My Favorite Books of 2014

I love books so much I want to marry them. I love books more than gin & tonics, Pringles, Bruce Springsteen concerts, karaoke, yoga, and modern art museums. And that’s saying something, because those things are pretty much sacred to me. For me, heaven will be a book store with comfy chairs, a soft lighting concept, and brilliant reading lamps atop end tables just big enough for my cup of Whatever. I am incapable of watching TV because I am too devoted to my silent reading time. I’m still not finished with Season 1 of Orange is the New Black, and I’m still trying to finish up Season 2 of Mad Men. That’s how bad my book addiction is. Because those shows are GOOD.  

Of the books I read in 2014, there are 9 that I absolutely loved. I tried to think of a 10th, just to be cute about it, but only 9 made it to the top. You won't find any real plot descriptions with these reccos. I find that by putting the plot into words cheapens it, and makes every great book sound like a lot of blah blah blah. In fact, I ignored Signature of All Things for too long because of the plot description. So instead, I’m just going to share why each book resonated with me.

 

(And shout outs to my beloved book club The Interestings of St Chris… getting to know you ladies at the book level feels like we are blood sisters now.)

 

Fiction

Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert. Everything about this book was lush and unexpected. I have a giant girl crush on Liz Gilbert, and this was icing on the cake. Her rendering of the life and misadventures of Alma Whittaker will make you decide once and for all that you will never write a novel as good as this. In fact, it may make you feel under qualified even to write a short blurb about it. At least that’s what happened to me.

 

What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty. Every few years or so, a book comes along that feels like it was written just for you. I felt that way about Cheryl Strayed’s brilliant book Wild, and I feel that way about this one. If you are a middle class, suburban woman with children, this book will take you right into the heart of the mystery of your own seemingly ordinary life. No matter that it’s written from Sydney, Australia. It turns out, those Aussie gals roll pretty much the same way we do here in the US of A. For better or worse.

 

Power of One, Bryce Courtenay. No, this is not a self help book. This was actually my second time reading it, because it’s just that good. It is a novel about a boy in South Africa, but it almost feels like a collection of amazing stories vs. a full story arc. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Try this little gem from Doc, the wise German mentor to the main character PeeKay…

 

“. . . God is too busy making the sun come up and go down and watching so the moon floats just right in the sky to be concerned with color . . . only man wants always God should be there to condemn this one and save that one. Always it is man who wants to make heaven and hell. God is too busy training the bees to make honey and every morning opening up all the new flowers for business.”

 

This book will make you glad to be alive.

 

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. I’m pretty sure I began 2014 with this book, and it damn near tore my heart out of my chest. The writing is magnificent and the story is like nothing I’ve ever read before. It ponders so many questions, but the one I carry with me is this: What if the heart wants what it wants? The more broken the heart, the more tragic the desires. And there’s not a lot to be done about it. And yet despite how heartbreaking it is, the final 20 pages are the most sublime I’ve ever read. Tartt’s Pulitzer for The Goldfinch was well deserved.

 

Where’d You Go Bernadette? Maria Semple This book scared me a little.  The slightly off kilter Bernadette was someone I identified with a little too deeply. She is the woman I would be if I didn’t need to be liked so damn much. And I’m not talking about her artistic prowess in the novel, I’m talking about her inability to function in civil society. My fears were calmed a bit when I realized during our book club gathering that nearly half of the people who read it thought she was funny and endearing. So far, I am functioning in civil society at the moment, which means I can be friends with the other half of my book club too. Which is nice.

 

Sci Fi/Fantasy

 

Dune, Frank Herbert. I have no idea what possessed me to tackle this now. Nor can I explain why, despite my love of sci-fi and fantasy, I had never read what most Fantasy/Sci Fi nerds consider to be the bible of the genre. Dune did not disappoint. I’m just now realizing that it might have been the Bene Gesserit training storyline that lead me to the meditation classes I’m now taking. Ha!

 

The Pines Trilogy, Blake Crouch. Holy shit, the Pines. This trilogy may be the most gripping, shocking tale I’ve ever heard. The plot is so insane, I cannot imagine how he came up with it, but I’m sure glad he did. I can’t tell you more than that because it’ll spoil the fun. Think Twin Peaks. And get ready to have your mind blown to smithereens. Do not read if you are currently on high blood pressure medication.

