Stepping into the New Year, Embracing Childhood Memories

My childhood memories of the year-end traditions, while growing up in Kiyushu, Japan always floods my mind this time of the year.

I went through a culture shock when I arrived in America at the age of eleven and saw how differently people in America celebrated the coming of the new year. Lively new year’s eve parties, waking up on January first and watching football games on TV was so foreign to me. The older I got, the more I cherished my childhood memories of Oshogatsu (Japanese New Years).

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Starting the first of December, Mother would say, “Keiko, we are going through each room in our house and give them a deep cleaning. Without an argument, I helped Mother clean all the shoji-screens, de-cluttered the drawers and swept and cleaned the floors.

Mother also gave me a To-do list.

 

 

 

Mother’s To Do list read like this:
Do you owe money to anyone? Pay it back.
Did you say unkind words to anyone? Apologize before the year ends.
Did you mean to do a kind act for someone? Do it now.
Did you think about what you will do in the coming year to become a better person? Write it down.

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 After I finished my to do list, then it was time to relax and enjoy the coming of the new year which began near midnight on December 31. We sat in our clean house and enjoyed eating traditional bowl of buckwheat noodles topped with grated mountain potatoes, listening to the far away sounds of the temple bells as it rang out the exact number of the year we were about to enter.

Mother would say, “Keiko, soba noodles are the last to enter your body this year. The noodles are cleansing. You will start out the new year with a clean body and a clear mind.”

I always got up early on New Year’s Day. Mother dressed me in a colorful kimono and we visited the temple and prayed for a good year so we will have the fortune to maintain good relationships, health and wealth. After that, we went home, ready to have fun playing children’s games (played only at Oshogatsu time) with the neighborhood children and eating traditional New Year’s food Mother prepared. Oshogatsu lasted three days from Jan. 1 – 3.

Even though it’s been many years since I left Japan, I still remember my Mother’s words at the end of each year. I try my best to follow through with the list Mother made for me.

Happy New Year and I wish for you a year filled with joy, gratitude and love.

 

Seven Unique and Meaningful Holiday Ideas

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How do you feel when you see people walking aimlessly through the mall once Thanksgiving is over, trying to pick out presents for people when they have no clue what they like or need? Those gifts often end up as useless dust collectors after the magical season is over.

This year, I decided to think of holiday giving in a new way and give to others (and myself) in a more thoughtful way. For me, this means staying away from the crowded shopping malls, instead, give my business to local merchants or make things at home. Yes, I love making things with my hands. It brings me great joy to share things I’ve made. I also make sure not to forget people and animals who need a helping hand. They deserve to feel good too.

Here are a few of my favorite things I love to do and to give during the holiday season:

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Cranberry Crackle Tart
I made this delicious tart because I wanted to take cranberries (so good for you) further than just making the traditional cranberries we eat at Thanksgiving. I was so pleased with the flavor, sweetness combined with a touch of tartness, and the festive look of the white meringue. I brought  these beautiful tarts to several gatherings. You’ll love keeping this recipe as a go-to favorite because it requires minimal ingredients. Everyone will think it came from a French pastry shop! Get your recipe here.

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Lemon Water Kit
I’ve gotten into the habit of drinking warm lemon water every morning instead of coffee. Lemon turns your water into an alkaline state and drinking it is good for cleansing your digestive system. I feel so much better when I start the day out with a large cup of hot water with ½ lemon and a few drops of natural honey. I decided to put a kit together to give as a gift. A clear, glass handled cup, lemon squeezer and half a dozen lemons go into this gift set.

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How to Rock a Selfie Photo Shoot by Vivien McMaster
Do you notice when it comes to picture-taking time, most people get self-conscious and say, “Oh no, please leave me out. I don’t like to have my picture taken?” And we find ourselves in this situation more with the accessibility of iPhones which are snapping photos all around us, everywhere we go. Most of us are self-conscious because we keep telling ourselves we’re not attractive enough to be in photos. When I found this on-line Selfie class given by Vivien McMaster, I decided to take it. Yes, this class is about self-portrait photography but it’s so much more. Vivien will teach you by helping to identify special gifts you have to offer to the world. I am planning to give this class as a gift to my special friend who is filled with beauty inside-out but feels self-conscious about her photo image. I can hardly wait to see her blossom! Click here to learn more.

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Holiday Gift Tags, So Simple to Make!
It just takes a little imagination and a desire to make these sophisticated tags. I enjoy making my own tags because they it add a personal touch to the gifts I give to others. Not only are they fun to make, it makes me feel good that I’m not spending money buying commercially made tags.
All it takes is a few simple punches, baker’s twine and a roll of washi tape. I cut my tags 2 1/2” x 8” and fold them in half. While I’m at it, I make some a tad bit larger and use them as note cards. They make nice thank you cards. All you want to say is just a short note of appreciation right? Once I get going on these tags, I can’t stop. I make many groupings of tags designed for different seasons.

