Put the Fun Back in Dysfunctional

Thanksgiving decorations.

There’s one in every family.

In my family, I’m pretty sure I’m it.

The eccentric aunt whose major contribution to any family gathering is Scotcheroos and a wildly active imagination that sets kids and canines alike off on something akin to an out of control sugar high.  Admittedly, it could come from the consumption of said Scotcheroos and scandalously unconventional ideas.

Bringing Bob into the fold has tempered this reputation a bit. Besides giving my nieces and nephew license to say “Bob’s Your Uncle” and run with it, he’s also brought his card sharkiness to the table, rivaling my maternal grandmother and striking fear in my father, my mother, and even my brother.

My devotion to the dogs has doubled as our pack has grown from just one or two to a whole slew. Our new puppy Ruby is beside herself when she gets to meet all of her canine cousins. Well, that, and the smell of so much food.

No doubt about it. Holidays can be harried. With family gatherings there are so many competing expectations and roles we unconsciously slip into. No matter how functional the front we show the outside world may appear, we all know our families are a wee bit dysfunctional.

So, in keeping with my Here to the New Year in Good Cheer challenge, let’s put the fun back in dysfunctional.

Instead of getting yourself all worked up about things that are out of your control, shake it off. That’s right. Let it go. Ignore it and repeat, “This, too, shall pass.”

Because here’s the thing. It’s Thanksgiving!

You can watch a parade on TV or there might be one in your hometown. If you’re not working in a service business or a retail store that opens its doors at 3pm or 6pm or midnight, you might just have the day off. Bonus!

It happens to be my favorite holiday and by far my favorite Thursday because it’s not about getting. It’s about Giving. Thanks.

And about eating some amazing food prepared by some of our favorite people.

As an eating psychology coach I beg you… Please do not obsess over the calories you are about to consume or how much you will need to exercise to work off the 3 pieces of pie you might mindlessly eat to avoid answering intimate questions about your life from meddling members of your extended family or their friends.

Instead, feast!

Savor the flavor of your favorite foods. Lean into conversations that allow you to learn something you don’t know about someone you think you do.

Take your time with the food that took hours to prepare. Allow this gathering of family and friends to nourish you.

When you do, you’ll find yourself filled up more with less food. You won’t overeat because you will have stuffed your turkey, not yourself.

If you don’t have big plans or can’t be with those you love, then love the ones you’re with. Even if it’s just your parakeet.

Some of my favorite Thanksgivings have been with only a friend or two.  When I lived in Santa Fe my friend Kaylock and I would put together a meal of whatever was available, walk up to the Cross of the Martyrs, and head out to a movie.

Another year I was so stressed I stayed in my pajamas all day until a friend showed up at 5pm with turkey slices from Walmart. He knew the best gift he could offer me at the time was breathing space. It was one of the most memorable Thanksgivings because it was so nourishing to do nothing.

How do you make the most of this holiday? If you are feeling frazzled or freaked out, how might you put the fun back in dysfunctional?

If you are a master of making the most of the holidays, I’d love to hear how you do it in the comments below.  Plus, I’d like to include your suggestions in our Here to the New Year Challenge that begins tomorrow.

Please sign up here to receive your daily tips along with a Holiday Survival Guide created just for you.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.  I’m especially grateful for you.





Stuff Your Turkey, Not Yourself

keep calm and gobble on background

It’s that time of year when the holidays have a way of hijacking our attempts at remaining calm and practicing healthy habits. Today I’ll be sharing some tips to avoid overeating and over-stressing over the holidays on Paula Sands Live.

Here are a few strategies to get you from here to the New Year in good cheer.

HALT and Plan Ahead

Making decisions when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired usually leads to poor choices. Planning ahead when you have time to calmly think through your options and prepare healthy snacks will save your sanity by eliminating the emotional frenzy that comes with feeling famished.

Nourish Yourself Regularly

Contrary to popular belief, skipping meals or eating them on the run does not help you lose weight. In fact, it can lead to weight gain. Fueling yourself with whole, nutritious foods at regular intervals will help regulate your appetite, clear your mind, and keep you energized throughout the day.

