Thursday, January 29, 2015


Post by Kimberly Downey for the Kind Kindred series

image courtesy of Newtown grafitti on Flickr

How can someone who everyone thinks has the perfect life and seems to have everything working systematically to perfection be depressed? I’m a petite blonde, former NFL cheerleader, growing up in the “safest city in America” near the California coast, a home, a set of beautiful twin girls and an incredible husband. I have it all, so what would I have to be sad about? Apparently – a lot and I didn’t even really realize it until I hit my late 30s.

At 14 my Mom left followed by my father deciding to marry a woman that didn’t care to raise another child which left me in the middle of the biggest divorce war ever on record. Most days I was surprised their atrocities didn’t make front page news. With many other events culminating into one big firestorm of sheer awfulness, in the end I lost my childhood home, contact with my father for years and living with a parent that I wanted nothing to do with for leaving me a few years earlier. By now I was 17 and college sounded like a dream – just to have some independence. Still, that wasn’t even far enough away from the bickering and chaos I heard about daily from my family on how awful the other one was. Okay, so let’s head off to Europe. No one can bother me there.

Twice I studied overseas. My first experience in London was incredible. Friends I still have now, freedom and no email, phone calls or any way for my parents to reach me without paying about $1.50/minute to talk to me. Pure perfection. As a Junior I spread my wings once again but this time for a semester in Spain followed by a summer in London. Spain had its ups and downs but was still amazing – new friends, new experiences, traveling, drinking, and solidarity. I decided not to stop there and headed up to London, a city that I was very familiar with at this point, get a service job just to pay the bills and travel a bit more to finish out three more months away from what I knew awaited me at home.

Unfortunately that trip in London was the polar opposite of what I had experienced 2 years earlier. Gone were my friends I once had; now living in other places without the luxuries of living in the posh area of Kensington - housing, money and necessities. Anything and everything you can think of went wrong – and then some. Things occurred that are difficult to repeat or discuss but left a mark I thought I could push aside – a tendency towards depression later in life. Having suppressed all these events in order to survive those months alone would afterward rear its ugly head. No one would ever see me as someone that could very easily find herself in that place or believe it if I told them I had.

In my never ending quest to understand why various experiences can do this to people I came across a fascinating documentary simply called “Happy.” It discussed why the poorest person in India is innately happier and more grateful than the highest producing stock broker on Wall Street. As we are always told money does not always translate to happiness. It provides short spurts of happiness but not sustainable, genuine happiness. However, it did state that the number one way to achieve lasting happiness and satisfaction in life was to do consistent acts of kindness and service for others. To make a conscious effort to partake in something greater than yourself that benefits another in some way. So in other words, completely selfless acts in which you do for someone else genuinely expecting nothing in return.

Depression is tricky because it is still deemed taboo to discuss. Each situation and each person is different and should be handled as such, but for me I know my “go to” list that I must accomplish in order to ensure I don’t sink below the surface. A huge part of that is acts of kindness for others - volunteering, interacting with all sorts of people. Taking the focus off of me and onto something or someone else. Given my history I also wanted to ensure that my children: 1. Never could say they saw me depressed and 2. Never had it happen to them. I cannot control what the outside world will do to them but I can equip them with the tools and intelligence on how to build a foundation that will give them the best chance towards a life of happiness. Every activity we do at home or as a family has a purpose, a lesson or a way we can do something nice for someone else so they can see the response they get by surprising others with kindness. This gives them compassion, confidence, pride, a feeling of worth, and most of all happiness. Outside it appears I am doing this for them, but really they are providing me with a way to sustain my own happiness by watching them flourish, knowing I am changing a pattern I swore I would never pass onto them. So far, it is working splendidly.

I will probably always be someone who has to consciously work to keep myself from retreating from others when depression wants to sneak its way in. I will always have to be open with my emotions and not ignore traumatic events because I feel I can mentally overcome them myself, as I did from ages 14-22, and do the things I know work for me personally. Fortunately for me, through my children and their kindness to others I know I have another resource that helps tremendously.