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How to Behave so Your Dog Behaves    by: Dr. Sophia Yin
“I learned that every pet needs a human who can lead. Not like a boss, but like a partner in a dance—someone who gives clear signals, rewards desirable behavior as it occurs, removes rewards for inappropriate behavior immediately, and sticks to the plan consistently until the new, good behavior is a habit.”   -Sophia Yin”

I can guarantee that this is the best animal training book I have ever found. If you don’t believe me, ask my dog Max. Dr. Yin’s training method is so simple and sensible, just follow it and you will see a remarkable difference in your relationship with your dog in only two weeks! Just close your eyes and imagine you and Fido dancing like a pair of pro dancers. It is a great feeling when this kind of bond can be established between you and Fido. Thank you Dr. Sophia Yin! Look for this fantastic book at your local bookstore or Dr. Sophia Yin’s website. (Sadly, Dr. Sophia Yin passed away two months ago. A huge loss to the veterinary community and to us who love our pets. I am deeply saddened but thankful that she gave us so much while she was alive and will continue to do so for the years to come.)

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Home-Made Organic Cinnamon-Maple Granola
I’m addicted to eating things I make in my own kitchen. Why? One simple reason… because I know exactly what’s in them. I fell in love with granolas when I found this recipe on Garden for the House. Kevin Lee Jacobs does a superb job with giving clear directions on his hand selected recipes. I love many of his recipes and love trying them out. Once you make this to-die-for recipe, put the granola into glass canning jars and tie the neck with a colorful ribbon … and don’t forget to add your hand-made tag to make your gift look like a million dollars.

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Give a Helping Hand
Who said you have to be wealthy to donate? Did you know that 80% of the active philanthropists in this world are middle and low income folks?

Every person who steps up to organize a give back to our society event is part of a powerful movement in social giving.

It doesn’t have to be in a grand way, just do what you can. Let me give you a little idea. Why not hold a small gathering of friends and family during this joyous season? Let them know ahead of time you want them to help you raise money for a cause which you are passionate about. Make it a fun and special evening and share the reason why you want to help animals, children or an underserved population. You will be surprised at how people will open up their wallets to help your cause. Remember, no gift is too small and it’s an incredible feeling to know you are making a difference in creating a better world. You can check out the Holiday with a Heart event we gave at my hair salon, Studio 904 to raise money for Pasado’s Safe Haven, Precious Life Animal Sanctuary and Ginger’s Pet Rescue.

Please let me know if you try any of these things. I’d love to hear your ideas too!

How to Transform Grocery Bags into Beautiful Decorations

Do you want to create a beautiful and whimsical environment for the holidays?

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Who’d ever think that transforming plain brown paper bags into ornaments can be an affordable way to differentiate your business from others?

If you are a client of my hair salon, Studio 904, you’ve seen the unique ways in how I keep the facility fresh and pleasing to the eye by changing things up every season.

I put hours of time into making hand-made decorations for my salon because I believe seeing something fresh and new on a regular basis is stimulating and puts customers in a good mood. If it’s pleasing to our customers, just think how happy it makes our staff to come to a beautiful work environment daily.

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Many businesses make the mistake of becoming stagnated with lack of change in their environment and service offerings, a sure way for a slow death of your business.

So I say, “Change it Up!” Look around your business and come up with ways to refresh and invigorate your environment.

 

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I made these Owl Angels (more like Urban Angels) this year for the holidays. I love how these cute critters came out. They are not rustic looking like the owls I’ve seen. The white body and the glittered net wings give them a fresh and sophisticated look. So I wanted to share with you how I made them.

Oh, they are so cute. Nothing is more satisfying to me than looking at their cuteness every day.
Without a fail, these owls put a big smile on my face and helps me to have a happy day.

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How to make “Owl Angels” from paper bags.

 Cut bags into 6” x 8” pieces
Paint one side of each cut pieces with white gesso (it takes two pieces to make one owl)
Draw a simple shape of an owl on one of the pieces (this becomes the front of the owl)
Draw eyes, decorate the body using a black Sharpie marker
Sew the outline with a machine (leave an opening at the bottom)
Stuff with small amount of cotton (this will puff the owls up)
Sew and close the bottom opening (optional: insert feet made of black felt before sewing up the opening)
Cut out small wings (I used paper and ribbon netting)

Good luck with your decorations! I’d love to hear your ideas on affordable decorating ideas for the holidays which is right around the corner.

Why Dog Training will Help You to Improve Leadership Skills

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Sitting at the dog training center with my dog, Max, I obediently followed our instructor as she taught us how to make our dogs sit, stay, and lay down. After a few sessions, I realized that the instructor was not really teaching my dog rather she was training me to develop my leadership skills. She belted out commands to us humans, saying, “Stand tall like you have confidence, don’t be wishy washy with your leash handling and make direct eye contact!”

