Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Dominique Browning, the editor of House and Garden for 12 years before it folded, has a lovely blog called, "Slow, Love, Life" ( It's all about enjoying life at a slower pace.  Here is one of her latest posts.


Why is it sometimes so hard to enjoy being happy? Just yesterday I got an email from an editor saying he loved the piece I had rather fearfully sent him. I was elated! Joy! Success! But within seconds, I was on to worrying about edits, and other assignments, and the dust balling up in the hallway, and the soot on the windowsills.
My mind spun through the hundred tiny vexing things I had to do, when suddenly I came to a word: STOP. Literally, it loomed up, a cherry red stop sign, filling my brain. STOP?

Yes. That’s when I realized I wasn’t letting myself be happy. Was it superstition? If I’m happy, that means I could become unhappy…. Was it fear? How hard it is to give into happiness. Was it just that unrelenting, driven, monkey mind saying ‘Not good enough! Nothing is ever good enough!’ Whatever the reason, it seemed suddenly absurd. I wasn’t letting myself fill up with the joy of a small accomplishment, I wasn’t giving myself credit for something well done, and I wasn’t simply, well, enjoying the moment. Don’t you love how the word enjoy has the word joy embedded in it? Being in the joy.

So I stopped. I put down my broom, I closed the laptop, I made a cup of tea and sat in a sunny window, gazing out at the cold ground, looking at a gorgeous crocus pushing out through matted leaves, letting the feeling of happiness just rush through my veins, feeling--and holding--it in my belly. Lovely. I felt gratitude, and pleasure, and I basked in all those good things. To bask: I looked it up in the dictionary, and learned that the word originated between 1350-1400, as bathaske--to bathe oneself.

We don’t bask enough, and we ought to give ourselves the time to just sit in joy--time even to soak in a hot tub full of gorgeous oils and lavender scents, skin basking and mind basking--before we get back to those dirty dishes piling up in the sink!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Marrying Kind

I really enjoyed this article as the author questions the roles we play as "mother" and "wife".  Lisa Belkin, in her NY Times article, looks at the redefinition of marriage.  I think of her analysis with my sons and nieces in mind, wondering what type of marriage partnerships they will create in the future.

As you read my emails, please feel free to let me know if there are topics that interest you that I have not touched upon or ones that you would like me to explore in more detail.

