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Valencia

Denise Smith

Visiting Valencia Spain

 

Valencia is one of Spain’s best kept secrets. Most people tend to visit Barcelona, Madrid, and the Southern towns such as Malaga. But, this past April, Jeff and I traveled to Valencia and were instantly enamored with this beautiful city.

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Located on the eastern coast of Spain, Valencia is well known for its architecture by world renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava. His futuristic design of the City of Arts and Sciences buildings is a must-see. His space-like forms and intensely stretched tensile elements are unlike any other. I was awed by his creative genius, which has left quite a powerful legacy for Valencia. The interactive nature of the City of Arts and Sciences was remarkable. It was fascinating to see families with young kids enjoying it all.  My favorite attraction was the big bubble balls that float on the water of the reflecting pool that kids get to play in.

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It is situated in the Turia park which was once a riverbed for the Turia river. This park was full of people strolling, playing, skateboarding, biking, and exercising stretches lengthwise along the city. When we visited the park it was a Sunday afternoon.  The park was bustling with local residents enjoying the weekend sunshine. This is definitely a must-do outing. With all of its bridges and water elements, Turia Park has stunning photo opportunities.

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I also highly recommend the little café located at the center of the park.  The “tortilla” was delicious! It’s not what you would consider a typical tortilla—it’s more like an egg quiche. And the sangria was just right. You order by the pitcher, either ½ or whole liter. We typically shared a liter, and it soon became our new favorite drink.

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We were thoroughly impressed with how clean the city was.  There was no trash strewn on streets or sidewalks. The Valencian people definitely take pride in their surroundings. We walked all throughout the old part of the city, enjoying wonderful architecture, and beautiful parks.

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We even came across a huge marketplace with all kinds of goods, artisan wares, and cafes inside. It’s the perfect place to pick up fresh flowers, gourmet items, and some pretty jewelry too. The architecture of that space was quite spectacular with its classical, almost Baroque, exterior in contrast to its modern interior that boasts high ceilings and network of steel trusses.

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We went to a phenomenal authentic Valencian restaurant that I want to share with you called Raco del Turia. It was so utterly delicious that we went back the very next night! But—you MUST make reservations because it is always sold out. The staff was friendly and went out of their way to make our dinner spectacular. We enjoyed the Valencia salad, a mouth-watering ribeye and roasted vegetables. And the Cabernet was flowing. Oh, and they even had gluten free bread for me! That seriously put it over the top!

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One other site not to be missed are the puente de las flores, the bridge of flowers. All year long, the flowers are maintained and it creates a beautiful photo opportunity. The urban planning of Valencia is spectacular with well-thought out parks, greenbelts, and bridges.

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 And if you are looking for some great fashion shopping, Valencia has beautiful leather goods not to be missed. In fact, at the airport as we left Valencia, I bought a stunning red leather jacket for a fantastic price!

 

And then—there is the beachfront.  It is a bit separated from the center of the city, but definitely worth seeing. There is a luxurious upscale hotel right on the boardwalk, Las Arenas. We walked along the boardwalk and by chance came across a great little café called Pura Vida. We ordered our liter of sangria and a tortilla which as we had figured out is that egg quiche with different meats or vegetables. It was a perfect respite from sightseeing!

 

After several days of thoroughly enjoying this picturesque city, we took a quick 1 hour Vueling flight to Barcelona. Goodbye Valencia, you have stolen our hearts…and we plan on returning soon!

 

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Unconventional Families

Denise Smith

This weekend I did something fun…..I took my Mom to see the movie “Mamma Mia: Here we go again.” First off, I need to say that I utterly loved it! There’s not much I love more than good old ABBA music! Anyway, I was happily surprised that the sequel was as engaging as the first one: lots of laughs, even a tear-jerker moment…

But, here is what stuck with me after the movie ended.

