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Me time

Checking in

manuelita otero


Have you ever had weeks that seem to blend together? Those days that, once they are over, you crawl into bed and wonder how you made it through the day. Life seems to be getting busier and it’s interesting how when that happens you adapt and keep going. You make it work. You get up early, go to sleep late, and use every minute available. You check all the boxes, but do you check in with yourself? Thinking that we can do it all hurts us more than helps us because sometimes instead of inspiring us it actually adds pressure to our lives. You can do it all, but maybe not at the same time, maybe not in every season and maybe it will require support from the people around you. That is why it’s healthy and smart to once in a while put everything on pause and ask yourself “How am I, really?”

In Happily we often talk about self-knowledge, because we believe that knowing yourself is a strength, a necessity and a great joy.

I am truly loving the process of getting to know myself. It takes time, but every step is worth it. I have learned to slow down a little even when I don’t think I have the time because I know that if I don’t, it will not end well. I now notice the signs, and I ask myself what am I missing, what do I need to do for me, even if it’s just a few minutes of doing something I love. I have learned to say “no”, to forgive myself and to guard my peace. There is still so much I need to learn, but that’s the beauty of it, getting to know yourself is a lifelong adventure.

It’s strange how we often allow things, situations, and people to stress us and define our actions. We complain that we can’t control things, but there is plenty we can do to bring some order to the chaos. We can define certain rules and we can set limits to keep our joy and peace. Self-love is intentional, it doesn’t just happen, and if you don’t plan it, it may get lost in the sea of all the things we have to do. It is continuous, something that is part of your everyday, even when you have tons of projects at work, or if you are going through personal difficulties. Self-love is not for when you have time; it is for all the time.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself tough questions and don’t expect to answer them all at once. Don’t take time alone for granted, cherish your dreams and give yourself the freedom to work hard to make them happen.


What will you give yourself?

manuelita otero


What do you think about when you hear “love”? This word is thrown left and right, many times thoughtlessly, tainting our perception of it. But it is important to take some time to discover what love means to you, so others won’t decide for you.

During this month there’s a lot of talk about love since in the States we celebrated Valentine’s Day. I love celebrations, everything should be celebrated, big or small events in life, but Valentines is one of those days that can feel forced and puts a lot of pressure on people. I remember years ago while I was in High School, this was one of those days in which many people would prefer to be absent. During the last period of the school day you would hear a voice over the intercom calling mostly girls to the front office and they would come back into the classroom carrying balloons, stuffed animals, and chocolates. I never got called to the front office on Valentine’s Day, and that’s fine, it didn’t ruin my self-esteem, but if I am honest, during that period as I waited for class to end a lot of things went through my mind and some doubts wanted to form. The younger girl from those Valentine days in high school is very different from the one writing this blog and that is one of the beautiful things that can come with age. There’s freedom when you feel comfortable in your own skin, without needing to compare yourself to others and understanding, embracing, and celebrating all of you. When you know that you don’t need chocolates, flowers, or even diamonds to know how precious you are. Is it good to receive these gifts and many others? Yes, of course! Is it important for couples, friends and family to show their love to each other? Again yes! But that’s all it is, a nice gift, a nice thought. It doesn’t define us, it doesn’t mean we are worth more or less and it definitely doesn’t mean the bigger the present the more we are loved.

What are you going to give yourself, not only on Valentine’s but every day of your life? Give yourself time to rest, to laugh, to do silly things, to work on your passions, to spend time with loved ones, and to simply do nothing if that’s what makes you happy. This is self-love and it may sound easy, but this kind of love takes time, effort, and even discipline because there will be thousands of things trying to steal your time, trying to distract you to keep you in a rush.

Make yourself a priority and give yourself the same love and attention you give others. If you want to keep the conversation about love going, check out our book: First Love. It is an invitation to explore the real meaning of love. beautiful love that doesn’t feel heavy or overwhelming, but allows you to be the precious and unique person you are meant to be.   

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

Gwenn has the handle on life

manuelita otero

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I began Handled By Gwenn M because I was tired of asking for permission. I was tired of contributing to someone else’s bottom line while mine sat in the red. Let me explain: working for a company other than your own, especially in Corporate America, asking permission to live your life is a constant plead. When our son was sick, I would have to ask permission to take the day to pick him up from daycare and possibly carry him to the doctor. When my husbands schedule changed abruptly, I would have to ask permission to change around my workday. When I just needed a day to myself, I would make the call of shame faking a cough or sore throat. If we are being totally honest, what company has allowed you to call in just because you needed a day off? All scenarios required the use of sick days or the ability to work overtime to cover time off so that my family would not suffer financially.

Bottom line: No one should ask permission to live the life we were given.

Handled By Gwenn M began as an idea 2 years ago and 6 months after became official with the click of a new business license creation online. Life became real at that moment. I sent the idea off into the Universe and the Universe has taken care of me ever since. I left Corporate America for good and now work on the go. On the go meaning: out of the country, in a coffee shop, during a long drive to our home town Jacksonville, FL, my home office or from bed when I happen to end up with sick toddler cooties.

So what do you do already, Gwenn? Cooooome on!

Pushy much? OK! I am an Executive Virtual Assistant. I handle the busy administrative work companies don’t have time for. And I do all of this remotely. Technology is something powerful. The businesses that have been created from two basic supplies: a laptop and a smartphone. With these items I manage emails, calendars, voicemails, keep files organized and literally so much more I can no longer keep up. I have worked with a Fashion Designer, Talent Agency, Reality TV Executive Producer, Real Estate Agent, Architectural Firm and others. They span from Georgia, Florida to New York! Because I am a curious being by nature I chose not to confine my business to a niche of clients. Trust me I toyed around with this decision for months because all of the business blogs tell you that you must have a niche. Not hanging myself by one has allowed me to work in different industries and expand my skills and build a network of professionals otherwise outside my scope. This way, I am never bored. Ever.