Thanks, Denise

March 28, 2010
New York Times

My mother has a sly way of backing into major announcements. “I’m renovating my kitchen” was her way of introducing the fact that she and her beau were moving in together several years after my father died. A year or so later she said, “I’m spending the morning finishing paperwork, so this afternoon we can go ring shopping,” which was her way of warning that a sapphire solitaire would soon grace her ring finger.
But about one thing she is most direct. “We are not getting married,” declares the woman who chose a teaching career over law school back in the 1950s because her mother warned that a new bride would be too busy to become a lawyer — and who was none too pleased when I briefly lived with a boyfriend when I was in college.
Her decision not to remarry makes her part of the fastest-growing subset of cohabiting couples in the U.S. nowadays — those over the age of 50. The generation that most wanted marriage has become the generation that scoffs. Most of their reasons are practical — remarriage can mean, for example, adjusting or possibly losing some Social Security benefits and risking a life’s savings to pay a new spouse’s medical bills. It means entangling finances that adult children will, sooner or later, have to untangle. Some of their reasons are more personal — memories of a bad first marriage, perhaps, loyalty to a good one or a reluctance to give up newfound independence.
But at its core, this trend is the latest twist in the redefinition of marriage — and what it means to be a wife. It used to be that a woman went to college for her Mrs. degree, then donned a starched apron and baked apple pies, all while delighting in her sparkling floors. Now a grocery chain in Britain surveyed its customers and found that only 16 percent of married women can make the dough from scratch, while more than half of their mothers could. (Only 25 percent can poach an egg without relying on a gadget, compared with 75 percent of their mothers; two-thirds of us can’t make gravy from scratch — two-thirds of our mothers could.) Today working wives in the U.S. bring in 45 percent of total family earnings, and 22 percent ages 30 to 44 earn more than their husbands.
My mother was there at the start of that rejection of the old ways (and not only because she never had any interest in cooking). In the ’70s, she left the education field for law school, heading into the work force with the other women in big shoulder pads and faux neckties, trying to look like men. That was when women began to joke that a wife was something they themselves wanted to have — to run the errands, handle the chores and do the scut work — meaning it was not something they themselves wanted to be.
It did not take long, of course, before the guilt set in. Mom never really felt guilty — her three children were grown by then. But she watched as young mothers all around her were torn. Those who stayed in the work force felt that they were shortchanging their children; those who left felt they were shortchanging themselves. They expected to be both their mothers (or their rosy memory of what their mothers had been) and their fathers (who won the bread but never dreamed of baking it), and because that is an impossible task, they felt they had failed. The old guideposts were gone, and new ones had not been established. What was a good wife?
Also, I now realize, she watched me. Obsession abhors a vacuum, and since my generation had moved past pie crusts and hand-waxed floors, we turned our energies to our children. “Housewife” disappeared from the language completely, and “wife and mother” became “working mom” or “stay-at-home mom” or “soccer mom.” There became “right” ways to “parent” — attachment parenting, slow parenting, free-range parenting. We signed our kids up for T-ball teams and swim classes, math tutors and SAT prep courses, because everybody else was, and because the world had changed.
There is a third way, Mom would periodically tell me, between the extremes of perfect wife and over-enmeshed mother. It is possible not to give a hoot what others think of your housekeeping but to simply enjoy making a home for someone you love. It is not necessarily a contradiction to dream of a poufy wedding gown and a corner office, or to rely on someone else as fully as you are relied upon, to put their needs before yours and know that they would do the same for you.
She’s right, of course, and there are hints that the next generation is heading down this third path, this place where “wife” doesn’t come with a job description to either embrace or reject. The key to this new paradigm for women is men. Part of the reason women are baking fewer pies and shining fewer floors, and may even be backing away from the feeling that their children’s activity schedule is a measure of their own worth, is because more men are adding these and other tasks to their own to-do lists. The young men and women coming into adulthood right now consistently tell researchers that they are determined to make their marriages into partnerships and to not default to traditional gender roles at the expense of equality. (And hopefully invest less of their own identities in their children.) Of course every generation vows to do things different from its parents; what happens when real life gets in the way is the question.
These young people are getting a push in the right direction, though, in a way their grandmothers probably would not have expected. For the past decade or so, “partner” was a consolation prize, a second choice for same-sex couples who were not legally allowed to marry. But with states replacing “bride” and “groom” on their marriage-license applications with “spouse,” and with wedding officiants declaring those spouses “legally married,” the word “wife” may never be the same.
And they are getting a push, too, from those grandmothers themselves. My mother, even as an early feminist, was very much my father’s wife. Now she is quite deliberately no one’s. That ring on her finger? They are engaged — permanently. She’s in a deeply committed relationship of equals now, and they needed a word to describe that relationship. “FiancĂ©” fit them better than husband or wife. Oh, and did I mention? He does all the cooking.
Lisa Belkin is a contributing writer and the author of the Motherlode blog.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What Was My Natural Hair Color? Part II

I few months ago, I wrote about forgetting what my natural hair color was and how that symbolized the feeling that  I had lost my own identity.  I couldn't remember who I was.

What Was My Natural Hair Color?

Yesterday, I went to my 3rd hair color expert.  I had grown my hair out for three months so I could really figure out what my natural color was.  Two colorists had already told me that my natural color was very dark and they were just matching it (something didn't feel right).  I kept thinking they are the experts, they must know.  I didn't trust my instincts and thought they must be right.  But, I had that nagging feeling.  It started out with that "I think" they are wrong feeling and it continued to morph into my "I know" they are wrong feeling.

Guess what?  I hit the jackpot yesterday.  The woman I went to could see all the color changes and could really see the natural hair color.  I was right!  I wasn't crazy. OK, I know there are millions of other more important things to talk about, but this one hit me.

When I was in high school and college, for some reason, I just knew things. Sometimes, I was too focused, but I knew what was in my heart and I really didn't hesitate to act on it. Somewhere in between then and now, I started to question myself.  I hesitated more,  I spent more time asking everyone's advice.  

Yesterday, when my hair color was exactly what I thought it had been, but no other colorist believed me, I kept saying to myself, "So I was right, I am not crazy".

I know have been beating a dead horse with this analogy, but I believe that inside every one of us is the person who doesn't just "think" they should do something. There is that feeling of clarity that you "know" you should do something.

I tried to think back to those moments in my life where I just knew.  There was no hesitation and I went for it.  I can't actually remember myself asking the question, "should I do this?"  In these rare instances, I had no need for a pro versus con analysis, I just knew.  "Yes, do it".