 

Self Help

 

Sacred Contracts, Carolyn Myss. If you’ve ever wanted to explore Jungian archetypes, man, this book is good. I learned so much about myself, my tendencies and why I do the things I do, I can’t even tell you. It’s definitely New Age woo-woo stuff, but I love me some New Age woo-woo stuff.

 

Outrageous Openness, Tosha Silver I absolutely LOVED LOVED LOVED this collection of insights on surrendering to all that life serves up to us. In fact, this book is sitting on my desk at all times, reminding me that All Is Well. If you believe in some form of the Divine, you will love this little book.

 

With that, I wish you a beautiful holiday and may your books be gripping and wondrous in 2015!

 

Xoxoox B

 

We Need a Little Christmas

My mom is a trip. She is fierce, irreverent, and has a deliciously dark sense of humor. But there's also this wonderful innocence about her. She sees the world as inherently magic.  

Margaret sees miracles all around her, all the time. And for her, the Miracle Olympics happen during the Holidays. In fact, since I was a child, she would say, “Now keep your eyes peeled! You might see a Christmas miracle!” At which point I would roll my eyes at her, and keep moving.

 

But there I was, at Target at 8:15am Monday morning, and in a fairly grizzly mood. I hate shopping where large groups of people are gathered. Blessedly, I was treated to a near empty parking lot given the early hour. I finished my shopping in record time, threw it all into the car, and shoved my cart into the empty parking space beside me, where there was another abandoned cart. I mentally girded my loins, knowing that Costco was up next. Costco is where my normally positive outlook goes to die.

 

As I’m starting my car to leave the near empty Target lot, an elderly woman with very organized, short grey hair raps on my window with her bony knuckles and says,

 

“Did you do this? Did you leave your cart in this space?”

 

Damn.

 

“Yes, I did.” I opened the door and dragged myself out to move the cart.

 

“Because you know you’re blocking this spot, and people need this spot,” she said, as if I wasn’t already keenly aware of why it is problematic to leave your cart in an open space.

 

“You are absolutely right,” I said without smiling.

 

I was annoyed with her for interrupting my internal dialogue about how much I hate going to Costco, but I also felt ashamed for violating such an important rule of shopping— don’t block a prime parking spot. I mean, we hate people that pull that crap right? I was pulling that crap. And this little old lady was calling me out on it.

 

So off she goes, huffy in her pastel nylon sweatsuit and her shopping list clutched in her left hand, and me, all judgy and cross in my (notgunna)workout clothes with my iPhone glued to my right hand.

 

Just as I’m about to pull out of my space, I look down and notice a check on the ground right about where our little exchange took place. I looked closer and could see the tremulous writing style that I associate with grandparents. The check was written out to an apartment complex nearby and was beginning to get a little damp on the wet asphalt.

 

I turned off the car, grabbed the check off the ground, and ran into Target to chase down my parking lot BFF.

 

She was at the front desk returning something, and as soon as she saw me, her face looked confused and a little frightened. I showed her the check, and before I could finish my sentence, she threw her arms around me and hugged me so tightly, you would think I'd just come back from a tour of duty in Kabul. I said in her ear, mid-embrace, “I guess we were meant to find each other today!”

 

She was teary with gratitude. And frankly, so was I. She got her rent check, and I got to feel like a Nice Person after feeling like an asshole who blocks a prime parking spot with my empty cart.

 

But it was more than that. Mid-hug I felt such a deep sense of joy, a sense of real honest connection— soul to soul— in the middle of Target. It made me feel human, in the best sense of the word. It made me feel useful, and of service. Such an outpouring of gratitude even from such a small act filled me with happiness. That woman's hug will power me through my darkest suburban holiday hours of Christmas wrapping and dealing with that *&^% Elf on the Shelf.

 

So of course, I immediately called my mom and told her the story of my First Christmas Miracle of 2014. She said, “You see? In this crazy old world of heartache and cruelty, you have to notice these moments of love and kindness. I’m sure these miracles play out all year round, but they seem to be more abundant this time of year. It is what keeps us from completely giving into the despair of the evening news.” (Yes, she actually talks like that in casual conversation. No joke.)

 

So my friends, let’s all keep our eyes peeled. Let’s celebrate our tiny moments of connection and kindness. Maybe Marg is right: miracles just might be everywhere.

