A Princess Dream Come True

Our court from 1991. I am second from left on the bottom row. This was taken about a month before our Nisei Week Pageant and Queen selection.

Over two decades ago, my first seemingly dreamy and unattainable goal was to be involved in a yearly Japanese-American festival in Los Angeles known as Nisei Week, which was established back in 1934.  Aside from a period of seven years between 1942 and 1948, during which World War II raged and carried a solid and jarring impact on the Japanese-American community, the Nisei Week festival has continued to run throughout the decades.

As a child, I remember seeing the Nisei Week Queen and court each year, and it became a dream of mine to be selected as a court member when I got older. However, I got sidetracked by life and didn’t bother to enter the  competition for the local queen selection until the year I turned 25.  I was stunned when I was chosen as the Queen of my community center (the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, or SFVJACC) for that year.

Once I was selected, I spent the next three months in regular meetings with the queens from the other eight participating communities, meetings in which we would practice all the routines for the beauty pageant which would mark the beginning of that year’s Nisei Week. We competed in that pageant for over 1,000 audience members in a 3 hour event, and though I didn’t win the Nisei Week Queen title, I was happy with being a Nisei Week Princess. We rode on floats, visited businesses, and fostered good will throughout the Japanese-American community.

August 16, 2015: Nisei Week Queen and Court on the float of Nisei Week Japanese Festival Parade at Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles.

When we were on stage, on parade floats, and on visitations, we would wear our sashes, a definite marker which identified us all as queen and court.  On some occasions, we would wear our crowns, and were either clad in matching dresses, or in kimono.

Queen?  Princess?  I guess so, at least in pageant terms!

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Lose Weight Through Wellness

Photo via Pixabay

Here’s another informative article by Sheila Olson
just in time for the new year!  fitsheila.com

Drastic diets and torturous exercise classes don’t work for long-term weight loss, and these days, we know why. In part, this is because depriving ourselves of things we love is not healthy or sustainable. Instead, we should all try to approach weight loss through wellness-focusedactions and self-care. Here’s how to do that.

Exercise

The best kind of exercise is the one you actually do. This means that finding an exercise routine that’s both fun and convenient is crucial for long-term weight loss.

A home gym can be a great way to do this -check out this guide by HomeAdvisor to figure out the best exercise equipment for you and where to place it. If exercise is enjoyable and accessible, you have no excuse to avoid it. If you do still find yourself skipping workouts, try asking yourself these questions to find out why.

Sleep

Sleep is what allows your mind and body to relax, refresh, and prepare for a new day. What few people know is that a lack of good sleep can also lead to weight gain by messing with your hormones and stress levels.

Set up a nightly “good sleep” routine. It should be soothing and relaxing, making your body and mind feel ready for rest. You should also avoid digital screens in the hours leading up to your bedtime, as these may be negatively impacting your sleep.

Food

Weight loss happens in the kitchen, not the gym. Ourbodies aren’t that effective at burning off calories we consume, so it’s unrealistic to expect exercise to do all the work when our diet remains unchanged.

However, we also need to remember that food is wonderful and useful. It is not the enemy. We have learned to classify certain foods as “good” or “bad,” but this creates an unhealthy relationship with nutrition. This article by Well and Good has some great tips for getting rid of this mindset and finding balance in our diets.

Many of us tend to forget the importance of health, both physical and mental, when trying to lose weight. By focusing onhealthy habits rather than the numbers on a scale, we shift our attention to our internal well-being rather than external appearance. In the proces, weight loss becomes a consequence of a healthy lifestyle rather than the driving reason for having one.

Enough With The Retirement Talk!

Copyright: pinkomelet

Almost every time I look at my computer these days, I’ll see at least one featured article on Yahoo! which discusses retirement.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it happens almost daily, and it’s making me mental.  

I know the population is aging, and that baby boomers and GenX’ers are trying to prepare and plan for their golden years, but this is getting ridiculous.  The media and the internet have unabashedly latched onto the subject, and now there is a constant barrage of anxiety-provoking articles with headlines and titles such as: 

Do you have what you will need to retire?

Are you prepared for your golden years? 