Because I am also heavily creative, I am working on rebranding the company to #Influencer status (bona fide secret for now so stay tuned). The vision under construction for Handled By Gwenn M is bigger than me. I am so dedicated to this vision I have enrolled in various courses to stay on track with an in demand industry, such as Front-End Web Development. Talk about resume’ upgrade. I am stoked to join the ranks of female business owners. Women are so phenomenal and the fact that we are taking back our lives for our families and bravely bypassing the normalized need to ask for permission to do so…this is so sexy, so boss and so about time.

My advice to the dreamers wanting to follow their entrepreneurial spirit…plan and click order for the business license. At this point you are accountable and it is almost impossible to turn back. Once you are set up, find something new to learn daily. You owe it to yourself, and only yourself, to follow through and top that Forbes list.

Connect with me on social so I can cheer you on, Boss Babe!

Gwenn McGuire

Gwenn 1.jpg

I live in Midtown Atlanta with my creative husband and toddler who introduces himself as T-Rex. I am currently scouting a Colombian inspired door and knocker to welcome friends and family into our new construction home. Cartagena, Colombia, Ethiopian food, thrifting and experiences with my family are among my favorite life loves.

IG: @handledbygwennm

Linkedin: @gwennmcguire

Twitter: @handledbygwennm


Doing it for me

manuelita otero


When we lived in Singapore my daughter and I decided to take singing lessons. Every Saturday we would leave the boys, walk to a huge McCafe by our apartment and share an apple pie. I would drink a big cup of coffee while my daughter would play with the marshmallows in her hot chocolate and we would talk for about an hour. After our breakfast we would head to our singing lesson. I have always wanted to sing and since my daughter has always loved singing, it was a perfect morning for both of us. Nikka has a beautiful voice and singing to her comes naturally; on the contrary, I can’t carry a tune. I can’t sing, not even a little bit. Needless to say we laughed a lot in that class. At the beginning I honestly thought I could learn, I thought if I took lessons I could be good at it, but after a few lessons it became evident that singing was just not for me, at least not in public. Still, we continued our class for the year we lived in Singapore and we loved every single Saturday morning. I didn’t have to hit every note, or even remember the melody of the song, I just wanted to be there because I enjoyed it, just for the sake of loving what I was doing and who I was with.

We live in a fast paced, go get it society in which time is precious and needs to be spent wisely, so for many, spending your time doing something in which you are not “successful” could be a waste of time. That time could be spent doing something more “productive.” Nowadays it seems that if we are going to spend any time doing something we need to make the investment of time or money count, and believe me, I am one of those people who wants to squeeze as much as I can from time.

But not everything is about productivity or numbers, not even if you have good ideas and your heart in the right place. There needs to be a time separated to do something you love for the simple joy of doing it. How can you measure the success of doing something that makes you happy, or the beauty of creating a memory or just the plain joy of being completely present in the moment? There is no price or indicator or investment return for that. That is the beauty of life.  

When was the last time you did what you love for the simple pleasure of doing it? You did it for you, not for your family, or your Instagram feed, or to show others, you did it because it made you happy. No explanations, no excuses.  When was the last time you spent time alone figuring out what is it that you love? Sometimes in the rush of daily life we forget to pause and simply be. Life goes by fast and if we don’t intentionally separate time for ourselves, it’s just not going to happen. The joy of simply being is too beautiful to leave it to chance.

My daughter is now a young woman and even though I don’t take singing lessons with her anymore we often go to a coffee shop, share dessert and talk for hours over a nice cup of coffee. Good things never change.  

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

The grind

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The other day my son, who plays tennis for his university, was interviewed by the school’s newspaper and was asked what advice he had for incoming freshmen athlete. He answered: “Some days you won’t feel like getting up to train, but you still do it, you may get frustrated, tired, angry, but you still do it. Grind and trust the process.” My son has played tennis most of his life and “grind” is one of his favorite words, which according to the urban dictionary is: “When an individual pushes his/herself to attain a goal.” As I was trying to decide what to write this week, his words kept coming to me: “Grind and trust the process”.

Sometimes it’s easy to give your all for your goals, things are going according to the plan and you can see the expected results, but sometimes…. You know the ones I am talking about. There’s no clear path, nothing seems to be happening, and there are so many obstacles that you start doubting where are you heading. Or maybe you look at your life and you are not where you thought you would be, and it’s hard to “grind” for your goals when those are not clear anymore. How do you focus and keep the passion and energy?

You could turn to motivational speakers who will give you five easy steps to achieve your goals and get everything you ever dreamed from life, but if we are honest, motivation can only take you so far because life is messy, unexpected things happen and no list will ever include all the possibilities, which in my opinion is a good thing. Who wants to have their life figured out? Where is the fun in it? You actually have to go deeper, and that is one thing only you can do.

