It’s A Cow


Fall is my favorite season! Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful fall day here in Missouri complete with sunshine and soft breezes. Because of the mild weather, our front door was open with only the glass storm door between us and the outdoors.  My daughter and I were catching up on shows we DVR’d over the last couple of weeks while our Yorkie, Dexter, was resting on the couch beside me. All of a sudden Dexter goes into a berserk barking frenzy, pounces up on the back of the couch and starts pawing the window pane with agitation. I tried to grab him and shush him while I asked “What’s he barking at?” My daughter looked out the front door and calmly replied, “It’s a cow.”

Yesirree, there was a cow coming down our street and as we watched it skirted around our car, darted into our yard, did a little shortcut over our shrubs and sidewalk before it headed north on an adjacent street. I am no stranger to cows; I was raised on a farm and have had more than my share of cow experiences so it wasn’t a scary thing. It was a ‘where did a cow come from’ thing. As we stood in the yard watching the cow continue its great adventure a family in a golf cart zoomed by as the children exclaimed, “Cow on the loose, cow on the loose!” I assume the cow was apprehended, read its rights and as we speak serving time for its mad dash for freedom!

I saw a life lesson in this experience. Just when you think everything is calm and peaceful a cow comes along out of nowhere and takes you by surprise! Okay, maybe for you it isn’t a cow; it might be a flat tire on the freeway, or the boss you really like gets a better job and leaves, or the furnace needs replacing, or you or a family member has an unexpected emergency, or you lose an important client to a competitor, OR? You get the idea, things happen that we can’t control. In fact, most of the things that happen to us we can’t control, but we can choose our reaction.

So how do you react to unexpected occurrences?

-Do you panic?

-Do you blame someone else?

-Do you ignore it and hope it turns out okay?

-Do you take charge and start barking orders?

-Do you make a plan but never execute it?

We all deal with the unexpected differently but I suggest the following as a good start:

  1. STOP Take a moment for your senses to assess the situation before you react. That means no emotional outbursts, anger, or drama. For instance, I stopped instead of running down the street after the cow! Okay seriously, give yourself a minute before you do something you regret and/or react in a way that makes the situation worse.
  1. BREATHE Take a few deep breaths. Breathing allows you to de-stress and take control of your mind so you can react more rationally. Oh boy, I wish I could take back all the times I skipped this step and said or did the wrong thing! It doesn’t have to be a public demonstration; just pause and breathe till you feel it is right to continue.
  1. THINK After one and two you are now in a position and frame of mind to make a plan, prioritize your actions and figure out how to set those actions into motion. Remember to ward off negativity while you think so you don’t spiral back into a stress mode. If I can do this you can do this!

What works for you when the unexpected happens? Share your ideas with me and I will compile as a list for all my subscribers. We live in challenging and complex times; let’s help each other along the way. Send your tips and wisdom

*Want to know where I first learned the STOP-BREATHE-THINK plan of dealing with life? I learned it from watching Blue’s Clues with my toddler in the late 90’s. I listened to Steve, Blue’s friend, say it so many times that it became a mantra. Wisdom comes in many forms; we must be ready to receive!

“Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.”~ Bruce & Stan





7 Ways to Handle Holiday Stress


Rather than joy and anticipation the holiday season often brings stress, frustration and tension as we deal with the hustle and bustle. To help you cope, snap out of it, or at least feel a sense of balance I am sharing with you seven easy tips and tricks to lift your spirits and restore a sense of balance.

1. Forgive yourself and everyone around you: Holding grudges and blaming yourself drains you of energy and makes you no fun. Disagreements will happen during the holidays because everyone is on edge; consider the stress factor and don’t take it personal.

2. Be of Service: Doing for others is a sure fire way to help you both. Don’t do it because you should, do it because it is a great thing to do. Make it personal or join a group for a community service project. Volunteering for the good of others benefits everyone!

3. Be Realistic: Just because your mother made killer cinnamon rolls for the neighborhood and your father won the house decorating contest each year doesn’t mean you should. Scale it down and create new traditions that your own children will have trouble living up to when they are adults!

