Is there an Other Side?

a northern cardinal perched on a wooden fence

Have you ever wondered about whether there really IS an “other side,” a place where people go after they die?

I was raised Roman Catholic, so I was taught about the 3 options:

  1. Heaven, where good girls went
  2. Hell, where bad girls went
  3. Limbo, where babies go if they die before they’re baptized

A pretty gruesome explanation on the surface, and one seemingly contrived to manipulate “good” behavior through fear. It worked on me for a while and, over time, I designed my own theory about afterlife.

I’m also open to other perspectives. For instance, my brother believes ghosts exist and come from the other side, whether to even the score, say hello, or carry out their own nefarious purpose. I’ve never [knowingly] witnessed a ghost but I don’t DISbelieve they exist. I’d just like some proof before I embrace the concept.

Back to my theory about the other side.

I don’t hear my parents’ voices in my head nor do I see transparent versions of them in my room at night. Yet I’m convinced that when other people speak certain phrases Dad used to say or when I see a Mom-shaped shadow on the ground at my feet, my parents are reaching out to me from Heaven. Or wherever it is they are these days.

Same thing when I’m playing with my dog Angus and unconsciously call him Delaney (my beautiful boy who died 10 years ago). Or when I drive by that diner where George and I used to eat lunch in the summer. Hot dogs and homemade potato salad: not a meal our co-workers enjoyed!

Serendipity can easily take credit for these events. It can also claim responsibility for the sun bursting through the cloudy skies hours after we buried my mother.

I was driving back to the cemetery because I still couldn’t let her go. When the sun turned the world yellow I felt this … presence, this expansion inside my chest, this … I don’t know. I just felt my mother beside me, inside me. Like when I was a kid sitting next to her chair in the living room and she’d place her hand on my head and tell me everything would be okay. Like that.

Sure, you can insist that people don’t live after they die and provide me with tons of biological evidence. You can quote psychologists and psychiatrists who say our minds work in unaccountable ways and that so long as we think and talk about the people we love, they’re alive in our minds. I know all that, and even agree with you.

But you can’t tell me people, including Delaney, aren’t still out there somewhere–not and have me believe you.

Let’s talk about signs.

Cardinals are commonplace where I live and although everyone in my family has seen many of them, I’ve only caught the occasional glimpse–until last week. I took a break from a short story that wasn’t coming along the way I wanted. Actually, I was short storying because I was having issues with my novel. I sat in the back yard with my flowers, did some deep breathing, and tried to regroup. A bright red cardinal interrupted my meditation, flitting from fence post to flowerpot to tree branch and then repeated the circuit like he was high on speed.

I immediately received a silent message. Only problem was: I had no clue what the message was or who it was from. Not being a fan of birds, I knew nothing about cardinals other than males are red, females aren’t, and you see a lot of them at Christmas. I recognized  the bird’s urgency, so I returned to my office after he flew away and did my writer thing. But first, I researched.

Aside from the Bible, which refers to a cardinal being a symbol of hope and restoration, Roman mythology considered the cardinal a messenger of Jupiter, king of the gods (Zeus, in Greek mythology). Native American traditions embrace the belief that totem animals (animal spirit guides) accompany us through life, and that each individual travels with a primary animal guardian. Native Americans attribute cardinals with devotion, loving relationships, courtship, and monogamy. Some tribes believe they are associated with other characteristics, as well.

Regardless of whether the spiritual association is historical, religious, or spiritual, cardinals represent hope, new beginnings, and faith. Most believe they are messengers from a soul in heaven. A common saying is: “Cardinals appear when angels are near.”

My father’s favorite color is red. His name means “world ruler.” He was the biggest pusher of positivity. In his later years, he was my go-to person when I had a writing slump. (FYI, I dedicated my book, Taking the Mystery out of Business, to him.)

That afternoon I cranked out two short stories.

Don’t tell me there isn’t an “other side.”

5 Reasons Why I Hate Halloween

Why I Hate Halloween

Call me a killjoy, everyone else does. But first, listen to the reasons why I hate Halloween:

Why I Hate Halloween: Reason #1

Candy. I’m not a fan.

