Category Archives: Blog Posts

Don’t Let the Holidays Stress You Out-Part 2-The Gifts

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Don’t let the holidays stress you out.  Photo on Foter.com

So much of this holiday season focuses on giving; obligatory or expected gifts to everyone and anyone we know, but also of our time and energy.  Planning, finding, and paying for holiday gifts can cause stress levels to spike. We spend way too much precious time at the mall and/or online, only to still not be done at the very end of the countdown leading up to Christmas Day.  While everyone’s list and budget will be different, the best thing you can do to alleviate holiday stress is make a few guidelines for yourself, and stick to them.

Don’t feel guilty about setting a budget.  It is far too easy to overspend this time of year.  By setting a budget for yourself, and adhering to it, you can enjoy the season without the worry of how to pay off your credit cards when it’s over.  Start with a list of the people you need to buy for, as well as the holiday meals you will be preparing, and what other expenses you need to account for, such as decorations, postage, and clothing for holiday events; and estimate how much you can afford to spend.

Queen Bee of Beverly Hills Designer Handbags Holiday
 There’s nothing like having all the holiday shopping finished!  Photo by queenbeeofbeverlyhills on Foter.com / CC BY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t wait till the last minute to shop.  Do as much as possible early.  The sooner you can start, the more time you will have to find the perfect gifts, and the less stressed you will feel to finish by December 25th.  My kids’ birthdays are in the summer and fall, so once their birthday parties were done, I often had leftover present ideas to consider for Christmas, and could be on the lookout for sales early in the year.

Craft stores and costume stores, for example, both run clearance sales in the summer, and department stores frequently have early clearance sales before the holidays to make room for seasonal merchandise.  Keep your eyes open, and your potential gift recipients in mind as you do your regular shopping.  You may find the perfect gift long before December.

If braving the holiday crowds in stores is not your favorite thing, try to do your shopping midweek, or early morning or late at night to avoid some of the traffic.  Of course, many of us take advantage of online retailers like Amazon, or options from places like JC Penney or Best Buy for ordering online to pick up in the store.  These services afforded by technology can really make life easier.

Homemade gifts are still a valid option.  Do you have a talent for knitting or baking?  Many of the people on your list may appreciate a custom, handmade original from you.  Consider doing a cookie exchange with relatives or neighbors; you can spend quality time together and share something everyone will love.  Instead of shopping for individual gifts for every coworker in your office, especially if it is a large one, consider bringing in a few containers of homemade treats that everyone can enjoy.  The care you put into such delights will most likely mean more to them than another coffee mug or Starbucks gift card would.

Share the love-give to those in need.  The holiday season is the perfect time of year to share with others, not that we need wait until now to do so.  There are so many people who are cold and hungry, who are lacking in necessities, or are just lonely, and that would appreciate being remembered.  Helping others brings a remembrance of the true nature of the season to mind, with the side effect of reminding us how fortunate we truly are.

Take your family to volunteer in a homeless shelter or a nursing home, dispensing food or just visiting.  Offer a word of comfort, or a warm coat or blanket.  Give to your local food pantry, or a verified charity like the Salvation Army or Redcross.   Consider making a group donation or taking names off a charity “giving tree” to buy gifts for a family in need, instead of exchanging gifts in your office.

Encourage your children to have realistic expectations for Christmas morning.  Children of all ages get excited about presents, it’s true, but children in particular sometimes want everything they see in the store or in commercials.  While it’s natural as parents to have trouble denying our darlings anything, another part of us realizes that more is not always better.  Develop a “wish list” with your children of what they may hope to find under the tree.  (Here is another place to keep your budget in mind.)

By all means, indulge your children when you can, but at the same time, it’s okay to set limits on the number and prices of presents they receive.  After all, most of us do not have unlimited funds or space to hold unlimited presents, especially if what the children really want this year is as large as a pony.

Explain in terms your children can understand, that Santa or mom and dad can only give them so much this year.  Take time to listen and watch your children in the months and weeks leading up to the holiday to find out what gifts they’re really interested in, what will keep them happy or involved longer than it takes to unwrap.

