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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Change: Friend or Foe?

We’ve all been there – the moment life as you know it changes. You lose a job, a relationship ends, or perhaps you have to move unexpectedly. Change can be scary, intimidating, and even though change is inevitable, most of us fight it tooth and nail.

I always joke that I am TERRIBLE at change. I panic at the thought of what has felt safe and secure being gone. But, like it or not my life has been in a constant state of flux for years. Divorce, job changes, teens dramas, the drug addiction/alcoholism (and recovery) of one of my children, the loss of both of my parents in less than a year and relationship ups and downs. It's enough to make me want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head. But thankfully I have a short attention span for feeling bad and generally, after a short while, I rally.

What if there was a way to work through it and come out on the other side, wiser and ever happier? That’s the premise of Dominique Browning’s best-selling book, “Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness”

After 13 years as editor-in-chief of House & Garden, Dominique Browning went to work one day and discovered the powers that be were shuttering her magazine. Browning was someone who loved her job, was great at it, and in many ways, was defined by it. With that structure gone, Browning, like many others facing a seismic change, had to completely recreate her life.

“I now feel what you have to do, at the loss of job, relationship, a health challenge, anything knocks us out, is to just stop and be,” says author Dominique Browning from her Rhode Island home. “It’s so easy to be filled with fear; it’s like being caught in a rip tide. Your first instinct is to thrash, then adrenaline starts –I thrashed myself to exhaustion.”

In “Slow Love” Browning shares her own journey, and helps readers by being so open about her own struggles and how she moved through her life-altering changes.

“We don’t give ourselves permission to be sad,” she says. “We’re told it’s bad to be sad, to be unhappy. For me it meant putting on my pajamas and really being in my pajamas – just being in the loss. We live in a culture that is so happiness oriented; you don’t want to ever admit to being unhappy, but I was.”

Browning wasn’t just going through a loss of her job; she was also coping with the end of a 10-year on-again off-again relationship with a man she calls, “Stroller” in the book because he was always walking away.

She may have put on her pajamas and allowed herself to be sad, but Browning says there’s a difference between taking some time and depression.

“If it becomes too dark one hopes you have friends who will tell you that maybe you need some help, if it tips from sadness to depression, that’s something different,” she says. “Before too long it’s important to get yourself moving physically – walking, swimming, running, yoga, gardening… moving gets your brain unstuck.”

You don’t have to look far for people whose lives have been up-ended by the loss of a job. So many things happen when you get that devastating news – the financial worries, concerns over health insurance for your family, the loss of self-confidence, it can be paralyzing, and make you feel awfully alone.

New Bedford psychotherapist, Valerie Letourneau says as hard as it may be to believe initially, big change can present opportunities we not have had otherwise.

“We are creatures of habit, we like to feel safe and secure,” she says. “Some people when faced with change go into survival mode – calling every contact they can think of that evening, and then some become paralyzed by the enormity of what has happened.”

What she suggests is something in the middle, taking action, but taking time.

“First, give yourself time to absorb the news. We identify ourselves by our profession, so if you’ve lost your job, you lose that identity and feel you’re inadequate,” she says. “Then, take stock of all your skills. If you’ve been in a job for a long time you might not even realize all the things you could do. This is the time to think outside the box.”

Letourneau suggests rallying support rather than hunkering down by yourself.

“When big change gets thrown at you, self-esteem can go hit the floor, talking about it can help you,” she says.

So can getting moving to help with any stress and depression you may be experiencing.

“I tell people when they first come to me to start with just walking 15 minutes twice a day. I tell them to just give me two weeks of trying it and I bet they will see a difference in how they feel.”

She says it may be hard to believe initially when you’re shocked by the breakup, job loss or other huge change, but quite often it ends up being the best thing that ever happened to you.

“It’s easy to keep doing the same thing, but sometimes when change is forced on you it can lead to a place you might not have gone to,” she says. “People start businesses, go back to school, and do all sorts of things they might never have tried. It can end up being the best thing that ever happened to you.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Kardashians - The Gabor Sisters of Their Generation

It recently occurred to me that every generation has their celebrities who are famous for being famous.

When I was growing up it was Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor, and their less famous sisters. They appeared on TV, Eva even had a TV series, "Green Acres," but she was no thespian.

The star-studded multi-million dollar extravaganza known as Kim Kardahian's wedding has had the blogosphere buzzing for weeks. I heard the couple may be making upwards of $18 million on this deal, amazing isn't it? This appears to be the closest we'll get to a royal wedding here in the states - if the royals went Vegas on us. Why does anyone care?

I've never been one to begrudge the wealthy anything they want. I believe you have the right to cars, clothes, homes... whatever. But, I do hope they are equally generous with those who are less fortunate.