I see myself, I see my life and it’s so different from what I thought it would be. I am so grateful for who I am and where I am, but I will be honest, I thought I would be in a different situation. Life took a couple of unexpected turns and I had to quickly look at my plans and adjust, look again and adjust until I just said less plans and one main goal to focus on. All those changes in my plans were hitting me hard and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I think we are so attached to our plans because we like to have an idea of what’s happening and have certain control. But in reality, there’s very little we can control of outside situations. I decided that I was going to focus on the things I could control and let go of the ones I just couldn’t. I made a list which includes the following: I can control my attitude, my response to situations, my feelings (yes, those can be controlled, at least in public), I can control what I listen to and what I believe. I can decide how to spend my time and what to do with the gifts and talents I have been given. For me that was plenty and I started giving up my beloved plans, opening my hands and my agenda to the unexpected. I can tell you since I decided to do that I am happier because it’s a freeing attitude toward life, I don’t have certain expectations so I am open to opportunities that come in unexpected ways. I think one of the main reasons people are unhappy is because they don’t get what they want, when many times what they  want is not meant to be, and there’s something so much better around the corner. When we are not locked on a “want” we are open to many possibilities and then we get to experience the beauty of receiving what we were not expecting in the most unbelievable ways. Do I still plan? Oh yes! I love my “to do” lists, and I love my countdowns, but I can change them as fast as I make them. I can let them go because I am not attached to them and I am always looking for options and possibilities. Does that mean I am all over the place? Yes and no. As I mentioned earlier, “less plans one main goal”. I have very clear what I love, what am I passionate about and what are my strengths, so I can focus on that. That’s what I grind for and I enjoy it, it’s a way of life which focuses on my purpose because I know I am not here just to “take up space” and neither are you.

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

This year, one goal

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At the beginning of every year some people have the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. I am one of those people. I buy a new notebook, get some colorful pens and I start listing resolutions and how I am going to achieve them. I even make a perfect schedule in which I have time to do everything I want. It looks beautiful; unfortunately I haven’t been able to follow it, not even the first day.

This year I was thinking- What if I only focus on one goal? What if my new year’s resolution is to love myself radically? If that is my goal this year I will make time to read God’s Word every morning, I will choose to do exercise because it will help me be stronger and feel more energetic, I will go to sleep early because my health is more important than anything that is keeping me up. I will eat healthier because it’s good for me. I will read more, surround myself with positive people, and dedicate more time to doing what I love. How you feel about yourself affects everything around you and in you. It can be a positive force which helps you propel toward your purpose or it can be a voice of fear and doubt fueled by comparison and past regrets. If this is so important shouldn’t this be my goal not only at the beginning of the year, but every day of my life?   

I love shows like Criminal Minds and Law and Order SVU. It may sound strange when I say that they help me relax, since these shows are heavy and a little scary when you think that they are based on things that can happen in daily life. What I really love about these shows is how the detectives take a situation, gather clues, analyze the evidence, follow leads, question, and think. It’s not an easy job but the final result is worth it and that is why they do it. That is how I want to approach the way I love myself. I want to analyze why I act the way I do. I want to go deeper and be brave as I face past issues that are still affecting me. I want to gather clues, analyze the evidence, question, and think. Why? Because I am worth it and I know that to love myself radically I need to deal with issues from the root so I can take them out once and for all. Because radical love requires answers to tough questions, forgiveness of people who may have hurt me in the past, sacrifice as I get rid of toxic people and things. It’s not an easy road, but it’s a beautiful experience because loving yourself radically is about being real with yourself and allowing yourself to be who you have been made to be. It starts with doing things that may not feel good in the present, but it will make a difference in the future.

Whatever you choose as your goals this year, remember that each day is a gift, an opportunity to love yourself and to love others. Keep radical love by your side, don’t let fear get in the way of getting to know yourself deeply and fully, and know how valuable you are. It’s going to be an amazing year!

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

What balance?

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How often have you found yourself searching for balance in life like a sought-after award? Like it’s something that could change your life forever? I am amazed how sometimes we are so obsessed with finding the perfect balance, which in a way leads us to live very unbalanced lives. We seem so concerned with this unreachable balance that is sold to us, and we start stressing more than necessary.

Of course having a balanced life can be healthy: “keep harmony between work and rest, balance between your free time and your studies, eat a balanced diet, invest your money in a balanced way…” and on and on.    It is necessary to avoid extremes that can be negative for us, but it is also good to understand that listening about this “balanced life” over and over can be overwhelming because it is something unattainable, based on a perfect life, which we know doesn’t exist, at least not in this life. And that’s when the exact opposite happens: wanting so much balance in everything and with everyone we end up losing the little balance we had, we forget that each victory is a process. We are humans and we make mistakes. We forget that we are unique with different stories and that is the reason why balance has to look different for each of us. We also forget that balance may come at different times in different areas so to expect to be always in the middle in perfect equilibrium is unrealistic to say the least.  

That is what I am going through at this moment with the education of my little one, when it finally hit me. I have been running like crazy searching for balance for more than 5 years. Even before my daughter was born I would read, listen, and think that I would be that smart mom who did everything right. I would put limits to my baby, but I would also be flexible and loving, I would give her a lot of the things she wanted, but at the same time I would teach her that in life you have to hear “no” once in awhile. I would spoil her, but in a good way. I was going to be the “perfect mom” and I was going to achieve that coveted balance and my child was going to be very happy.

The search for balance in my motherhood became such an obsession that I think I spent more hours trying to reach balance than actually enjoying my time with my daughter in a more relaxed way. The desire to give my daughter a perfect education (because whether we accept it or not we want to give our children the perfect education) distracted me from what really fills my heart with joy: seeing my beautiful daughter smile, feeling connected to her and being with her without so much correction and discipline. Little by little without even realizing it I decided that during this season of our lives the balance that I am searching for is going to look more like flexibility than a strict, disciplined regime. It is going to include a lot of loving and fun moments, even a little spoiling because that is exactly what we need.  

It wasn’t easy to decide, and it was especially challenging to say it out loud, but it is what it is and it couldn’t be better. I am all about being our best selves but instead of spending hours searching and stressing over that perfect balance I have decided that I want to give myself a less balanced year and a more relaxed one.