Beware of the pitfalls of investing in an IRA

Watch out for these “retirement killers” 

I’ll read one article which sets me at ease, because I am on track with what it says I need to do.  Then the next day I’ll read an article which either contradicts what I read the previous day, or which has such a doomsday vibe that it basically states that almost everyone is in danger of not having enough money to ever retire.  Does this mean that we will all be living under freeway overpasses, eating dog food?  

Honestly, all these articles seem to do is to stir up worry which affects how I function throughout the day.  And though I can try to let it go, the next day another article will appear which will wash away my feelings of security and accomplishment regarding my retirement portfolio.   

Who else has noticed this trend?

A Beach Inspired Haven

I’ve had a fixation with beach-themed bathrooms for over a decade now, and love using shells and beach-themed décor as fun accents to remind me of the ocean and the beach. When I moved to a new residence this past January, I decided to really have fun with the beach theme, and I took it to the extreme.

One of the features I have displayed in my bathroom is a collection of clear containers which hold sand and shells from different beaches I have visited.  Included in this collection are sand and shell samples from Hawaii, Costa Rica, Bali, Thailand and the Maldives.  Whenever I look at my collection, I am transported back to those magical destinations which captured my heart and spirit.

Whenever I feel like escaping to an island getaway, but I am stuck in Los Angeles, I’ll take a bubble bath while surrounded by my sand and shell collection, lit candles, and starfish lights.  It’s a wonderful way for me to recharge and to surround myself with reminders of my favorite terrain.  I also love the fact that I finally have a full bathtub in my bathroom after 20 years of having shower stalls.  Whenever my schedule allows, I try to take a relaxing bath, which beats taking a quick shower any day.

Why we should all stop saying “I know exactly how you feel”

Copyright : adamgregor

I absolutely love this article by Celeste Headlee, which is why I am posting this again on my blogsite.

If you’ve ever just wanted to vent about something in your life that was aggravating you, only to be told by someone, “Oh yes, I know EXACTLY how you feel!”, then endure their recollection of an incident which they believe mimicked yours? Basically, such a reaction flips the focus of the conversation to the other person and diminishes the significance of your experience.

Undoubtedly some of you do this, and you feel that you are being empathetic or helpful, when in reality you are forcing people to listen to your story, while you drown out what they have to say. It can often appear as if you are one-upping the other person with your woeful experiences, even though you honestly believe that you are helping.

Here’s the original article, copied and pasted here for you to read. You can also visit the link directly at:
Why we should all stop saying “I know exactly how you feel”

Why we should all stop saying “I know exactly how you feel”
Sep 21, 2017 / Celeste Headlee

You don’t. And you’re also steering the focus away from someone who probably just wants to be heard. Here’s how to be a more considerate conversation partner, says radio host and writer Celeste Headlee.

A good friend of mine lost her dad some years back. I found her sitting alone outside our workplace, just staring at the horizon. She was absolutely distraught, and I didn’t know what to say to her. It’s so easy to say the wrong thing to someone who is grieving and vulnerable.

So I started talking about how I grew up without a father. I told her my dad had drowned in a submarine when I was only nine months old and I’d always mourned his loss, even though I’d never known him. I wanted her to realize that she wasn’t alone, that I’d been through something similar and I could understand how she felt.

But after I related this story, my friend snapped, “Okay, Celeste, you win. You never had a dad and I at least got to spend 30 years with mine. You had it worse. I guess I shouldn’t be so upset that my dad just died.”

I was stunned and mortified. “No, no, no,” I said, “that’s not what I’m saying at all. I just meant I know how you feel.”

And she answered, “No, Celeste, you don’t. You have no idea how I feel.”

Often subtle and unconscious, conversational narcissism is the desire to do most of the talking and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself.

She walked away and I stood there feeling like a jerk. I had wanted to comfort her and, instead, I’d made her feel worse. When she began to share her raw emotions, I felt uncomfortable so I defaulted to a subject with which I was comfortable: myself. She wanted to talk about her father, to tell me about the kind of man he was. She wanted to share her cherished memories. Instead, I asked her to listen to my story.

From that day forward, I started to notice how often I responded to stories of loss and struggle with stories of my own experiences. My son would tell me about clashing with a kid in Boy Scouts, and I would talk about a girl I fell out with in college. When a coworker got laid off, I told her about how much I struggled to find a job after I had been laid off years earlier. But when I began to pay more attention, I realized the effect of sharing my experiences was never as I intended. What all of these people needed was for me to hear them and acknowledge what they were going through. Instead, I forced them to listen to me.

