Those unplanned moments

As a working mom, I don’t necessarily feel guilty leaving my children everyday to go to the office because for the most part, I do enjoy my job. I do, however, feel guilty when work bleeds into family time. There are 24 hours in the day with 9 hours spent at the office, 5 days a week. That gives me 15 hours per day to spend with my children, 11 hours in which they are asleep. So realistically, I get 4 hours a day (1 hour in the morning and 3 when we get home) plus weekends to spend with my children. That’s not a lot of time. So when I am home, I really have to focus in on them and give them the attention they crave from my husband and I. Every moment is an important one. This week we shared some simple, yet important moments with our children that I had to share because I want to remember this special day.

A typical morning for my family right now is all of us in our one master bedroom, with our son laying in our bed watching PBS, our daughter crawling around getting into things (most of the time my purse) and my husband and I rushing to get dressed for the day. This one particular day happened to be brush pick up day. As soon as we heard the truck pull up, we opened the curtains and both kids looked out the window in aw as the crane picked up the brush from our sidewalk. We told the kids to wave and I guess the driver saw them in the window because they honked for them. They were giggling with excitement! It was so simple but so special because they were experiencing something new and what they knew of the world at that moment was seeing a cool big truck honk at them. It was really cute.

brush pickup

Then we were off to work but throughout the day, I kept envisioning them looking out the window and it made me so happy and excited to see them again after work. When we got home, I was playing with my daughter and she kept wanting to stand on her own and show off. So I put her further away from me to see if she was interested in walking. To my surprise, she was. She took her first step and I squealed with excitement. We did this a couple of more times when I finally called my husband to get it on video.


This day was a great day. We didn’t plan anything and it wasn’t a day full of crazy adventures. It was a day full of simple yet memorable moments. They happen all the time in everyone’s lives but the challenge is to stop and relish it. I’m so glad I did on this day.

Pura Vida en Costa Rica

“Pura Vida” translates to “Pure Life.” It’s a saying Costa Ricans use and has a deeper, more special meaning to them. My husband and I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful country of Costa Rica, in Manuel Antonio specifically, a few weeks ago to celebrate our 6 year anniversary. For this particular trip, we knew we wanted a beach but we didn’t know which one. After lots of research, we decided on Costa Rica because of it’s close proximity so we didn’t have to take up one full day of traveling and because there was more than a beach – there was the rain forest and lots of outdoor activities to do.

I haven’t been to a significant amount of beaches but some of the beaches I have been to include Puerto Rico, Cancun, Los Cabos, St. Lucia, Canary Islands and I have to say, nothing compares to beaches in Cancun. I realize that it is very Americanized but the beach there is stunning and on top of that, the service is impeccable. And so with no doubt, I always compare beaches to Cancun and although Manuel Antonio had a beautiful beach, it wasn’t what made Manuel Antonio a great place to visit.

So what made Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica so special? The people are happy and sincerely nice, the earth is so lush and there was more development than I thought – but in a good way. (oh and there were lots of monkeys hanging out!) In a short 5 days, this is my overview.


Ridiculously Lush

TripAdvisor is the number one travel app I use for researching hotels. When the Gaia Hotel and Reserve came up as the #2 hotel in Manuel Antonio National Park, with 5 and half stars and over 700 reviews, I began to do further research to see if this was a property that would suit us. What I like about it was that it was a 5 star luxury boutique hotel, with only 20 rooms and adults only. I’ve stayed on large resorts before and the unfortunate thing about resorts is that you feel trapped (at least I do) and to explore outside of the resort can often times be more trouble than it’s worth. In addition, this was a trip for just my husband and I and so if we were around families we might begin to feel guilty that our children didn’t come with us.

Let me start by saying that this hotel has outstanding service. People like Fabio, Alexander, Josh, David… all were so incredibly nice and just happy people. When people love their jobs, that passion naturally comes out in the way they serve their clients. The employees of Gaia love where they work and what they do – and this was very clear. And the food was incredible! Breakfast wasn’t just included, it was a gourmet breakfast with a wide variety of meals that you could order in or eat at their beautiful restaurant, La Luna, that overlooks the forest and ocean. I ate like a Queen and took advantage of the fresh tropical smoothies. Given that there are only so many rooms, we often had the 3 tiered infinity pool to ourselves and ate at the swim up bar. The views were just beautiful.