When we did a good job with our dogs, she would say, “What are you waiting for? Give your dog a treat!”

Max  is looking so sweet in his selfie photo.
Max is looking so sweet in his selfie photo.

I often got frustrated because Max was not obeying my commands. I said to Max with an angry expression on my face, “What’s wrong with you? I told you to come to me.” The instructor came over and said, “How do you expect him to understand what you mean? Look at your body language, you’re bent over, not standing straight. Your facial expression doesn’t show that you genuinely want him to succeed. If I was your dog, I wouldn’t want to obey you either.” 

I felt put-down by the boot camp-style feedback but swallowed my pride and continued with training. Before long, I became engrossed in the skills I was learning and continued on to the Intermediate and Advanced classes. In-fact, I got so hooked on what I was learning, I kept going back for more.

 

Max gained self-esteem through training.
Max gained self-esteem through training.

I started to practice what I learned in dog training classes at work. I began to feel more confident as a leader and noticed improvements in the people on my team. As my communication to others became more clear, there was less confusion with the directions I delivered. Things got done right and people were happy!

Here are some tips I learned in my classes. I know you’ll agree that these handling skills can be transferred to humans to help us become better leaders.

 Dog Training 101

1. Be clear and specific – Your voice should be clear so your dog can understand. Don’t mumble.
2. Be consistent – It will confuse the dog when you don’t use the same words. If “okay” is your release word for your dog, don’t say “come it’s okay” the next time.
3. Keep it simple – Use only one command at a time. Say “sit down” instead of “come here and sit down.”
4. Gain loyalty by being fair – Dogs notice if you are not fair. Be compassionate and truthful. No physical violence, instead show them respect.
5. Be confident – When giving dogs a command, show confidence in your body language, voice tone and facial expression.
6. Give feedback – if you don’t get the appropriate response, correct them immediately. Be patient and keep teaching until you get the response you’re looking for
7. Praise all the time – When you get the correct response, praise them immediately…. yes, every time!
8. Positive ending – Finish your training session with the correct behavior. Never end on a negative note. Say, “Yhea, good job!” and give them ample treats and pet their head.

Fact: When dogs go through obedience training, their self-esteem is higher.

Now, go see how these dog training methods can fit into your human interactions. I guarantee, that your relationships with your co-workers, friends and family members will improve just like mine did!

Steps to Take After a Setback in Your Life

Have you experienced a set back which had a dramatic effect on your life? I mean it just knocked you off your feet in a split second? You may have asked yourself, why me? I’m sure you have because that is the human tendency.

This is me after my accident
This is me after my accident

Here’s my story of a devastating accident I had a few months ago and what I did to get out of the funk. I hope me sharing this will help you to deal with your set backs. I took my dog Max for a leisurely walk one evening. I saw a man, a little girl and their dog walking towards us. I quickly placed Max in a sit position, waiting for them to pass by. I saw that their dog was excited, jumping, pulling and running in circles. I called out to them, “Keep your dog in tact!”. Before I could finish my sentence, the dog broke leash and came running toward us.

This is the dog who came running, causing me to fall.
This is the dog who came running, causing me to fall.

I started to run with Max to get away from the scene. The dog kept coming after us, he ran circles around my legs, causing me to fall right on my face. Can you believe? The man and his little girl walked away, leaving me badly hurt on the ground. A neighbor man came out and saw me. He immediately called 911 and I was taken to emergency.

It’s been three months now and I’m still not back at work. It’s been a painful process plus I have an expensive dental restoration process to go through which will cost me more money than I’ve imagined. It can be a devastating accident like what happened to me or something else which can happen in a split second as you live your life. No matter what the reason, recovering from an unexpected event can take you through all kinds of ups and downs. This is how I handled it to maintain a healthy attitude and you can do it too.

  • I accepted what happened to me and decided I should be grateful it was not worse than it was. This is where I began counting my blessings. I’m sure you will be able to come up with tons of things you are grateful for.
  • I decided that I would not blame myself or the other party who caused this accident. What good will blaming do? It is what it is, so just deal with it.
  • I made good use of the downtime. I signed up for an on-line writing course and improved my writing skills. Do you have something you’ve been wanting to learn but never had the time? This is the time to do it.
  • I did an hour or two of art projects daily. You can do something creative – try new recipes, organize your drawers etc. Everything is art, that’s how I see it.
  • I enjoyed spending time with family and friends. It’s catch-up time so connect with people. They understand you are going through a tough time and will be happy to spend time with you.
  • An incident like this can help you to have mental relaxation time so you can prepare yourself to get back in the game better than how you left it. What do you think?