It’s my time

manuelita otero


Have you ever wanted to do something that you knew would make you very happy, but it seemed a little crazy, a little impossible, and maybe even a little selfish? I don’t know if it comes with the territory of being a mom, but for years many of my decisions were made thinking about my children first. It would happen automatically and it worked out great. I never felt I neglected myself, and I don’t regret it for a minute. I lived every moment to the fullest. I enjoyed my children when they were babies. I was happy to drop them off at school, make their lunches, pick them up and take them to their afternoon activities. I loved going to my daughter’s rehearsals and my son’s tennis practices. As they got older I loved driving them around, listening to their stories, meeting their friends, picking them up from dances, and making late snacks. And as they started to focus on their passions I loved seeing them dream big and work hard. But life goes on and children grow and as they do they need their parents in different ways, so when my daughter said that she wanted to do a summer acting course at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and she wanted me to go with her I immediately accepted. It could have been the protective mother in me wanting to be close to her as she traveled abroad, or the traveler in me who won’t miss an opportunity for a trip, or it could simply be me who wanted to spend a month without cooking, cleaning, driving anyone around and just doing what I wanted. Sounds a little selfish? Maybe, but I  think we should all be able to take some time on our own, time to think, to walk aimlessly for the joy of walking, and to allow curiosity define the route. I am aware of the luxury it is to take one month away, especially in London! I know the blessing it was and I know how God made the impossible possible.

The funny thing is how I approached it at the beginning. I felt embarrassed. As people asked me “Are you going?... For the whole time?” I would feel guilty saying yes and the next question was always “What are you going to do?” I felt I needed a “to do” list so it would be ok for me to go, as if just going because it was an amazing opportunity wasn’t enough. I started making a list of all the things I was going to do: Work on a book I started the last time I visited London, finish the review of the book that we are publishing soon, writing blogs and taking photos for Happily, taking visuals for my daughter’s music video… the list could go on because that’s my nature, to do, to be productive, to use time wisely. But as the trip approached I decided that I could make a lot of plans for my trip, but my main goal should be no plans. It was ok to tell people that I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew it was going to be amazing. Doing “nothing” is ok once in awhile and I really feel this is my time. My children are grown, I have my job, I have some free time, I have finally learned to truly enjoy being me. I am comfortable in my own skin. All these things took time, sacrifice, effort, and some tough lessons so I am celebrating now.  

How was my trip? It was unbelievable! I loved being on my own, and I loved being there when my daughter would come home after class excited talking about all she had learned. I loved being able to manage my time, to simply sit and watch people go by and write and write and write. I loved going to museums day after day to see the same paintings because each day I would notice something different and because I could take the time to find it. I loved the long walks, the al fresco dinners (sandwich at a park), the amazing architecture, the well known sites and the hidden streets. I loved doing nothing and I loved doing it all.

Maybe taking a month off to go to a far away place is not that easy, maybe a day, half a day, or an hour is more realistic. It’s more a decision and an attitude than anything else. Ready to make this your time?

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

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A Creative Morning

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Who doesn’t love some creative time once in awhile? How about once a month on Friday mornings? That’s what Creative Mornings is all about, creative people gathering together in cities all over the world. My daughter and I love it. It is such a special time for us because we know we will meet interesting people, be inspired, and gain a new perspective on things which always helps us with the projects we are working on.

Our last meeting was no exception. The guest speaker was William Massey, a freelance artist, sculptor, creative entrepreneur, and a co-leader of several art programs. Check out his website to see his art which is amazing! But what I liked even more was his attitude and his heart.

As he approached the stage, he didn’t say a word and calmly sat on the floor and started taking off his shoes. There was total silence, then he started to talk. From that moment I knew I was going to like this guy. He told us how when he was at school he decided to change his major and become an artist because he wanted to “fill his heart and soul instead of his bank account”.  His artwork in many instances uses things people label as “junk” and patiently he transforms them into beautiful works of art. He said that he takes the broken and puts it together, he takes the mess and tries to make sense of it. He takes the same approach in life and is actively involved in many organizations that make sense of difficult situations through art. He has taken his talent and used it in many ways to bring joy to hurting people. He goes to hospitals where he works in art projects with people who are battling cancer, he teaches homeless children art, and he offers free classes at parks so people can come together and create community. His desire to make a difference in people’s lives is genuine and so inspiring. He reminded me of the amazing power of one.

He talked about his family and his trips around the world which happened through “random” encounters. He was willing to “show up with arms open, ready to experience and to jump in without expectations.” I love his attitude, how ready he is to take the opportunities that come along and how he embraces them with what he calls a habit of hope. There’s beauty when we allow ourselves to experience life like this, when we let go of our desire to control everything and absorb as much as possible from all the things that happen, focusing on the good and enjoying the moment.

As William was closing his talk that Friday morning, he shared with us what he calls 8-18-80:

-We need to be an 8 year old, ready to learn, willing to receive, and always in awe and wonder.  

-We need to be an 18 year old, not too logical, having loose expectations, and be willing to jump in.  

-And we also need to be an 80 year old, prepared to observe, knowing who we are and trusting the process.  

So, whatever your path today, whatever your plans, dreams, and hopes, be willing to let go and enjoy the journey. Have a great attitude, appreciate the people you meet, and make the most of every situation. In case you were wondering why William took his shoes off during his talk… He said he wanted to embrace the silence and be comfortable while he was talking to friends. Now do you understand why the last Friday of each month is such a special time for us? Make time to feed your creativity, check out to see if there’s a chapter in your city.

Manuelita @manuelitaotero


The Good Old Days?

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My children often ask me if I miss them being little and I honestly tell them I don’t. I lived that phase of our lives fully, so I am happy living this one now. I loved them as babies and I love them as young adults. I don’t want to miss today thinking about yesterday.

Do you ever feel pressure or maybe a little nostalgia when looking at the past? I love looking at the past to remember happy memories and even sad ones because all of them made me who I am today, but I don’t want to look at the past wishing I was the same. I am not twenty anymore, and I don’t want to be. I like me, who I have become, what I look like.  I have earned my gray hairs and wrinkles. I’m grateful for my past and excited about my future, but I want to fully live my present.

