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My Sister Makes Me Smile

posted 4 May 2015, 01:49 by Tim Elliston   [ updated 13 May 2015, 07:48 ]

By Gayle Siler

I love spending time with my sister. When we were kids we use to laugh so hard our stomachs hurt. We are still like that. We live in different states, but it all comes alive again when were together.

Last December 2012 we both went on a cruise with our husbands. It was a blast. I earned the nickname "Starfish" from my sister. Just clowning around a few nights on the cruise we poised for some pictures. We both love pictures and had a blast taking them.

The next day we went to look at the pictures from the night before. I told my sister, gosh something looks odd what is it? She said, I don't know. Then it came to me. I told my sister look at my hands, they look like starfish. We fell to the floor laughing uncontrollably!

After pealing ourselves off the floor, we searched for the other ones.... well the next picture had the "starfish" hands too!!! We fell to the floor again laughing. By this time we were drawing attention from the staff. Here we are....

Here's the best one of all coming up. When my sister saw this one....she was hysterical. She said, after her gut busting I am... over here, the lonely starfish hiding! Then I lost control laughing.

She bought me a starfish charm for my bracelet. I hope this story made you smile and if you have a sister, you are blessed like I am.

Gayle Siler

100 Reasons I Love You

posted 30 Apr 2015, 06:47 by Tim Elliston   [ updated 13 May 2015, 10:49 ]

By Aimee DuFresne

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing with you a romantic adventure I shared with my late husband Ben from my book Sunrise to Sunset, due out later this year. This was for his birthday and not Valentine’s Day, but it’s romantic all the same and perhaps will inspire some creativity to surprise your Valentine this year.

August 2002:

How do you top the birthday surprise of being taken on a first-class romantic trip to the place you grew up dreaming about going? Moreover, do it on an intern’s budget?

A surprise birthday trip to Paris. The Eiffel Tower is behind us hiding in the clouds.

I want to make Ben’s birthday as special as he made mine. Although clueless about how I am going to do this. We discussed our finances, which currently do not include another trip on our tight budget. I must be creative.

Ben is a romantic and I love him. How can I tell him I love him creatively and romantically? I scour the Internet for ideas. Then I find it. Blow up 100 balloons and fill each one with a message showing how much I love him.

This will be fun. I buy the balloons and think about what to add to them. In one I add a receipt from the first hotel we stayed at together. Other small tokens we have kept thus far in our relationship fill a few others. What next? I come up with the perfect solution – magnetic poetry! I head to Waterstone’s with my colleague Sarah, who is also a big romantic and loves the idea. “OK, what have we got here,” she says looking at the different types of romantic poetry. “Places Romance. Erotica.” She picks up a box of the erotica version and I look over her shoulder. We read the examples of included words and both turn beet red. “OK, maybe not erotica.” she says and fumbles the box back on the shelf. “How about romance?” A little more apprehensively, we look at the examples. They are perfect. “This is going to be great!”, Sarah exclaims. I hope I can pull it off and he likes it.

So, the task is simple. Write just under 100 poems using the romantic magnetic poetry words. Place in 100 balloons and blow up said balloons. Oh, and don’t let the man you are living with know or see any of what you are doing. This has to be a surprise.

We live in a small 2 bedroom flat, hiding 100 balloons is a little tricky, to say the least. Luckily, Ben, unlike myself, is not nosy or looking to uncover secrets. When I tell him he cannot go into our spare room for one month before his birthday due to a large surprise waiting for him there, he obliges without question. He’s excited for the surprise and doesn’t want to spoil it.

Meanwhile, I begin writing poems using the magnets and carefully place one poem in each balloon before blowing it up. This is a little more time-consuming than expected.

The big day is nearing and I have 100 filled balloons taking up a large portion of our small second bedroom. All is well. I am ready. Then a small wrench is thrown in the works.

“Mind if Pauline spends the night?” Ben asks casually during dinner one night. “Her sister is in the hospital in London so I thought she could stay here so it’s easier for her to travel there.”

Of course this is fine but what to do with 100 filled balloons? There is hardly room to walk into the room now, much less sleep and my mind races to find the balloons a new home.

“Sure she can stay. I just need to move your birthday surprise.”

I send Ben out to the store and frantically move 100 balloons from our tiny spare room and jam them into the small closet space in our main bedroom. I remove some clothes so they can all fit and, after some creative maneuvering, I am finally able to close the closet door just as I hear Ben’s key turn in the lock. I tell him he can no longer look in the closet or open it under any circumstances. He agrees and our guest comes and goes without Ben sneaking a peek in the closet. Once the room is again free, I transfer the balloons back when Ben isn’t home so he can retrieve his suits and shirts from our closet himself in the days leading up to his birthday.