I don't regret even one of those moments, no matter how they turned out.  I knew I was doing the right thing for me.  Lately, I have found those moments when I listen to my heart loud and clear.  They don't seem scary at all or even uncertain.  They are what they are and I go forward.  They are actually very comforting even if the decisions are big ones, I know I will find a way.  

My mother once said to me, "You don't regret the things you did do nearly as much you regret the things you didn't do."  Thanks, Mom, for those pearls of wisdom.  When your heart tells you what to do in no uncertain terms and you "know" what to do, do it. Believe in yourself and your instincts.  They will not lead you astray. Obviously, it's not just about hair color.  It's about living life to its fullest and being the best person you can be.   I actually think all of our lives came with instructions.  It's up to us to read (and to listen to) them, follow them, and live life authentically and true.  No one else can do that for you.

When I feel clarity, it seems as if anything is possible and it's all so much easier.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Get Comfortable with Uncertainty

This is a follow-up piece to "Moving Through the Void".   This article is all about "uncertainty" and the part where we take a leap of faith.

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.—Andre Gide
Whenever we’re in the midst of transformation, we can expect to be uncertain. We are leaving behind the old and preparing for the new.  This blog post, an excerpt from my book, Professional Destiny, is the next installment of last week’s discussion about Moving Through the Void.

Get comfortable with uncertainty—it’s the time of our greatest opportunity. A time when all possibilities are open to us. If we hold our vision and resolve to take a step toward it each day, we can be assured that great uncertainty only lasts for a while. This too shall pass.

Oftentimes even when we start our journey, our fear of failing returns and our hope of finding our purpose fades. We have no proof that things will turn out the way we want so we are hesitant, or even unwilling, to take the risk. Sometimes it takes a great deal of pain to get us motivated. Our fearful beliefs immobilize us and slowly but surely kill our spirit. We can feel ourselves being drawn back to the comfort of familiar territory—even though we haven’t been happy there for a long time. We become more anxious and wonder if we are crazy for wanting to do this.

Sometimes fear can be good. It can motivate us into action, especially if we fear our situation will get worse if we don’t act now. But it is not good when it paralyzes us from moving forward. This is the point when we look into the unknown, feel our fear, take a deep breath and step forward anyway. Do it even if you’re scared.

If you are willing to do the thing you are afraid to do, you often do not have to. Face the situation fearlessly and watch it dissipate.
Most things we worry about never actually happen. So worrying is an unproductive emotion that drains our energy and creative forces. Sometimes we just need to find humor in our fears.

The longer we stay in an unfulfilling and unchallenging situation, the more resigned we become—and the more we risk losing our individuality, unique gifts and edge.

It’s essential to catch ourselves when we feel the urge to stay complacent. While change can involve letting go of things that are familiar, the cost of settling in an unfulfilling situation may greater than we originally think. So, while uncertainty might not feel good at the moment—get comfortable—it can open our eyes to things we wouldn’t normally see and may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Moving Through the Void

Whenever one discusses the concept of transitions, it is impossible not to discuss the "void".  It's that strange place just after you leave one thing and just before you start another.  The article below does a nice job of describing the void and its importance.  It is not a comfortable place to be, but it is essential if you are to move to the next stage.
The void is a place you go into when you’re “in between.”  It could be you’re in between jobs, in between relationships or you’ve just had a child leave home and you’re wondering what to do next. It’s a state of being when you let go of old things and prepare to move into the next level of growth. In the void, you leave behind familiar patterns, habits, thoughts, and actions. Think of a butterfly in a cocoon. The cocoon is the void. Just as a caterpillar enters the cocoon to be transformed into a butterfly, you go into a void to prepare yourself for your next level of transformation. You are preparing to fly high.
The void is a time when you’re shedding something that no longer fits the person you are becoming. It can be quite uncomfortable unless you learn to accept it as a natural and essential state.  It’s a time of transition and may feel like all of your foundations are falling away, leaving you nothing solid to cling to.  In other words, you know what the “no” is (what you’re leaving), but you don’t yet know what the “yes” is (what you’re moving to). The tough part is that the new is not quite here, but the old has not completely left.