Sociologist Charles Derber describes this tendency as “conversational narcissism.” Often subtle and unconscious, it’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking, and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. Derber writes that it “is the key manifestation of the dominant attention-getting psychology in America.”

He describes two kinds of responses in conversations: a shift response and a support response. The first shifts attention back to yourself, and the second supports the other person’s comment.

Example number 1:

The shift response
Mary: I’m so busy right now.
Tim: Me, too. I’m totally overwhelmed.

The support response
Mary: I’m so busy right now.
Tim: Why? What do you have to get done?

Example number 2:

The shift response
Karen: I need new shoes.
Mark: Me, too. These things are falling apart.

The support response
Karen: I need new shoes.
Mark: Oh yeah? What kind are you thinking about?

Shift responses are a hallmark of conversational narcissism — they help you turn the focus constantly back to yourself. But a support response encourages the other person to continue their story. It lets them know you’re listening and interested in hearing more.

We can craftily disguise our attempts to shift focus — we might start a sentence with a supportive remark and then follow up with a comment about ourselves.

The game of catch is often used as a metaphor for conversation. In an actual game of catch, you’re forced to take turns. But in conversation, we often find ways to resist giving someone else a turn. Sometimes, we use passive means to subtly grab control of the exchange.

This tug-of-war over attention is not always easy to track. We can very craftily disguise our attempts to shift focus. We might start a sentence with a supportive comment, and then follow up with a comment about ourselves. For instance, if a friend tells us they just got a promotion, we might respond by saying, “That’s great! Congratulations. I’m going to ask my boss for a promotion, too. I hope I get it.”

Such a response could be fine, as long as we allow the focus to shift back to the other person again. However, the healthy balance is lost when we repeatedly shine the attention back on ourselves.

While reciprocity is an important part of any meaningful conversation, the truth is shifting the attention to our own experiences is completely natural. Modern humans are hardwired to talk about themselves more than any other topic. One study found that “most social conversation time is devoted to statements about the speaker’s own emotional experiences and/or relationships, or those of third parties not present.”

The insula, an area of the brain deep inside the cerebral cortex, takes in the information that people tell us and then tries to find a relevant experience in our memory banks that can give context to the information. It’s mostly helpful: the brain is trying to make sense of what we hear and see. Subconsciously, we find similar experiences and add them to what’s happening at the moment, and then the whole package of information is sent to the limbic regions, the part of the brain just below the cerebrum. That’s where some trouble can arise — instead of helping us better understand someone else’s experience, our own experiences can distort our perceptions of what the other person is saying or experiencing.

The more comfortable you are, the more difficult it is to empathize with the suffering of another.

A study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences suggests that our egos distort our perception of our empathy. When participants watched a video of maggots in a group setting, they could understand that other people might be repulsed by it. But if one person was shown pictures of puppies while the others were shown the maggot video, the puppy viewer generally underestimated the rest of the group’s negative reaction to the maggots.

Study author Dr. Tania Singer observed, “The participants who were feeling good themselves assessed their partners’ negative experiences as less severe than they actually were. In contrast, those who had just had an unpleasant experience assessed their partners’ good experience less positively.” In other words, we tend to use our own feelings to determine how others feel.

Here’s how that translates to your daily conversations: Let’s say you and a friend are both laid off at the same time by the same company. In that case, using your feelings as a measure of your friend’s feelings may be fairly accurate because you’re experiencing the same event. But what if you’re having a great day and you meet a friend who was just laid off? Without knowing it, you might judge how your friend is feeling against your good mood. She’ll say, “This is awful. I’m so worried that I feel sick to my stomach.” You’d respond, “Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. I was laid off six years ago and everything turned out fine.” The more comfortable you are, the more difficult it is to empathize with the suffering of another.

It took me years to realize I was much better at the game of catch than I was at its conversational equivalent. Now I try to be more aware of my instinct to share stories and talk about myself. I try to ask questions that encourage the other person to continue. I’ve also made a conscious effort to listen more and talk less.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a friend who was going through a divorce. We spent almost 40 minutes on the phone, and I barely said a word. At the end of our call, she said, “Thank you for your advice. You’ve really helped me work some things out.”