The big day arrives and it’s time to move the balloons one final time. I banish Ben to the bedroom as I transfer the balloons to the living room. Pushing together our two love couches, I create an overflowing balloon pit and instruct Ben to enter once he hears the music playing. Balloons are EVERYWHERE, thank God for small spaces! Our living room has transformed into a bright multi-colored playground.

I press PLAY on our stereo and 50 Cent starts rapping, ‘Hey Shorty, it’s your birthday. We gonna party like it’s your birthday.’ Ben enters the room and the look on his face is priceless. I immediately know he loves it as much as I loved Paris. When I tell him each balloon is filled with a reason I love him he loves it even more. He can’t believe I fit all the balloons in the closet. He jumps into the ball pit. Then we hold hands and both run and jump into the ball pit. We land in the middle of the two couches and they separate immediately, with us landing on the floor laughing in hysterics. We set up the camera and start taking pics to capture the moment. At one point a balloon escapes and floats out the window. Ben runs downstairs and out of the building to retrieve it. He pops a few balloons and loves putting together the poems on our fridge.

We head out to London and have a champagne picnic in the park before heading back to play more in the balloons. Jumping into the balloon pit. Can you spot Ben’s legs? Sometimes, it really is the simple things in life that are the most magical.

Sunrise to Sunset is due to be released mid-2013. Stay tuned for more updates and sample chapters! Thanks so much for reading!

Aimee DuFresne

I'm Perfect

posted 30 Apr 2015, 06:37 by Tim Elliston   [ updated 13 May 2015, 10:50 ]

By Brie Mathers

I have a t-shirt that I wear that reads I'm perfect across my chest. I love the double entendre. To me it's saying To be imperfect is to be perfect.

It turns perfection on its head and shakes it out kind of like an old boyfriend used to do with me whenever I got obsessed with how I look.

He would shake me upside down until I got my giggles on every time because he loved me for who I am and wanted to dump any other false notions I might have out of my brain. He was a great teacher for me.

Self-acceptance is not only a loving message in this day and age, it's a smart one. Hating our bodies and obsessing about our looks eats up a significant amount of our energy and attention. This renders our intelligence contracted up in rote, conditioned patterns of behaviour that not only cause us to suffer, but inhibit and impede us from blooming our deeply needed voices into the world. Only when I reconciled the crappy conversation I was having with my body could I open and offer my panache to the world. Here's my story. Is it time for you to re-write yours?

My story has been written. I know hunger. I know the insidious voice that declares war on the body. I have lived the cold nights beneath a thousand useless blankets. I too once beat the life out of my body at my own hand, pulled the hair from my head and still felt that the punishment lacked severity. I too whipped the streets with my feet a thousand lashes over, sweat spraying, heart caving, voice playing. I too lived the guilty life – never good enough, fast enough, smart enough, nice enough. Never thin enough. Never enough.

The first time I felt fat I was four in the bathtub with my big sister, already skinnier.

The next time I was six. It was before ballet practice. I thought I looked fat in my leotard. When my first grade teacher, the adored Miss Vanderkran asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I said "light as a feather."

Don't even get me started about age 11, the year both my winter coat and snowsuit left me feeling like the Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters.

But it wasn't until I was fifteen and had just won the second largest track meet in North America for my division that I decided to do something about this fat problem.

Yo-yo dieting began; the voice of self-loathing was the hand that yanked that yo-yo up and down. Mostly down. My heart rate plummeted to 36 beats/minute. The Canadian Olympic track and field coach took me out for lunch to get me 'back in the game.' I was on a different track, playing a different game in a different field. Destination: emaciation.

Then came therapy. Freedom with food may have given my organs what they needed to keep on breathing but it couldn't touch the tyranny of image. While I promise here and now to stand up tall and command a beauty re-defined – deeper, subtler, softer, more diverse, truer – I would be lying to not admit that to arrive in this place I have over and over been swept off my feet by the glossy knight of image. Even if I know that all that glitters is not gold.

I was in a flurry of long-term health consequences that had resulted from my self-imposed starvation. When the floodgates opened it was donuts and cookies and chocolate bars all in the name of being free with food, all the way leaving me with a wicked yeast infection that lasted years, yes years, no I still can't eat a piece of chocolate cake without a flare-up and it has been one hell of a decade-long quest to put my health back together.

