Monthly Archives: September 2011


Attitude of Gratitude Makes for Happier, Better Students
By Sima Valvani

“Money, money, money” begins the theme song of Donald Trump’s show, “The Apprentice.”  It seems that we all want more of the green stuff, because we think (hope!)  it will make all of our hopes and dreams come true.  And while we push our kids to study hard and do well in school so that they can get a good job and make a good living, there may be one thing we’re forgetting to stress along the way: how important it is to be grateful.

A recent study of adolescents found a negative association between materialism and gratitude. And gratitude was found to be positively associated with higher academic performance, satisfaction in life, and social integration. Females were found to have higher levels of gratitude than the males. Materialism, on the other hand, was associated with higher envy and higher self-consciousness.

As parents, we can model grateful behavior for our children. If our children see that we can be appreciative and happy with what we have in our lives, they too will learn to incorporate that into their thinking and behavior. This can have a lifelong impact as they learn to find their place in the world. We can also teach them to enjoy the present moment and be thankful for all the positive blessings that they have in their life, such as family, health, community and even their social experiences.

One way to help children learn gratitude is through the concept of volunteering. If you participate in community events as a family, your children will gain the satisfaction of knowing how it feels to help by donating their time. You can also let your children donate a portion of their money to a charity that they pick out themselves. By donating their time and money, kids will also learn to appreciate what they have when they see those that are less fortunate. This can have a very powerful impact on how they view and behave in the world.

By taking the focus off of material possessions, we are teaching our children how to be successful in a world where people too often concentrate solely on money and things.

© 2011 FYI Living, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


by Michelle Maynard-Koenig

It is the pebble in our shoe
that stops us in our tracks.
Discomfort begging for attention,
we search, find and pluck it out.

What would it be like
if there were no pebbles?
Nothing to cause discomfort
that stop us in our tracks?

In life there are growing pains
that stop us on our journey,
imploring us to to search
and attend to the discomfort.

When it is found and dealt with,
we gain awareness of where to walk,
strength in endurance,
and courage to face fear.

That is …
Until the next pebble,
as we travel down the path of life,
finds its way into our shoe.


Pageant puts focus on staying active, positive.

by Sarah Carlson
Staff Writer for

The staff at Cypress Cove Care & Rehabilitation Center took care of Martha Shirey’s appearance for the Ms. Alabama Nursing Home pageant, including her pedicure and manicure, her black, silver and white evening gown and her sparkling jewelry and tiara.

But Shirey, 77, earned the honor of representing her facility at the annual event by being herself.

    “She just has an overall positive outlook on life,” Leigh Byers, Cypress Cove activity director, said. “She’s always active — she plays the piano for our church services every week. She stays involved. She’s kind to the other residents (and) helps staff members.”

This isn’t your typical pageant.

There’s a novelty to it, of course, said John Matson, director of communications at the Alabama Nursing Home Association. But in addition to outlook on life, poise and communication skills, the 73 contestants from facilities that are members of the association were judged overall on how involved they are in the life of their nursing home and how they contribute to the well-being of its residents.

    “We’re looking for someone who … cares about others and wants to make their lives better and the lives of people around them better,” Matson said.

After winning Cypress Cove’s pageant, Shirey submitted an entry form and video to the association and was chosen among 10 other finalists by a preliminary panel of judges. Linda Patterson, of Mitchell-Hollingsworth Nursing & Rehab in Florence, also made the Top 10.

At the main pageant in August, conducted at the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham, Shirey interviewed with judges including Frankie Cashion, Ms. Senior Alabama; Danielle DuBose, Distinguished Young Woman of Alabama; Valerie Stewart, Miss University of Alabama; Dr. Bob Mullins, commissioner of Alabama Medicaid Agency; and Quintin Hawkins, a Montgomery-based consultant and civic leader. She wasn’t intimidated.

    “I wasn’t nervous,” Shirey said. “You couldn’t say the wrong thing, they said. So I did most of the talking.”

