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Discover the groundbreaking new approach to designing and re-building your life with the creative ingenuity used in architecture for decades. 


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Truth and Courage in a Conference

Denise Smith

“Networking has been cited as the number one unwritten rule of success in business. Who you know really impacts what you know.” -Sallie Krawcheck


This past week, I attended a conference in Phoenix Arizona, and I left there a changed person. Yes, the content that was covered was exceptional, but what I wanted to share with you is how valuable and life-altering conferences in general can be.


For many of us entrepreneurs, our work can be lonely—especially if we do it alone which is the case for many solopreneurs. Being in the presence of other professionals with different insights, varying degrees of experience, and a cornucopia of expertise offers so many unforeseen benefits. This kind of networking is vital to maintaining and growing your business. Here’s why:


1.       Networking is key. When you open yourself up to networking, you have a much larger pool of people with whom to connect. You may want to grow your target audience, and getting acquainted with others through networking offers you the opportunity to be introduced to their contacts, people you might not otherwise reach. In addition, the person you meet at the networking event can give their contacts a personal recommendation which can be invaluable.


2.       Broaden your circle of friends. For many of us, our circle of friends have been cultivated over the years. We may have some friends from childhood, some from our teenage or college years, and others from various stages in our adult life. And, we may have evolved dramatically since those days. So let me ask you, do you have friends that are engaged in the type of work that you do? Do you have friends following a similar career path as yours? Attending conferences offers you the opportunity to meet other like-minded people who might be facing similar obstacles, pursuing similar goals, and who can relate to your drive and motivation in ways that some other lifelong friends may not.


3.       Knowledge is golden. To stay abreast of trends, new technology, and cutting edge techniques, you need to immerse yourself in constant learning. You may be an expert in your field, but oftentimes when working, we are following a proven pattern or routine rather than exploring new possibilities. How will you discover the latest in your industry? By attending conferences you will expose yourself to consistent learning that can be critical for your growth and your company’s overall success.


4.       The fun factor. For most of us, work can begin to feel monotonous if there is no variety to it. Conferences offer you a nice change of pace to your work that can even be fun! Most conferences spice up their event with some fun socializing opportunities. I have been to some conferences that host a wine tasting, a happy hour, or an interactive magic show. It’s a great way to mix business and pleasure!


I know that many of you may feel uncomfortable putting yourself out there in this type of setting where you don’t know other people and you feel awkwardly vulnerable. Trust me, I get it! But remember that everyone attending the conference is in the same boat, and they too are eager to meet people. So be dynamic and put yourself out there. The benefits absolutely outweigh any temporary discomfort you might feel.


“To be vulnerable - to really put yourself out there, and lean into it – is to live courageously.” -Brene Brown

Stay Inspired,

Karen Otis

If You're Brave Enough to Say Goodbye, You Will Be Rewarded With a New Hello

Denise Smith

For me, home is a sanctuary. It is a place that gives us security, a sense of belonging, shelter, and serenity. It wraps its arms around us, basking us in its warmth and comfort. I have always taken great pride and joy in my surroundings, striving to create the most blissful and peaceful spaces possible.


A few years ago, Jeff and I embarked on the journey of creating our first home together in Redondo Beach, CA. It was without a doubt, a labor of pure love. I learned what he likes, what he needs, and how to create a space that embodied both of us. We collaborated, we shared ideas, and we poured our hearts and souls into making a home that would enhance our every day.  And, during that year, Casa Gertruda was born.


And, we have enjoyed every minute in this beautiful home. I feel lucky to have had this amazing opportunity to forge a life with Jeff and have it reflected in the place we call home.


As summer comes to a close, Jeff and I are starting a new chapter. We are preparing for our move to Fountain Hills, Arizona where we are building a new “Casa,” and I will be opening up Otis Architecture’s second office located right in the heart of Fountain Hills. While many people would run away from such an endeavor, Jeff and I look at this as another exciting adventure in our life together.


But, before leaving our Redondo Beach beauty, I wanted to share the images of the house we have come to love beyond measure. I hope you enjoy!


Is Entrepreneurship Right For You?

Denise Smith

Have you been contemplating starting your own gig? Are you looking to be your own boss?