My search was for truth. I resisted anti-depressants and have all along been committed to the road less travelled, despite the overwhelming lows I have endured. It was during a horrific bout of homeopathy, that I finally broke down and began practicing Zen. That's right. During a period of residential training in a Soto Zen monastery it was 4:30 am mornings for me as I sat on the four-inch-high cushion and stared down a white wall. I remember crying to my teacher as the pain coursed through the muscle beside my collarbone. She smoothly responded by clearly telling me to sit up straight and feel the breath and the body, her eyes twinkling. Somehow, when I left the interview I felt as light as a feather.

Light as a feather. Isn't that what I was really after all along? Turned out that mindfulness practice was the best gift I've ever been given. Why? I got over myself. I wasn't lighter physically. I was heavier than I had ever been. But I had recognized that the only reconciling of the crappy conversation I was having with my body was to see that thoughts and feelings, no matter what they are – and even bodies, no matter how they are – come and go. Meaning is created, ideals invented. In the case of our current socio-economic climate to support the interests of the beauty, dieting, and cosmetic surgery industry. Our only constant amidst the insanity is the awareness in which it all arises.

What I learned: the pursuit of being any different than how nature would have me was a colossal waste of energy. It didn't work. It made me miserable. It shrank my passion and my world. My vision is to offer other girls and women a skill set that enables them to shirk off all that crazy pressure and recognize the beauty of reality: their bodies as they are. We can have way more fun here if we do!

  • Let yourself be seen. Trust yourself. Your path is unique. 
  • Have more fun. Take your thoughts and feelings less seriously. There are no rules.
  • Pay more attention to the quality of what you put into your body than you do clothes you put on your body. Notice how you respond emotionally in the 24 hours after eating. In order to trust your gut, you've got to learn how to take care of it.
  • Remember always: I Am Lovable and Capable. The word ‘heart’ is derived from the Latin root 'coeur' meaning courage. Be vulnerable and bold.
  • Know that what's best for your body is probably different than anyone else.
  • Get your groove on.
  • Meditate.
  • Practice gratitude. Give your energy to life-affirming thoughts. Become your own best friend.
  • Feel your breath. It could be your last. Anything can happen. Start with now.
Brie Mathers

I didn't let limiting labels define me

posted 9 Nov 2014, 07:52 by Tim Elliston   [ updated 13 May 2015, 10:53 ]

By Josephine Bila

My name is Josephine Bila. I’m here to tell you that you can achieve anything you want in life.

Other people may try to define you and tell you who you are or what you can’t do. Don’t be afraid not to listen.

If you resonate with any of the negative connotations or challenges represented in labels that once defined me, let it be known that you can push through them.

At the age of 6 months, my parents were told that I would not live into my teenage years, because I was born with a rare incurable genetic illness. From my early childhood years through my teen years, I missed many days of school in order to go to the hospital to receive medical treatment. My grades suffered as a result. Regardless of the internal and external battles I faced daily, I always pushed myself to keep going.

Unfortunately, no matter how tenacious I was, teachers and guidance counselors constantly told me that I would never make it through college. They promised that I would fail as an adult. The ignorance and cruelty displayed to me was immeasurable, but those teachers, peers and guidance counselors gave me something no one else could: absolute drive and determination to see them wrong. Their words helped me establish a forward momentum in achievement that I now want to share with others.

I graduated with honors and received a Bachelor of Psychology with Minor in Biology from Dowling College in 1998. I then received a Master of Social Work degree from New York University in 2000. After experiencing the heaviness of working as a child therapist, I realized I needed a lighter job. Upon graduation, I taught myself HTML and basic Web design and changed my career to work in Website Production. I then turned to the entertainment industry and have since been repeatedly chosen over hundreds of competing applicants to work for some of the most beloved world-renown Fortune 500 entertainment companies.

Sometimes we need a little help to find inner peace and Truth when life seems to constantly present us with internal and external battles.

If you dream it, you can achieve it. No matter what anyone has told you in the past or how much self-doubt you have.

We all live fast lives, so it’s easy to get out of sync with our mind/body consciousness. My survival depends on being highly attuned to the inner workings of my mind/body dialogue, so my knowledge of the subject runs deep.

When you learn how to listen to your body, you learn how to release negative emotions that appear in the body as stress, anxiety, depression and/or anger.

Negative emotions live inside of the body when the mind contains unresolved negative thoughts. Understanding how your negative thoughts are manifesting an unconscious unhappy world inside of your body, is key to finding your personal power and inner strength. Live your best life.

Josephine Bila

Every Great Dream Begins with a Dreamer

posted 9 Nov 2014, 07:27 by Tim Elliston   [ updated 8 May 2015, 02:04 ]

As a little kid I liked to dream—big, whether it was believing my red-Huffy bicycle would one day turn into a Transformer or convincing myself that as an adult I’d be spending much of my time in Hollywood hosting “The Price is Right.” As I said, I liked to dream big. I still do sometimes.