Stress, Don’t Just Talk About it…Do Something About It

People often ask me, “You have such a full schedule. How do you relieve the stress in your life?” My answer is simple. You must force yourself to build in a structured stress relieving activity within the week. It must be something you love doing. It doesn’t have to be a vacation in the sun…just plan a short mini-vacation daily or weekly.
People are dealing with multiple pressures in their lives. Many don’t even realize that they are under stress. I know. I was one of these people. Working to keep my Studio 904 salons going became my priority.  I felt like there was no time for me to do anything else other than work and taking care of my family.
I am sure many of you know what I am talking about. You might be feeling lost and depressed. The best advice I can give is to find a hobby you feel passionate about and force yourself to engage in it weekly or even daily.

Here’s a short story of how the sport of Agility relieved my stress.

The salon is buzzing. Customers filled every chair. The clock on the wall said it’s 2:45 PM. I started to get nervous… I’m scheduled to leave work at 3:00 in order to make it to the 4:30 Agility training class. I can’t leave…so many problems need my attention. I mumble to myself, why did I commit to doing this? I get my self under pressure to leave the salon every week to take my dog Max to his agility training.

I managed to run out of the salon at 3:05. I drove home to pick up my dog Max and his training treat. I hit the freeway going south. I should have known, the traffic was backed up and the cars were crawling to get passed the bottle neck to the Maple Valley Highway.

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Whew… we arrive at the Maple Valley Agility Center at exactly 4:30. Max began to bark, sensing that it’s time to go in to exercise his skills in running, jumping and weaving through the trial equipment.

Max and I walked into the old wooden make-shift building with the saw dust floor. We quietly took our place and began watching Lucy, the Australian Border Collie. Lucy strutted to the start line, her piercing eyes focusing on the obstacles which lay in front. The minute her handler said go, Lucy was off like a bullett …. knocking down all the jump poles, leaving the place in shambles. We all laughed and clapped and told Lucy what a great player she is.

Max coming out of the tunnel
Max coming out of the tunnel

Next up was Ralph, the senior chocolate brown lab. Ralph was laid back . His owner constantly encouraged him by saying, “Good boy, come on Ralph”. All of us on the bench chimed in, “Come on Ralph, little faster!” Ralph performed everything in his own methodical way and finally got through the course. We all jumped up and clapped saying, “Good job Ralph!”.

Max came flying down from the A-Frame!
Max came flying down from the A-Frame!

Finally our turn. Max and I ran up to the start line. I whispered in his ear. ” Sit Max…wait…good boy.” I gave him a yummy piece of his favorite beef liver. He lapped it up and looked at me intently. “Ok, let’s go Max!” Living up to his Jack Russell, high energy mentality, he ran the course…stopping at nothing….

constantly looking for my ques directing him to the next obstacle. By the time we finished, we heard the whole class room clapping shouting, “Wow, Max what a run!”. Max sensed that he did good. I threw a double dose of beef levers on the ground to let him know I was pleased.

When class ended, my mind was crystal clear. I didn’t remember anything of the stress I was experiencing earlier in the day. I thought this is what it’s all about. Getting down with these smart fun-loving dogs and play like we did when we were kids!

The Power of Five Dollars

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Recently, Shelley Rotando, CEO of Northwest Harvest came in to my salon, Studio 904 to get her hair colored and cut. I asked her how things at Northwest Harvest was going.

“Kay, summer is a tough time for us. Nearly half of Washington’s school-age children go hungry during the summer due to lack of school meal programs. This means one of every five children in our state go hungry,” She said.

I was surprised to hear such an alarming number.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone could be hungry. Most of us can go to our refrigerator or to a nearby restaurant and satisfy our growling stomachs at a moment’s notice. Wouldn’t you agree?

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As a small business owner with a vision to “improve lives of our citizens”, I felt compelled to share this information with our customers and ask for their help.  I wanted to involve our 800 clients who pass through our door in one given month to donate a small amount of money towards this cause. I’m a believer that a small amount of money collected from many people can raise a large sum of money. The best part of this giving philosophy is that it hurts no one. It truly creates a win-win for all involved.

Here is what Studio 904’s “Feed Our Kids” fundraising program asked our clients to do:

  1. Purchase a $5. Raffle ticket to enter drawing of baskets filled with products and $50. Gift cards from Studio 904.
  2. Attend a “Flower Power” class where I will teach how to make beautiful flowers, like the ones I made to decorate our salon. Suggested donation to attend is $30. (Why not use our talent to raise more money?)
  3. Simply write a check to NW Harvest for a tax deductible expense.

Our team and customers are supporting our fundraiser with enthusiasm. It brings me joy to watch all the happy faces as I watch our donation box grow with money to feed our children!
I’d love to hear what you’ve done to raise money for your favorite cause.