4. Keep Your Exercise Schedule: The holidays are no time to abandon your exercise routine. If you are bored, vary it a bit but do not quit. The time you save by not exercising won’t make up for the positive results lost. I have dodged a lot of pounds over the years by exercising through December.

5. Choose Wisely: Three dinners and one open house on the same day? No way! Make wise choices, without guilt, about what events you will attend in the month ahead.

6. Get Enough Sleep: Instead of staying up to wrap presents or staying another hour at a party you really didn’t want to attend anyway, go to bed! Sleepy people are testy, grumpy, make a mountain out of a mole hill people and that is one thing to avoid this time of year.

7. Be Still and Breathe: This works 365 days a year. Throughout the day stop what you are doing, sit back, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Ten ‘in through the nose out through the mouth’ breaths will bring relaxation and clarity to your world.


Acceptance-It Is What It Is



I am slowly seeing that acceptance is not a state of passivity or inaction, but rather the starting point of action. For me, and maybe for you, this is HUGE! Trying to change something or make progress toward a goal without accepting the reality of the situation will only lead to frustration and failure. For example, my entire life I have had to watch my weight and as an adolescent I was quite heavy. In order to really change my situation I had to conquer my thoughts of: “Why did this happen to me?”, “I’ll never be able to change the way I look.”, “I could make a change but my family isn’t helping me.”, “If I was taller than everything would be easier.” Obviously the list could go on and on and this stream of thinking can apply to any part of your life that you feel unhappy with; relationships, career success, friendships, and more. Instead I finally chose to accept myself (well kind of) and take responsibility for changing what I could. I never did get taller, but I was able to make drastic changes in my appearance and choices so that today I am much healthier than I was 30 some years ago.

To help you understand:

Acceptance Isn’t
-approval, endorsement, consent, agreement, confirmation, or condoning every situation.
-hitting your head against a wall of “should’s”, “have-to’s”, “must’s”, or “ought’s” instead of
moving forward.
-sitting back and wishing or hoping something will change or improve.
-labeling everything that happens to you as fair, just, or deserving.
-blaming others, the universe or higher powers for what you perceive as wrong with your life.

Acceptance Is
-using creativity and enthusiasm to overcome life’s frustrations.
-making a plan and breaking it down into achievable goals.
-eliminating the words “should”, “ought”, “have-to” and “must” from your vocabulary.
-taking personal responsibility for your life and refusing to whine and blame your way out of
-a sign of strength not weakness.
-seeing the incidents in life as something you can handle, not an excuse to give up.

Coming to a place of acceptance can be easy or hard; even knowing the truth I still oscillate between the two. To begin your acceptance journey, start with yourself. Many of life’s lessons come to us in the form of perceived “failures”. We can choose to learn the lesson or we can berate ourselves for our mistakes. Many of us can accept and be supportive of others but apply a more critical eye to our own fallible human ways. Strive to be as understanding of yourself as you are to others.


“Acceptance is not submission; it is acknowledgment of the facts of a situation. Then deciding what you’re going to do about it.” ~Kathleen Casey Theisen

“And that’s the way it is.” ~Walter Cronkite

Darla shows people how creativity and personal responsibility can change the world by positively effecting perceptions, attitudes, and relationships. For additional information on Darla’s programs and life coaching or to sign up to receive her Full Plate No Fork Newsletter or email her at

When Stuff Happens

This Too Shall Pass

We never know when life is going to throw us a curve! Little did I know in November 2013 that I would be speaking at the Missouri Hospital Association Conference one week and be in the hospital the next. I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Polymyositis and have been fighting it for over a year. It is a rare disease that attacks the muscles and I was being treated locally with little progress. In March I luckily got an appointment at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to see a Rheumatologist who specializes in this type of disease and he started me on a treatment that has been nothing short of miraculous! After being on his treatment only a week and a half I was able to drive and go up and down stairs; something I hadn’t been able to do for months. I am almost done with the treatment and while I still have some flexibility to regain, I have my life back!