24 Hours with Oprah

24 hours with Oprah If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes with me, you probably already know what I’m about to tell you: I am an unabashed fan of Oprah Winfrey. And I don’t mean the Favorite Things or YOU WIN A NEW CAR! Oprah. I mean the trippy New Age side of her— that deep resonant voice gently asking “Who did you come here to be? What is your purpose? What will you do with your energy?” That’s the woman I love.

Several friends have asked me what it was like, what I learned, etc, and the questions made me want to run away and write everything down once and for all.

So here goes, before all of my Oprah glitter fades:

DAY ONE

The Vibe. It’s like a religious revival. People are so friendly, you feel like you are somehow related. Because you are. You are those dorks that pay lots of money to see Oprah and her crew in a giant 13,000 person stadium. There was something in the air, and it might have been joy, it was definitely unity … who can say, but that shit was palpable, and the soundtrack didn’t hurt either. My co-hort Jen Reidy and I danced like it was our job as we waited for the program to begin. Here’s evidence from our brief moments of glory on the Jumbotron (special thanks to Marielle for capturing this moment of pure flow— that’s Jen on the left, me on the right).

FEELIN' it.

Oprah’s Story

On the first night, Mama O told us her story, which of course begins in Mississippi— the least likely point of origin for the world’s wealthiest woman who also happens to be black. Because I’m a super fan, I knew 80% of these stories, but it was glorious hearing them from 12 rows off the floor, just to her right. Here are the two stories I hadn’t heard that resonated like CRAZY for me at this stage in my life:

The Disease to Please. Turns out Oprah had a very strong need to be liked, or as she put it “I needed people to think I was nice.” One day Stedman says, “You’re NOT nice. Gail is nice. Why are you pretending?” Which made her get clear about what things she wanted to do, vs. didn’t want to do, but did with resentment. As fate would have it, after she had gotten clear about this, Stevie Wonder (!!!) called her up and wanted her to support a children’s charity. Oprah had to find the courage to say “no” to Stevie WONDER (she’s got her own children’s charity). Which she did, and he simply said, “OK.” And that was that. Lesson? If she can say NO to Stevie Wonder, I can say no to the next volunteer opportunity that isn’t in alignment with my commitment to spending more quality time with my husband and kids. And so can you.

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Energy Boomerang. I have heard Oprah talk about the whole “what you put out comes back to you” thing, but for some reason it hit me HARD this time. When I sign up to do things that I’m not really interested in doing, it projects a nasty energy that not only affects other people, it comes looking for me. I am SO DONE with resenting anything or anyone, if for no other reason that I don’t want that energy coming back to me, full throttle. Think about someone you know who has a lot of resentment and bitterness… seems like life keeps serving up reasons for them to be bitter, doesn’t it?

Pay Attention. I’ve heard this before, but in case you haven’t, it’s a doozy:

“Pay attention to your life, it is always speaking to you. “ First, life will tell you something is wrong in a whisper. Then the whisper becomes a pebble thrown at your proverbial window. If you miss that, then it becomes a brick that smashes through to get your attention in the form of a full blown crisis. If you miss that, you can pretty much kiss the walls and foundation of your house goodbye. This is one of my most favorite Oprah lessons of all time and space. I have saved myself so much heartache by listening for the whispers and waking up with the pebbles. What’s whispering at you right now? There were more than a few whispers I was politely ignoring prior to this weekend, I can tell you.

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Then she closed for the night, and Jen and I took a rickshaw back to our hotel, and this pretty much sums up Day One of Oprah’s Best Life Tour:

Ain't no party like a rickshaw party.

Day Two

We were out the door by 7:30am and ready to have our hearts explode and our minds stretched, and were served coffee by a barista so attractive, I’m pretty sure he was a vampire. Caffe Frascati, in case you are wondering. And what’s more: he’s a kind, sweet soul on top of being attractive. And old enough to be my son. Just so we’re clear.

From there we headed to…

O Town… Yes, there was a mini pavilion of sorts that was so lame, I can’t even tell you. How this one slipped past quality control, I’ll never know. But whatevs, you can’t be perfect all the time.

Back in our seats, the lights went down after more dance party runtimes, and our electronic bracelets lit up the crows like 13,000 stars… and out came Mama O, this time super casual compared to her fabulous gown from the night before. She said some other awesome stuff, and then handed the mic over to Deepak Chopra.