There are so many upsides to being an entrepreneur. You get to set your own schedule, when to work, how to work, and where to work.  This allows you to set up a remote career if you choose. What exactly is a remote career? It is the ability to work from anywhere you want. You could be sitting on a beach with your laptop—and there you go! There is incredible freedom when it comes to entrepreneurship, since you can create your “office” in basically any setting. For those that want to travel, this can be a much appreciated perk of being an entrepreneur. Imagine sitting in a European café handling your biz remotely. Nice huh?


I actually started my architectural business while raising my kids. The flexibility of my schedule as an entrepreneur was a huge plus so that I could be the one raising my kids as it allowed me to coordinate time to be at all their events and activities. There is something to be said about the freedom that owning your own business brings. You can literally create it in the way that suits you best.


Another perk of the “be your own boss biz” is the room for financial growth. There is immense financial opportunity since the sky is the limit. There truly is no cap to the amount of money you could potentially make. Since you are the captain of your own ship, you can decide how to navigate it, what course to set, and the speed you want to take to get there. On the other hand, as an employee you are typically paid a set amount, and that is your cap.  Working harder does not guarantee that you will make more as an employee. Unless your work is commission-based, you are more than likely capped at your salary.  This benefit can also be a double-edged sword, but we will get to that later.


As your own boss, you also don’t really have to answer to anybody else. That can be tremendously liberating. That feeling that you could potentially be fired or reprimanded is GONE! And, you really are in charge of your own career destiny. There is an overwhelming feeling of ownership and pride that comes with being an entrepreneur that is not easy to find as an employee. Feeling that pride in a job well done may be hard to come by as an employee. Yes, you may be able to feel that on a project you are working on, or the part that you worked on and can take credit for; but you rarely get to feel pride in the entire production, outcome, or process. As an entrepreneur, you connect so much more deeply with your work as it basically has your name on it. That feeling of pride in what you build is rewarding beyond measure.


Running your own business definitely gives you the opportunity to follow your dream. You create the vision for your career, and you create the business to achieve it. As an employee, you are typically following your boss’ dream. You may be fully supportive of it, and you may be 100% aligned with the vision your boss has set, but there is nothing like charging after your very own dream. That can be exhilarating.


But…there is a downside to consider. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point those out too. In 2015, studies show that only about 5% of the working population are entrepreneurs. That number has gone up to approximately 7% in 2017.  With such a low percentage, there must be some serious downsides or everybody would jump on board the entrepreneur train. Let’s take a look at some of the negatives to running your own company.


One of the biggest has to do with money. Here is the double-edged sword I mentioned earlier. As an entrepreneur, you are not guaranteed a steady paycheck which can be stressful. Counting on a regular paycheck becomes a thing of the past when you make the decision to go it alone. And for many new businesses, financial stability takes a while to achieve. Studies have shown that it typically takes a new business three years to reach a profit.  And studies indicate that first time entrepreneurs only have an 18% chance of succeeding. Yikes!


Given those statistics, entrepreneurship can be a risky proposition which many people cannot stomach. You must have the stamina to undertake starting a business, since it will not reach profitability overnight. It will take lots of grueling hours, a whole lot of faith in it and your abilities, and the motivation and drive to sustain you.


Entrepreneurs can also find it difficult to maintain a good work-life balance since you are not really clocking in and out of your work. Most employees apply themselves at work during their work hours, and then can separate themselves from it, leave the office, and enjoy their personal lives. For entrepreneurs this separation becomes a bit blurred. Whether you find it difficult to break away from work or if it stays on your mind well after “office hours,” it can be a struggle to create a healthy balance that your family would appreciate. While many people think that you can work less hours as an entrepreneur, it is completely the opposite. Typically entrepreneurs work much longer hours, with an ever-increasing list of duties. You will have to take on administrative tasks that may not have been a part of your job as an employee, and you now also have the task of managing employees which can be difficult at times.


Another downside to being an entrepreneur is that it can be lonely up there. While it sounds exciting to “have it all,” it can be a scary and lonely place when you are the one fully responsible for your company’s success or failure. The stress associated with this responsibility can be a tough one to control or manage.


So now that we’ve covered the ups and downs of the “be your own boss gig” do you feel that it is something you want to try? Or have I scared you away?


I can speak from experience that while the challenges as an entrepreneur have been great, the rewards have been even greater. Mark Twain says it well…


Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

~Mark Twain


If you are ready to embark on entrepreneurship, check out the YouTube for how to start your own gig here….


And if you are wondering if you have the personality to go on your own, check out this blog….


And remember to “like” either one if you find it helpful!


Until next time—

Stay inspired!


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.




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,


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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