 The last 2 years have been exhausting, challenging and frustrating as we also sold our home in the middle of all this; I signed the closing papers on our home while lying in a hospital bed. However our new home was being renovated so we lived in three different temporary housing situations until the end of March. Whew!! At the same time I know there have been important life lessons learned and many blessings through my experiences and am determined to get back to speaking, life coaching, and motivating others. I finally feel good enough to resume my business activities and have new insights and amazing stories of inspiration and coping to share with my newsletter subscribers and clients.

When your life takes a hit, you have choices to make. You can choose to ignore it, you can choose to whine about it and live in fear of the next big thing that happens, or you can handle it to the best of your ability with courage, creativity, responsibility, and the knowledge that you will not give up!  Help yourself and those around you by implementing these 5 important skills when stuff happens.

1. Be kind to yourself. 
This is no time for perfectionism. Be more effective, stress less, and conserve energy by adjusting your expectations of yourself. Sure you want to do your best but our ‘best’ varies with our emotional, mental and physical state.

2. Be mindful of your self-talk.  
The inner dialogue and daily messages you send yourself can be your worst enemy. Begin by monitoring the voice in your brain and replace self inflicted criticism with acceptance. When you control your mind you take control of your life.

3. Tune out and turn off.  Too much media focuses on repeating the problems and tragedies in the world. You can’t solve the problems of the world and adding them to your personal concerns can be overwhelming. Allow yourself some quiet time to rejuvenate and restore balance.
4. Take small steps.  
Focus on what you can do right now to better your situation instead of the enormity of the problem. List 5 things you can do today that will bring about a positive change and do them. Accomplishments are contagious and small action steps lead to success!

5. Avoid being a Drama Queen or King.
It looks good on t-shirts, pillows and media outlets; it doesn’t play well in real life. Give up the reality show mentality and realize that every incident in your life is not an emergency unless you choose to make it so.

“We don’t get to choose the things that happen to us in life. What we can choose is how to react to them, how we deal with them, and how we move on.”
-Sarah Winter

What Are You Waiting For?

clipartclockSeveral years ago I had the wonderful adventure of sorting through 60 years’ worth of my parent’s stuff for the purpose of organizing, sorting, and preparing for an ultimate sale. Once I got past the cabinets full of every coffee can, glass jar, Styrofoam container, and magazine that ever entered the house I moved on to the land of appliances that don’t work, recipes saved but never used, buttons in jars, and shelves of fabric saved to make things that never got made. Needless to say, this has made me examine what we save and why.

Something that really stood out were the items carefully wrapped up and tucked away or stored on high shelves that I had never seen before in my life. They were nice items; a never used lace tablecloth, crystal stemware and sets of dishes, enough bath and body products to open a store and much more. These were the things my mother was saving to use for a special occasion, a special dinner or special company. I have to tell you, that revelation changed my life.

Besides the fact that I immediately started letting my daughter use the good glasses instead of plastic ones obtained from restaurant chains, I am slowly changing the way I handle my life. I had to ask myself, “What am I waiting for?’ and I came up with lots of answers.

I was waiting until I was:

-thin enough

-old enough

-tall enough

-successful enough

-happy enough

-loved enough

-bright enough

-rich enough

and just plain ENOUGH!

As a recovering perfectionist, I realized I am never going to be ENOUGH of whatever it was so I’d better just do it, use it, try it, get on with it now! If I fall on my face or get laughed at, who cares? I’ve always learned to live, learn from it and move on, so what’s stopping me now?

How about you? I believe we all have a mental list of things we are waiting for, and like my list and my mother’s treasures, instead of being true and precious, it is only keeping us from achieving, enjoying and becoming what we were meant to be.

So make your list, challenge it, tear it up, throw it away and stop saving yourself and your talents for some ‘out there’ magical time that will never come. NOW is the time and you make your own magic.
“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


7 Ways to Beat Summer Stress


 Wait a minute; summer and stress in the same sentence? Am I the only one that feels stressed out in the summer? While summer is perceived as a time for vacations and fun it also brings added responsibilities that leave us feeling more stressed than blessed. Some top summer stressors include: heat/humidity, activity overload for parents and kids, over commitment to social obligations, childcare/supervision concerns, yard work, bored kids, work interruptions, family reunions, and less sleep.