She is happy to share her story. One of nine children raised in the Double Springs area, she met her husband, David Lorenz Shirey, as a teenager at a swimming pool in Haleyville. They attended the University of Alabama together, engaged for her first three years and married by the fourth.

They lived in converted World War II barracks designated for couples, a scraping-by existence that involved washing clothes in the bathroom.

After graduating with a degree in commerce and business administration with a minor in economics in 1956, Shirey and her husband moved to Montgomery and later Haleyville. She worked as a social worker for years and long after retiring, she moved to the Shoals, where one of her two sons and most of her five grandchildren still live.

Felma Schrimshire, 100, of Andalusia Manor in Andalusia, won the crown at the pageant, but Shirey said she may be back.

    “They said, ‘We want to see more of you,’ ” Shirey said, smiling as she sat in Cypress Cove’s living area and wishing the pageant organizers would add a talent portion to the contest.

She could wow the crowd by playing the piano, which she has been doing since age 4, and singing. Those are her favorite activities, but she participates in much more.

Each day at the center begins with the reading of the newspaper for current events. Pictionary is a favorite among residents, Byers said, and Shirey likes to play Rook, dominoes and checkers. Residents earn “funny money” for each activity they attend, and at the end of the month comes the Funny Money Auction at which items such as food, clothing, toiletries, jewelry and more are sold to the highest bidder. Shirey is practical in her purchases each time the event rolls around; recently, toothpaste was a big win for her.

A key component to the Ms. Alabama Nursing Home pageant is that it lets outsiders know that a nursing home or similar facility can be full of life, and so can its residents. Everything from taking exercise classes to playing games with neighbors to having one’s hair styled at the facility’s salon can make a difference in a resident’s life, Byers said.

    “Most people just think about nursing homes having bingo all the time, but we actually do a lot more than that,” Byers said. “Elvis just left — no joke,” she added, laughing.

    “Every activity lifts their spirits a little bit. You can see when they walk out of there they’ve got a smile on their face.”

Aside from volunteers and visitors stopping by to brighten their days — “The smallest act of kindness can mean the day for them,” Byers said — listening to the residents is what matters most.

She said the staff takes their recommendations and tries to find ways to make their stay at the facility as comfortable as possible.

    “This is their home, so you want to make it enjoyable,” she said. “When you’re at home, you’re able to do anything you want to do, and we try to make it as much like that as we possibly can. They just need a little more assistance.”

    “They really can have time to enjoy their life while they’re here.”

The pageant, a large production of lights, music and about 500 attendees, is about enjoyment, too, Matson said. Each contestant is recognized and doted on with goody bags. “It’s also a special day for the ladies,” he said. “We all enjoy getting dressed up, going to a special event where people make us feel important to them (and be) recognized for the things we’ve done for others throughout our lives.

    “It’s just letting these ladies know that we care for them, that they’re special to us and they’re special to other people.”

Sarah Carlson can be emailed at



written by Eddie Vedder:

The selfish, they’re all standing in line
Faithing and hoping to buy themselves time
Me, I figure as each breath goes by
I only own my mind

The North is to South what the clock is to time
There’s east and there’s west and there’s everywhere life
I know I was born and I know that I’ll die
The in between is mine
I am mine

And the feeling, it gets left behind
All the innocence lost at one time
Significant, behind the eyes
There’s no need to hide
We’re safe tonight

The ocean is full ’cause everyone’s crying
The full moon is looking for friends at hightide
The sorrow grows bigger when the sorrow’s denied
I only know my mind
I am mine

And the meaning, it gets left behind
All the innocents lost at one time
Significant, behind the eyes
There’s no need to hide
We’re safe tonight

And the feelings that get left behind
All the innocents broken with lies
Significance, between the lines
(We may need to hide)

And the meanings that get left behind
All the innocents lost at one time
We’re all different behind the eyes
There’s no need to hide


written by Michelle Maynard-Koenig

This is the secret that the powers-to-be don’t want let out of the bag. Nothing eases stress and tension like five minutes of popping a gazillion air-filled bubbles on sheets of polyethylene (plastic). Simply, irresistible! It is satisfying and harmless: no weight gain, nor does your blood sugar level or blood pressure increase.  No danger of breaking a bone or straining a muscle, either, unless you are truly a turbo-maniac-bubble-wrap-popper.