Pace Yourself

Treat the holidays like an endurance event and train accordingly. Eating, drinking, or otherwise consuming your way through the holidays will only compound your stress. Take it one day at a time. If you blow it one day, don’t resign yourself to giving up until the New Year. Just begin again. Six weeks of bad habits is hard to overcome. Especially  when you can simply start over whenever you slip up. A new perspective is always one thought away.

Move Through Your Stress

Working out does wonders to help alleviate the stress that can accumulate at the mere thought of attending a party or preparing a family feast. Find a way to move that’s fun for you. It doesn’t need to look like exercise. Fire up your Wii Fit. Get out your bowling ball. Break out the ice skates. Rake up the leaves and then jump around in them. Recruit your family or a few friends to make it more likely you’ll stick to it.

Unplug and Get Enough Sleep

So much to do. So little time. Skimping on sleep will not only add to your stress but add to your waistline. Your body needs downtime to rest and repair. Unplug from your electronic devices in plenty of time to wind down so you have the energy to get up and face another day refreshed and rejuvenated. Never unplugging leaves you in an endless cycle of feeling wired and tired.

Be Grateful

Although the focus of Thanksgiving tends to be all about the food, it also includes the many people, things, and opportunities you have to be grateful for. If this is the one day of the year you look forward to feasting, by all means savor the flavor of your favorite foods. Do not obsess over calories. Feeling guilt or shame around food robs it of its pleasure. Take the time to be present and aware of what you are eating.  Get curious about where it came from, who prepared it, and the love that went into sharing it. Ironically, when you give a meal the time and attention it deserves, you end up feeling more nourished by less food.

When you reflect on how much you already have, you can resist the urge to fill yourself up with food, shopping, and other distractions. In other words, stuff your turkey, not yourself.

Join my Here to the New Year in Good Cheer Challenge starting on Black Friday and running right up to December 31st. Details to follow later in the week. Or email me at penny@wellpower.com for updates.

For now, keep calm and gobble on!



Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

Bob Pen Abbey 7-23-13

I’m once again up way too early to do anything but write.

Sadly this time it was not instigated by a dog who needed to be let outside, but a dog I must let go.

Sometimes death comes excruciatingly slow and other times painfully swift.  In the case of our gentle lab Abbey, it was some surreal mixture of both.

Abbey was my sister’s dog originally, a Christmas gift for her girls a dozen years ago, who were just babes themselves.  Abbey spent her early years in New Hampshire, Missouri, and North Carolina before coming home to live with me and my dog Malcolm in Illinois and finally Iowa.

I think everyone in my family would claim her as theirs since she spent some time with all of us when one of us had to travel without her.  She found comfort in laying at my dad’s feet, riding in my mom’s car, being reunited with her girls when they came to visit, playing dress up with my youngest niece and helping my brother convince my cat- loving sister-in-law that dogs can indeed make incredible companions.

She also had a way with the boys and spent her last couple of hours surrounded by her favorite fellas – Jake, Scooter, Rosco, Gavin, and her all time favorite, Bob.  She was an equal opportunity lover and rallied at the opportunity to take one last walk by the river with her pack, herding us all and making sure no one was left behind.

The decision to end a pet’s life is wracked with doubt.  I’ve had to make that decision twice in the last two years. When they are suffering through their worst moments, I am convinced it is the most humane thing to do. It becomes the most agonizing thing to do when the appointed time draws near.

I can barely breathe through it, stay in the moment, and not distract myself from the onslaught of memories mixed with fear of a future without my canine companion.  A part of me dies with my dog.

Fortunately my vet makes house calls and has allowed both Malcolm and Abbey to pass in the peace of familiar surroundings with their favorite toys, treats, and companions right next to them.  And incredibly lucky for me, I have Bob,  who bears this burden with me and lets me cling to him even as his heart breaks.

To deal with the aching absence of Abbey, I alternate between listening to gut wrenching songs about grief to reading poetry about passing to drinking rain forest tea to collapsing on the couch.  Eventually I reach for my pen and journal, open up a vein and let the following bleed out.

Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

No one ever tells you when you get a dog
that they will heal your heart every time it breaks
only to shatter it beyond recognition when they leave.