Here are some strategies to keep summer stress at bay:

 1. Make sleep a priority.Increased daylight hours, kid’s sleepovers, and numerous parties can result in sleep deprivation. Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night and prevent fatigue, weight gain, daytime sleepiness, decreased cognitive function and short tempers!

2. Drink more water.Long summer days filled with sun, outdoor activities and alcohol or caffeinated drinks can quickly lead to trouble. Make it a habit to carry a water bottle or icy glass of water around with you to prevent headaches, dizziness and other signs of dehydration.

3. Get a jump on the day.This is my favorite. The peace and quiet of the early morning hours combined with the psychological boost of being ahead of the game gets me off to a good start. Even if you can’t do this every day, try for three times a week and reap the rewards.

4. Eat light.Heavy lunches mean sleepy/zoned out afternoons and a severe case of the three o’clock slump. Up your energy level by eating light during the day and stay productive and alert.

5. Set limits.Too many summer fun activities with no down time can be stressful. Don’t be afraid to say no to some invitations and carefully choose what you want to do with your time. Seriously, do you really need to eat that much bbq?!

6. Plan a ‘staycation’.Fast paced, busy vacations can leave you feeling you need a vacation from your vacation! Try a few small staycations filled with time to relax and short day trips. The result is less stress plus more money and time.

7. List it.To prevent arriving at the end of summer with a whiny list of could’ve, should’ve wishes, take time to list major activities, events or experiences that you truly want to do.  Your list might include; weekly family bike rides, books you’d like to read, finally clean out the attic, visit local attractions (see #6), or have a regular cool off movie night. What you put on your list isn’t as important as actually doing what you put on your list.

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”  ~Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne


Confessions of a Worry Wart

This Too Shall Pass

I can be a Worry Wart and I know from experience that worry is a learned behavior. If one of your parents was a worrier, chances are you will be too. My father was a worrier and I have fought the worry habit off and on for much of my life. My mother, who was not a worrier, tried to calm my worry brain by singing a song entitled “Worry is but Thinking Double”. I liked the song, agreed with the message and knew it by heart, but I still worried.

Most psychologists today agree that much of the world exists in a state of worry.  The result is an anxiety culture suffering from panic attacks, sleep problems, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, weakened immune systems, migraine headaches, cardio-vascular problems and much more.

Worry is never useful and totally functions from a place of fear that causes stress and handicaps our effectiveness. If you are a seasoned worrier you understand when I say worry is the fear of what might happen and fear of what won’t happen if you don’t worry. We mistakenly believe worry fulfills a valuable purpose in our life that keeps us accountable, but that is a lie.

What I know for sure:

– You won’t stop worrying if you think it serves you in some way.

-Worry is vague and becomes draped in an unknown fear of ‘something’

-Worry robs you of mental and physical energy.

-Worry is a mental habit that can be broken and you have a choice.

-Worry keeps you stuck in the past or in anxiety about the future preventing you from living in the now.

-Worry is repetitive and nonproductive. (Thinking double as my Mom would say!)

What can you do to counteract the worry habit?

1. Retrain Your Brain: Keep negative, repetitive thoughts out of your mind by replacing them with grateful, productive ones and watch your life turn around! Consistent practice is the key.

2. Tune Out: Contrary to what you hear, the world will not end if you decide to turn off your smart phone, your news feeds, or your television for a few hours. You can’t solve the world’s problems and adding them to your own can be overwhelmingly stressful and, well, worrisome!

3. Make a List: Earlier this year I found myself becoming a multitasking worrier.  My solution was to create a column of ‘Problems/Concerns’ and a corresponding column of ‘What Can I Do About It Now?’ Downloading my worries to a list and using my brain to focus on solutions rather than the helplessness of worrying was powerful and it worked!

4. Move It: How many times do you have to hear this before you take action. Regular physical exercise clears your brain, improves your mood and makes the impossible seem doable. Choose something you like to do and get out there. Read more on how this worked for me.