Kimberly Downey is an Orange County, CA native and founder/CEO of the non-profit, The Infinite Smile Project, which teaches kids and adults how to incorporate a lifestyle of kindness and service for a more fulfilling life. She is the Mom of beautiful twin 4 year old twins whom inspired her non-profit after one of them had a life-saving open heart surgery in 2012. Kim also owns a children's dance company called OC Dance Productions with 14 locations across southern California, is a Los Angeles radio co-host, public speaker, and the head of the philanthropic ministries for youth and adults at her church. For more information on her non-profit please visit
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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Conversation Starters Interview with Stephanie Jagger

When I noticed that my friend Steph Jagger attended the BookMama event with Danielle LaPorte, Justine Musk and Linda Sivertson, and I couldn't wait to chat about it! We did this interview a little differently, and used the Conversation Starters App to guide our questions.

Give it a listen, but first allow me to set the stage:

  • Steph was greeted by a Truth Bomb card on her seat and a lovely ametrine crystal. 
  • Her biggest takeaway was that every person in the room was stellar (her words!).
  • Can't make an event? Steph recommends checking out the writer's group for access to the amazing info. 
I set my Conversation Starters App on random, and Steph and I talked for a super fun half hour that I'm so happy to share, totally unedited, so get ready for some good ole girlfriend goofiness!

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Monday, January 26, 2015

A changing self is a living self

photo by Jenny Ingalls Nelson

I know a thing or 2 about change. Whether you're talking about the 5 year period that I moved every year and had more hairstyles than I can count, or the slow gradual change that I now live and teach, I've got a thing for change.

Change gets a bad wrap. It's a word that can evoke fear. It can be hard, or scary when it comes from a bad place - this is absolutely true. What's also true about change, is that it can be one of life's greatest gifts. It happens naturally (children grow, faces wrinkle), and it's what allows us to live, but it's the more conscious change (new job, relationship ending) that can feel scary. 

What if that fear isn't about the change at all? 
 What if it's really about the feelings behind the change?

Change is simply an action or a process. There's no inherent feeling attached to it. The emotional charge and/or fear comes from the emotion fueling the change. Change which results from pain, is scary and rarely turns out well. When we are able to take a moment and pause, acknowledge the emotional charge that's happening, and give ourselves a little breathing space before making a decision, the fear of change starts to dissipate.

When we take baby steps and make space for our feelings, we can see that it's OK to say NO to all of that drastic 'just do it' change that feels so uncomfortable. That kind of change plays on the underlying fear that we all carry. Trust that feeling!

How often have drastic measures worked for you?

Maybe it's time to try something different. Something more gradual. Something more alive.

Thanks for being on this journey with me.
❤, Lara

CLICK TO TWEET A changing self is a living self. Keep #living with @KindOverMatter

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Using Your 6 Senses to Create Mindfulness

Post by Stephanie Watanabe for the Kind Kindred series.

image courtesy of unspash

A new year is upon us. And with it, resolutions, goals, wishes, dreams and desires. And yet, more often than not, our well-intentioned resolutions end up falling flat. By February, we’ve neglected our self-care, ditched the gym and have begun veering far off our healthy eating plan. Sound familiar?

Instead of setting new year’s resolutions and setting myself up for the inevitable let down, I’ve found a different way of ringing in the 2015 and in turn, bringing more mindfulness to my daily life. It’s simple. It’s free. And everyone can do it (without reading 100’s of books or having an advanced degree). Sounds perfect, right?

What I’m talking about are your six senses :: see, smell, hear, touch, taste, feel/intuition.

I’ve always been a highly sensory person, but in the last five years I began to intentionally experiment with my senses. What I’ve found is that when I live from my senses, everything feels good. Life is richer, more nuanced, more filled with pleasure and without trying, I’m mindful from one moment to the next. Plus, because I’m focused on a particular sense in the moment, I’m “present” without even trying (or having to sit in lotus pose for hours each day).

There are countless ways to use your senses to create more mindfulness (and joy) in your life. To kickstart your own sensory adventure, I’ve broken down how to use each of the senses to create more presence and mindfulness in 2015, in only 5 minutes per day!


If you’re blessed with the sense of sight, it’s like having a power tool that cultivates presence. Everything from a sunset, to a piece of art, to the road on your daily commute, is a chance to use your sense of sight to be more present now.