If we think back to our childhood, we all can remember a time when our dreams didn’t seem that far away from us.

I remember spending countless hours in my basement pretending I was a rock star on my make believe stage. There I’d be holding my microphone (nothing more than the cardboard tube from the paper towel roll) belting out song after song from a collection of 45’s.

Truthfully I never really did sing as much as I bounced around like other rockers I saw on television. Yet I still believed there was always a chance that one day I’d be singing on stage with the best of them.

Well, puberty fixed that for me. And while my wife believes my voice isn’t half bad, I couldn’t really carry a tune if it had handles on it. Though I still like to pretend when I sing along with the car radio—windows closed of course.

Whether you’re a kid or an adult I guess there’s never really a shortage of big dreams in this world. Why should there be?

I mean what’s the harm for a young ball player to dream that one day he’ll hit the most home runs of any major league baseball player or the high school actress who fantasizes about having her name on a Broadway marquee?

And what about the frustrated adult who dreams of a career that inspires their heart and soul rather than simply pays their bills?

Woodrow T. Wilson once said “We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers. They see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter’s evening. Some of us let these great dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true.”

Sadly, we all begin to see the world for what it is as we go from dependent child to independent adult. The dreams we once had get crushed by life’s realities and unplanned circumstances.

I recently overheard a conversation from a group of middle agers who felt they were too old to have hopes and dreams anymore. That dreams were for kids who still believed in fairy tales and Santa Claus.

It dawned on me that this small group of adults was echoing sentiments probably felt by many, and certainly attributing to the pessimistic attitude we’ve adopted today.

Believe me, I understand how life can be daunting at times—unfair and cruel even. Life could be compared to the Olympics—diversified in its participants and never lacking in its challenges.

Going for the gold is not always easy when the competition of everyday life can cause even the most motivated competitors to give up on their dreams.

Everyone plays, some give up before ever starting, and others will spend a lifetime trying to succeed.
But the opportunity exists for all of us to claim victory.

Sometimes I’m amazed that I’ll be 37 years old this year. There are times I sit back and think of all the things I thought I’d have accomplished by now, which does nothing but put me in a funk for the rest of the day.

But then my wife, whom I’ve been honoured to be married to for the last ten years, reminds me of all the blessings I have been given. Dreams that have actually come to fruition and yet are so often overlooked.

For me I’ve had the good fortune to work on two Off-Broadway productions, I’ve won awards for my song writing, screen writing, and graphic design work, for almost 10 years I had my own newspaper column and found unconditional love with a woman I never thought I deserved.

They all were dreams fulfilled and they should never be forgotten.

I’ve had some successes in my life, but I thought at this age I’d be further along in my career, both financially and professionally, have a few published novels under my belt, and maybe even a Grammy Award winning song or Oscar Nominated screenplay.

Yes they’re still dreams I guess and there’s no reason I shouldn’t keep on hoping and dreaming that someday they just might come true, just as the others did.

That’s the thing about dreams—they never expire unless you let them.

Life can be a continual challenge filled with unforeseen events we struggle to navigate through—no one is arguing that point. But the road can be made a little easier if you continue to foster the idea that dreams still beat in your heart.
Many times they’re buried under a sea of responsibilities and duties we frequently clutter our lives with, but they’re still there nonetheless.

Maybe it’s time to simplify your life, to take a look in the mirror and remember what it was like to hope and dream for the future. Ask yourself, “is there anything I can do right now?” Maybe it’s joining a local theatre group, an amateur sports league, taking a cooking class or even enrolling on a dating site.

Our dreams might seem big at times, but the utter pleasure we receive by fulfilling them might be closer than we think.
No one can predict our fate, regardless of the fictitious picture we create in our heads. So why not think positively and continue to hope and dream with the childlike naivety we all abandoned so many years ago?

See if there are ways to make your dreams a reality, even on a much smaller scale. Believe me the personal accomplishment is worth more than the accolades.

As Harriet Tubman said “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars—to change the world.”

When things go wrong you can thrive, not just survive

posted 8 Nov 2014, 13:12 by Tim Elliston   [ updated 8 May 2015, 01:47 ]

 My story of how my life changed for the better after an accident. By Louise Jensen.

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness”.  James Thurber.

Ever thought you had achieved everything you wanted to?  I did.  
My teens had passed in a blur of self-loathing regarding my body (tape measure, thighs and many tears; need I say more)?