Although all this sounds great (great service, delicious food, incredible views), it wasn’t the reason I loved the Gaia so much. I love the Gaia because of the land it sat on. When we arrived in Quepos, I was a bit surprised to see how much development was happening on the road leading to Manuel Antonio National Park. Real estate is hot and there were restaurants and hotels lined up on the main road. When we turned into Gaia, off the main road, it seemed as if we were driving into a little rain forest itself. Gaia sits on 14 acres of land and the owner could easily make so much money building on this acreage but he has chosen to conserve the land and it serves as a refuge for many endangered wildlife. Every morning we woke up to beautiful exotic birds singing or monkeys playing in the trees and one day, a sloth carrying her baby from tree to tree. Although staying in a luxury boutique hotel, I felt very connected to the earth and her beauty. It was refreshing.

Development but not Americanized

One of the most unfortunate things about Cancun is how “Americanized” it has become. I love Cancun, don’t get me wrong, but the strip feels a little bit like Vegas and it almost seems as if the culture of the Mexican people has not been preserved there. In Manuel Antonio, I was surprised to see how much development is happening in that area. There are a lot of Americans that have relocated their families and have settled there.  But the difference is that these Americans have immersed themselves into the Costa Rican culture. There aren’t any high rises, probably due to the strict limitations on what you can build in that area, and there aren’t flashy restaurants or hotels. I honestly thought that we were going to be in a more remote area initially but was pleasantly surprised to see that there were a lot of restaurants right outside the Gaia property.

Although we really enjoyed the Costa Rican food, later in the week I wanted to see if there might be an Italian restaurant nearby. The concierge recommended a place called Victoria’s so we took a short taxi ride down the street to this Italian restaurant. We sat on the patio and although really dark, you could see monkeys playing in the trees under the moonlight. And there was a guitarist playing right next to us. It was a really nice environment to be in. As we were eating, an American man came by our table and started speaking to us in Spanish, asking how everything was. Turns out he was from North Carolina and opened his restaurant 5 years ago and named it after his 5 year old daughter. He was incredibly nice and accommodating.

Another experience was visiting a store that sold some jewelry and other Costan Rican artifacts. The store was clearly run by an American woman and either the boy with her was her son or grandson. Both spoke Spanish perfectly and were very nice and helpful. I was really surprised and actually so happy. It is no surprise to see people move here because of the beauty of Costa Rica and Manuel Antonio specifically and how affordable it is to live there. It is a surprise, however, to see people move here, learn Spanish and integrate themselves into the Costa Rican lifestyle. It made my heart so happy to see this.

The People are Warm

As I mentioned in previously, the employees of Gaia were amazing but it wasn’t unique to just Gaia. From Quepos to Manuel Antonio National Park, everyone we interacted with were so accommodating and welcoming. On our first day there, we went down to the beach in the complimentary shuttle offered by Gaia. We were dropped off at Marifer’s umbrellas and chairs, a little tent set up to assist visitors. We were immediately escorted to chairs and an umbrella and given a menu for beverages and snacks. And the service continued all day. I have not received service like that since Cancun. I remember visiting St. Lucia and sitting on the beach or in the pool and always having to go ask for something. Although it was a public beach and it wasn’t footsteps from our hotel room, I never felt like it was trouble because were so well taken care of.

One of the tours we went on was an “adventure tour” through the forest that included a series of zip lining, rappelling, down a caving ladder and a free fall into a waterfall. It was a lot! And to get to our very remote location, we took a hummer up the mountain to get to our campsite where we put on all our equipment. We had been zip lining in St. Lucia but this was so different. It was in a very remote area, only a group of 7 plus 3 tour guides. I have to admit, I was nervous. But the guides were not only assuring but they were funny and made us all feel so comfortable. They also took the time to teach us about certain plants or insects we came across. You could tell they cared so much about their forest. I remember seeing one of the tour guides spot a bandaid on the ground and he immediately picked it up and said, “Just cleaning up my office.”

One day we went to the town of Quepos to walk around and explore. We ended up having a few cervezas at the local bar and then went to the boardwalk to people watch. There were fishermen and farmers arriving in truckloads to set up their stands. Little boys were helping their dads and uncles set up. Although Quepos is not far from some of the nicest real estate in the area, many people live in very simple conditions, a dirt floor and tin roof, and everyone was so happy with life. You could see that the rich earth around them gave them pure happiness. I think this what “Pura Vida” means.

Some Recommendations:

Gaia Hotel and Reserve –

  • Before you book through a hotel reseller, contact Gaia and ask about room discounts.

Victoria’s Gourmet Pizza –

  • Who knew you could get amazing Italian food in Costa Rica? (my husband said it was the best pizza he’s ever had!)