I hope these simple tactics will help you as you prepare for your own wonderful, chaotic holiday season.  Remember, the holidays are a magical time, perfect for spending time with loved ones and making memories that will last forever.  Don’t allow yourself to be too stressed out to enjoy them.  Next week I’ll tackle another “stress” topic, holiday food.

Happy Holidays,

Amy

 

 

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Don’t Let the Holidays Stress You Out: Tips for a Simplified Holiday Season

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Don’t let this season stress you out; enjoy it instead! Photo on Foter.com

For many, the December holidays can be very stressful.  Between the shopping, wrapping, cooking, decorating, and events with family, school functions for children, church obligations, and office parties; sometimes we really forget to breathe.  I have decided this year enough is enough- I intend to enjoy my holidays, not stress over them.  My goal is to simplify my holiday by prioritizing, planning, and budgeting so that I can make the season both happy for my family, and guilt-free for the New Year.  To that end I will be sharing in a four part series my tips and plans for a stress-free holiday.

First up: My Tips for Low-cost/ No Cost Holiday Decorating:

Day 344 - Back Again
Bring out the decorations! Photo by Kelmon on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Where will the tree go?  In my house, one of the biggest decisions I have to make each year is where to position Christmas tree(s).   Since most of our rooms are not overly large, this takes some work.  One option is to rearrange furniture to accommodate a tree. If this is not practical, consider putting up one or several smaller tabletop trees.  They can even be placed in multiple rooms to spread the joy around your home.

How will I decorate the tree this year?   In the past I have sometimes been ambitious and tried to keep all the ornaments on a tree to a certain theme or color scheme.  This can be a lot of fun if you have the time and money to sort and purchase the needed ornaments.  Otherwise, a tree can be just as merry by mixing and matching the decorations I’ve accumulated over the years in new combinations.

P.S.  If you have small children or curious pets, consider corralling small wrapped packages in a decorative basket or similar container until Christmas morning so they won’t be scattered/ misplaced/opened prematurely.  A basket full of colorful wrapped boxes can look very attractive, too.

What about budget?  Ask yourself; do I really need to spend a lot of money on decorations, or can I just use what I already have, maybe adding in a few new pieces?  My husband and I have acquired a pretty large collection of holiday decorations.  I may or may not even pull them all out in a given year.  It all depends on how much time and energy I have, and how much entertaining we plan to do.

How can I remake decorations look new without spending a lot of money?  Here is a relatively easy solution to make a centerpiece, wreath, or tree look new- get some floral picks.  Last year I refurbished a wreath that had decorated our front door since my daughter was small by cutting some of the ornaments out and replacing them with new “picks” I bought at Hobby Lobby.  Consider doing the same with a favorite centerpiece, or adding silk florals, berries, etc., to a decorated tree as “filler.”

What do I do about my furniture?  I took an existing solid-colored slip cover from storage and used it to update a floral sofa for Christmas.  The solid color is much easier to “dress” with seasonal pillows and throws, without spending a lot of time or money.  I also;

  • Draped garland over the window frames in the living room over existing treatments gave them a festive look, and
  • Swapped out the everyday serving tray on my coffee table for a shiny gold one for a very simple holiday update.

How do I keep my displays from looking cluttered?  Instead of adding holiday decorations to existing décor, swap out your everyday knickknacks for seasonal ones.  Simply store everyday items in in closets, laundry rooms, basements, or wherever you have available space, so they can be returned to the spotlight after season is over.

How do I decorate often-ignored spaces? Do you have red, green, or holiday themed towels? Use them!  Seasonal towels can be found everywhere this time of year, often for only a few dollars.  Put them in the kitchen, the powder room, wherever you need a little extra Christmas cheer.

What if I have extra money in my budget?  If you have money to spend on decorations, that’s great!  Invest it either floral arrangements like poinsettias or evergreens, that will enhance your existing décor and smell great, or on pieces that will be timeless and you will enjoy using year after year.

However you decorate, and whatever else you do this season, make sure that the result is something that makes you happy.  I sincerely believe that this is the season of joy and giving, peace and acceptance.  It is not the season of stress, worry, overspending, or guilt.  I hope these tips can help make your holiday brighter.  Please check in next week when I address the next item on my de-stress list-gift giving.