Especially once I saw the little crispy rice thingies in the Nestles crunch bar moving. Talk about disgusting. I’ll bet a cheapskate had some leftover candy the previous Halloween and “forgot” to look at the expiration date.

Reason #2

The dark. It scares me.

Probably because of the creepy-crawlies that populate the night, like the ones my brothers told me about when we were kids. The snake that lives under the bed and wraps itself around your arms and legs if you let them hang off the mattress. The gnome who lives in the crawlspace and comes out after you go to sleep. Unless you make sure the case your parents’ 78 records are in is sitting right on top of the hatch to the crawlspace.

Reason #3

Costumes. They never come with good shoes.

The one and only costume I ever enjoyed was the princess dress in … second grade, I think. It came accessorized with a genuine tiara and glass shoes! Okay, so the diamonds were really rhinestones, and the glass heels were really made of clear plastic. Seriously, though, I’ve never found another costume like that one. Never.

Reason #4

Trick-or-treating. Refer to Reason #2.

If this foolish activity were conducted at dawn instead of dusk (I’m a morning person), I might have a completely different take on Halloween. But it doesn’t. Because I don’t do the candy-begging thing, I stay home when Michael takes the grandkids around. This year, my sidekick for the past ten Halloweens (a big black cat named Murphy) is doing his thing in heaven, so I’ll be working solo answering the ringing doorbell. It’s tough to read a good book when you’re interrupted every four-and-a-half minutes by squealing goblins.

Final Reason Why I Hate Halloween

Black. Orange.

I don’t care what anyone else says, these two colors simply do NOT go together.

RIP, Murph

Those Email Messages You’re NOT Receiving…

Here’s a quick little lesson to all of you who keep hearing that other people are sending you emails. And resending them. Then sending them again … and, still, those email messages are not appearing in your Inbox!

Let me tell you WHY you’re not receiving all those emails. They’re going to your Junk folder (which can also be labelled as Spam, Bulk, or something else). And they may be automatically deleted without you even knowing it.

Fair Warning

I am not a tech guru, IT nerd, or expert on technology. I am someone who uses email A LOT and have learned lessons the hard way. I’m sharing what I’ve learned, through my own experiences. I’m also sharing a few resources so you can do your own research about those email messages you’re not receiving … and/or that you don’t want to receive…

Email Security Settings

Each email app and software includes its own security settings. These settings offer options about how YOU can handle unwanted email, which is referred to as Junk, Spam, or Bulk messages. They also help you receive the email you WANT to receive!

In many cases, if YOU don’t adjust your Junk settings, the following may automatically be sent to your Junk folder; messages:

  • Sent from someone who is not in your contact list
  • With attachments and/or hyperlinks
  • Sent as part of a bulk emailing
  • Sent by someone who has not emailed you before, or to whom you have not already sent an email

Junk Email Settings in Outlook and Other Email Apps/Software

The following images show you what your Junk options are if you use Outlook. You can find them by going to Home > Junk:

  • The image on the left shows the Junk Options
  • The image on the right shows how you can ADD someone into a Safe Sender’s list, meaning the messages from that individual email address or domain will NOT be sent to your Junk folder

Here are some articles to show you how to set up your Junk settings in:

A Final Note about Junk Email Messages

Junk email settings are a lot easier to control when your email address is proprietary rather than free. For example, my email address is associated with my website domain, so I have complete control over it. If you use Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, or any other free email software, you may not have as much freedom to control the settings.

Be aware that when you open ANY kind of email account the security settings are the default settings used by that app/software. Those settings may not be to your advantage, depending upon your preferences and whether the app/software is free. I’ve heard of settings that automatically delete all Junk mail after a specified period of time (e.g., 72 hours or one week) if the account owner doesn’t change the settings.

I hope this info is helpful! Reach out to me if I can be of further assistance.

Helping Others Helps Yourself

adult daughter teaching senior mother using smartphone in park

In today’s society, all kinds of crazy things are going on. Instead of isolating ourselves and waiting for Armageddon, we should be pulling together and taking advantage of every positive aspect of our existence. It troubles me that so many of us are unaware that reaching out and helping others helps yourself.

Today, my job is to enlighten you about how this process can turn around your level of satisfaction and success. I’m focusing on writers and the writer’s life but my advice applies equally to writers, insurance professionals, and everyone else. View my examples as metaphors and then apply them to your own circumstances.