We are strong and valuable women. Sometimes your day may feel like organized chaos, but you need to know that you are a builder, a solver, a mentor, an encourager, an example… You are a woman.  Know your worth, know your value, know your talents, know your gifts and share them with the world.  Here are some tips to get you going:

- Speak only positive words: Sometimes life is tough, that’s true, and nothing is perfect, but that doesn’t mean we should focus on the negative. Make it a habit to only speak positive words to yourself and others.

- Make time for exercise: You have a lot of good things ahead, so you need to have a strong body to achieve them. Be consistent, this is good for you.  

- Eat healthy: Look carefully at what you are eating. Is it adding to your life or actually subtracting? Let your food choices show how much you love yourself.

- Get enough sleep: There’s so much going on that sometimes we sacrifice our sleep to try to get it all done. Don’t cheat yourself. Getting enough rest will actually help you be more productive the next day.

- Relax: Stress doesn’t add anything positive to your life, learn to recognize it and deal with it.  

- Be quiet: Take some time every day to enjoy the silence, to think, to ponder, to take in what happened the day before. Life moves too fast and you don’t want to miss the special little things.

- Let them watch: Someone is always watching. People may not listen to your advice, but they will watch your life. You have an opportunity to impact in a positive way people’s lives.

These are things I remind myself daily. They are important and they help me live the life I want to live.   What would you like to remind yourself to make today amazing? Who said that the good old days had to be the better days? You can make today your best day yet.


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Make it Happen

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I love thrifting! It’s exciting to find treasures hidden in what seems to be an ocean of “stuff”. The other day during one of my expeditions, I found the cutest measuring cups and a spoon holder.  I couldn’t wait to get home, wash them, and place them in my kitchen. Isn’t it interesting how something so simple can affect you in such a big way?  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that every time I see them, I smile. There’s a message written on the spoon holder that has been on my mind: “Make it happen!” It has become more than just a cool slogan, it’s a way of life. I am determined to do what I have been created to do, no excuses and no fear.

But what if, like me, you’ve been on this road before, knowing deep inside that there’s so much more, and then feeling frustrated because other things get in the way? How many dreams do you have on hold? Have you put your passion to the side until there’s more time? This may help bring some of those ideas to life:   

  • Be determined: Everything starts with a decision. That’s the first step toward the direction you want to take. After many years of trying to juggle what I really wanted to do and other jobs to stay on the  “safe” side, I realized that if I give half the effort, I will get half the results.   

  • Be wise: Take time to think, plan, study, and prepare.  Take risks, but do it wisely. Clearly define what do you want to achieve and the ways you could accomplish it.  Be daring and realistic at the same time. There’s a balance between believing something amazing, and seeing what you have available to make it happen.

  • Be flexible: Adapt to circumstances as they change. Sometimes we’re focused on getting things done a certain way and we miss opportunities or signs that show us that there are better ways. Keep your eyes open to see the possibilities.  

  • Be happy: This is a journey, so enjoy it! The final destination is important, but everything that happens along the way is valuable, you don’t want to miss it.

Whatever you feel in your heart to “make happen” go for it! Don’t let fear stop you from doing all you can do. Things don’t just happen, you make them happen.  People that you may look up to didn’t become who they are overnight, it took hard work, dedication, persistence, growth, and a great investment.  What are you waiting for to make it happen?

Manuelita Otero @manuelitaotero



Christmas Blues

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Beautiful decorations everywhere, lights and music, people going and coming buying presents and preparing family gatherings, it’s all so beautiful and at the same time for some people a little overwhelming.  Do you sometimes feel that you just can’t get into the Christmas festive spirit and secretly feel guilty about it? For many people Christmas is a stressful time full of responsibilities or a sad reminder that loved ones are far away or no longer with them.  What to do when everyone around seems so happy and you just can’t join in? There may not be “quick” ways to shake the Christmas blues, but these ideas may help you celebrate this special time of the year:

- Why: Such a simple but powerful word and one that you should be asking yourself often. Finding why certain things are upsetting you will direct your steps toward tangible solutions.   

- Your time: Spend time on your own.  Try not to fill every free minute of your day with things to do.  I know how hard it is, but if you make time each day to do something you enjoy, even if it’s as simple as having a coffee alone, it will help you be energized for the rest of the day.

- The real reason: People celebrate Christmas for many reasons and in different ways.  Keep in mind why do you celebrate it and what it means to you.  Don’t let pressure or stress take away from the reason you celebrate this season.

-Your way: Christmas memories are made when moments are shared from the heart. Don’t try to meet someone’s expectations or compare your celebrations to the people around you. Do things your way.

- Forget perfection: Relax and enjoy it.  If you have guests coming to your home, plan and be ready, but let go of unrealistic expectations.  Most people are there to enjoy time together, not for a perfect meal in a perfect house.

- Share: Giving throughout the year is good, but during Christmas it’s even better. Think about ways you could be a blessing to people around you.  Give the best gift of all: love.  

If you have the Christmas blues know that you are not the only one and don’t feel guilty about it.  Christmas is a beautiful time, enjoy it without pressure.

Manuelita  @manuelitaotero



manuelita otero

The other day I noticed that my car’s windshield was getting dirty, so I told myself I had to clean it.  The days went by and it just kept getting dirtier and dirtier making it harder to see but there never seemed to be time to clean it. At night I would get home too tired and I had so many other things to do that I’d quickly forget. Until one day I finally decided that it was going to get cleaned no matter what and the difference was amazing. Everything looked brighter; I actually was able to admire my surroundings.  I wonder why it took me so long to do something as simple as clean a windshield. As I was driving back home I started thinking that this could be a picture of how sometimes we don’t make time to clean up the things that are obstructing our visibility.