Happy Holidays,

Amy

Take Time to Give Thanks

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Celebrating a holiday is the perfect reason to come together.    Photo by mgstanton on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

This week those of us in the U.S. celebrate the most iconic of American holidays-Thanksgiving.  This is the time of year we gather the extended family, demolish an overindulgent meal, and either play games or snooze in front of the TV (or both.)  Sometimes in all the hoopla to find the perfect bird, craft the most elaborate centerpiece, or out-do the relatives we may see only once a year in baking homemade treats, it is easy to forget the real meaning of both the name and the holiday itself.

What is Thanksgiving?  The name comes from an event that brought two groups of peoples of different colors and extremely different cultures together in a joint meal that celebrated the most basic of all needs-food, companionship, and freedom.  That we continue to commemorate this event almost 400 years later shows that we still honor both their sacrifices and their choices in choosing to live life as their consciences dictated.

Thanksgiving as a word is simply being grateful for everything and everyone we have in our lives.  Many of us are blessed with more than enough food, homes, material possessions, and choices for what we do with our lives.  We have family members, friends, and neighbors with whom we can share a meal or at least a phone call or Skype chat this week.  For many of us the excess is something we sometimes take for granted; but Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to remember, and appreciate all we truly have.

I urge you to take time to be thankful and share with others of your time and your abundance.  Help those in need through donations to a church or a local charity, or by volunteering at a food pantry or soup kitchen.  Give of yourself this week.  Above all, cherish the time and opportunity to spend with the loved ones in your life.

Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving!

Amy

Keeping the Romance Alive

adult silhouette love
Photo credit: Foter.com

As this year draws swiftly towards an end, I realize somewhat to my amazement that my husband and I will soon celebrate our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary.  Our marriage has survived many ups and downs; including a cross-country move and raising two children, and somehow become a stronger relationship than we had in the beginning.  Of course, none of this happened without a lot of work, as well as a few angry words, and the occasional tear.  Over the years we have learned a few techniques that have helped us to stay close, and now I’d like to share them with you.

Talk to each other. In an age where many of us rarely put down our smart phones long enough to eat a meal, this simple advice is really not.  Couples need to communicate more than just through a text or tweet; they need to regularly discuss any number of subjects that affect them both.  Lack of meaningful communication can lead to misunderstandings, resentment, and frustration over problems that wouldn’t exist if a few simple words are shared.  Adding something such as a regular conversation over dinner or before bed can make a big difference in the attitudes both spouses have toward each other.

Do special things for each other.  Take time to “woo” your partner, not just with money or flowers, but by taking the time to be thoughtful.  Make your spouse’s coffee for them when they are running late in the morning or just because it will make them smile.  Pay them an unexpected compliment.  Place an online order for something you know they want but can’t seem to find in a local store.  Small, special acts of kindness can remind your spouse how much you care, and why they fell in love with you in the first place.

Date your spouse.  Any relationship needs nurturing to stay strong, and one of the best ways to do this is to make time to spend together.   Dating a potential partner draws two people closer in the beginning, and adhering to “dates” helps maintain that connection despite the craziness of everyday lives.

Scheduling a midweek lunch date or Saturday evening date night helps to maintain the relationship as a priority. Too often “adult” time falls by the wayside as couples are too busy or preoccupied with kids, household chores, and other commitments that require time and energy.  Couples need a chance to reconnect and simply be romantic partners, and not just mommy and daddy or two strangers who share a home and responsibilities.

 

While these tips cannot guarantee a couple will have a long, happy marriage, they can help address some of the issues that can commonly plague a relationship.  The best part is that they can be utilized by couples who are just dating, as well as those who have been married for decades like my husband and me.  But don’t take my word for it, try them out for yourself.

Thanks always for reading,

Amy

Happy Halloween!

Trick or Treat
Photo credit: monkeywing via Foter.com / CC BY

It’s that time of year again!  Tonight is the night when ghosts and goblins both big and small will dress in their most festive gear and roam the streets looking for treats.  Whether you choose to venture out or not, tonight is a good time to enjoy special foods, favorite movies, and the companionship of family and friends.

If you are planning to take your horde out, keep an eye or three peeled for spooky creatures you may not recognize.  If you are staying in, make sure you have plenty of treats so all the little monsters in your neighborhood aren’t tempted to play a trick.  Either way, enjoy your evening.