Let me start by pouring the foundation:

  • Do unto others.
  • Pay it forward.
  • Help the less fortunate.
  • Volunteer.
  • Do no harm.

We’ve all heard these and other catchphrases urging us to be a better person. And you know what? They all focus on other people instead of ourselves!

Frankly, they turn a lot of people off. Why? Because a person’s first reaction is to think that if you’re working on yourself or your writing or anything else that relates to you, why go off-topic and switch the subject from Me to Someone Else?

Let’s adjust the focus as we begin building the house:

When a car drives into a tree, the crash is the direct cause of damage to the car. And the tree. And, more importantly, injury to the driver. The indirect cause of the damage and injury is the dog who ran into the road. Why? Because the dog prompted the driver to yank the wheel and barrel into the tree.

Life is filled with both direct and indirect causes of loss … and benefits.

In the publishing world, writers often view their successes based on:

  • How well they know their craft.
  • How accomplished they are at writing proposals, synopses, and queries.
  • How adept they are at gaining the [positive] attention of agents and editors.
  • How many books they sell.

They sit at their desks, immersed in tunnel vision, only thinking about themselves: Their work in progress. Their editing. Their rewrites. Their deadlines. Their submissions. Their rejections. In short, all the steps they need to follow to achieve their own, personal goals.

Focusing inward is essential when you’re a writer. The actual writing is, for most of us, a solitary undertaking. Even for those who work with critique partners, beta readers, and mentors, it doesn’t take a village when putting words on paper (or the computer screen).

However, all goals require a path to follow, and all paths run in two directions–two opposite directions. If focusing inward is heading North, then focusing outward is South. If you’re North, then everyone else is South.

Understanding the Value of a Sturdy Roof

None of us enjoys a leaky roof. Drip … drip … drip … will drive you crazy in about thirty seconds. Not to mention the damage that can result from inattention over time.

You absolutely MUST build a strong roof, nurture and care for it, and update it when necessary. Think of other people as the roof to your personal house. (Pssst: helping others helps yourself.)

As writers, when we comply with requests from newbies who ask us for advice and insights, we spend X hours of our own precious time educating them without receiving a direct benefit. One perspective is: the newbie doesn’t have publishing contacts. Another way of looking at it is: the newbie doesn’t know as much as we do about craft. Still another viewpoint is: the newbie doesn’t have anything to impart that we really need. Yada yada yada.

Another perspective is recognizing that each time we share what we know, we’re reinforcing it in our own minds. Each time we explain an element of our craft or the publishing industry, we’re reminding ourselves of something. Often, it’s something we may not have thought about for a while, something we can’t afford to forget. And each time we read or critique someone else’s work, we strengthen our own innate talents and perceptions. Helping others really does help yourself.

The Artistry of Finish Work

I don’t know Jane Friedman–I’ve never met her. I don’t know anyone else who knows her–but I’m familiar with her reputation in the publishing world. Between the information she provides on her website and the bazillions of online articles she’s penned and been the subject of, she embodies “helping others helps yourself.”

Here’s one article on her website about using beta readers that proves my point. The article is written by another person, but it’s on Jane’s website. You can spend all day reading the resources Jane provides on her website without spending a dime. At the same time, you’ll enrich yourself immeasurably.

My Personal Home

When I moved to Montana from Massachusetts, the only person I knew in Big Sky Country was my realtor. Nine months later, my circle of acquaintances and friends had expanded. It included about a dozen neighbors and thirty co-workers at the insurance agency where I was employed.

After I quit my job and established my second insurance agency, I followed my own advice about helping others to help myself. What did I do? I reached out to loan officers, car dealerships, the Chamber of Commerce, and local businesses, etc. I offered my time, knowledge, and expertise. Volunteering on the city’s DUI Task Force was way outside my comfort level; however, it wound up giving me tremendous satisfaction. And and community exposure. Using my sales and marketing experience, I approached the University of Montana’s School of Business Administration with an idea. The Director loved it and, together, we established a networking program that matched graduating college seniors with local businesses looking for interns and new employees. I performed other great and wonderful feats, but I’m guessing you get the picture…

Decorating Help

Now, I must admit, I did ask for one small thing in return for the time I offered without compensation. I asked my newfound friends and associates:

“If you benefit from your interactions with me, would you be kind enough to share your opinion of me–and the fact that I own an insurance agency and am trying to build a new business?”