This place of uncertainty, of not knowing—can be disconcerting, especially for those of us who like to plot and plan our life. It may feel like a time of not-doing or emptiness. Yet, it is meant to be a time to stop knowing in your usual way, so that you can begin to learn things in a new way. You may even feel that things are falling apart or that things that used to come easy to you, are no longer working.  This is because you are meant to move on.

The void is a time when you:
  • are expanding beyond your old habits and patterns
  • learn to think in new ways
  • replace things that are no longer working for you, with things that do
The following is an analogy I shared in my book, Professional Destiny…

“Imagine Tarzan swinging from vine to vine in the jungle. He can’t move forward on a new vine, without letting go of the vine he was on. If he holds on to the old vine and doesn’t grab the new one, he’ll go backward. If he tries to hold both vines, he’ll get stuck. He must let go of the old vine and grab the new one to ride forward to his destination.”

The void is that exact moment when you let go of the old vine and reach out to grab the new. You leave a place of security to venture into the unknown. The secret is to embrace this transitional time. It’s an opportunity to rest up, recharge, and explore an expanded range of choices. Don’t worry if the new direction hasn’t quite shown up yet. Your job is to be open to all of the new possibilities so that you can recognize the best one ahead of you.

Our time in the void can last for hours, days, months or even years.  Since all people go into a void at some point in their lives, and many of us experience it multiple times, how do we make the best of our experience there? Enjoy it! Just like the cocoon is to the butterfly, the void is a natural and essential state for your transition. It’s necessary to experience it to shake up your familiar structure in order to free you to think and act differently. You’ll move through it faster if you don’t resist. Rather than focusing on how uncomfortable you are, accept the unfamiliar and focus on the new opportunities that are open to you. You may not see the end-game at this point, but take the first step and the next steps will come. When you reach the turning point, circumstances will start appearing that are better and more satisfying than what you experienced in the past.

If all else fails, change your vocabulary. Instead of thinking of this time as a “void,” think of it as a “vacation.” You might as well enjoy it, because—like it or not—you’re going to be in it! Embrace it as your time to leave behind the old, prepare for the possibilities ahead of you and emerge fully ready to experience the new.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

I Dare You

Here is a wonderful, short video clip from Kelly Corrigan, the author of the "The Middle Place" and, now her new book, "Lift".

The video is entitled, "I Dare You".  It's about living your dreams, taking chances, and not worrying about what other people think of you because all that matters is what you think of you.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The One Promise I Can Make You

My son's high school English teacher has a great blog for other English teachers.  Even though this post is for teachers, you will get the gist of it and know that it applies to many of us.

No one will ask you to do LESS this week. No one will ask you to do less work. Nor will they say, "We have talked about it and would like you to attend fewer meetings and sit on fewer committees from now on."
This is the only promise I can make you.
No one will suggest you teach less, spend less time on student papers, or meet with fewer students. I promise you they will not encourage you to respond to fewer parent (or student) emails, phone calls, or requests to meet.
So it is up to you to say No. Practice it. Find language you are comfortable with, which sounds something like this: "I really appreciate you asking me to ________, and it means a lot to me that you would think I was capable of doing that. Given all that I am doing at this time, I just can't right now, so I have to decline. But thanks!"
Remember: saying No to one thing always means saying Yes to another. No to that committee means Yes to your kids; No to attending the district meeting after school means Yes to yoga, a run, time at a cafe--or just the time you need but can't say no to when it comes to grading papers.
Am I saying to avoid doing anything and everything at school? Not at all! You already do soooo much! But realize that you can say this word and at times should, even must. So, too, must the younger teachers, those without kids yet to care for and who need to develop the leadership skills, learn to say yes, though many no doubt already do.

Monday, March 01, 2010

App for the iPhone - Shop Healthy

Julie Wainwright, founder of SmartNow (, is an Oxygen member and graciously came to speak to our group a year or so ago.

Julie started SmartNow, a website created to help women understand their health better.  It's a great resource and includes topics which span all aspects of women's health, diet, fitness, and relationships Julie wanted us to know that she is now on a mission to give people tools they can use to shop healthier for grocery store products. She tells me that she has been honored to work with Dr. Melina Jampolis, M.D., one of the only medical doctors in the U.S. who is board certified in nutrition, and her team of dietitians.  The product Julie has just launched is an App for iPhone and iPod touch users called "Shop Healthy".  It's a comprehensive nutritional grocery guide. The app is priced at $.99.

Here's the link:

Hope you like it. If you do, let me know and I will pass it on to Julie.

Thanks, Denise