 

In the sequel, Donna (who was played by Meryl Streep in the first version) has passed away and the movie begins one year after her death.  I promise that is NOT a spoiler, because you find that out in the first couple of minutes in the show. Anyway, what struck me was that the daughter, Sophie has a solid sense of family even without her Mom. And it is a VERY unconventional family, but family nonetheless. Her three Dads, and Donna’s lifelong friends step up in such nurturing ways, that it left me thinking how different our definition of family has become.

 

Family used to be considered blood relatives that lived together in the same household. But, in this day and age that is a very narrowed view that has exploded into so many more possibilities. Families are certainly changing. Today, family is a group that loves each other immensely, supports each other, has history and shares values. 

 

According to new studies by the Pew Research Center, “Two-parent households are on the decline in the United States as divorce, remarriage and cohabitation are on the rise. While in the early 1960s babies typically arrived within a marriage, today fully four-in-ten births occur to women who are single or living with a non-marital partner. As a result of these changes, there is no longer one dominant family form in the U.S. Parents today are raising their children against a backdrop of increasingly diverse and, for many, constantly evolving family forms. By contrast, in 1960, the height of the post-World War II baby boom, there was one dominant family form.”

 

Some family comes to us by birth without choice—but others are family we choose. And the ties that bind us in each are both just as enduring, with deep roots, and boundless love.

And it may be that divorce or tragedy has splintered the traditional definition of family, but regardless of the catalyst,  I think our need for security, belonging, affection, and understanding keeps us forever forming families to hold us up, and tie us to other human beings.

 

Family fulfills many of our needs, and here are just a few:

 

1.       Security and Stability: our world can be chaotic and unpredictable.  It can leave us feeling stressed, unsafe, and vulnerable. But, having a family circle that you did an lean on instills for us a sense of being secure and having a stable life even in the midst of the chaos or calamity.

2.       Belonging: Human beings crave for a sense of belonging. We are not meant to be isolated. Human connection is vital for our sustenance. No matter what changes your life may bring, having a deep-seated sense of belonging to a “community of loved ones” helps us to feel grounded and loved.

3.       Feeling understood: As human beings, our emotional needs are vast. One such need is being understood. Our family knows our history, they know what we have gone through. Family understands how we have evolved, grown, and survived the struggles we have needed to face. Being understood reassures us that we are not alone.

4.       Being cared for and loved: One of our deepest needs is to be loved. We crave being loved and cared for. We want to have the sense that others worry, care, and show concern for us. This fulfills our need to be significant, to matter. Feeling like others consistently care and love us makes us feel treasured and appreciated.

5.       Support: Life has a way of being very unpredictable and often riddled with rough patches. But, feeling that you have a safety net underneath you no matter what you will face is profoundly reassuring. Family gives us the certainty that should we falter, family will have our back. Family will scoop us up should we need it. Family will not let us stay downtrodden. They are the strong arms that lift us up when we fall.

 

So what does your family look like? Who do you consider in “your circle?” I know that for me, I do have my nuclear family (my mom, brother, and sister). Sadly we lost my Dad last year, and the loss of a family member definitely affects and changes the family dynamic. Relationships get tousled around as everyone tries to cope with the loss.

 

My kids Marlea (24) and Jacob (27) are most certainly my family. And Jeff, my love mate is my family. Together we have forged a life with a clear vision of our desires, wants, and direction for the life we share. He has become my “home” irrespective of where we choose to live.

 

But I also have amazing friends that have formed for me another type of family. There is deep rooted love, history that has taken us through decades, and an understanding that feels familial. And this type of family is equally important and equally meaningful.

 

Rather than be saddened by what may be lacking in our families, we need to embrace all the types of family we do have.  As human beings we will always crave the sense of belonging and community. Though the form of a family has certainly evolved, it is still just as important and necessary. Family gives us a sense of support unlike any other. It provides that “safety net” that no matter how tough things get, no matter what you face, you do not have to face it alone. Family gives us the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. Human beings do not thrive being isolated, we need and desire a community that gives us a solid sense of belonging and unity. So if you are feeling a bit lonely, a bit separated from those in your nuclear family, reach out to the other “family” that surrounds you. Create an unconditional bond that can withstand time, inevitable changes, and the ups and downs that define life.