I don't know how reliable this website is, but they do have a list of charities Kim has apparently given to. She also gives to a church founded by her mother/manager, Kris Jenner which may or may not be a scam of a tax shelter. I hope they are giving to charity, it would make me feel a lot better about their relentless pursuit of the spotlight and cash.

When I hear about the $75,000 for Kim's three Vera Wang dresses, the crystal covered invitations and copy of Prince William and Catherine Middleton's wedding cake, I can't help but think of the current crisis in Somalia and how many people could be fed for that amount of money.

There are ways for celebrities to enjoy the fruits of their labor AND do good. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have done this by recognizing the thirst for photos of their brood, and being paid millions for them, then donating the money to causes they believe in. It doesn't mean they can't live in mansions, buy their kids great things - they should! They work hard, it's just a matter of being aware of others in the world. We should all do what we can, when you have more, you give more.

I don't understand the fascination with the Kardashians and never will. That said, these women should not be underestimated. They have a talent for creating and giving the public what they don't even know they want. From my brief viewings of their reality show they are harpy narcissists who, after more than three minutes of viewing make me want to disconnect my cable forever.

But boy, without a heck of a lot of talent they've become international household names. Just like the Gabor sisters. You've got to give them credit for that.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How To Be Awesome At Life

A few weeks ago my 26-year-old daughter sent me her resume to look at and tweak. She’s been living in Korea teaching English for two years after having been laid off from her right-out-of-college finance job in the financial downturn of 2008.

As a Wellesley College graduate, this young woman is smart, confident and one might even say sassy. As I read her email she said, “It’s hard to figure out in a few sentences how to tell people how awesome at life I am.” Knowing her as well as I do I knew she was kidding – sort of.

I laughed, but it got me thinking - shouldn’t we all feel we’re awesome at life? It made me wonder when I last felt “awesome at life”? Sadly, not recently. It’s easy to feel beat up and lose that enthusiasm we had at 26, so I decided if I wanted to feel I was awesome at life I had to actually do some things that felt awesome.

So I put on my own sassy thinking cap and came up with ten eleven ways to be awesome at life.

1. Do something for someone else every day. Whether it’s something small like buying coffee for the person behind you in line, or something bigger like helping someone find a job, the key is doing something, anything that isn’t about you. Just being there for someone else is all it takes.

2. 2e grateful. I’ve gone through times where I’ve had to really reach and think, “I’m grateful I woke up today.” Life doesn’t always feel like there’s anything to be grateful for but there’s always something. A perfectly ripe peach, the way a cool breeze feels as you sit outside… there’s always something no matter how minute, to feel grateful for. The thing about gratitude is that it changes your perspective. You begin to look at everyday occurrences differently. Taking the time to be grateful for having a fun, unexpected conversation with a complete stranger while in line at the post office, or that awesome piece of pie you had for dessert truly changes you.

3. Choose happiness. Yes, you do have a choice. Of course there are cases of clinical depression where telling someone to choose to be happy is like telling the sky to be green, but most of us are not clinically depressed and we can choose happiness. Realizing you are not a puppet in someone else’s production, but the creator of your own show gives you power. And when you feel powerful you feel, yes, you guessed it – awesome.

4. Don’t feel sorry for yourself/blame others/ or otherwise be a victim. There is nothing less powerful than being a victim. You are the architect of your life. Where you are is based on the choices you have made. If you want to see who the boss of your life is – look in the mirror. Take responsibly for your own life.

5. Stop comparing yourself to others. Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. You are aware of your own insecurities, know that deep down, we are all alike. We all worry, we all sometimes feel we are not enough, but know you are awesome just as you are.

6. Be excited for others. There is enough success and happiness for everyone, don’t be the person who feels jealous of others’ successes. Use their good news as motivation and evidence that good things do happen and if they got the great job, the wonderful partner, lots of money, so can you.Pay attention. Listen. Be in the moment and really give your attention to someone else's life.

7. Laugh every day. Just do it. Do you really need a reason why?

8. Choose who you spend time with carefully. Pick friends and associates who are up to something in their lives. Hang out with people who are excited and passionate. Emotions are as contagious as colds.

9. Do what you love. Maybe you can’t make a living as the artist you dream of being right now, but make sure you create the time and space to fill your heart with the joy of doing something you love.

10. Choose to live your life with passion. Make choices that make you happy. Don’t compromise yourself. Life is short and precious. Don’t be afraid to be a little selfish sometimes if your true happiness is at stake. You can never be unhappy enough to make someone else happy.