We know when we aren’t doing well.  We know when something isn’t right in our lives, when we’re missing something or when we’re headed in the wrong direction. There are little signs trying to warn us, we may be moody, not ourselves, or simply unhappy.  And those signs may go on for weeks, months and even years, until they become something a lot harder to solve.

If we don’t have clarity in our lives, how can we go ahead? Clarity takes time and effort, just like everything else worthwhile in life.

So, what do you do if the “windshield” of your life is a little dirty and you simply can’t see where you’re going? Here are a few ideas:

  • Notice: The first thing is to notice that there is something obstructing the way.  Once you realize or accept that something needs to be done about a certain feeling, thought or situation, you are starting to head in the right direction.
  • Decide: When you notice that something needs to be addressed is the beginning, but doing nothing about it is not going to give you any solution. You can think, complain and talk about a problem all day long, but if you don’t actually analyze it and do something about it, the situation is still going to be there and with time it may get worse. You see it, you do something about it.
  • Schedule: We all have busy lives, things that are happening around us, people who seem to be pulling from every side and if we’re honest many times our issues are put to the side to comply with the needs of others. Schedule “me time” moments where all you need to think about is you.
  • Analyze: Dig deep to find the real cause of what you’re going through. Take the time to clearly define what is really bothering you and discover the reason why.  It may take a while, it may be painful. It will be worth it.
  • Go forward: Celebrate each step of your “cleaning” process.

Take advantage of the clarity you will encounter as you spend more time on your own.  You and only you are responsible for the direction your life takes, so make sure you see clearly where you’re going.

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

"I want a big bowl of happiness"

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The other day I went to an interesting event that happens once a month called Creative Mornings*. It goes on in many cities at the same time talking about the same topic. There’s something powerful when a large group of creative people exchange ideas and experiences.

As I walked into the room to sign up they gave me a name tag where I had to complete the sentence "I’m weird because…" I put my name tag on and continued, hoping the free coffee and breakfast would help me think of the many reasons why I'm weird.  Free food must ignite creativity, right?

But as I sat there I thought “I'm not weird”.  I never considered myself that. If I'm honest I've always thought weird had a negative connotation. The topic of this month was, you guessed it, “weird” and the speaker was Kyle Brooks, an artist also known as Black Cat Tips. If you look at his website and see his artwork you may think it’s a little weird. He makes what he calls “whimsical roadside art and paints the world happy”.  He paints, writes, and tells stories.

Listening to him made me realize that being weird is good because if you're not weird you're normal. I don’t want to be normal. Maybe it’s just me but I think “normal” is the expectation to act like everyone else, and I want to be me. I don’t want to dress according to the trends or define success the way everyone does.  I want to reach inside, find my passions and gifts and share them. I want to see the good in every situation and know that if things are a little tough now, something better is on the way. I want to be happy and share happiness. Does that make me weird?

I love how Black Cat Tips talked about his journey. Think about it, how does a man decide to start putting bear signs along roadsides and how does he make a living from it? He had a regular job, many of them, but somehow his passion kept calling him and at the end he gave himself a set time to make it work and it did. He told the audience to think about regular things in a different way and to do what makes you happy for your enjoyment without judging yourself. Is that weird?

I still often think about something Kyle Brooks said: “I want a big bowl of happiness.” Doesn’t that sound amazing? What does that bowl look like to you? Maybe we're all a little weird and our weirdness is expressed in what we're passionate about. Sometimes we may be too shy to share it with the world, too busy to even notice, or too afraid to be judged.  But it's there. Maybe being weird is not so weird after all.

Manuelita  @manuelitaotero


No more pressure!

manuelita otero

Do you ever get tired of reading headlines that glorify certain weights and sizes? Articles about a “famous someone” who just had a baby and is now a size 0 or about another one who dared to go out in a swimsuit before her body was “beach ready”. There’s pressure coming from every source, telling us: “you’re too skinny” or “you’re too fat”. The words may be different but the message is the same: “You’re not good enough” and the sad part is that many people believe it.

There are many things I love about growing wiser with the passing of the years and one of those things is the fact that I like myself. I love myself and I can now say it loud without feeling guilty, conceited or arrogant. I’m not perfect but I like the skin I am in. There’s a lot I want to improve, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough. The idea of perfection and eternal beauty that society wants to sell us is not real and I’ve decided I will not buy into it. A number on a scale is not going to define how I feel about myself.  What I really want is to become stronger.  I want to be stronger physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Becoming stronger physically means something different for each person. It could mean being stronger than the desire to sleep one more hour in the mornings and instead getting up to do exercise. It could be the ability to stop eating something unhealthy or doing one extra rep of a tough exercise. It could be running a marathon or walking half a mile. Each goal is as unique as each of us and there’s no need to compare.

The other day my daughter got a part in a film in which she needed to do some major training at the Buckhead Fight Club, a place I had not heard of and one in which I felt a little out of place at first, since it’s a tough looking boxing training area. The people who go there are serious about their boxing and I didn’t think I fit in.  But as I saw my daughter train and how cool it looked and how nice everyone was, I decided to try the boxing fitness class and to my surprise I loved it!  I could never fight in the ring; it’s not my thing, but I can push my limits as I train harder than I ever thought I could. I can punch those sacs not worrying about a thing while I know I am doing something good for my body. I felt out of my comfort zone at first, but stronger and something as simple as a boxing class gave me a new perspective.

Now it’s your turn: Would you like to focus more on yourself and what you are looking for instead of your size and weight? What do you think could help you be stronger? Is there something you’ve been wanting to try and just haven’t? What are you waiting for?