El Arado –

  • The best Costa Rican food. Small family owned restaurant, where the owner greets you at the street and cooks your meal. The garden was literally next to our table.

Ronny’s Place –

  • The best seafood and sangria! It’s a hidden gem with spectacular views of the ocean.

Till next time Costa Rica!

How to give feedback (and not be over critical)

My company was testing out a new management training class called “Effective Feedback” and the marketing department was asked to be the guinea pig. All marketing leaders were required to take this class and upon completion, provide feedback so Rackspace University could decide if they would implement as an official class.

My class was small, there were only three of us. To start the class, the trainer asked the class how would we respond to someone that asked us the following:

“I’d like to give you some feedback, would you like to hear it?”

I immediately responded with, “yes” while my other two class members said “no.”

The trainer looked at me surprised. I was confused. Why wouldn’t I want feedback?

The trainer went on to say that most people are not open to having someone come tell them what they could be doing better.  That might be the case because they’ve had terrible experiences on how someone has provided them feedback or they received a negative reaction after providing feedback to someone else. So how do you do it? It depends on your relationship with the person, what you expect to get out of it and how you approach it.

Let me explain.

The Relationship

Before you have the right to give anyone feedback, you need to have developed a relationship with that person. By doing this, you will have context behind why this person is doing what they’re doing. It’s unfair to judge someone by only their outputs because you have no clue why the outputs are what they are. What if there were some limitations the person ran into and it’s the reason their output isn’t up to the par you would expect?

Bottom line: Don’t judge the book by it’s cover.

The Outcome

The only reason you should be giving feedback to anyone is because you sincerely care about that person and want them to improve or you want what is best for the organization. Giving feedback should not be given because you want to show how smarter or better you are. It should not be given to belittle the person you’re giving feedback to. And it should not be given because you want something done a certain way without really knowing if your way is in fact better. What is the real value the world will receive if you give feedback? Having trouble figuring it out? Then you’re not ready to give feedback.

Bottom line: This isn’t about you, it’s about them.

The Approach

Now you have a relationship and have a specific reason for giving the feedback. So how do you do it? Here’s the thing – everyone is different and it’s ok. You have to approach it the way that works best for that person and ideally you give it in person or over the phone, not in an electronic format like email or chat. If you’re working with a remote employee, try Skype or a Google Hangout. Things can often be misconstrued in an electronic format and taken the wrong way. And if you do have to do it over email, make sure to follow up with a phone call.

Bottom line: Own it and be respectful.

Remember, the best thing you can do for an employee is give them feedback. You’re doing a disservice to them and to your organization by not providing feedback. It’s how you give the feedback that differentiates it from being over critical or being constructive. By considering these three things I’ve mentioned, you will have your employees asking for more feedback.

And don’t forget to give feedback not only in the bad times, but give it in the good times as well. If you do this, you will be more respected as a leader.

What is MSA?

You don’t know how strong you are until your strength is tested. My friend’s strength is being tested. Her mom is fighting MSA and my friend, Candice, has completely altered her life to be her mother’s caregiver, a fearless caregiver that is.  A cancer survivor herself, Candice has fought her own battle before – underwent surgery, did radiation and is on medication. Unfortunately with MSA, there is no cure or  drugs to treat it. It’s like receiving “the death sentence” as Candice describes it. Here’s a quote from Candice about MSA:

    “Multiple System Atrophy is a devastating neurodegenerative disease that progresses very quickly. For those diagnosed, it is a death sentence. There are no drugs that stop it’s relentless progression. Over the course of 5 to 10 years, victims are robbed of their ability to walk, talk, chew, swallow and breathe. People diagnosed with cancer are offered tools with which to fight … surgery, radiation, chemotherapy. People diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy simply have no such tools to fight with. This disease could strike you or your loved one anytime between age 30 and 60.”

It is often times wrongly diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease. And when I’ve mentioned MSA to others, they assume MS.  I for sure had no clue what it was and have not seen Mrs. Valenta since she has been diagnosed. She has completely lost her independence. I’ve always known Mrs. Valenta as a healthy, active person. Candice is a personal trainer and before her mom was diagnosed, her mom was actually one of her clients. Mrs. Valenta was at a point in her life doing things on her own, enjoying the empty nest. Today, she has a 5 month old grandson that she hasn’t had the opportunity to hold. It’s a devastating situation.

This month is the official MSA awareness month and I want to help her raise awareness. She went in front of the Commissioner’s Court to advocate that Bexar County recognize March as the official awareness month for MSA.