Meditating with Deepak

I won’t recap a lot about what he said, because The Diva Inc captured all of my favorite's, but I have to say, I will NEVER forget the sound of 13,000 people sitting in silence, working on inhabiting the moment. In those collective breaths, anything seemed possible: world peace, gender equality, healing the environment… I can’t even explain why. Maybe this quote from Rumi that Deepak mentioned explains it:

“Silence is God’s language. All else is a poor translation.”

-Rumi

How funny that during a two day conference, I felt God most acutely in the near perfect silence of Deepak's meditation. In a venue that usually hosts hockey games. Classic.

Liz Gilbert is a National Treasure

Love her.

And then Liz Gilbert got up and gave the best speech I have ever heard in my entire life. And I am a speech coach. All I think about is good speech giving. Her talk focused on the stories we tell about our lives. And anything I do to try and recap will be a pathetic x-ray version of what she said, so I’m just going to say, I learned 2 big things from Liz Gilbert:

1) Never ask “What should I do?” ask “What am I here to do?” The first one is based on society/culture’s expectations of me and the second one is based on what I know to be MY quest in this lifetime. And there is a direct relationship between the length of time it takes me to ask the second question, and my level of misery. She summed it up in this beautiful quote:

“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection.” – Bhagavad Gita

2) Do Mini Quests. Sometimes before you can set out on THE quest of your life, you might need mini-quests, “snack sized quests” to bring a bit of fun and meaning to our daily grind. On a particularly soul-crushing day after divorce court (pre-Eat, Pray, Love fame) she gave herself the following quest: Liz: you cannot go home and cry until you have found something that is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Within about 2 minutes, marching down 8th avenue in New York was a troop of elephants, with glittering signs that said “I LOVE NY!!!” The circus was in town, it was sheer luck (as if!) that they were passing at that moment, but it was exactly what she needed to remember how miraculous even the worst day of living really is. (If you’re not already following Liz Gilbert on Facebook, drop everything and do it now.) So what is your mini quest for this week?

Rob Bell. Brother from another mother.

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Pastors of mega-churches always make me a little skeptical. But then I have to smack myself upside the head and remember that there is a REASON for thousands of people gathering to hear them each Sunday. They. Can. PREACH. And that was the deal with Pastor Rob Bell. The two big things I took from the preacher man were:

  • Don’t Rush Suffering. The skills and realizations we acquire during the darkest hours actually become the rocket fuel of our lives if we have the intestinal fortitude to face suffering, accept it and grow from it. I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of rushing through suffering. And I’m going to do my best to stay present instead of pouring that glass of wine or stealing that 500th piece of Halloween candy from my sleeping children. I intend to “enter the mystery” of my own anxieties, fears, and moments of excruciating resentments, and figure out what all the fuss is about.
  • Having the life you want, means loving the life you have. This was a big one for me. Really big. When I came through the doors of my house post-Oprah high, instead of seeing chaos and to-do lists, I saw three of the most glorious little people and a damn fine looking husband. And a big yellow dog who thinks I am BETTER than Oprah! I mean Jesus H Christ, how do I forget this!?

Iyanla. Oh my GAWD Iyanla.

No more humping puppies.

First and foremost, I learned a new word:

“Piss-ocity”

: noun

Definition: rage in a mink coat.

Amazing right? Fancy, dressed-up rage is called “pissocity,” and I laughed long and hard at that one.

My other favorite take-away from her talk, without a doubt, is the concept of …

Humping puppies.

There she was... in all of her glory, dressed in diamonds and the most KILLER dress of all time, and she was gyrating like your dog when it’s hot for teacher.

She says, “What does your puppy do when you have some nice guests at your house? He starts humping their leg.”

Humping puppies are what Iyanla calls the thoughts that sound like:

“You’re not enough.”

“You can’t do this”

“Who do you think you are??”

“When your puppy starts humping someone, you get a magazine, you roll it up and you bump their behinds to make ‘em stop!”

Apparently, half the secret of living a big life is recognizing the Humping Puppy in the act, and putting a stop to it. No more believing the thought that I'm not enough.  I'll just see it for what it is: a humping puppy.

And then she said, “And another thing! Don’t take counsel from people whose brains are filled with humping puppies! They don’t have anything good for you!”

I MEAN.

That is one to grow on, my brothers and sisters. Never treat a "humping puppy" thought like it's the truth. And I can think of a few people in my world who are walking humping puppy factories, and I am constantly letting them get into my head. NO MAS!