That was it. That’s all it took. Sure, I worked hard. But other people–those I helped–worked with me and for me. They actually helped me grow my business and become a more satisfied, successful insurance professional.

The Open House: Helping Others

As a writer, I have always followed the same path. I’ve served on the board of several writer’s organizations. I’ve judged hundreds of entries in countless writer’s contests over the years. In one of the writer’s organizations of which I was a member, I created a program called Craft Chat. In each virtual monthly meeting, another published writer and I chatted with unpublished members. We answered their questions about the craft of writing served as a resource.

They helped me by introducing me to new perspectives, sharing innovative ideas, and enforcing what I already knew,. They also taught me about subjects that never even blipped on my radar.

Helping others helps yourself. Feel free to reach out to me anytime!

Do Lies Come in Different Colors?

the color of lies

Today’s burning question is: Do lies come in different colors?

I discussed this topic in a recent insurance ethics seminar I taught and I’m curious about your opinion. Some of my students indicated white lies are okay and other types of lies are not. What do YOU think?

I didn’t know lies came in assorted colors so I asked my students, “What’s the difference between a white lie, a red lie, and a purple lie?”

A white lie, my students said, is a lie that spares another person’s feelings or doesn’t hurt someone else. That got me thinking about other people’s feelings.

How can we predict with any accuracy how another person truly feels? Why should we modify our opinions based on our perception of what another person’s feelings might be? Are we truly responsible for how another person feels and responds to the truth?

Keep in mind that our opinion isn’t necessarily the truth–it’s our belief or perspective. In fact, our opinion often changes over time.

Sometimes, when people ask us a question, they’re asking for an opinion, not a fact: Do I look fat in this dress?

There’s no truthful answer to this question because no universal, factual response exists. I may think the dress suits you perfectly and Edna may disagree. If Edna decides to tell a white lie and say No, honey, you look great and save your feelings, she’s not telling HER truth.

Later on in the evening, after you decided to go to a party wearing the dress Edna likes, what if someone else tells you the dress is too tight and you should have chosen something else to wear? Might Edna’s words still hurt when you realize she told a white lie? Might Edna have spared your feelings by telling HER truth in a mindful manner? Personally, honey, your red dress is the most flattering dress you own. If I were you, I’d wear that instead.

At other times, when people ask us a question, they want a factual response. Why didn’t you answer the phone last night? There IS a truthful answer to this question. Maybe I didn’t hear the phone ring. If that’s the case, saying so would be a truthful response. But what if I didn’t hear the phone ring because the battery died, I turned the phone off when I got home to avoid your call, or I left it at home when I rented a motel room to fool around with your spouse?

Not providing the entire truth might be misleading … and an outright lie.

But when might it be a “white” lie? If the phone’s battery died and I chose not to charge it because I wanted silence, not providing that information might be considered a white lie. In the other two scenarios, not telling the truth is an outright lie. What color lie would it be? Red, purple, blue?

Let’s face it, a lie is meant to deceive. When we lie, we distort the truth to protect ourselves, not to spare other people’s feelings.

It’s easier to tell a white lie and say either “yes” or “no” than produce one or two complete sentences that convey how we truly feel … while also considering the other person’s feelings. It’s also easier to tell other types of lies to prevent the fallout from sharing the truth, whether it’s OUR truth or THE truth.

In closing, let me share the universal meaning of some colors in the rainbow:

  • Red is the color of passion and energy. It’s also a sign of danger or warning.
  • Yellow is the color of happiness and optimism, however, it’s also a sign of cowardice.
  • Green is the color of nature, harmony, and health and is universally associated with envy.
  • Purple is the color of royalty, spirituality, and imagination. It’s also connected with immaturity and sensitivity.
  • White is the color of purity and innocence, yet it can be indicative of coldness, emptiness, or distance.

When we lie, even when telling white lies, we do so primarily because of our OWN feelings. Feelings that usually represent the flip side of what is good and positive. So yes, I guess lies do come in different colors.