 

And if that loneliness persists…get up and dance around the living room to “Dancing Queen” because nothing lifts the spirit more than that!

 

Until next time…stay inspired,

Karen

Is luxury frivolous or essential?

Denise Smith

When you think of luxury what comes to mind? Does it seem like a wonderful extravagance that you desire or does it seem indulgent and give you a negative connotation? Luxury is defined as the state of great comfort and extravagant living. It is a condition off abundance.  It adds to pleasure, satisfaction, ease, or comfort, and the fact that it is not wholly necessary makes it a special treat.

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The Art of Living Inspired

Denise Smith

Living a life inspired is truly an art.  It takes vision, knowing what you like and desire, and the consistent effort and inspired action to make it happen on a continuous basis. 

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8 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

Denise Smith

Are you thinking about being an entrepreneur?  Do you want to explore the possibility of starting a company and being your own boss? If these questions are running around in your brain, take a look to see if you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

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The Toxic Effect of Complaining

Denise Smith

UUUGH! Traffic was awful! I am so tired because I just can’t get a good night sleep. I had the worst service during my lunch break! And the guy in front of me at the grocery store checkout took FOREVER with all the coupons! Oh, and…to top it off, I’m having a really bad hair day!

 

Think about all the things we complain about in a day…

The weather, traffic, the line at the coffee shop, how slow the internet is, how long it took for your food to come at a restaurant, your spouse, your kids, your bills, how you did not sleep well….

 

 As Will Bowen founder of complaint-free world says, “Complaining is like bad breath- – you notice it when it comes out of someone else’s mouth, but not when it comes out of your own.”

 

Complaining tends to be just a way to vent rather than problem solve. It thus creates unnecessary stress and keeps you harmfully focused on negativity.  It’s like giving the negativity even more power. And if you know about the Law of Attraction, what you focus on is what you attract. So, complaining is a sure fire way to bring you more to complain about. It literally pollutes your mind and emotions with full-blown negativity.

 

The glass of water is literally half empty and half full.  But how we choose to perceive it is up to us.

Complaining is a way we use to try to alleviate our frustrations but usually all we do is get repeatedly aggravated every time we repeat our story to someone else. We can take a lousy situation and make a mountain out of a molehill by our complaining. It’s like making a wave turn into a tidal wave.

 

It’s one thing if you are complaining in order to create a change…to fix it. That can be proactive and productive.  But typically we just vent to someone else rather than take any steps to instigate a change. When we complain, we are typically left feeling helpless because we are playing the victim role, and ineffective complaining is harmful to our mental psyche.

Taking positive steps to incite change is the best way to handle complaining or to address our frustrations.

 

Complaining can literally kill you. When you are negative and complaining, you release elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Your body is literally flooded with cortisol. This causes weight gain, higher blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, lower immunity, and messes with our learning and memory. It even makes you more susceptible to strokes. Complaining rewires your brain for negativity.

 It is not good for you at all. Repeated complaining affects your brain’s neurons so that future complaining is more likely. In essence, complaining becomes your default.

 

Here’s how…

Your brain loves to be efficient. When you repeat a behavior, like complaining, your brain’s neurons branch out to each other to speed up the flow of information, because that is efficient. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future. So your neurons grow closer to each other and that connection leads to your brain building a permanent bridge between neurons. Scientists describe this as:

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

 

 

And did you know that complaining kills our brain’s memory? Let’s look at our brains. Stress has a damaging and lasting result on our brains. After days of stress, studies have shown that the neurons in the hippocampus are damaged and its ability to create new neurons is negatively affected. The hippocampus is  the part of our brains responsible for cognitive functions and our ability to problem solve. Over time what tends to happen with the damage of neurons is that our memory is impaired and we face a decline in our ability to adapt to new situations. This is the same part of the brain which is affected by Alzheimer’s. And what is even more interesting is that listening to others complain is like second hand smoke—equally damaging. Complaining brings suffering to the complainer but also the listener!