From my cadre of ghouls to yours,

Happy Halloween!

Amy

Why I Love Fall

A walk through the woods in autumn.  Photo credit: melolou via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The weather finally took a semi-permanent nosedive this week into cooler weather, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I’m sure I’m risking perpetuating an old cliché, but I can’t help but point out that fall truly is my favorite time of year.   Mother Nature often seems to ignore the calendar in favor of setting her own schedule; so when the temperatures begin to dip and fail to rise back into the eighties, when the days begin to noticeably shorten, then the autumn is truly upon us.  There are just so many things I love about this season; I had to share a few:

Fall leaves.  The leaves at last show their “true” colors.  Many trees aside from evergreens naturally have leaves as colorful as flower petals, but only in the autumn does their real beauty show through.  Gradually as their foliage loses the green hues of spring and summer trees begin to show their individuality, as a riot of bright hues.

Cooler weather.  In between the swelter of summer and the chill of winter, come days when we can leave off the artificial environment of central air or heat and leave the windows open.  Even with crisp mornings or chilly evenings, an open window can feel wonderful, as the sounds and smells of nature are allowed to permeate the air too often kept stuffy and closed.  Also banished, for many of us living in the Midwest, are the oppressive allergies that come with high heat and humidity.

Holiday cooking.  Harvest time promises a wealth of fresh ingredients, as well as a plethora of new recipes from websites and magazines, gathered to tempted loved ones with new, seasonal, creations.  Cooking and experimenting with some of this bounty is a challenge I utterly enjoy, and something my family always appreciates at holiday gatherings.

Halloween.  Ever since I was a child, I highly anticipated the one day of the year that sanctioned the opportunity to pretend to be someone else, if only for the day.  The options are only limited by one’s imagination, and can be as simple as putting on a hat or cape, or be as elaborate as one may desire.  For one day of the year, it is perfectly acceptable to pretend to be a superhero, or a pirate, or anything else you once dreamed of in childhood.

As I sit to write this, I’ve already laid in a supply of candy to give out next week to trick-or-treaters.  I haven’t decided who I want to be for Halloween, but I’ll think of something.  Later, maybe I’ll go to the park and take in the sights of a landscape that’s transformed over the last few months in a way that’s almost unrecognizable from spring.  I’ve already picked some of the dishes I’ll make for the weekend, and am thinking about Thanksgiving…

I really do get excited about this time of year.  I hope you can enjoy it as well.

Amy

How to Survive if You Find Yourself in a Horror Movie

Zombie Beard
Photo credit: scottnj via Foter.com / CC BY

There are those who pride themselves on being prepared for worst-case scenarios.  They create hideouts, put away supplies, and plan for the end of the world.  However, if the worst were to come, and you found yourself in a situation that seemingly jumped off the silver screen straight into your backyard, what would you do?

Here are some survival tips gleamed from decades of horror films, that surprisingly may also have real life applications for when things are a little less frantic:

Stay with the group.  There are times for independence, and then there are times when common sense dictates that you should not go into the woods alone.  Ditto for the abandoned house, the abandoned factory, or even the bathhouse on the other side of the clearing.  Anyone who has ever seen a slasher film from Friday the 13th to Scream knows what happens if you fail to follow this most important protocol.

Never let them hear you scream.  Standing out from the crowd may sometimes be appropriate, but if zombies or killer clowns are after you, it may well be the last thing you ever do.  Whenever you find yourself in deadly danger, the last thing you want to do is raise your voice so the monsters know exactly where you are.

 Silhouette of man holding crowbar
Photo credit: Foter.com

Don’t lay down your arms.  Never let go of weapons, artifacts, or wooden stakes until you are one hundred percent sure the monster is irretrievably dead.  Don’t allow your only defense to be turned against you.

Don’t lose your focus.    Don’t allow anything to get you sidetracked.  Be constantly aware of your surroundings, because distractions can get you killed.  Never get cocky or let down your guard until the danger is passed.

Don’t invite strangers into your house.  Perhaps the vampires or ghouls can only enter with your permission.  In this day and age, it’s just common sense to take precautions about who you allow into your space.  If you someone unexpected comes to your door, check their id, and see if they have fangs or are carrying weapons, before you decide to allow them entry.