11. All right, sometimes you just have to do something frivolous to feel awesome at life. For me shoes and clothes make me feel awesome. As a writer I don’t have endless streams of money, but remember - you don’t have to spend a fortune to feel great. Sometimes just twenty dollars spent on a pair of on sale shoes is just the right thing to feel awesome at life. Maybe for you it’s a concert ticket or really great chocolate, part of having an awesome life is being indulgent at times and feeding your soul.

Being awesome at life is something we should all aspire to, if for no other reason than it just feels good. Now that I’ve decided to believe I am truly awesome at life I am striving to find ways to feed that part of me every day. Others may not think I’m awesome at life and that’s okay, I think I am and that’s all that matters.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Bob

If you need a reminder of how time marches on here it is - today is Robert Redford's 75th birthday,

Kind of sobering isn't it?

I was a teen when "The Way We Were" came out, and immediately fell in love with Hubbell Gardner. This scene still brings me to tears every single time. The gentle sweep of his bangs and the, "Your girl is lovely," Hubbell, still gets me.

The story of passionate, outspoken Katie and the all-American Hubbell is a classic love story, and at fifteen-years-old I was primed for the handsome, ungettable Redford.

Those first cinematic crushes are an important right of passage. At around the same time I also had a huge crush on this character as well. I think I saw "Serpico" twice at the movies and still kind of swoon over that black cap and beard. He was the consummate good guy/bad boy. What self-respecting girl wouldn't fall for that?! Al Pacino in that role completely unstitched me,

The non-embarrassing aspect of my Redford crush is that he didn't turn out to be, say, a Mel Gibson. I am proud that at 15 I had the good taste to pick a man to crush on who ended up being a huge environmentalist, started the Sundance Institute that supports independent filmmakers, and has always lived under the radar.

Class acts are hard to come by these days, so it feels very apropos to celebrate someone who has always been one.

So, Happy Birthday, Mr. Redford. Thank you for giving me, and women everywhere something aspirational to think about in our alone moments.

That is of course when we're not thinking about this.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Men

As I continue to forge down a path of alienating my sisters, I wanted to write about men. At my church this morning several male members spoke and it got me thinking.

The thing is, I really like men. I like that they're different from women. They think differently, they respond differently, and that is what is so great. It doesn't mean it's without its challenges, but the differences are what make life interesting and rich. Who wants to be with someone just like them?

When I listen to women complain about men - think they're clueless, privileged, unfeeling, thoughtless... whatever the complaint may be, a part of me understands, but another part thinks you can't put everyone - male, female, gay, straight, black, white into a neat little box. All men and all women are not the same.

When I was married I was very much a woman's woman. Having married young, I quickly assumed the traditional role of wife, and soon thereafter, mother, and identified most with women. Now, having been single for many years I have found how much I love spending time talking to men. I love my women friends, but I really enjoy guys.

I have two sons who are young men, and an older brother I'm ridiculously close to. I'm privileged to have wonderful men in my life whom I love and adore. When I talk to them I get a different point of view than I do from other women. I am also given the opportunity to see how they struggle just like women do, but in different ways.

I am glad I am a woman because no one ever told me not to cry, not to feel and to just buck up and "be a man." As a woman I have the privilege of being able to be real and not feel judged for any perceived emotional weaknesses. I am very happy being a woman and would not want the pressures men must feel. Of course, as women we have our own pressures, but we're schooled in sharing, opening up and unburdening ourselves with each other. Men are schooled in keeping it together at all costs, probably part of the reason they have shorter lifespans than women.

Each gender has its own perks and challenges to endure and enjoy. I am betting for the most part most of us would not change teams. The good news is the chasm does seem to be lessening, more and more men are being encouraged to open up and hopefully, women are encouraging and supportive of that. Yes, we're different, but that difference is something I hope we can embrace and relish in, because it's the differences that give life its richness.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Love/Hate Relationship With Feminism

I was reading a piece on Jezebel today about the continued ongoing debate about the word "feminism" and its meaning.

It seems all these years out from the '60s and '70s that the debate would be over - we all deserve to be treated with respect and deserve equal pay and opportunity. Sounds simple enough to me.

For me where it all gets a little fuzzy is who and what we're expected to be.

I talked with someone today, someone who didn't really know me and I could tell they formed opinions immediately based on the dress and heels I was wearing. I know the askance look well -the, "She's blond and she's wearing girly clothes," for some this equates into not being taken seriously and being dumb.

It's the same snap judgement I observed when my younger son had dreadlocks and people assumed he was a thug - not an honor role-achieving, captain of the football team and all-around good kid.

I'm as ambitious as they come. I'm not in your face about it, but make no mistake - even in high heels I have career goals I am intent on achieving. That said, I am equally passionate about caring for the people I love, which is where I sometimes fall out of line with my feminist comrades.