The Close. Oprah brought it all together with a beautiful exercise about changing the way we speak to ourselves, and replacing our current language with the language of possibility, and I could go on for pages about what it was like to watch the speakers thank Oprah (it was their last night on stage together after a long tour), but really how could I describe it?

So instead I’ll tell you this:

it’s now Monday, and so far I have reworked my personal/business mission and vision statements, talked with a dear friend, I’ve written for probably 4 hours so far (half work, half fun) and I’ve danced around my office to a 1984 club remix of Sheila E’s Glamorous Life, immediately followed by Off the Wall by MJ himself.

That, my peeps, is called living my best life. May you find your bliss, and trust me when I say, when the Oprah Circus comes back to town.. do yourself a favor: BUY A TICKET.

**Bonus track: That picture you see at the masthead of my blog? That is me in my happy place— on stage singing or speaking. And after this weekend, I’ve never been clearer about my goals for how I want to spend my time. This is my prayer: that someday I’ll be crossing stages as big as Oprah’s, making people feel as alive and joyful as she made us feel this weekend. What’s it going to be for you? What are you here to do?

Attack of the Alpha Mom

*Note: this originally ran in DotComsForMoms.com about three years ago, but someone asked me to forward it, and it's no longer available... so here it is! :) Attack of the Alpha Mom! Dealing with Mean Girls – The Adult Version

Just because we’re all growds up, doesn’t mean we are free and clear of the dreaded “mean girl.” Or, as I like to call them, “Alpha Moms.” In case you’re unsure of how to properly identify an Alpha Mom, I define them as any woman who makes you feel bad about your choices.   I don’t mean the kind of choices that lead to prison time, I’m talking about the everyday stuff that ultimately amounts to how we live our lives. They are the gals who dish out judgmental “digs” just when you are least prepared. Need an example?

  • “You’re feeding her THAT? Do you have any idea how much sugar is in that?”
  • “You leave your kids with a nanny? I could never do that…”
  • “You go away with your girlfriends twice a year? Wow. (and not in a nice way)”

Personally, I am very susceptible to attacks because I need to be liked. Alpha Moms see me and they lick their chops. But the older I get, the less energy I have to worry about who likes me and who doesn’t. I have to imagine that there are quite a lot of us out there that feel the same way, and there are some killer reads on this topic that I wanted to share. Here’s what I’ve gathered:

The Happiest Mom posted this article, which reminds me that although my daughter will be spending the next 8 years of her life at this school (and therefore me with these parents), I should not expect to get all of my social/emotional needs met there. Given what an amazing community our school has, it’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting it to be all things to me. That’s asking too much of any situation, and really isn’t fair to the other moms I’m putting my needs on. It’s a big wide world, and I need to remember that.

Babble posted this FANTASTIC article written by the author of Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. In it, Lenore Skenazy suggests that we go public with some of our shame-bound parenting decisions. Why? Alpha moms “…thrive on shame. Take away their power.” By owning the choices we make without being defensive or arrogant, we free others to speak their mind, and we disarm the Alpha mom’s secret weapon.

In this article, “Dealing with Judgmental Mommies,” I loved the whole idea of killin ‘em with kindness. Behavior specialist Cindy Brown, Psy.D suggests honoring the Alpha’s input in a way that is compassionate. For example, “I know you know a lot about this, what worked well for your family?” It’s great because it comes from a place of empathy and curiosity, and deflects the attention from you and onto her.

When my mom was visiting last week, I heard echoes of Alpha-ness come out of my own mouth. Like, “Grandma believes that it’s ok for kids to watch a lot of TV. Mommy does not share that belief.” Sarcastic, passive aggressive and totally not constructive.  Turns out, if I’m looking for practice dealing with Alpha Moms, sometimes I need look no further than the mirror.

Survey Says?? We Haven't Got A Clue

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to an article suggesting that according to a study done by eHarmony, people tend to say opposites attract, but based on how they fill out their online dating preferences questionnaire, people actually want something closer to home. And by “closer” I mean “almost identical” to themselves. When I was dating back in the stone age, if I had filled out a screening form of preferences, it would have looked like this:

  • Must love books.
  • Has to have the same sense of humor as me (except back in those days I would have said, “Has to have a sophisticated sense of humor.” I now see how judgmental and shitty that is. Because really I’m just putting down anyone who doesn’t laugh at my jokes. Which I think are fancy apparently.)
  • Must have really good taste in music. This is nonnegotiable.
  • Must be curious about international news and happenings. I am an NPR junkie, after all. This point is also nonnegotiable.
  • Kind, compassionate, attractive, blah blah blah, oh and Catholic. I had never dated a practicing Catholic. Might be worth a try, since I’m a practicing Catholic.