Listen to the professionals.  If a scholar/professor/expert tells you not to touch something-listen.  Don’t get into a situation that is over your head.  Don’t read from the Book of the Dead or open Pandora’s Box, and for goodness sake, don’t open the mummy’s sarcophagus.

Appearances can be deceiving.  Don’t underestimate anyone.  Don’t make assumptions without facts.  That harmless looking stranger /young innocent/damsel in distress could be more than you think.  Remember, whether good or bad, big things can hide in small packages and plain sight.

Plan ahead.  Make preparations, do research, check your facts, and if possible, have backup.  The worst situations often look different in the light of day, so a second perspective can often be useful, especially for baddies allergic to sunlight.  Don’t allow yourself to be eaten simply because of a lack of organization. Take time to consider before you act, and make sure you are making the best choice.

Hopefully none of this audience will ever be impacted by such cataclysmic events, but should the worst occur, and the end of the world is near, remember that movies have educated us to deal with these situations, and just do what the survivors do.

Till next time,

Amy

 

 

 

 

How to Draw Them In: Maintaining a Close Relationship with Grown Children

Group

Photo credit: Luke Stearns via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

We all know how important it is to spend quality time as a family.  Time spent bonding with children is vital to helping foster a close relationship between parents, children, and siblings. No one can deny there are emotional benefits to all members involved, but how do we keep those bonds in place as children grow up and start their own independent lives?

As much as parents might dread it, kids do have to grow up; they will go to college, move out of the house, and begin lives of their own that are separate from those of the family unit.  Thought they hopefully will continue to visit or call, eventually they will have another home and that will be the center of their focus.  This is where the original family unit either must evolve, or wither.  Parents must be willing to embark on a new type of relationship with their adult children.

Accept their independence.

Parents cannot stop their children from growing up; they must choose to accept their independence or risk permanent damage to their relationships.  The rules must change; for one the parents will no longer be in charge of all the decisions.  Adult children need to feel respected as that-adults.  Adult children will want and need to be able to make their own choices.

Parents must learn to allow adult children to make those choices, as well as some inevitable mistakes.  The time for protecting them from the whole world is over, and though it is hard to let go, the “kids” will appreciate that the decisions they make are truly their own. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t accept advice, as long as the parents offer it without trying to control every situation.    If the parents are lucky, the kids may even realize the adults are wiser than they believed during their teenage years.

Give major decisions a voice.

Whenever a decision must be made for the family as a whole, involve adult children in the decision making process.  Whether the issue is a shared family vacation or choosing healthcare options for an elderly member who is incapacitated, the younger adults will appreciate having their opinions heard.  Perhaps they will contribute an idea or argument that older members of the family haven’t considered.  Sharing concerns, and decisions, as a family of adults, will allow those relationships to continue and be strengthened.

Cultivate shared interests.

One of the easiest ways to stay close to adult children is to spend time pleasurable time together.  The activities the family used for “quality time” when children were young may or may not still be appropriate once everyone is considered an adult, so find activities and passions that can be shared now.  Do parents and adult children share a mutual love for certain activities like hiking, working puzzles, cooking or reading?  Find things that everyone can enjoy, either for the entire group or smaller sub-groups, and make time to do those things together.

If regular meetings are difficult to schedule, at least find time to talk about hobbies or joint interests, be it over dinner once a week or a skype call.   If adult children live too far away to visit regularly make the most of the time you have.  Also, consider rotating who hosts the group for family dinners, get-togethers, and weekend trips.

Remember, maintaining a deep family relationship requires work, but is always worthwhile.

Amy

Be Actively Positive

 

There is still much that is good in this world; it may not be readily apparent at times, in fact it may be downright obscure or completely hidden.  Truthfully there is much to be pessimistic about today-one simply needs to check out the news to see stories about recent natural disasters, not to mention ongoing terrorism, war, politics and the economy.

Most of us have probably met someone who seems to radiate negativity with every breath they take; who drains all the joy from a room just by entering. Being forced to spend much time around such an unhappy person can have adverse effects on the emotional and even physical health of their audience.