One of my favorite exercises to strengthen the ability to truly see is by taking a flower or other living plant, and putting it about a foot in front of you. Sit and gently take in the image of the flower for 5 minutes.

Look at every detail - the colors, textures, folds, shape, stem, and leaves. Take it all in. After your 5 minutes, notice how you feel. Do you have a deeper appreciation for the flower? Do you feel uplifted? Do you feel connected to it? Notice how present you feel to this simple, yet beautiful moment in life. With practice, you will slowly develop a greater attention to detail and the ability to be present to all of life’s magnificent moments.


This might be my favorite sense to play around with. Smell is a powerful link to memories of times past and a direct pathway to the present. Consciously experimenting with your sense of smell is a fun and pleasurable way to cultivate mindfulness.

Using a perfume, essential oil, or even your favorite herb from the garden, set aside 5 minutes, close your eyes and inhale the aromas. Notice what you smell. Is it sweet? Herbaceous? Floral? Pungent? Can you pick out the individual aromas present? How does your body feel when you smell it? What about your mind? Alternate inhaling the aroma and just noticing how you feel. By the end of 5 minutes, you will have a greater appreciation for the scent, a deeper connection to it and might even feel more enlivened.


Working with sound is a deceptively simple way to be present in the moment. In fact it kind of feels like cheating.

I love to sit outside my house on a chair for 5 minutes with my eyes closed and simply take in all of the sounds that I hear. Freeway cars driving, birds chirping, water flowing, music playing on a neighbor’s stereo. Try not to judge any of the sounds you hear, just pay attention to them.

You can even take this experiment to your local mall, coffee shop, park — wherever you frequent. It’s amazing what will happen in such a short period by doing this form of listening meditation. You will feel connected to your environment, more fully awake to your senses and ultimately more present to life.


Is there anything more sumptuous than feeling the touch of a luxuriously soft fabric underneath your fingers? It’s one of my favorite things in the world. Since I began experimenting with touch, I’ve become much more conscious of the types of fabric I buy and more grateful for them too.

Try taking 5 minutes out of your day today and gather a piece of clothing or object that calls to you. Sit down with the object and close your eyes. Let your hands do the work here. Feel the fabric or surface. Notice whether it’s soft, hard, cold or warm. Take in the shape, noticing any edges, borders or curvatures. How does the texture make you feel? Does it bring up any memories? Use these 5 minutes as a way to connect more deeply with your sense of touch.


It’s hard to say I have a favorite sense, because they are all so delicious. But it’s hard to deny that I experiment with taste more than any of my other senses. As a proud foodie, I absolutely love the ritual of eating. Regardless of how you feel about food, intentionally playing with your sense of taste is immensely powerful.

All it takes is 5 minutes and you will most definitely redefine your relationship with this sense. I suggest taking a small piece of chocolate, a grape, or other edible that can be consumed in one-bite.

Sit down, close your eyes and place the piece of food in your mouth. Resist the urge to chew. Just allow it to sit in your mouth. Notice the texture, shape, and initial flavors. Move it around in your mouth. Notice what comes up for you physically — is your mouth salivating? And emotionally — how do you feel with the food in your mouth, but not chewing it? What emotions come up?

After a minute or so, begin to slowly and mindfully chew. Savor the process of chewing. Don’t rush to the finish line. When your piece of food has disintegrated, swallow it and again, take note of physical and mental sensations. Open your eyes. How do you feel? Try eating a few meals a week in this way and over time watch what happens not only to your sense of taste, but all of your senses!


Cultivating your sense of intuition is one of the most valuable things you can do if you want to live a life full of presence and mindful joy. And yet, this is the most elusive of all the senses, because it’s not physical or tangible in the traditional sense. Fear not, there are still numerous ways you can cultivate you inner knowing.

The simplest place to start is with traditional meditation. Even if you’re not into meditating, I highly suggest trying this. Set aside 5 minutes in the morning or evening to be alone. I like to light a candle and some incense to set the mood. I close the bedroom door and tell everyone in the house that I’m taking 5 minutes of “me-time”.

Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Tune into your breath. Just notice if you’re breathing shallow, deep or otherwise. Take one or two deep inhales and exhales, to settle your mind into this moment. You’ll notice that thoughts will come and go. You might feel antsy and want to get up. It’s okay. Let your thoughts and feelings come and go. When you notice your mind is drifting, just focus back on your inhales and exhales again.