5. Meditate: Get comfortable, get quiet and clear your mind of clutter. This works immediately and practiced over time can result in better focus, a calm sense of clarity and no worries. You don’t have to chant or wear special clothes to meditate so what are you waiting for?

“I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”                   -Mark Twain

“This too shall pass.” -Dorothy Arni (My mother, who passed away in May 2013)

Original artwork by Darla Arni,


Attitude Matters


Do you have a special coffee cup? You know what I mean; it’s the one you reach for even though your cabinet is full of clean coffee cups. If might have a chip, it probably has a few stains, but to you it spells COMFORT. It fits your hand just right, or it has a particular message or design that rings true for you, or it was a gift from someone you care for deeply. As I write this newsletter I’m sipping my morning coffee from my special cup. A cup I bought for someone twenty six years ago, but never gave away.

I met Melinda when we were both students at the University of Missouri.  She was wacky, energetic and a definite risk taker. We hit it off immediately. For the next three years we shared frustrations, dreams, and all the other bizarre things that happen to you in college. We very much had our separate lives and worlds, but we would regularly check in and update to make sure we were on the right course. Melinda was a total original. If I heard rocks hitting my dorm window I knew it was Melinda and she needed to talk. When she was chosen to represent her sorority in a formal beauty contest competition, she whisked me off to The Wardrobe used clothing store to buy a hand-me-down formal so she could make a political statement about priorities.

Over the next twelve years we would graduate. She would marry and move twice.  I would marry and move once. She would divorce. I would separate. She would find herself alone in Minneapolis with breast cancer and move back to Missouri. I would divorce. The fall of 1986 found us sitting together in her hospital room at Ellis Fischel Cancer Hospital in Columbia, Missouri having our own group therapy. She would listen for hours to my woes and regrets. I tried to make her comfortable and smuggle in foods she wasn’t supposed to have. I brought drawing paper, color swatches, and other art supplies so we could brainstorm and create. We were both a mess but we were still having fun.

Thanksgiving of that year my mom and I made our usual marathon-shopping trip to Kansas City. I found a Christmas gift for Melinda, a coffee mug. The entire outside circumference was filled with graphic renderings of artist’s brushes, a paint palette, tubes of paint and colorful paint pots done in primary colors; the perfect gift. Two days later her mother called to tell me she had died.

I don’t share this story to bring you down, but rather as a reminder. It’s not what happens to us that’s important, it’s how we handle what is happening. Melinda was fun and hopeful through tragedy and pain. In my ‘Attitude Matters’ presentation I share my top ways to improve your attitude with #7 being ‘Encouraging Others’. Melinda and I each had a lot on our plate, but by encouraging each other we not only got through it all, we were able to enjoy life. Our attitudes made the difference and it was a choice.

I left the mug wrapped up for a long time, but finally decided Melinda would have wanted me to use it, and that’s what I do. I have other mementos of Melinda in my home, but this one reminds me everyday to get outside of myself, encourage others, make the choice. Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad attitude days, we all do. But having the tools to deal with them makes all the difference.

As an experiment, try encouraging family members, co-workers, siblings, friends, the mailman, neighbors and basically anyone you encounter for one week. Make it a point to notice the positives about someone’s work, appearance or behavior and tell them about it; you will be amazed that something so simple can make a difference.




February Fresh Start

Fresh start

It’s February and my question for you is “How did that New Year’s Resolution thing work out for you?” The idea of resolutions has become so archaic and fraught with failure that many of us choose to bypass the process altogether. While I love to make lists and check them off, it is useless to make a list of changes you want to make on the outside until the inside is in better shape.  Instead of focusing on exterior resolutions such as start an exercise program, organize my office, or lose 10 pounds, I chose these five steps to a fresh start that came to me at 4 a.m. when my brain refused to sleep. Even after reviewing them in the harsh light of day they make sense to me and I hope they do to you!