See, I like to cook, bake, knit and yes, enjoy my feminine side. I find nothing hypocritical about enjoying being domestic, sexy AND being ambitious, but that seems hard for some to wrap their brains around. I happen to believe these don't need to be mutually exclusive.

I also happen to believe there is nothing more potent than a woman who is comfortable in her own skin - doing whatever it is they love with passion.

My dream is that at some point women will be in each others' corners and not at each others' throats judging and critiquing.

Life's hard enough, especially if you're trying to navigate it in heels.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Feng Shui Primer By A Non-Expert

When I had posted about doing some Feng Shui in my house, my friend Sandy asked me to write a blog post about what I had done and why. I said I would, but I have to put a big disclaimer that I am NOT a trained Feng Shui consultant and don't pretend to be. But like actors who play doctors on TV, I'm a journalist who has written a few articles about Feng Shui and due to that have had a few experts come through my house, so I've got a little knowledge.

I'll back up for a minute and explain that Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese art, or according to Wikipedia:

"A system of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of energy (qi - pronounced "chi")), and whose effects are taken into account when siting and designing buildings."

There are several schools of Feng Shui - the Compass School which governs by direction, and the Black Hat Sect, the one I've used are two. Being math-averse, I like the simpler Back Hat system that uses the above Bagua.

As you can see there are different areas, a grid if you will, based on the bottom being your entrance at your front door. So, money and prosperity are in the far left corner, relationships are the far right, and so on.

What I've been doing in my home is a lot of decluttering, cleaning up and setting intentions. A big part of Feng Shui is your attitude.

Being in the process of trying to get a book published, one of the things I've been focusing on is clearing clutter in and around my office space. I hadn't even thought about the piles of books, newspaper clippings from my articles and other various sundry of junk possibly blocking energy!

The goal of Feng Shui is to free the flow of energy (chi) so you can live more comfortably and attract positive things like success, love and prosperity.

It makes sense that having piles of stuff in your house would make you tired and drag you down. That's just a fact. Having clutter-free clear spaces makes you feel better, and if you believe, will allow energy to flow more freely and support you in achieving your goals.

Here are some brief tips. For more information I love the book, "Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life." by Karen Rauch Carter. I've interviewed her and she has given me tips for my own house. Check out her site and book. She's also on Facebook.

1. Clutter - get rid of it. See where it's blocking energy from flowing.
2. Keep your bedroom a bedroom. Treadmills, elliptical machines and their ilk shouldn't be in your bedroom.
3. Get rid of clutter around your bed for more restful sleep.
4. Dead or dying plants and dried flowers have dead energy. Get rid of them.
5. Look at the Bagua for tips on colors. My prosperity area in my house is my dining room which I painted red - a power color.
6. Crystals can do a lot to stimulate energy. I have them hanging in various areas of my house, And they look pretty!
7.As your house has its sections on the Bagua, so does each room. So you can beef up areas individually in each room. Maybe the relationship area of your bedroom could use a little oomph!
8. One expert told me, when decluttering think in terms of keeping "Things that you love, and things that you need."
9. Bring life into your home with plants and real flowers.
10. Be aware of the entrance to your house. Keep it clean, decluttered and attractive.

These are just a few thoughts. So much of Feng Shui is intention, so as you do these things half the battle is thinking positively and setting goals for what you want as you do it. You're a lot more likely to attract what you want if you are clear and focused on it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

You're Never Too Old To Dance in Your Underwear

I wrote a couple of days ago about seeking pleasure. In the ensuing days I've been keeping a mental list of the things I get pleasure from: talking to people I love, movies, iced coffee on a hot day, spending time with friends, reading, my porch swing, and... yes, dancing in my underwear in my bedroom like I was 13-years-old.

The thing is, I love to dance. Not too many people know this because I'm shy and don't tend to put my moves on display. Couple that with the fact that I don't drink (that liquid uninhibitor) and I'm the girl sitting on the sidelines itching to move - if it's what I like to dance to - wishing I could get past my shyness.

But in my room by myself? I'm a regular JLo and Isadora Duncan rolled into one. I have my repertoire - everything from Coolio and Eminem to Madonna and Katy Perry. It's one of the few times I feel free of any angst and yes, like I'm 13 again.

I wasn't always so shy. At one time I was the first to get up and dance. I've taken lots of dance classes through the years, and as a teen I sat rapt watching the Alvin Ailey dance troupe dreaming I could be them. But then I grew up and self-conscious.

I'm not sure why when we become adults it's harder to let go. I let down with a very select few whom I trust and feel safe with. Maybe that's what it is - as we get older it's harder to not feel judged and safe. When you're young it's easier, the world is your oyster and you're less self-conscious.

Perhaps I'll never be able to pry my white knuckles off the chair I sit glued to when I go out, but trust me, alone in my bedroom? I can dance.