Manuelita  @manuelitaotero

Realizing your Dreams

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As kids we are told to follow our dreams and dream big.  As adults we are told to stay in touch with reality and to keep our heads out of the clouds.  As we live and learn we must be able to come to a reconciling of these mind sets where we make our dreams reality.  Here are some helpful tips to realizing your dreams and goals. Whether they are long term or short term; these steps will help you get there.

Visualize it!  In order to go anywhere you have to see where you are going right?  This is the first step to realizing your dream.  You have to see a picture of where you want to go, what you want to do, and how you will get there.  This is where you derive you vision statement for your mission/dream/goal.  Many times we never realize our dreams because we never follow through and take steps towards fulfilling that dream.  Creating a vision can be as simple as writing the dream down and how you plan to achieve it.  It can start very small with a paragraph or two.  However, as you get deeper into the process, you will add to it.

Verbalize it!  Here is where you take yourself through the process.  This is something you can do alone to start.  However, it is more effective if you do it with someone you feel comfortable sharing with or someone who is resourceful in the area that you are focused on.  Talking things through out loud is a great exercise when you are creating a plan to reach any goal.  When you hear your thoughts you are better able to visualize and bring a deeper understanding to your thoughts.  If you are with someone, they are able to add to your thoughts and make connections you would have never made doing the exercise alone.   This is an ongoing process and as you move through your plan you will have to answer questions.  Here are some questions to answer during these times:  What is my goal?  What is my motivation?  What steps do I need to take to get to point A or point B? From these questions and answers will come more questions and answers which will lead to a more detailed plan.  But be careful not to stray from your original goal!  The more detailed you are, the better your chances are for achieving your goal as long as you maintain your focus.  Be selective and share with like-minded individuals or people who truly love and support you.

Vitalize it! This is the step that involves the most action.  All of the time that you have spent writing your plan, thinking out loud and giving detail to your plan will come to a climax as you begin to actually do those things you have been only dreaming about!  It doesn’t matter how you start this step as long as you start.  Every step counts!  You have carefully planned it out so go for it with complete confidence that you will succeed! 

No matter the age or place in life, we all have goals and dreams that we desire to achieve.  If you can see it with your mind’s eye you are already closer to achieving your dream that you realize.  Now it’s time to intentionally visualize, verbalize and vitalize your dream until it is your reality.

Sunja Harris

Sunja writes, sings and acts.  She is in the process of getting her networking group, DASI.  She says, "I am always ready to share whatever gifts and talents God has blessed me with.  I love to encourage others to do the same".

Jealous, but in a good way

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There’s a moment in life when you realize it’s time to face the issues that you’ve been trying to avoid for years.  That happened to me this year as I finally accepted that envy is one of those things that’s been hanging around longer than it should.  And in a way I knew it, but I wanted to delay it for as long as I could. Who wants to accept that they have issues with jealousy and envy?

I think one of the reasons I didn’t feel the urgency to deal with this is that since I was a little girl I’ve heard things like: “I am so happy for you, I am envious” or “I’m so jealous of you, but in a good way.” There’s a mixed message where envy could be good or it could be bad, so if we try hard enough we could always categorize our envy as the good kind and go on our merry way.

But I noticed that wanting what others have isn’t right because I end up with a sense of emptiness and nothing good can come from that.  I’m ready to let go of the things that are taking away and stealing from my life, and I want to share something I decided to do once I realized my issue. These simple ideas have brought peace in my life, and as I do them often I’m noticing a change in my attitude and my joy:

1.  I made a list of all the people that I envy now or that I have envied in the past, even if I didn’t think about them often.  I wrote their name and what I wished I had that they have. (I am almost sure that we all have our own list hidden deep inside)

2.  Each day I take some time to be grateful for what I have, what I’ve accomplished and what makes me happy related to the areas I wrote in the list above.

3.  I think and write ways I could achieve the things I wish I had.

4.  Finally, through faith I ask for blessings for the people that for some reason I have felt envy, believing with all my heart that good things will happen in their life, and I also ask God to guide me so I can improve what I need to improve. 

I’m not telling you to do the same, since I don’t even know if envy is an issue you need to deal with. All I want is to invite you to think about those things that you may be avoiding. Give yourself some time to deal with those recurrent thoughts that don´t do you any good and that with time, become big, important matters. Then, ask yourself how can you change them into something that helps have a better life. After all, who doesn´t want to live a good life.


Life is created in the everyday

manuelita otero

The other day my daughter’s vintage clothing store, My Closet Etc, was part of a vintage market in Atlanta, our city.  We were nervous, excited, and a little fearful- the normal mixture of feelings you get when you do something for the first time. The morning of the event we disassembled the clothing racks, packed them up in the car along with all the clothes and beautiful things she sells.  I put the screws and bolts of the racks in a bag and placed them by my purse since I knew I couldn’t forget them. I started getting ready but I didn’t like my outfit so I changed a couple of times, and of course had matching purses with each new option. Finally as we were driving toward the site, I realized that the one thing I wasn’t supposed to forget was buried under a pile of clothes and purses on my bed at home. I knew that without the screws and bolts we wouldn’t be able to set up, so we kept driving, unloaded the car at the site and I headed back home.  I was so mad! It was something so simple, all I had to do was take the screws, was that so hard? As I felt the stress rising, I tried to quiet my thoughts for a second.  In the middle of my frustration I hadn’t noticed how beautiful the morning was.  The sun was peeking through the tall buildings playing with the shadows and making a beautiful sight. Then I noticed there was no traffic, I rolled down the windows and the crisp morning air blew on my face soothingly.  At that moment I made the decision that nothing was going to mess up this beautiful day.  I decided to change my attitude.  

