Living your dream with infinite possibilities

Living your dream with infinite possibilities

The Mind Body Align topic for this month is “infinite possibilities.” Do you live as if anything is possible or, in other words, without limitations? Can I live as if I can achieve or experience anything of which I desire or dream?

What’s your dream?

I invite you to take a moment to bring into your mind a big dream or desire.

I remember my dream to live overseas. I have always wanted to experience life as part of a different culture and fluently learn to speak a second language. I read everything I can find about restoring old villa’s in Italy and the life of an expat.

I dream about the morning ritual of going to the corner café for an espresso and casually bantering in Italian with the bel giovanotto (handsome young man) at the meat market. I imagine walking home through cobbled streets with my baguette di pane (long, thin loaf of French bread) rising gracefully out of my cloth bag.


The moment this dream comes into my mind, however, I am mentally listing all the responsibilities that make this vision impossible.

Each perceived responsibility sounds like the voice of my GPS app – “turn right in 500 feet on Aging Parents Drive” – leading me to a destination that doesn’t include a morning walk along cobbled streets.

I invite you to contemplate the beliefs, limitations or obligations that might eliminate the possibility of realizing your dream?


And yet, there are tens of thousands of people that manage to live overseas. Presumably many of those people have the same obligations; responsibilities such as family, work, and community. What makes it possible for them to live their dream? In asking myself this question, I get the sense that the difference between those that have no impossible dreams, and those that allow their dreams to become impossible, is a choice. So, what’s happening that I have chosen to make my responsibilities a barrier to living overseas?

My mind keeps returning to the fact that my dream looks a certain way. I have my life in Italy completely mapped out in my head. I have so clearly drawn the vision, I have given myself no choice in how my life in Italy would be; I have given myself two possibilities from which to choose. 1) My Italian dream and 2) my family, work, and community obligations.

What might it look, feel, sound and be like for you to honor your obligations AND continue to hold the possibility of living your dream?

Behind the wheel

The first time I visited Italy, I had no plan. My husband and I arrived in the country with a rental car, two backpacks, and a Rick Steve’s travel guide. Every day we woke up, looked at the guidebook, assessed the distance, stopped at a neighborhood café and drove into the countryside with a general direction in mind. Every evening we looked to the nearest town, consulted the travel guide and found an Albergo (hotel) for the night. It was fabulous!

We spent much of our time lost. I butchered the language; once creating a cacophony of laughter from the owner of the neighborhood produce stand by asking for a fish, pesce, when I meant to say peach, pesca.

This memory has triggered a realization. I have allowed, “it’s my way or the highway” tendencies to drive this dream. What if I put “no big deal” behind the wheel? What’s possible if I didn’t set a particular course, and I allowed the route to remain unclear; following the streets and highways that seemed the most desirable and navigable at the moment?

And… living a life of infinite possibility

1) Notice a dream or desire that you eliminated based on beliefs, limitations, and obligations.

2) Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Do the work and be introspective; inquire into the nature of your choice – possibly you are “being” a perfectionist or a victim.

3) Ask yourself the following questions:

What about this dream is important to me?

What about my beliefs, limitations and obligations are important to me?

Both the desire and the expectations and responsibilities are essential in discovering and understanding your values. Get to know your values so that you can make choices that best honor them.

4) Begin to listen to your bazillion “I cant’s.” “I can’t” usually sounds like, “living in Italy has been a dream of mine, but…” and, open your perspective to allow for more possibilities. A first step is to substitute the “but” in your language for the word “and” instead.

5) Be authentic! You are given your dreams and desires for a reason; allow you to be you.
Living in Italy has been a dream of mine, and…


I’m sending you a big hug.



Embrace Aging and Inspire Acceptance

Embrace Aging and Inspire Acceptance

Diana H. asked, “Hey Karen can you share your thoughts on the terms embrace and inspire?” I said sure. It’s my hope that my brief, but spectacular, piece will inspire people to embrace the inevitable.

Aging with acceptance

I’m the youngest of three girls born to working class parents, from a working class town. I paid my way through college, and graduated debt free. I’ve had interesting work related experiences. I’ve made decent money. I’ve had deep meaningful, intimate relationships with strong men, but have never married. I’ve lived past the half century mark in age, and… I’ve had cancer.

Oh… that scary word: cancer. Actually, that word has been a big part of my life.

My first dance with cancer came at age nineteen, as a sophomore in college. That encounter left me with a nine-inch vertical scar down my abdomen. My second encounter was with my father, who valiantly lived much longer than the professionals predicted. He passed away when I was twenty-six years old. And my third embrace came when I was diagnosed with life threatening, cervical cancer at age forty-four. From that I gained another scar, a seven-inch beauty running horizontally along my lower abdomen.