I stumbled through my twenties not exactly sure what I wanted to do, but never feeling quite good enough, for what I didn’t know, but surely I should be better?  

By my thirties though I had settled into a career of holistic therapy, had three happy, healthy children, great friends and a beautiful house in a village environment.

What could possibly go wrong?  Umm quite a lot as it happens.  Somebody crashed into the back of my car and in seconds my seemingly perfect life unravelled.

Although I was in too much pain to stand or walk unaided it never actually crossed my mind that could now be my permanent state.  However, after numerous tests, x-rays and MRI scans when my consultant uttered the words “I am sorry there is nothing we can do for you”, I felt such a huge blind panic I could literally feel me retreating inside of myself and that’s where I intended to stay.  

It isn’t hard to be invisible in a wheelchair, I felt like nobody saw me anymore but then I didn’t know who I wanted them to see.  All the words I thought defined me like dog walker, Kinesiologist, runner, kick boxer no longer applied and I didn’t know who I was.

If  I was popping into a shop I could make do with crutches but I was countlessly asked “have you hurt your foot?” and had to reply “no I am disabled”.  People were embarrassed at my answer and their response made me ashamed of myself.  I became more and more insular until there was virtually nothing of me left.

I constantly questioned who I was and what was the point of, well, me?  I missed the person I had been.  The only time I came out of living in the past, wishing I was still there, was to feel total blind panic about the future and what would happen to me.

When I was at my lowest I came across the story of The Starfish Thrower which was a pivotal turning point for me.  For those of you who don’t know it; a boy is walking along the beach when he stumbles across thousands of starfish that have been washed up.  He starts to pick them up and throw them back in.  A man approaches him and says “son don’t bother, there are too many, you won’t make a difference”.  The boy picks up another, throws it back in and says “I made a difference to that one”.  

I read this and thought, wow, I don’t have to do anything amazing to make a difference.  I don’t even have to actually be mobile.  It’s the tiniest thing that can make a change.  For the first time in a long time I felt a flicker of hope and I didn’t intend to let it extinguish.

Fed up with lying on the couch watching bad daytime tv and snacking all day (hey I was heading back to the teenage trauma of thighs and tape measures again) I started to explore my own consciousness.  I spent hours meditating, reading up on the mind body connection and attending talks and workshops where I could.  

I began adding new tools and qualifications to my repertoire as a therapist and decided to re-launch my career, not standing at a therapy couch as I had before, but in a different, more gentle way.

Overcoming my physical limitations has been hard, but overcoming my emotional reaction to it has been the hardest obstacle to overcome.  Learning to live in the Now has been my salvation.  I want to share some of the things that have helped me on my journey.

Love yourself like you love others – I would never have thought so negatively if a friend or relative found themselves in my situation.  I had to learn to be kind to myself and to accept that actually I am doing the best I can do and that’s ok.  Think about how you talk to others and how you talk to yourself.  Give yourself a compliment.  We all need to acknowledge we are amazing.

You can’t change things that have happened to you but you can choose the way you feel about them.  I spent hours and hours wishing my accident had never happened, longing to be the past me.  Accepting that would never happen but realising I have a choice on how I feel about it was really empowering.  Yes it was sad but life goes on.  I have a different kind of life and actually it is more spiritually fulfilling than the one I had before.

You really can survive anything.  We are all stronger than we think.  Too many people have said to me “I could never cope in your situation”.  The truth is you could.  The human instinct is to survive and we always do.  Things can only break you if you allow them to.  We forget sometimes we have a choice about how we feel.  I felt really, really sad but then I made the choice to change that.  It’s not always easy but, with the right support, you can do it.

There is absolutely no point worrying about the future at all.  I was in a constant, stomach churning, place of anxiety worrying about how complete my recovery would be.  Actually, although I am a long way off healed, I am better than the doctor initially predicted.  Truth is nobody ever really knows what the future holds.  Think back to situations you have envisaged and fretted over.  Did they actually happen?  No, probably not.  We can’t predict forthcoming events and it is a waste of energy to even try.

Don’t label things ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Although my accident seemed unfair and tragic at the time I have grown so much as a person, have a new business and have found love. Light always follows darkness.  Trust me on that.

Stay in the present moment and live life fully.  You never know when, if, or how drastically things can change in a heartbeat. Appreciate what you have right now.  I never put off things until the future anymore.  My accident has proved to me there is never a future like we think.  Now is all we can guarantee.

Live is an adventure, don’t fear it; live it. Losing my mobility is probably one of the worst things I thought could ever happen, but it did, and you know what, actually I’m ok. I’m living my life and it’s awesome. Live yours too.

(First published on on 17th September 2012)

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