The truth is, I hadn’t offered any advice. Most of what I said was a version of “That sounds tough. I’m sorry this is happening to you.” She didn’t need advice or stories from me. She just needed to be heard.

Excerpted from the new book We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter by Celeste Headlee. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. © 2017 Celeste Headlee.

My International Travel Promise To Myself

Copyright : Sebastien Decoret

Back in 2014, I made a promise to myself that I would visit a foreign country, preferably one I had not visited before, every even-numbered year. I designated every even year primarily as a means to give myself enough time to prepare my schedule and my finances to be able to travel every other year, and I also chose that interval because I felt a strong itch to visit a foreign country in 2014.

Why was I struck with this idea in 2014? One reason was that I suddenly realized that year that I had not taken a bona fide vacation since 2007. The second and more compelling reason stemmed from deep conversations I had with my dear friend and meditation teacher, who was quickly succumbing to a very aggressive and deadly brain tumor. On more than one occasion during my visits with him, he told me, “Don’t wait to do the things you have always wanted to do, because you might run out of time to do them.”

What Rob told me really got me thinking. I thought of how my mom had a number of big dreams dashed because she had always pushed them to the side, believing that she either didn’t deserve to pursue them, or that her dreams would never come to fruition. For example, she had entertained a strong interest in travel, but she always made excuses for why she couldn’t go on vacations or getaways. In fact, the only “vacations” she ever took were when one of her siblings fell ill or died, and she had to fly to Hawaii to visit. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t think such trips should ever count as vacations, especially since they are so emotionally difficult. It’s not like my mom went to Hawaii and had a grand time at the funerals she attended.

Though I had traveled to various destinations for reasons other than the death of a relative, I knew that I had also fallen into a similar trap of making excuses about being too busy to take a vacation. So in the Spring of 2014 I decided to travel to Prague to compete in an IFBB Pro event, and figured that I would also visit Hungary, which was on my bucket list of destinations to visit.

My friend Rob passed away on April 29, 2014. After spending several weeks grieving for him, I decided to act upon my proposed travel plans to Eastern Europe. As I was planning the trip, I realized that since I would be in prep for a bodybuilding show, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Prague as a vacationing traveler, and also realized that I would only have a couple of days to explore Hungary. I ultimately decided not to compete, and instead booked a 7-day trip to Hungary which I completed in September of 2014.

Hungary turned out to be just as magical as I imagined it to be, and I honestly felt like I was honoring my dearly departed friend Rob when I was there. By an incredible stroke of luck, I was able to travel to Sydney, Australia and Bali the following month. Satisfied with having traveled to 3 new countries, I resolved to go somewhere new in 2016.

In March of 2016, I flew to Costa Rica, adding to my list of foreign destinations and keeping my promise to Rob and myself to travel internationally in an even year. After my Costa Rica trip, I wasn’t able to save money consistently for a trip in 2018, but whenever I had a chance to set something aside, I did.

I’m proud to say that I have fulfilled my promise yet again this year, when I traveled to the Maldives in September, and to Thailand earlier this month. Both trips were absolutely amazing, and I feel spiritually richer because of those experiences. I love the fact that I am able to say that I added six new countries in the last 5 years to my foreign travel roster, and I have every intention of adding to the list in 2020. My goal is to save up for a trip to Japan in 2020, but if I am unable to save enough money to travel to that destination, I will select a more reasonably priced excursion so that I can stay on track with my travel goals.

For those of you who are curious about what foreign countries I have visited, here is the list:

England (1980)
France (1980)
Switzerland (1980)
Italy (1980)
Germany (1980)
Austria (1980)
Greece (1980)
Turkey (1980)
Hungary (2014)
Mexico (1986, 1989, 1992)
Costa Rica (2016)
Australia (Sydney) (2014)
Bali (2014)
Maldives (2018)
Thailand (2018)

It will be exciting to think about what countries I will visit in the future. Some of the countries on my list include: Fiji, Bora Bora, Spain, Egypt, Vietnam, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, New Zealand, Nepal.

For those of you who dream of traveling, but who always seem to find a roadblock when trying to plan a trip, how about setting a similar goal to the one I have set for myself? You would give yourself at least a year to save up money between trips, and you would be able to travel to destinations you’ve always wanted to see.