What we desperately need to retain our outlook, our optimism, and our sanity, is to seek out that which is positive around us.  By looking around for this hidden gold we can find reasons to be happy even through the most depressing or worrisome events:

  • While life will never be perfect or free from stress or strife, we can be thankful for all the simple things in our life; if we wake up in the morning in a secure home, with a comfortable bed, and have food available to eat, we have found something positive in our day.
  • Each day we get to spend with loved ones, be they family by blood or choice, or close friends, we are experiencing a positive event.
  • Whenever we are privileged to see the power of nature, such as the amazing eclipse many of us recently witnessed, that is another positive.
  • Whenever we get the chance to witness or participate in kindness shared with others, such as volunteering or charity for those in need, it is a positive thing.
  • Whenever we or someone we care for is found to be healthy or recovering from a devastating injury or illness, it is a very big positive in our day.
  • Every day that we can in some way enhance, enrich, or create joy in the lives of those around us, is definitely a positive accomplishment.

All of these positive things together may not always balance out the negative that we face, but they do make a difference; they give us reason to hold on and hope for the future.  Sometimes all we can do is hold on to the positives, so that all the negativity and pain and hatred do not overwhelm us.  By actively seeking out the positives in our day, we can refresh the spirit of optimism, both in ourselves and in those around us.

Here’s to filling our lives with positive thoughts, and turning those into positive actions.

Amy

Alien Invaders, Mutant Sharks and Ghost Encounters: Why We Can’t Get Enough

It’s late at night or an unexpected day off.  We have a million things we should be doing, or we should simply be catching up on sleep.  Instead, we’re flipping through the channel guide and tuning in to something we can’t actually believe, and not sure we want to admit, to wanting to watch.  It has aliens, ghosts, sharks, zombies, or maybe just a natural disaster escalated by toxic waste.

Even as we settle in, we’re perhaps questioning ourselves why are we watching this?  Surely we could find a better use of our time, or even a just a better show.  The answer is simple: this special brand of brain candy fills needs we can’t easily do so elsewhere.

Day 90 - Couch Potato
EntPhoto credit: DaGoaty via Foter.com / CC BYer a caption

The need to recapture our lost childhood.

When we tune in to a mindless melodrama or a mockumentary about the paranormal or science fiction we are simply getting reacquainted with the people who once loved sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories, or doing the same with a best friend under the sheets with a flashlight.  We are remembering that sense of wonder we once possessed, that innocence we had, when the world was a magical place that we couldn’t wait to explore and experience.

That part of us still lives on, but is sometimes starved for attention by the needs and responsibilities of adult life.  We need to take time for the part of our minds and hearts that still dreams, and optimistically hopes to find a lost castle or pirate ship hidden in the woods behind our homes.  We crave to cultivate that sense of fantasy, and if a favorite television show or movie or book can help that along, we can make time for it.

The need for sheer escapism.

Along with the need to recapture our youth sometimes we just need to lose ourselves in another world, or another life.  We can imagine ourselves exploring alien landscapes, facing a radiation-fed super predator in the Amazon, or finding the key to a haunted house that hides a treasure.

We can indulge in sheer fantasy for a time to alleviate stress, boredom, or simply imagine ourselves as different people, in a world outside the mundane.  Experts tell us that fantasizing can actually be good for us ;that as long as we don’t try to substitute fantasy for reality in our actual lives, that “escaping” can help us to be more creative, more productive, and happier people.

The need of vicarious thrills.

It’s okay for fictional characters to experience any kind of horror as long as we can watch from the security of our couches or beds.  We know in our hearts what we’re seeing is not real, but we get an adrenalin kick just the same from allowing ourselves to live in the moment.  There is a special kind of thrill that comes from watching something bad happen to someone on the screen, and knowing in the back of our minds that though we may jump when the villain pops out and scream our heads off, that he can’t really touch us.

We watch as hapless victims are turned into test subjects or eaten alive by zombies or possessed by ghosts and are glad it’s not us.  We imagine ourselves confronted by the terrors and dangers that the heroes of the small screen face in such shows as Paranormal Encounters, or Sharknado 1-5, and suddenly our own lives don’t seem bad at all.  We feel more alive, more secure, and more content with our own lives knowing that we’ve witnessed these experiences but will not have to live them.

So the next time you find yourself with a little down time, don’t feel guilty for indulging in your favorite show.  Remember, watching may actually be good for you.

Amy