Bubble Wrap Popping (B.W.P.) is acceptable at both the workplace and home, churches, temples, synagogues, schools and other learning institutions, in public or private. You can carry it in your purse or backpack, stash it away in your desk, or tuck it away in your pocket, bra or sock for easy and quick access. Most everyone, from priest to pauper, find enjoyment engaging in B.W.P.. It’s one of the rare, wickedly-fun addictions that does not have an ill effect upon a person or society.

There are many ways in which a person can engage in B.W.P. The options are many. You can use your fingers, you can scrunch it, twist it, jump on it, wrap yourself in it … you can even slide on it. It’s magical, unlike the myriad of advertisements we see on television or in print ads that assure instantaneous miracles at a high price. B.W.P. does not involve any use of drugs, nor does it have adverse side-effects, unless you pursue it to a point of requiring Ibuprofen for sore popping fingers!


The use of bubble wrap for stress relief does not require visits to a gym or a guru. The continued popping noise and the feeling that it generates naturally reduces your stress and soon you realize that nothing else matters but the rhythmic popping of the bubbles in front of you.

What does the future hold for B.W.P.? A writer at gives an optimistic forecast:

    “I can envision that at some point in the near future, many spas and fashionable clinics will begin to offer the bubble wrap stress relief therapy program. Once this occurs, the use of bubble wrap for stress relief will become ubiquitous. Imagine being wrapped, to a degree that is comfortable for you, in bubble wrap and then beginning your meditation in your favorite sauna or steam machine. As time unfolds, the heat and sweat reduce your tissues, clean your pores and help you melt away an inch or two.”

Therefore, when you find yourself in a state where you are ready to pull every last hair out of your head, or want to scream at the top of your lungs, or frustrated with another person, place or thing, just grab a tiny sheet of bubble wrap and start popping away! Squeeze it, twist it, and pop it until you have transcended into a place of peace and serenity!

Disclaimer: This article is written in humor and jest; the writer having extensive experience as a B.W.P-er. The information contained herein is geared towards audiences who are not offended by smiles and/or laughter. This article is by no means meant to constitute or replace medical, spiritual or psychological advice you have received, do receive or will receive in the future. 🙂


Designing Community: Candy Chang’s ‘Before I Die’ Project
by Kaid Benfield

An artist uses blackboards and chalk to transform an abandoned New Orleans house into a creative symbol of rebirth.

Okay, this is merely one of the most creative community projects ever. In post-Katrina New Orleans, a badly degraded house about a mile or so east of the Tremé district looked like the photo you see below, only without the art. As you can see, it has changed.

Artist Candy Chang had an idea to turn the property into a sort of collective performance-art piece in which all are invited to participate, simply by declaring what is important to them. Chang has provided chalk, a large-scale blackboard, and the necessary permits.

The house has been purchased and will be renovated, but until then it serves as a living testament to community, inclusion, creativity, and purpose.

Chang, who describes herself on her website as “a public installation artist, designer, urban planner, and co-founder of Civic Center who likes to make cities more comfortable for people,” lives in the neighborhood. She explains:

    With support from old and new friends, I turned the side of an abandoned house in my neighborhood into a giant chalkboard to invite my neighbors to share what is important to them. Before I Die transforms neglected spaces into constructive ones where we can learn the hopes and aspirations of the people around us. This process (including obtaining official approval from many entities) has been a great lesson–more on that later. If you’re in New Orleans, stop by the corner of Marigny and Burgundy (900 Marigny Street) to add your thoughts to the wall and discover what matters most to your neighbors. I believe the design of our public spaces can better reflect what’s important to us as residents and as human beings. The responses and stories from passersby while we were installing it have already hit me hard in the heart.

The project commenced in February of this year, and has received a tremendous response, the spaces for writing sometimes filling up in as little as one day. When the board fills, it is washed so people can start over.