Here’s the video of her speaking in front of Nelson Wolff himself (her speech starts around 2:30).

I could not be more proud of my friend. She has hit every hurdle possible in her young life and she keeps finding a way to overcome them.

Please learn more about Multiple System Atrophy at

Don’t complain about the complainer. Try to help first.

Gossiping, complaining, ranting – call it what you want, but it’s all toxic. It doesn’t make you feel good inside and it doesn’t make others around you feel good. When you try to make a conscious effort to refrain from negative conversations, you may come to realize that it’s actually a lot harder than you think. Our closest friends, colleagues and family members that we talk with everyday might be “that” person and you might be the person that they go to with all their problems. And sometimes you might be the complainer. How do you stop the madness? I think the challenge we are all faced with is finding the strength to address the negativity. So how do we do it?

First, I think we have to understand where the person is coming from. I thought back to some negative conversations I’ve recently been in and tried to think of what was the underlying core reason why this person was so upset that they had an urge to complain about it to someone. If we understood this, we can better prepare ourselves to address it.

Not Happy

When we’re not happy with ourselves, we tend to complain about others. You should know what I’m talking about because we’ve all probably done it at some point in our lives.  I was in a recent conversation where a friend of mine was badgering another person on their choices in life. “I can’t believe they did this,” or “I think that was such a poor choice and I am so disappointed,” and in reality, the decisions made by the person they were complaining about had zero effect on my friend. So why complain about it? Who cares? I started thinking about my friend that was doing the complaining and recall that they’ve been unhappy lately with a variety of events going on in their life. I think when this happens, we feel like we want others to be unhappy too. It’s hard to see others happy when you’re unhappy. (And being heavily involved in the social web doesn’t help much either)

The best thing to do is ask this person how they are doing. Remember specific goals or aspirations they have and ask them about it. They might list reasons on why they haven’t been able to accomplish some things and that’s when you dissect those reasons and help them overcome them.

Lack of Purpose

I was in a meeting with someone (that inspired me to write this post) where they were flustered by the fact that others were not picking up their slack. You could tell it really bothered this person. They asked, “How does this not bother you?” It took me a minute to answer but when I answered, I realized the reason why this person was complaining.

Slackers bother us because we’re not receiving personal fulfillment with the work we’re doing. Think about it for a second. If you went about your day, doing what you’re passionate about, making a difference and having fun – why would you care if someone else were not doing their work? The reason it bothers you is because you don’t find value in the work you’re doing. You feel like if you’re putting time in, someone else better be putting in the same amount of time and energy. For whatever reason, you feel obligated to work on something that you don’t want to work on and you want others to feel the same pain you feel.

So next time someone complains to you about a slacker, ask them this, why do you do what you do? Redirect their attention to self-reflection. If this person can find true fulfillment with what they are doing everyday, they might forget about what others are doing (or not doing). And if they aren’t, then maybe this will start motivating them to get going on something they actually want to do. This is only better for the world out there (can you imagine the level of productivity?)

Making Assumptions

I’ll use myself for this example (not gonna lie – I’ve done my share of complaining) I’ve been in a situation being around someone that really bothered me. I think what bothered me the most about this person is that I felt like every conversation was a competition. They wanted to have the last word and they always wanted to be right (sound familiar?). It was exhausting. For me, since I am not confrontational, I held back my words but just because I did, didn’t mean I held back my thoughts. Thoughts that would carry with me all day long and all night long. My brain was so fixated on all the things ‘I could have said.’ What a waste of time and energy to be thinking about it so much. I took this person’s comments so personally. What I’ve come to realize is that this person was this way with everyone, it was who they were. Over the years I have been able to overcome this negativity by either addressing my thoughts in words in conversations with this person or just taking their words ‘with a grain of salt.’ It really takes mental exercise to remove yourself from the tiny details and view this person from a place much higher than where you’re at. I got here because my husband would always say, ‘ I think you’re thinking too much into it.’ And I totally was.

So next time you hear someone complain about the same person over and over, ask them if they are like that with everyone. Have them monitor how this person is with others and if it’s the same interaction then they’ll know it’s not personal and hopefully will start helping them overcome being so bothered.

These are just a few reasons why I think people complain and ways to redirect the conversation. Of course, some people are just naturally complainers and there’s nothing we can do about it but just avoid it. I know it’s hard when it’s someone close to you but if you’re not receiving positive fulfillment of being in that relationship, why be in it? Aren’t relationships meant to help you be a better person?