And then came Sal, who is now my husband. He was:

  • A self-proclaimed “non-reader.” (uh oh)
  • A very literal mind, not looking for someone with a dark/weird sense of humor (crap.)
  • Had an aversion to NPR, because it’s “depressing as hell.” (yikes)
  • Had more than one Hootie and the Blowfish song in his CD collection (oh the HUMANITY).
  • Took me to Sunday Mass and then dinner for our first date (wait, WHAT?!)

According to eHarmony’s stats, this is a first date that should never have happened. Certainly it would have ended after the first date given our preferences. Our interest in each other shouldn’t have survived me traipsing around Europe for 6 weeks with my friends, flush from a dot-com implosion severance package. And by, God, Hootie alone should have dashed any hope of actually making it past the first year or two.

To be fair, I’m sure he was probably hoping for someone who didn’t walk over piles of dirty clothes on the floor repeatedly. He’s Sicilian, he values good food. He probably would have opted for a woman who could actually cook. As a mostly left-brain dominant person, he probably was hoping for someone less… emotionnnnalll than I am.

But here we are, celebrating ten years of marriage TODAY, August 7th, and thirteen years of togetherness, and I can tell you, I’m as into him now as I was on our first date, only at a totally different level. The kind of love that gets you down the aisle is one thing, but the kind of love that is hard won through high risk pregnancies, career changes, financial worries, aging parent issues, the death of people we love… that kind of love isn’t glamorous, but as my mother always says, “that’s REAL romance. Not that Hollywood crap.”

What We Think We Want vs… ?

What we think we want occupies this weird space in our psyche where we put all of our limited, small beliefs about ourselves and other people. Based on my experience, when the Universe gives me something great, it blows my tiny mind, and I think “This is so much more awesome than anything I could have come up with.” I think about my wedding day, the birth of each of each of our babies… I think about my two best friends Aaron and Naomi and they get me at a level I never thought possible, and I them... all of these things are so far beyond anything my pathetic imagination could have cooked up, it’s laughable.

The same goes for partners. I couldn’t really have known what I wanted until Sal showed up on my doorstep for our blind date. I couldn’t have made the mental calculations that would have predicted me falling madly in love with someone who rarely read for pleasure, and who cranked “HOLD… MY… HAND…” in the car.

But after a few dates with this guy, I couldn’t stop thinking about him and his earnest interest in being good to the world… In eventually becoming a great father… In how nonjudgmental and accepting he was of people in general. I couldn’t have predicted how attracted I would be to his whole being – not just his foxy Al-Pacinio-Circa-Godfather-1 looks. I couldn’t have known how wonderful it would be to share my religious beliefs and upbringing with my partner and best friend.

It was truly a revelation.

It still is. 10 years into our marriage, and we have created three new humans who are hilarious and precious and wise, and who have become our greatest teachers. We have acquired and raised a giant dog who quietly keeps us all in orbit with that style of unconditional love that only a Golden Retriever is able to give. We’ve developed a friendship and romance that is stronger than steel, but that we guard as if it’s as delicate as a spider web (on good days).

And to think … if I were on a dating site that would have filtered out Sal… What a different life I would have had! Probably a lesser kind of life, but maybe not. But I wouldn’t trade this life with him for anything.

So if you are in the hunt for The One, ignore the filters. Don’t put limits on what fate can serve up.   Fate/the Universe/God has much better taste than we do most of the time. I don't know what that means for online dating, but consider being more liberal with your tastes.

These days, Sal’s music selections have now way surpassed mine. He is now the one that introduces cool music to the house – not me. Not only that, he reads almost as much as I do now (and that’s saying something. I have a book addiction that is… expensive). Though he still refuses NPR.

For my part, I still walk over the piles of clothes, but I am getting a little better at cooking. I should probably find out what was on his nonnegotiable list. It may help with the next 10 years.

To my beloved Sal, happy anniversary Babe. You are still the best decision I ever made. I can't wait for our date in the City on Saturday.  Let's try and hit Mass Sunday morning on our way out of town.