 

It is way too easy to fall into the pattern of complaining.

 

 

1.       Switch your brain from merely venting to a proactive problem solving strategy.  This takes the complaint and flips it to a positive outlet.

2.       Create a complaint jar.  Accountability. Partner

3.       Complaint free world bracelets by Will Bowen

4.       Gratitude journal.

5.       Step back and evaluate if your expectations are too high.

6.       Decide on a strategy to avoid the frustration, ie. Put great music on or a podcast while sitting in traffic. Or…if your food at lunch is taking too lunch, bring a great book or a journal to use your time wisely. This will alleviate the frustration.

 

Use our energy to pursue happiness rather than dwell on the negative. Cultivate healthy habits to make you more calm, less volatile, and visibly happy.

 

I will end with these two quotes that I love:

 

“Complaining about a problem without offering a solution, is called whining.”-Theodore Roosevelt

 

“Champions never complain…they are too busy getting better.” -John Wooden

 

Until next time,

Stay inspired.

Resilience: What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

Denise Smith

You’ve probably been knocked down by life at some point or another.  You’ve probably faced some adversity or hardship, and maybe you even felt like it would take you down permanently with no recovery. But did you rise up from it to where you came back even stronger than before?


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Mortality

Denise Smith

“An awareness of one’s mortality, can lead you to wake up and live an authentic, meaningful life.” -Bernie Siegel

 

Mortality is something we don’t like to think about, much less talk about.  But part of the human experience is to understand that at some point we all reach the finish line of life. It arrives either with sudden shock and loss, or is defined by a gradual letting go of this world.  And as we arrive at the finish line, we will have had the ability to leave a lasting legacy, a vivid memory of ourselves.

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What Wine Taught Me

Denise Smith

The other day I went to my usual lunch place, The Abbey in Seal Beach.  I love the feeling that they know you when you walk in; it’s sort of my Cheers bar.  Sitting at the counter eating my lettuce tacos, a conversation began about Pinot Noir.  Brad, a Seal Beach local, was a cornucopia of information regarding Pinot Noir grapes.

 

I think the only thing I actually knew about those grapes is whatever was said in the movie Sideways (which I absolutely love!). Note to self: watch it again….Well here is what I learned during my quick lunch break:

 

Pinot Noir grapes are moody.  They are temperamental. They are not a high yielding grape. But here was the most interesting part, if the soil is made too fertile, too comfortable for the Pinot grapes, they will yield more grapes, but the grapes will not be that robust, creating a less stellar wine.  The more challenging and stressful the soil condition is, the more robust, strong, and flavorful the grapes will be. And hillsides create a stressful environment for the Pinot grapes, thus yielding some bold Pinot. So in essence, the tougher the conditions, the more tough, resilient, and bold the grapes will be.

 

So that got me to thinking. If we have a rather easy, unchallenging, and non-stressful life, we don’t have the need or the reason to toughen up, to become resilient, to become bold.  But—if we have faced difficult challenges, been through some tough times, encountered trying times, like the Pinot noir grapes, we become stronger, more robust, and more well-rounded. With each challenge, we are emboldened as we get closer to being stellar.

 

So what have you gone through that felt painful, scary, life-altering, and challenging? What did your rough patch look like? I can tell you that I certainly went through about a 10 year rough patch after my painful divorce.  It was an unsteady time when I was trying desperately to regain my footing. But now, thinking about those Pinot Noir grapes, my hardship may have just made me the very best version of myself.  Without that difficult journey, would I be so resilient today? Without the heartache, would I have developed my inner self so profoundly? Without the struggle, would I have evolved so completely?   I know wholeheartedly that enduring it enhanced me.

 

So next time you sit down to enjoy a glass of wine. Try a sip of Pinot Noir and relish the hardship or challenge that beautifully altered you.

Are You Looking for a Sign?

Denise Smith

Often when we are uncertain about the direction that our lives are going in, we look outward for a sign, or for the answers.  We talk to friends and family for direction, or maybe look at our horoscope- anything to give us cues for what we should do.

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