Chang is working on a kit that will enable the project to be replicated in other communities, starting with another neighborhood in New Orleans.

There are many more excellent and fascinating photos on Chang’s website, which I urge you to visit. The site describes the project as “self-initiated with permission from the property owner, residents of the block, the neighborhood association’s blight committee, the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the Arts Council, and the City Planning Commission.” Wow.

I’m planning on stopping by and perhaps chalking up a few words of my own. Big-time props to the artist for a great concept, very well executed.

This post also appears on NRDC’s Swtichboard.


written by Michelle Maynard-Koenig

A friend shared a lovely statement this morning:

    “Be thankful when you don’t know something, for it gives you the opportunity to learn.”~‎Arsenio Lera

Arsenio’s statement stopped me “dead in my tracks.” I saw such truth in his words. After four decades, I have come to realize that the more I know, the more I know I don’t know.

In Apology, Plato relates that:[1]
[…] οὖτος μὲν οἴεταί τι εἰδέναι οὐκ εἰδώς, ἐγὼ δέ, ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ οἶδα, οὐδὲ οἴμαι
— This man, on one hand, believes that he knows something, while not knowing [anything]. On the other hand, I – equally ignorant – do not believe [that I know anything].
The impreciseness of the paraphrase of this as “I know that I know nothing” stems from the fact that the author is not saying that he does not know anything but means instead that one cannot know anything with absolute certainty but can feel confident about certain things.
(Stokes, Michael (1997). Apology of Socrates. Warminster: Aris & Phillips. p. 18.)

What an incredible gift it is to have an open mind. To not confine one’s self into a cage of absolute certainty, when change occurs all the time. The Universe being so limitless, in itself, examples us to the vast magnificence of the unknown. Could it be possible that the human mind isn’t capable of embracing all the magnificence, familiar or not, that is? It is a personal choice to maintain an open mind, to transcend within, question everything, and entertain possibility; wasting not a second of opportunity to learn something new.


Artwork, “Open Mind”, courtesy of artist, botanist, jeweler, student, ceramist, gardener, nature-lover, designer, environmentalist, teacher, painter, photographer, writer, traveler…Diane Varney.To view more of her colorful artwork and enlightening commentary, please visit her blog


It is so sad to see
so many souls struggling to just be,
people trying to change another’s “me,”
unwilling to accept their individuality;
herding them instead, vigorously,
to the confines of intolerance amid a pretentious society.
Embracing the I in you and the you in me,
celebrating the mind, soul and body,
respecting each others spirituality,
is the foundation found within Namaste


Strangers Help Pay Woman’s $942 Water Bill.

PECULIAR, Mo. — A Peculiar, Mo., widow who was hit with an unusually large water bill is getting help from strangers to help pay it.

Liana Crane said her $941 water bill was way out of line with what she usually has to pay. She said she thought there was a mistake and city officials said it was possible.

    “Any time you have a bill of that magnitude, it’s alarming to anybody,” said Peculiar City Administrator Brad Ratliff.

The city checked Crane’s meter and the line leading up to it and both tested fine. Since the city buys water from an outside source, it couldn’t just waive the excessive fees.


Crane, a mother of three whose husband died in Afghanistan, said Thursday that she wasn’t sure how she would be able to find the money to pay the bill.

    “I don’t have it. I don’t have it,” she said.

A series of anonymous donors who heard about Crane’s story on KMBC Thursday stepped in to help. They sent emails to KMBC offering money to help pay her bill.

    “I’m just thankful for being in the position to help another,” said one.
    “Please tell her that she has guardian angels around her and know that there are people that truly care,” said another.

Crane said she has been overwhelmed by the response. She said she plans to pay the kindness forward however she can.

Copyright 2011 by


Wondering what it will take to finally feel satisfied? The answer isn’t what you expect.

written by Inara Verzemnieks.