You may have missed what I wrote, “third embrace with cancer”

I use that term because I never ran from cancer, I embraced it. I never doubted that I wouldn’t live through my encounters. I lost more sleep over my father’s illness than my own.

Why?  I could control my own response to the crisis, I was rock-solid centered, and confident. I asked tough questions and armed myself with the knowledge of my choices in moving forward. I forced my doctors to treat me as a person, not simply as a patient.

And oh! Something else, because I come from a family who uses inappropriate humor to defuse stress, I laughed. I laughed a lot.

Embrace it all

Embrace what comes to you, celebrate the adversity. Let go of the fear of things you cannot control and grab onto those things that you can. And laugh, please laugh.

I embrace that my bikini days are over, that I’ve gained thirty pounds since age forty. I embrace that lovers haven’t been turned off by my scars; my inner beauty is celebrated instead. I embrace that what is encountered in life does make you stronger, wiser and better.

It’s my hope that my message will inspire you to:

  • Know, and seriously… LISTEN to your body.
  • Schedule your annual exam. Early detection saved my life; I had no symptoms.
  • Meditate.
  • Spoil yourself with TIME for making memories. Stuff is great, but time is precious.
  • Surround yourself with a few when-the-chips-are-down friends.
  • Scare yourself. Don’t settle for a life of boring routines and safety.
  • Laugh more, a lot more.
  • Have a gay friend. All woman should have at least one. I have seven, that I know of.
  • Drink really good gin.
  • And remember, none of us get out alive, so embrace it and be inspired.

On the walls of my home are numerous art pieces, among my favorites say:

Shit creek survivor.

And the quote from Will Rogers, “Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know “why” I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.”

I have more, but you’ll have to be invited. They’re not printable here, remember – I have that humor thing.

The Day We Discover Why

The Day We Discover Why

When I was asked to write about “Honor the Story”, my real story about my values and life purpose in this moment today, it terrified me and created a long thought provoking session within myself.

What does it mean to honor? I thought honoring my story was another form of respecting what my life had become, accepting it, and moving forward. The bible clearly states there is a difference between respect and honor. We are taught to honor those in authority, your parents, or your boss, whether you like the person or not you respect the position. Giving honor where honor is due has tremendous power, so why can it be so hard to honor our own selves? We honor others; teachers, coaches, care-takers, and we treat them with respect. Aren’t we worthy of the same? Doesn’t our story, our path in life matter just as much as those we hold in high regard?

Self perceived notions

My values have not always been what they are today. Much of my life circumstances I did not choose, some I have been slow to embrace, others I have welcomed. I used to believe my value in life could only be measured by how successful I was and how others perceived me. It was all because I didn’t want to further disappoint anyone, which I now realize stemmed from my self-perceived notion of my imagined unworthiness as a foster/adopted child.

My purpose has changed due to the myriad of positions I have held in my life, due in part from trying to “prove myself” to the world. First at the tender age of 13, as the youngest employee of the YWCA as a baton twirling instructor, through today where I enjoy sharing the health and nutritional benefits from organic tea leaves, to a part-time receptionist at St. Peter’s Parish Center, and being the secretary on several boards.

Honoring the moment

Through my many “careers” I realized that instead of enjoying the moment, I was always focused on the next possibility, this is a struggle even today and I am certain other entrepreneurial types suffer from the same. But peace came from within when I started honoring my sanity and finally quit trying to plan my life. I now let the plan guide my life, but not always without a little kicking and screaming! What I have realized and now honor is the beauty of God & family, and the cultivated friendships through my journey that have lasted a life-time.

When I agreed to write this blog for MBA, I decided a mission statement to myself was necessary:

I have much to share with this world, but my needs must be my priority to keep my world and sense of well-being in balance. I wake up happy and thankful each day and will continue to believe that I do deserve the good things in my life. It IS my birthright to be happy, to be successful and to be loved.

Diary of an Interior Designer: Defining Beauty at Home

Diary of an Interior Designer: Defining Beauty at Home


An eager, young and wide-eyed interior design student, I sat through class after class digesting hours of design principles, color theory, space planning, human factors, the history of textiles and psychology of design; learning to delineate good vs. bad design (yes, there is a difference!); and identifying best practices in an effort to create environments for future clients that would speak to the core of their personalities and enhance the aesthetic quality of their day-to-day lives. The Frank Lloyd Wright lover in me was completely engaged. I worshipped Architectural Digest and Interior Design magazine and dreamed of being a featured designer. I loved a good DIY, thrift-shopping, and accepted any repurposing challenge. I was one of those college students who actually liked to go to class. A 20-minute walk in Downtown Pittsburgh at 7am? Sign me up. Gothic architecture against the modernity of a well-planned city with a design-centric vibe spoke to me; was—and still is—balm to my soul. As my parents sent me off to college, I can only assume their greatest relief was no longer coming home from a weekend trip to a dismantled family room, half-removed wallpaper in the bathroom, or constantly rearranged furniture.