After 5 minutes is up, notice how you feel. Are you more peaceful? Perhaps, less anxious? Before you get up, ask yourself this one question, ”What can I do today, to feel more connected to my sense of intuition?”

Listen to whatever answer comes up. Take the first thought you have. Don’t second-guess it. Let this answer (which has come to you through your intuition) guide you throughout your day.

If nothing comes up when you ask the question, that’s okay too. The more you practice being peaceful and quieting your mind, you’ll be able to hear where your inner compass is trying to lead you and what messages it has for you.

What about you? Do you have any practices for engaging your six senses to create a greater sense of purpose, presence and joy in your life? I’d love to hear them!

Cheers to a more mindful 2015!

Stephanie Watanabe is the Founder and Curator-in-Chief at The Girl Who Knows, a lifestyle destination focused on living a lifestyle with soul. She hosts workshops and events, is a licensed Desire Map facilitator, longtime writer and filmmaker, a passionate advocate for all things sensory, a birthday month celebrator, proud hapa and is on a quest to make the perfect cup of hot cocoa.
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Self Love

Post by Renee Avard for the Kind Kindred series.

art card by Renee Avard Furlow & sent to me!

The path to self love is one of the most difficult aspects of life, as well as the most rewarding. From our humble beginnings, we as children were taught to not be so 'selfish' and therefore, we grew up thinking anything that we do for ourselves alone is wrong.

Self love is actually one of the most selfless acts you can do. If you are feeling well taken care of, then every single person around you will feel that positive energy. The quote goes something like 'If Momma ain't happy, no one is happy' and that is the absolute truth. When you are a head of household, whether it is you alone, or even with someone, you hold a lot of the emotional aspects of the family in the palm of your hands. How you behave rubs off on each member of the household, even pets. (And believe me, I am speaking from first-hand experience!)

So, the question I get a lot: HOW do I practice self love? Ladies and Gentleman. Sit, down, now. Be prepared.


Not only is it the most evasive of acts of relevance for expression of a person, it is very important to survival and hard to attain, but not completely impossible.

There are a few steps to this regime. First, you have to sit down and KNOW, 100% right now, commit yourselves to fall in love with you. You have to be on your mind a lot. You have to wonder whatcha up to and what you look like with that lopsided tee on again or what song makes you react. You know those fuzzies?


Establish a routine. Again, this is from experience, so I know what I am about to tell you is very much the truth.

A good first step? Wake up a bit earlier than you have to. If you work outside of the home and have a lot to do before you leave, etc, set your alarm for even just 15 minutes early. Grab your journal and find a comfortable space and do some meditation on what you want your day to look like. Put your intentions out into the Universe. Once you do that, you alleviate any worry as what you need will always come to you, in due time, and for your highest good. Use your journal to record any thoughts or messages you receive while you are in this moment of stillness. And, if you think that you cannot possibly be someone who can receive messages, I implore you to try anyway. You will be surprised at what comes to you.

The next step is one of my most favorite and most important, in my humble opinion. Take your time when showering and getting ready! I used to view all that went into getting ready for the day or bed, the whole ordeal, as a chore and something that just needed to be rushed through. So one of the best and most healthy things I have ever done was to s-l-o-w down. I take my time now when I am getting ready. I give attention to everything from washing my hair to brushing my teeth. It's all wonderful for self-care and surprisingly, when I make time for myself in this way, I actually give myself more time later because I am not trying to find a way to 'feel better.' I took the time getting ready and enjoyed getting clean, so then the rest of the day or night just seems to fall into place. It's a really great and wonderful feeling!

My point is this – take extra time out for yourself. It is not selfish, it is necessary because when you are in tip top shape, then you are in a better place to help others and yourself. And that is the best part of all of this.

If you don't do it for anyone else’s benefit, do it for your own.