Buying their first home had drained most of the family’s savings, but that didn’t stop Jen Bromely, a nurse and mom to 4-year-old Sofia, from getting estimates on a kitchen renovation. I’d flip through Pottery Barn catalogs and groan to my husband that the harvest-gold applicances were making me crazy,” she says. So Jen took on more hours at the doctor’s office and financed a sparkling stainless steel kitchen. When the renovation was complete, Jen says,”it made me happy for about a month before I started thinking, Wow, next to the kitchen, our dining room is a dump.”.

Who among us hasn’t assumed we know what will make us happier? If we just had those designer boots, that promotion, another baby, we’d finally be content. yet that very mindset turns out to be one of the biggest sources of our unhappiness. Call it the happiness paradox. We spend tremendous amounts of energy pursuing get-happy-quick schemes that fail to make us feel better, says noted economist Richard Easterlin. “Evidence indicates that when we get more goods, we want more goods,” he explains. “As our income goes up, we want a bigger, better house, but aspirations in other domains don’t change. We have a fixed idea of ‘good health,’ ‘a happy family.'” And yet we will chase after money or things at the expense of our health or time with our family, even when the latter are what will bring us the most happiness.

So what can we do to get off that self-defeating treadmill? We spoke with leading experts and reviewed recent studies to unlock any secrets and discovered happiness takes some counterintuitive thinking.

1. Doodling isn’t just for dreamers.

Next time you’re in a meeting stressing over third-quarter numbers and the fact that your’re not home with your sick child, ease up on the note-taking and draw some daisies, a happy face or a cartoon of that know-it-all co-worker. Research shows that upbeat doodles ease stress and boost happiness. In a 2008 study by researchers Anne Dalebroux, Thalia Goldstein and Ellen Winner, college students were asked to sit through an extremely stressful moment. Then they were instructed to sketch something without any concern for artistic ability. Those who were specifically instructed to sketch a happy image saw their moods improve, leading the researchers to conclude that just the act of doodling happy images may allow the artist to escape from the stress of many unpleasant situations.

2. Bring on disappointment.

Many of us don’t apply for the amazing, right-up-my-alley job that just opened up because we think we’ll never recover from the failure and rejection if we don’t get it. We don’t attempt to learn to surf, ski or sing because we’re pretty sure we won’t be any good at it. Then we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy saying we’re unhappy because we hate our job and we can’t ski. But research suggests that we should just give it a go. Disappointment never hurts as much as we think it will, according to studies. The disappointment we imagine is far more painful than the reality. “People consistently overestimate how awful they’ll feel and how long they’ll feel awful,” says Daniel Gilbert, PhD, a Harvard psychology professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness.

3. The Shorter the vacation, the better.

If you can’t take more than a week away from work for yoru family vacation, don’t feel guilty or sorry for yourself. Research shows there’s no demonstrable difference in overall happiness if you take a two-week vacation or a one-week vacation. If anything, one study that recently appeared in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests that you might be better off booking several short trips and “consequently experiencing many brief happiness boosts,” according to researcher Jeroen Nawija of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, home to the World Database of Happiness.

4. Consistency is a killjoy.

Routines can be a very good thing, especially when it comes to kids and bedtimes or visits to the gym. But when you are too consistent, especially in conjunction with things that make you happy, you can ruin a good thing. Imagine eating your favorite food at every meal. Eventually pizza loses its pizzazz. Even acts of kindness, which are huge happiness boosters, according to experts, may eventually cause more harm than good. Researchers have found that repeating the same thing over and over again, day in and day out, in order to increase your happiness might actually have the opposite effect. In one study, students were asked to spend a semester performing do-gooder acts. In the research done by Kennon Sheldon of the University of Missouri, Julia Boehm of the Harvard School of Public Health and Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California-Riverside, one group was asked to perform the same act over and over again, while another group was told to mix up the sorts of positive things they did and not to repeat the same thing. Those who consistently mixed up the tasks they performed reported feeling much happier in the long run. And that led the researchers to this conclusion: “Repeating an intentional activity without spontaneity and freshness may actually be detrimental to well-being.” So go ahead adn surprise a friend with flowers, volunteer at a soup kitchen and sneak a surprise snack into your child’s backpack … just be sure you shake it up.

