice-versa) is crucial.
  • Have high standards. The most successful couples are those who, even as newlyweds, refused to accept hurtful behavior from one another. Happy couples have high standards for each other. The lower the level of tolerance for bad behavior in the beginning of a relationship, the happier the couple is down the road.
  • Learn to repair and exit the argument. Successful couples know how to exit an argument. Successful repair and exit include: changing the topic to something completely unrelated; using humor; stroking your partner with a caring remark (“I understand that this is hard for you”); making it clear you’re on common ground (“This is our problem”); backing down; and, in general, offering signs of appreciation for your partner and his or her feelings along the way (“I really appreciate and want to thank you for.…”). If an argument gets too heated, take a 20-minute break, and agree to approach the topic again when you are both calm.
  • Focus on the bright side. In a happy marriage, while discussing problems, couples make at least five times as many positive statements to and about each other and their relationship as negative ones.  A good marriage must have a rich climate of positivity.

Last but not least, Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, psychotherapist, social scientist, and educator in Westport CT  posted a blog entry called Ten Elements of Effective Relationships. His post is worth a look, and for me, his conclusion says it all:

 ”Spend time together, speak your truths, respect each other, take care of each other, laugh with — and at — one another…”

Love to hear what has worked for you!

P.S.  In honor of full disclosure,  I wrote this post about a year ago, but  it seemed worth repeating! 

Category:Love & Sex, Relationships | Comments (2) | Author:

To Make Peace After Divorce, Watch Your Language

Thursday, 19. January 2012 0:52

Author Judy Osborne

You’re done.  Either you’re getting a divorce, or you already have one.  You want nothing to do with your ex.  But, oops, you have kids.  You realize that although you have left your marriage, you still want to be a good parent. According to author Judy Osborne, you can do both.  In her book, Wisdom for Separated Parents, she demonstrates that there are ways to “rearrange” relationships (post separation) to benefit the children.

After thirty years as a marriage and family therapist and personally experienced with divorce, Osborne shares that the use of language is key to peacemaking. Language, she says, shapes our thinking. Osborne notes that with so many evolving family forms, including blended families and same-sex parents, we often find that language has not adequately kept pace with reality – so new descriptors are required.

Specifically, Osborne writes, “Divorce is not only a single legal event but also a psychological chain of relocation, shifting relationships and other changes.” “Rearranging” then is a more accurate descriptor of the process. Citing her own family as an example, she characterizes it as one that is rearranged, not as one that is ‘broken’.

By carefully choosing our words, Osborne suggests divorced parents can keep their relationships with children in a healthier balance, creating connection rather than strife.  Using words like untangling, kin, and co-parenting helps create a more open, positive mindset than using words with more of a negative connotation.  Here’s a short podcast where Osborne not only shares a few stories about the value of making peace but also tips on how to do it.

To be sure, “Wisdom for Separated Parents, Rearranging around the Children to Keep Kinship Strong” is a book that delivers knowledge well beyond language tips.  Osborne’s insights are peppered with fascinating personal stories of sadness, insight and joy as she relates her findings from more than 50 interviews with men and women who have been separated for at least 10 years.  Check out the book and her website at www.wisdom­forseparat­edparents.­com.

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Time to Change, or Let It Go?

Tuesday, 29. November 2011 19:00

Time to Change?

I recently read some great advice by consultant and author Deborah Shane.   She said, “A thorough review of how relevant all of your products and services are to your customer, the market and how they are performing and working is essential. If something isn’t working be realistic about how you can improve it, reinvent it or let go of it.”

Shane’s thought is not only great advice for business, but also for life.  Why waste time on things that aren’t working anymore?  In Martha Beck “coaching speak”, we say if you can’t better it or barter it (i.e. trade it for something better), then why not bag it?

Sometimes, you just have to let things go when they are no longer useful to make room in your life (and your heart) for something better.  What habit, relationship or situation is actually draining your energy in a nonproductive way?  What’s one small step can you take today to make it better?

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Three Tips for Getting Through Thanksgiving Conflict

Thursday, 17. November 2011 19:03

A while back, a NY Times article about food, kin and tension at Thanksgiving by TARA PARKER-POPE caught my eye.  Pope shares several tales of woe and some insights, including the following:

“As families gather around the country this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, many of them are bracing for the intense emotions of the holiday meal. The combination of food and family often brings out longstanding tensions, criticism and battles for control. Simple issues like cooking with butter or asking for seconds are fraught with family conflict and commentary.”

Sadly, I’ve sat at that table of criticism and felt vulnerable and abused.  So what to do if this sounds like your upcoming blessed event?  Three little ideas to keep in your pocket to help get you through the holiday:

1) Create a sense of calm by breathing deeply. Notice that when you breathe in and out for four counts, three or four times in a row, it is hard to be tense.  Find the place of deep relaxation within you through by focusing on your breath.  You know it’s there.  When things get testy, get relaxed.  Take a breathing break.  Maybe the snide remark won’t mean so much to you.

2) Play the grateful game.  Challenge yourself to be grateful for everything for the day. Feel grateful that you have a family and/or friends to share Thanksgiving with, even if they are annoying.  Take a moment to feel grateful for every mouthful of food you consume. Chew slowly, taste every bite.  And, if someone says something snide, you can respond from a grateful place, and maybe invite them to participate.

Here’s a for instance: What if you hear, “Don’t you think you’ve eaten enough dessert Catherine?”  One example of a grateful response you could use (but only if you believe it) is, “I am so grateful that you care about me Aunt Rita and that I’m able to spend this time with you.  In fact, I am really enjoying every single bite of this delicious dessert.”  You can then move on, or ask Aunt Rita, “What are you grateful for today?”

3) Give yourself permission to do whatever is most loving for you.  Allow yourself to take charge of your own life for this one day. (Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that every day?)  Love and accept whatever choices you make – as long as you are not purposefully seeking to cause pain to yourself or someone else.  Call in sick if you really can’t face the gang, or allow yourself to eat a huge portion of pie and more – if it makes you happy.   If guilt rears its ugly head – remember that you lovingly chose your actions to nurture yourself. If you are truly at peace with your choices, then what others say won’t matter much.

Read the archived NY Times article here:

So tell us, what are your tips for Thanksgiving?

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