It wasn’t glamorous, but I loved it

As the not-so-glamorous days of hand-drafting and model building (read: chipped manicures and lots of band-aids) drew to a close, I had developed such a love for human-centered design and the initial phases of that sort of work—development, schematics, specification—which lends itself well to commercial interior design. I knew, however, in my heart of hearts that my passion was working with residential clients. I spent my childhood drafting floor plans and redecorating my bedroom way too often. For me, there’s something deeply gratifying about creating an intimate space for clients that is both lived in and loved.

ac_gchI’ve been fortunate to work on projects with some truly dynamic homeowners and, admittedly, am still equally as fulfilled spending my days immersed in the same principles and theories as in my earlier days. Equally left- and right-brained, I find solstice with everything in its beautiful little place. After all, the end goal for every project of my professional career is to make spaces and environments look and function in beautiful tandem. In fact, until a few years ago, I’d tell you it was that very work—my design of a space, my professional contribution—that left my clients with a beautiful, inviting home.

But then I became a mom.

Overnight it seemed, all those beautiful spaces—living rooms, kitchens, baths and bedrooms—the ones I designed for my clients and the ones I designed for my own home, they were all suddenly filled with baby gear clutter, and became the antithesis of a well-designed space. I quickly learned that laundry multiplied so fast it became a semi-permanent design staple, covering all the beautiful hardwood floors and woven rugs I loved so much. Somehow everything was eternally sticky, and all my thoughtful organization was undone after each and every 10-minute shower. (After 8 years of motherhood, this is still a phenomenon I’m trying to wrap my head around.) Our once beautifully-curated home was all-at-once an absolute mess.

With each passing year, that mess evolved into sweet memories I wouldn’t trade for the world: our flour-covered kitchen where I, with my sweet little toddler and her bouncing blonde curls baked our first cut-out cookies; the oil pastel stain on my favorite upholstered chair where my daughter so graciously demonstrated her newly-acquired art skills; the worn out spot on my favorite throw pillow that held both of our heads as we napped together… these were the beautiful design elements I have never been able to replicate or deliver for my clients; the elements that truly define beauty within a home.

I learned there is beauty in the mess

Looking back, I have such an appreciation for my parents as they navigated parenthood and saw beauty in the mess of my childhood. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see the same in my home with my two children, and that I am able to connect with my clients in a way that is far more mindful, aware, and humble than before I was a mom. I can design and deliver a well-curated space within any four walls, but the true beauty comes from the life, mess, and memories made within, and that’s something you can’t sketch on paper.

Mom and Dad, if you’re reading: the education I received during my first few years of motherhood is by far and away more valuable and meaningful than the post-secondary education we’re still paying for. Above all, I’m grateful you appreciate that, too. All in the name of a beautiful home, right?

I love my life, really

I love my life, really


I love animals, and as a little girl I dreamed of a career doing what I love, caring for animals as a veterinarian. Today though, I’m not a veterinarian.

Fast forward 30+ years and I find myself the owner of a small business in my hometown and I love my life.

The unexpected

I’ve learned that life isn’t what we plan, it becomes a journey with changes at every turn.  I’d planned one career, but it didn’t turn out as I expected. I fell in love, and of course that seldom goes as planned. And then there were surprises, sometimes wonderful ones in the form of unexpected opportunities. My journey has had many UPS and DOWNS and many surprises.  Thankfully, what my parents instilled in me was to be true to myself, stay positive and keep an open mind.

As I attended the 1st Women’s Showcase at the Renaissance Theatre last month, I took a moment to reflect on where I have come from, where I am and how I got here.

Community matters

The women in my small town love to help each other, nurture, and support each other.  As a small business owner, you are challenged to be competitive and successful.  When you have a strong network, that in my case includes family and friends,  as well as many women, anything is possible.  I appreciate the fact that I can ask another professional woman for help with an issue in my business or personal life and she will help me or help guide me to the right person to help me.  I love the way women nurture and care for each other, and yes it happens in business.

Owning a business can be scary, and it’s nice to know you are not alone.  I can also count on my network to remind me to stay mentally and physically healthy.  From my observation, women tend to care for others before themselves, often leaving us stressed, depressed, and or anxious.