5. Getting older rocks!

The media does a good job of making us feel that our best days are behind us. So we try to hide our age with nips and tucks. But in fact, recent research suggests that we grow happier as we age. Stanford University psychology professor Laura Cartensen, PhD, led a study examining the emotions of 184 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 94. So many of us fear that aging will bring loneliness and sadness, says Dr. Carstensen, that we pretend it’s not happening rather than embrace what is possible. “Contrary to the popular view that youth is ‘the best time in life,'” she says her research indicates the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade. Take that, Botox!

6. Forget the raise.

More money usually means more work, more responsibility and more stress. And studies have shown time and again that if you’re making from $50,000 to $70,000 additional money doesn’t bring additional day-to-day happiness. This secret, from economist Easterlin, is actually quite simple:

A reallocation of time in favor of family life and health would, on average, increase individual happiness.”

7. Visit Iceland.

The Caribbean may have sany white beaches, but tropical temperatures can’t compare to the cold when it comes to contentment. Turns out, people in colder climates tend to be happier, according to the World Database of Happiness. One theory suggests that in colder places everyone must work together to survive, and that gives way to something powerful and lasting: “love,” writes Eric Weiner in his book The Georgraphy of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.

8. Your kids’ materialism isn’t so bad.

Little minds can be very complicated. Children say “I need a Wii,” but what they might really be saying is “I love my family.”

Lan Nguyen Chaplin, PhD, an assistant professor with Villanova University’s School fo Business, who has studied children and materialism, says that it’s long been the blanket assumption that “kids want things and don’t want to spend time with their parents.” To test that assumption, she set out to define what really made kids happy, whether it was indeed tied to stuff. “And I’m not saying that kids don’t like things … they do,” she says, “but given the choice, they choose people.” In other words, it’s not so much a game console they crave, but a chance to be with you. “I have two kids,” adds Dr. Chaplin, “and I’m guilty of buying a lot of stuff for them, but I do try to step back and recognize that they want and need my time.”

So go ahead and get your workout gear on. Because chances are a round of Just Dance will make you smile, too. However, when you do buy that Wii, be sure that the kids say thanks. Gratitude increases happiness in both adults and kids, according to studies. Jeffrey J. Froh, PsyD, assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University and lead researcher of a new study, surveyed 1,035 students ages 14 to 19 and found that grateful students reported higher grades, more life satisfaction, better social integration and less envy and depression than their peers who were less thankful and more materialistic. Additionally, feelings of gratitude had a more powerful impact on the students’ lives overall than materialism. The same holds true for adults, according to the research. Counting your blessing shifts your focus from problems, annoyances and injustice, and boosts your ability to fight off depression, stress and grief.

9. Money can buy happiness.

Researchers have discovered that “how people spend their money may be as important to their happiness as how much money they earn … and that spending money on others might represent a more effective route to happiness than spending money on oneself.” Employees who gave the largest portions of their bonuses away to others, as opposed to spending it on themselves, reported the highest levels of happiness, according to researchers Elizabeth Dunn, PhD, and Lara Aknin of the University of British Columbia and Michael Norton, PhD, of Harvard Business School. The amount of money you give away doesn’t really matter. In a related study, the same researchers found that spending as little as five dollars on others over the course of a day offered as immediate happiness boost. So go ahead and buy those Girl Scout cookies … then give them to co-workers.

10. Not getting what you want is good for you.

Research has finally caught up with the Rolling Stones. Turns out they were really on to something back in 1969: While you can’t always get what you want, you just might find you get what you need.

“We tend to underestimate how much we embrace things that at first glance we wouldn’t have chosen,” says Dr. Gilbert. Studies show that people report being more satisfied with what they have in the end, as opposed to what they originally thought they wanted.

In other words, you may have craved the glamour of a Mercedes, but that minivan turned out to be a pretty fine ride. Adds Dr. Gilbert, “Research suggests that people are quite adept at finding a positive way to view things once those things become their own.”

Copyright © 2011 Working Mother