 5 Steps to a Fresh Start

 1. Let go of hurtLittle ones take hours or days; big ones might take years. Releasing the hurt, resentment, and anger you have over an incident or about a person will in turn release yourself to grow. I realize that sometimes there is no closure or perfect solution to what is bugging me so the best alternative is letting go.

2. SHH Do a secret good deed for someone at least once a weekIt helps get rid of the “Hey look at me!” attitude that seems to plague our society and will make at least two people feel better. This is kind of like random acts of kindness done with a purpose and a mask.

 3. Stop being a Drama Queen (or King!)  No matter how cute it looks on t-shirts and hot pink pillows trimmed in sequins or feathers it doesn’t play out well in real life. In reality it is a lot like a saying my mother used to tell me over and over, “Don’t make mountains out of mole hills.” Exception to the above: It is okay to play the Drama Card if you are doing it with humor and effect to make a point, just don’t make it your personality.

 4. You are a collection of all your experiences Take charge of the experiences you have so you don’t turn out to be a pile of junk. Value yourself enough to decide what is worthwhile and what is not. Make good connections to others and be choosy about who you open your soul to.

5. Be of service Any way, anytime, anywhere. I’ve never felt as useful and alive as when I’m stepping outside myself to make a positive difference for someone else. Opportunities for service are everywhere. It doesn’t have to be in another country or another state; it can be next door, at work, or for a family member. It will become habit forming and it can change the world.

So what if these five steps don’t make you thinner? They will improve the quality of your life and put you in a much better position to make carefully considered improvements to your whole self. The goal is not to be a beautiful facade; the goal is to be an authentic whole.

At Your Service

As part of my Attitude Matters presentation I stress being of service and how each of us should consider ourselves in the service industry no matter what our job title.  It is easy to be of service to others from November through December, when the media and local causes focus on helping others, but I challenged a recent audience of college students to come up with ideas that make a difference to others year round.  After giving them a few suggestions, I asked for their ideas of what can be done, no matter what our income level, to be of service to others each day.

Their response was amazing and included:

-Smile at someone today, it costs nothing but makes a big difference.

-Give anonymous gifts throughout the year that help others as you see need.

-Have a positive attitude when dealing with others improves their day too.

-Donate clothing and items throughout the year to shelters/clothes closets.

-Participate in service projects through organizations they belong to.

-Give of your time not just money; everyone has time even if they are broke.

-Send someone an encouraging note or thank you card.

I was impressed with their answers for two reasons; they understood that the little things we do each day can make a big difference and that income level has nothing to do with the difference you can make in another person’s life.

I have expanded on their train of thought with my ‘Little Things Mean aLot” list. Look through this list and pick several to incorporate into your daily life and watch the world change.

Little Things Mean a Lot

1. Smile at everyone you meet today.

2. Send someone an encouraging note or thank you card each week.

3. Ask someone how they are and wait to listen without interrupting or telling your woes.

4. Open a door for someone who needs help.

5. Let the person with fewer items get in front of you in the checkout line.

6. When you take a coffee break, offer to fill up someone else’s cup.

7. On your daily walk or run, move someone’s morning paper from the street to the front door.

8. When you buy groceries or supplies, buy at least one item extra each time and donate to someone or a cause such as homeless or women’s shelters, local food pantry, etc.

9. Find out what your local schools are in need of and donate something each month. This could be as simple as boxes of Kleenex, paper, pencils or office equipment when you upgrade.

10. Contact a local nursing home and see if your talents or time could be of use.

11. Save your change for a month and donate to a local cause of your choice.

12. Make it a point to ask a family member or colleague, “What can I do to help you?”  It might throw them off at first but they will be pleased!

13. Clean out a closet, a storage box, your basement or attic and find places to donate items you no longer need.

14. When you are out for a walk or just walking across a parking lot, pick up trash you see along the way and dispose of it. I carry extra plastic bags in my car just in case there is no waste container in sight.

15. Call someone you haven’t talked to for a long time and listen more than you talk.

This is only a beginning.  How can you help? Send your ideas of “Little Things” to and I’ll create a master list to share.  Maybe it’s not that we don’t have the time or money, maybe it’s that we just don’t an idea of what to do.