They forget to mention
you will continue to offer table scraps to the ghost of a good dog
and listen intensely for the pattering of paws across the kitchen floor
or wait for the delirious wagging of a tail to welcome you home.

You never suspect you will miss the insistence on a Busy Bone from the kitchen
once you’ve settled snugly into the couch.

You can’t fathom wishing you would wake
once more to the movement of dreaming feet, muffled barks,
and snores that rival your husband’s.

No one tells you that coming across a favorite toy, food dish, eye drops, ear wipes,
multiple dog beds and blankets will bring you to your knees
as you remember how many ways your life was blessed by a dog.

No one wants to spoil the ending at the beginning.

No one wants to tell you the grief will go as deep as the love
and come in waves at odd moments long after your dog is gone.

They will only ask you when you’re going to get another
and you will say never…

Until one day you remember that Dog is just God spelled backward
and the closest thing to heaven on earth.


Thank you, thank you, thank you.

“If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, it will suffice.”  – Meister Eckhart

It’s here once again.  My favorite holiday of the year.  A day dedicated to giving thanks and appreciating all that is good and plenty and ours to experience.

It’s been an amazing year.  As often as possible I’ve attempted to blog about it because for me, an experience isn’t assimilated until it’s articulated.  Once I committed to learn, grow, and connect in a very public way, each risk I took  opened the door to the next big thing.  Often times opportunities overlapped, making life that much more interesting.

My writing life has been full of plot twists, unruly characters, unexpected drama, comic relief, tragedy, mistaken identities, and happily ever afters interrupted by reality scripts.  Had I been given a choice of superpowers, I may have picked a talent that would more clearly catapult me to super stardom or super service. But for argument’s sake, I’m going to assume I did have a choice and my soul choose writing.  Consequently I will wield my words accordingly.

It’s interesting that the thing others find extraordinary about us is often the thing we consider the most ordinary.  We mistakenly believe if we can do something, so can everyone else.  It’s almost preposterous to think people will pay us to do what we do naturally.

But it happens every day.  Yesterday, for example, I consulted an expert in web design for speakers, writers, and coaches. In about twenty minutes I discovered I could take my business to a place I’ve not been able to get it to in twenty years.  Yes, it will require a considerable investment of time, effort, focus, and vision as well as cash.  But I am thrilled to know there are people out there who are extremely good at the things I am not.  Aligning myself with them,  frees me up to focus on what I do best while they do what they do best.

I also had a chance to catch up with friends who have believed in my dreams long before there was evidence they would come true.  Talking with them was so nourishing because they have been there, listened to, and participated in every iteration of my evolution and still support the ongoing unfolding with unbridled enthusiasm.

So yes, I love it that there is a day devoted to giving thanks.  Because in my world, despite a few failures and downright disasters, so much to be grateful for remains.  Here are a few things on my gratitude list.  I’m grateful for you, for a couple of days off work from a good job, for time to walk the dogs, connect with family and friends, eat good food, watch movies, stay home while other people shop, play cards or board games, spend time in nature, and write until my heart’s content.

What about you?  What are you thankful for this year?  Share if you dare in the comments below.

PS – I know the holidays can be rough for those of you who have suffered a loss or multiple losses or are struggling with financial, health, or relationship challenges. In these instances it may feel impossible to feel grateful.  Yet I do believe the saying, “There is always something to be grateful for.”  It may be hard to believe this when you’re feeling incredibly low, but I’ve found that identifying even the simplest thing to be grateful for helps the healing begin.

Who’s Your Daddy

Yes, I realize Father’s Day was last Sunday, but my dad’s birthday was yesterday and I figured after all he’s done for me, he deserved a day and a blog post all to himself.

Having a birthday on the summer solstice is quite convenient for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s easy to remember because the beginning of summer is usually something people celebrate more than the beginning of winter, at least in Iowa.  

Second, it’s more likely Dad will be able to spend the day doing the kind of things he enjoys doing, like fishing, watching the Cubs play baseball, or having a patio party with friends and family.

And third, it’s the driving force coercing me out of the comfort of my bed and into my writing room to post this while the day and my dad are fresh in my mind.  I swear I’m channeling the collective energy of all the midnight revelers dancing in the moonlight as they usher in the summer.