Loving life

The Women’s Showcase offered business solutions and opportunities, health and beauty solutions networking, time for us.  It was a  reason to come together and celebrate our success and share what we do and love! It also helped me realize that I didn’t have to become a veterinarian to find a career that I truly loved.

As I mentioned, I have had many challenges in owning a business and have had a few partners.  I hope you can join me November  25, 2015, 8-9a at My Town Partners office at 31 E 4th Street to discuss “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” of Partnerships.  As we meet the day before Thanksgiving, I appreciate the fact that we can again be reminded of the network in our community and give thanks!


Sorry Sheryl, but I decided to Lean Out

Sorry Sheryl, but I decided to Lean Out


In March of 2013 Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg’s much anticipated book, Lean In, hit bookstore shelves. I’d followed the buzz and clamored to the bookstore to get my copy right away. I was hoping that this highly successful woman would have the insight I needed, but alas I was underwhelmed. In the end I forged my own path and I decided to Lean Out.

Our workplaces are broken

Sandburg did quote statistics most women already know about the inequities in the workplace, and struggles that women face. She did share some of her own personal challenges with candor. I can’t disagree with any of the problems she presented, but I certainly noticed some glaring omissions.

I’ve lived a ton of clichés. I’ve worked the same job as men for significantly less pay (I made 1/3 to be exact). I’ve had bosses hit on me, or even worse try to force me to date their friends (isn’t that tantamount to prostitution?) I once found out that a young man, with no education or experience, who was an assistant manager reporting to me, was in fact being paid MORE than me. And then there was the time my employer tried to deny my maternity leave and when I “Leaned In” and stood up for myself they started building a case to fire me. I could go on, but suffice it to say, I know this is a man’s world.

However you look at it, my own career simply hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped it would. In fits and starts I’d poured myself, my WHOLE self into job after job, and over and over I’d hit walls, glass ceilings, or dead ends. No matter how hard I worked, how much I cared, how desperately I chased achievement and produced remarkable results, in the end I was depleted, unappreciated, and often looking for another job.

The mentor myth

Where Sandburg really went off the rails was in a chapter titled, Are you my mentor? Once you weed through the litany of humble brags and whatnot you find that successful women like Sandburg don’t want to be bothered with peons asking for mentorship. Her advice is to just plug away and work hard, somehow your mentor will just magically show up, after all, that’s what happened for her. It’s good to be Sheryl.

Funny thing is, that’s exactly what I’d been doing my whole life and my mentor had never come. Was something wrong with me? Of course not, ask ANY woman and they’ll tell you that mentors don’t fall out of the sky.

So what do we do?

Sandburg talks a lot about “Leaning In.” The idea feels a lot like victim-blaming, but basically she suggests women stand up for themselves, be assertive, and advocate on their own behalf. That’s nice, but I didn’t need a book to tell me that, I’d been standing up for myself for quite some time and it hadn’t really panned out in the ways Sandburg seemed to think it should.

In my experience “Leaning In” was a sure-fire way to find myself out of a job. My elusive mentor probably wasn’t going to show up any time soon, and I was at an all-time low.

Then I got a message from an acquaintance (who later became a friend and mentor.) “Maybe it’s time you start something of your own?” she said; and so I did.

Leaning Out

Around the same time another book was published. David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell, and it was just the inspiration I needed. In this book Gladwell makes the case that meaningful social change seldom happens from within, rather, the misfits, underdogs, and marginalized make the greatest impact from without, when they can play by different rules.

This became my formula. If the system is broken, why am I trying to be a part of it? Why try to fit where I obviously don’t? Why should I keep setting myself up to fail?

I decided to Lean Out, and for me that took the form of entrepreneurship. I started my own business, and did it my way, on my terms. That means people first, the profits will follow, and above all else, building everything I do on a foundation of loving-kindness.

You know what? I’ve never been happier.

My manifesto

One of the first things I did when I founded Tog Loft was write a manifesto. This was serious business for me, because it is the foundation of everything that I do. I’ve always lived and worked with purpose, but often found myself at cross-purposes with the organizations of my employ. Never again is my life and work out of alignment with my values, and for me that is a beautiful thing.

The Tog Loft Manifesto

We believe

every living thing deserves to be treated with dignity and respect

We want to live in a world where

cooperation and sustainability is our way of life

What we know for sure is

entrepreneurship and the arts are powerful catalysts for change

You matter

Your voice matters

You bring something wonderful into this world by being you

Tog Loft is developing space

Developing photographers, community, and entrepreneurship

with love