This may not seem like a big deal, but that’s what life is made of, the daily experiences, the activities, situations, and the people we see day by day. That’s when we create memories, and build relationships. That’s what the people around us will remember.  Life is created in the everyday; therefore how we live each day is how we live our life.

We choose what we focus on, and many times we tend to pay more attention to the negative because for some reason it may look more menacing than what it really is.  Maybe it’s fear that enlarges things or the way we have been raised, or the way society has taught us to look at things.  But we can train ourselves to see the positive in everything because no matter the situation there’s always something good.  These ideas may help:

-Be flexible: Go beyond the “I planned, I thought, I wanted”.  Plans often fail and that’s ok because many times that’s when the best memories or lessons in life are created.  Be open to change and go with the flow.  Willing to let go of what you are holding on so tightly will help you enjoy more the moment.

-Be on the lookout: Be determined to find something positive in every situation no matter how hard.  Make it your purpose to keep a positive attitude. With time it will become a habit and an immediate reaction to everything you face in life.

-Make it a story: Have you ever been around people who tell really cool stories? Well, most of those stories originated from moments in which plans went out the window and things took a wrong turn, but their attitude helped them see the positive.  They not only learned something new in the process, but were excited to share it with others.  Do you think if everything went as planned for those people, would they have that many stories to share?

As I arrived to the booth I saw my daughter who smiled nervously, happy I had finally arrived. While she waited, she met other vendors, and learned from their experiences.  We set up our beautiful booth, took some photos and even had time to sit down and have a coffee.  It was, after all, a very good day.

By Manuelita @manuelitaotero

Love yourself and forgive

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What do you think when you hear the word “forgiveness”? Do you think about a difficult situation in your life? Or maybe about a person who hurt you deeply? Sometimes we think forgiveness is for big events; however, our life is made up of daily instances, and forgiveness plays a part in them as well.

Think about it, how much more peaceful would your life be if you practiced forgiveness throughout the day?  Forgiveness is all about letting go and there are many things that happen daily that might be stealing your time, energy, and peace because you are holding on to them. These are small things; maybe even “insignificant” things in the great scheme of life.  For example, in the rush of the morning, you burn your toast, and allow that moment to set the tone for the rest of the day.  Or maybe you are driving and someone cuts in front of you and your anger ruins your commute. If we look back and analyze all the instances in which we allow certain situations to steal our joy and our peace we would find several moments that could have been better if we had let go of the negative feeling and forgave others and ourselves.   

It is difficult to practice forgiveness because it is deeply rooted within us. It relates to justice and our idea of being treated fairly. To add to the challenge, many times we think that if we forgive, we are being passive and “weak”. The truth is that there’s nothing weak about forgiving. On the contrary, it takes strength, courage and self-control.  It takes character and wisdom because it’s all about being willing to go against what we want at the present moment to be able to enjoy a better future.  It’s doing the right thing not only for others but especially for ourselves, because when we forgive we are free.

There is a difference between forgiving and allowing others to continually hurt us.  We can forgive a person who treated us wrong, but we don’t have to allow them into our lives again so they can keep hurting us.

I know forgiving is not easy; it might be one of the hardest things you do and it is usually a very slow process.  Sometimes it may feel like you take one step forward and three steps back, but each step is worth it. When we forgive we love ourselves above everything else – above our toxic emotions, above what people say or think, above negativity and hate – And as we rise above we feel lighter and happier.

By Manuelita @manuelitaotero

What am I good for?

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Although this may not happen to everyone, I have always believed that one of the toughest moments we can face, especially if you are close to or past your thirties, is the crisis of not knowing what to do with our lives. “I don’t know what I am good for”,
“I don’t know what to do”.   I have often heard phrases like this, not only in my own mind, but also from the people around me.  Each life is different and the reasons may be innumerable; we all have our own unique story.   

This could happen because we studied what our parents chose for us, because we took that job opportunity everyone said couldn’t be passed, or because in our twenties we saw our future so distant, we failed to do a little planning or dedicate enough time to get to know ourselves better and to define our strengths.

This last one is my reason.  Even though I have studied and worked in many interesting things, I think that for years the day to day has taken over and I simply forgot to ask myself – often and without pressure – what are my strengths? What are those talents that come from deep within, which could give me happiness, satisfaction, and success?

Once I realized it, I started to pursue the answer. While doing this, I found a book called: Now Discover your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton - who worked in this topic with more than 2 million people around the world.  I am applying their advice and it has given me such peace that I am convinced something happens when you define your strengths.

The authors recommend filtering through 4 basic things daily activities to determine strengths: 

1st Be aware of your initial response in daily life and in situations of great pressure; in those spontaneous reactions, the dominating talents come out.  For example: if you are a boss and an employee tells you that he or she is going to miss work because their child is sick, what do you think first? Do you think who will take care of the sick child or who will replace the employee? (In the first reaction the strength is empathy and in the second it is organization skills) It is not about judging whether a reaction is good or bad, the goal is to reveal your strength.

2nd Review and “listen” to your wants and desires because those reveal a constant attraction toward your natural talents.  Your wants show your strengths from a young age, even though in many cases family, economic or social pressure may drown them.

3rd Observe what you learn easily, it is a clue of your talents.  You may have seen how some things seem easy to understand, while others are just too hard.  

4th Analyze your satisfactions.  Be aware of the moments in which you enjoy something.  You know when you feel in your zone, enjoying fully what you are doing.  

These four keys have been such a wonderful beginning to see what I am good for.  For example, with this method I discovered that at work I am really good at following step by step protocols and things that are organized, while at the same time I see ways to improve them and make them more efficient, and the best part is that I love doing it!

There is plenty of information about this topic and it has been reviewed by psychologists, coaches, and successful business people, but what really matters is if you take the time to simply ask yourself what do you love doing.  

By Ana