Whatever the case, it’s well past my bedtime.  However, the words will not wait so I will release them and maybe we’ll all sleep better for it.

I would like to get something clear from the get-go.  I’ve never been Daddy’s GirlDaddy’s Little Princess, or even the first name that came to mind when he addressed me.  Being the youngest, he often remembered my name only after reciting my sister and brother’s names first.  

Granted, I often got him so flustered or irritated thataddressing me in an ever increasing crescendo of Kellie-Kendall- PENNY was the most effective way to let us all know I was in trouble.  

While we each had our ways of  sending this gentle giant over the edge, I was particularly good at it.  Especially during church, I am told.

As anyone with siblings can attest, it’s not necessarily the one who started it who suffers the consequences.  It’s the one who gets caught.  Since there were three of us, it was usually two against one, and I was often the sacrificial lamb or black sheep.

I’m not saying my dad didn’t have reason to suspect me.  I did my very best to challenge him throughout my childhood.  Not intentionally, mind you.  I was just incredibly independent.  “Because I’m your dad and I said so,” might have worked on the other two, but it seldom worked on me.  

Even though I was the last on the family food chain, I was the first to try things that I considered to be brilliant, bold, and daring.  My dad didn’t see it that way .

Once in a fit of frustration he said in a loud voice, “You are the most independent woman I’ve ever met!”  To this day I consider it a compliment, although when I’m walking three dogs and Scooter exhibits his independent nature and leaves the pack to discover disgusting things to proudly bring back to us, I begin to see my dad’s point.

This is the thing with dads and parents in general.  They are wiser than we ever give them credit for and right more often than we care to admit.

Even though we live our whole lives in anticipation of their approval or in reaction to their rules, there is no denying the indelible influence they have on who we become, how we behave, even how we look.

I’ll never forget one particularly bad blind date that ended in a drive by drop-off .  The guy had never met me but had met my dad.  The first words out of his mouth were, “You look just like your dad.” 

My dad is approximately  6’3″, 280 lbs, and balding.  Although my dad is handsome to me, no woman with any sense of sexiness left after succumbing to the humiliation of a blind date is going to want to be compared to those height, weight, and hair restrictions.

I knew at that point, the rest of the night was pointless.  Seriously, men who might be reading this:  Unless your date’s dad has just been named Sexiest Man Alive, avoid that line.  And the drive by drop off.  Walk your date to the door at least.

Okay, so before you begin to think daddy issues are responsible for me not getting engaged until now, let me reassure you it’s more the independence thing. When the independence thing had run its course and I moved back to the Midwest, I became fiercely protective of my parents.   

Midlife has a way of softening judgments and expectations not only of ourselves but especially our elders.  When options begin to contract instead of expand, and there are more exits than entrances, there is a certain amount of grace we learn to extend to others.  For me, this began at home.

After years of being the yin to my dad’s yang, the “heck, yes!” to his “heavens, no!“, the left to his right, the open to his closed, I find myself appreciating the middle space we can meet in now.

I used to believe my dad would never understand me, let alone admit he had something to do with creating me.  But my mom told me how once he was busily bragging me up to strangers, telling them his daughter had written a book.  Up to that point, I wasn’t sure he knew what a big deal getting a book published was to me.

Then there was the day I decided to temporarily set my writing dream aside to take the respectable job I have now.  On our way to Maquoketa to look for a house my dad said, “This is going to be really hard for you, isn’t it?

My free spirit heart melted as I realized I had been living the dream for all of us.  My dad had his share of dreams he had to give up in order to be responsible, respectable, and do the right thing for his family.  Now he was witnessing me make the same choice.

The happy ending to this story is I’m now writing again while holding down a job and enjoying a family of my own with friends and animals that supply me with blogging material on a regular basis.  

I suppose if Bob would suggest I remind him of my dad, I’d take no offense to that.  After all, my dad is kind, intelligent, generous, and lovable.  And he can say his daughter dedicated this blog post to him, even though I suspect he may not know what a blog is.

What about you?  Who’s your daddy?  Share if you dare in the comments below.