Published author and eclectic Earth-Based Spiritualist, Renee Avard-Furlow,“Unique-tivity Guide",focuses on bringing out the unique and creative side each person already has inside them. By offering guidance to restore harmony she shows all how can allow their Star inside to lighten Life outside. She brings in and imparts wisdom and whimsy leading an amazing truth: we are ALL worth catching. 
She can be found Online and on Facebook.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Post by Taralee Hurff for the Kind Kindred series.

illustration courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

People who know
how to brighten a day
with heartwarming smiles
and with kind words they say,
people who know
how to willing share,
who know how to give
and who know how to care,
who know how to let
all their
warm feelings show…
are people that others feel lucky to know.
Poem By: Pamela Mould**

Our lives are filled with people. There are people who make up our families, where we work, our communities, our schools and our neighborhoods. Some people we interact with every day, some once a week and others a few times a year. Many people you may never even realize are a part of your life or that they may impact your life. Do you ever think about the people you throw a polite “hello” to as you walk around your block or the mailman that kindly brings your package to the door? What about the bank teller at the drive thru window or the person who picks up your trash? Regardless of who the people in your life are, people are a part of every aspect of your life whether you choose to pay attention or not.

Every person plays a role. People offer us things like friendship, support, a service, direction and even a place to belong. People will irritate, aggravate and infuriate you. You will have some people who remain in your life forever and others you may only be around for a short while. The thing that they all have in common – they are there for a reason. You will learn something about life or yourself (or both) from each and every one of them. The question is will you notice?

Now that you are thinking of all the people that impact your life, I want you to think about the people that you don’t feel impacted by. Maybe you forget they are even a part of your world until you actually see them or acknowledge them on that walk around your block…then they are gone again, out of your mind, until you offer that polite wave as you pass them on your way to work one day. Hold the thought of that person and now in this next moment - the world shifts. Nothing for that person will ever be the same and this seemingly insignificant person in your life now becomes a major player. You have abruptly been called upon by a higher power to help, to serve, to step up for someone who cannot do it alone. This “nobody” becomes now an important “somebody.” They need YOU. You get no warning. Without any hesitation you step up. You take the calling head on without asking why, how, what if or what next.

You become the ONLY person this person has left…before they even know…when they think they now have no one.

His son died unexpectedly of a heart attack while stopped at a red light on his way into work. The police were across the street and you went over to check on your neighbor, only to find out that he was scared to open the door and the police were there to deliver this tragic news. He needed YOU. You were put where someone else needed a person, a person like the poem above describes.

I feel lucky to know the person that stepped up for their neighbor. I am even luckier that she is my mother. My mother had no intention that day other than to check on her elderly neighbor. Never could she have foreseen the addition of a new family member, finding an unexpected friendship or showing so many that no matter the circumstances no one deserves to be alone. She has shown a level of sacrifice, compassion, sympathy, empathy, and giving that I know not many would ever be willing to give to a seemingly insignificant player in their game of life. She did all of this with an open heart, warm smiles, and kind words. It was a natural act of caring for another human being. She is someone I know her neighbor feels lucky to know.

The neighbors name is George and he is 90 years old. He has become a part of our family. My children consider him another great-grandparent. He has taught us all so much about history, things we could never learn from a textbook. He is a World War II veteran. He loves animals. He has a wood shop and loves to build all kinds of things. His son collected Hess Trucks and Matchbox cars – he still has them all. He has so many stories and every one of us loves to listen to them. My only wish is that we would have noticed George sooner.

Take the time to notice the people in your life. Be present in your moments with them. Know their names and something about them that is more than just their label of where they fit in your world. Strive to be the person the poem describes. You never know the impact you will have on someone or that they may have on you.

At the end of the day – people need people. Be a person people will feel lucky to know.

**The author of the poem was a dear friend of mine, taken much too early from our Earth in 2007.

Taralee received a dual Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical/Counseling Psychology and Criminal Justice from Moravian College. She received her Special Education Teacher certification from DeSales University. Taralee is a NJ certified Teacher of the Handicapped, and has been working in the home and school settings for over 15 years. Taralee is currently President of the Board of Trustees for the Southern Regional New Jersey Early Intervention Collaborative, she is serving in her fourth year as a Board member. 
Taralee’s most important job is raising her three creative and inquisitive children (ages 9, 7, and 4) in Southern NJ. 
Taralee's book "100 Things To Do Before You Are 10" was published in April 2014. 
Please visit her Facebook page or send an e-mail for ordering information.
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