And lastly, BIG shout outs to my brother-in-law Phil who introduced us. Without Phil, I'd be married to some other dude, and probably thinking about having an affair with this mysterious Sicilian American named Sal....

Coming Out: Self Care and Slowing Down

A few months ago I picked up a little book that caught my fancy: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Daily Rituals

Aside from just being a fun, voyeuristic look at the practical schedules of brilliant artists from Toulouse Lautrec to Franz Kafka, Agatha Christie to George Balanchine, this book points to a single truth:

The most productive artists scheduled an astonishing amount of down time. Sure, Lautrec and others filled that down-time with all types of debauchery, but most of them scheduled that time for activities that were quietly and rather wholesomely self-indulgent: Two-hour walks. Midday naps. Reading . . . lots of reading. Silence. Passive music listening. It made me wonder if they were onto something.

For most mothers, when we hear the term “self-care” we smirk. (As if I had the time! As if I had the money! As if that were even allowed!) And more often than not, we feel a blend of shame and guilt when we finally do something nice for ourselves. The simple act of lying down with a book and a cup of tea in the middle of the day can feel like an act of treason, punishable by death.

And yet… when I’ve taken what I now call my micro-vacations, I come back from that 20 minutes with renewed energy and a much better sense of perspective. I began to wonder, privately, I might add – how I might begin to take better care of myself. Weekly spa appointments weren’t possible, and checking myself into Miraval a few times a year wasn’t feasible either.

Subversive Self-Care

In researching what smart gals out there were saying about self-care, here’s what I learned:

  • Circle of Peeps. Recently, someone was really hurting me with casually placed cruel remarks, and as I was venting to a friend, she said, “Why are you giving your power away to this woman? Is she even in the inner circle?” How often I replay and worry over slights or comments that come from people who are NOT on the short list of people I love (and who love me) most. So I got off the phone, and drew my circles. Me at the center, then my husband, then my kids, then my parents, then my best friends, then my close friends/coworkers, then the women who I feel a wonderful connection with but don’t know very well yet, and then “everyone else.” It turned out that the people who cause me the MOST grief weren’t even close to the inner circles. That realization alone gave me a whole new way of evaluating how I spend my time.
  • Physical Self Care. I have always put exercise—even just slowly walking my dog — in the “nice to have” category. These are the first things to fall off my to-do list. But when I looked through this lens of self-care I saw that a good 45-minute walk to the park with Ellis meant I couldn’t be on Facebook – there simply wasn’t enough time for both. I realized I had been settling for social media instead of really living life: feeling the sun on my skin, hearing my dog’s grateful steady panting as we walked in the direction of his dreams (he’s got a low bar--our local park is his Miraval). This small act, for reasons unknown to me, is incredibly grounding and peaceful. When my mind is grounded and at peace, I think more clearly. I’m not as reactive to every inbound email. I make better choices. Now, I begin every day by doing something physical, not just because I know I should, but because it makes me so much more productive later on. Who knew a slow walk, with a hot cup of coffee and a 90lb golden retriever could improve your financial bottom line? Turns out, it REALLY does.
  • Drive-By Indulgence. I stole this one right from an interview with Dr. Christiane Northrup on her radio show. In response to a caller who was feeling guilty over her love of chocolate, Dr. Northrup said, listen, if you need chocolate to be happy, make it an indulgence ritual. Really taste it. Live inside of your taste buds for those few minutes. Breathe. Smell it. What does it feel like on your tongue? What are the layers of flavors? You’ll feel like you’ve been to Maui by the time that chocolate is done. The same goes for a glass of wine. If you pour it, really let yourself enjoy it. I found this advice so utterly wonderful that now on my daily to-do list I have a special section called “Indulgence.” Today, this is what is on my list: 1) Meditate; 2) Walk the dog; 3) Listen to a book on the way to San Francisco; My full to-do list probably has 12 things on it. But those three are at the top, and at most they eat up 45 minutes of the work day. I easily lose that much time in mindlessly cruising the Interwebs. By allowing myself these drive-by indulgences, I’m less likely to rebel against and bail on the other items on the to-do list.

So, now that I’m out of the closet and publicly owning my Self-Care routine, I can say, it’s the best I’ve felt in years. I’m better focused, I’m kinder to my kids and my husband, and I feel a strong sense of actually living my life, instead of constantly feeling like I’ve been shot out of a cannon.

Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “We are on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

Ladies, I think he was onto something.

Coming Out: Self Care, Shame and Motherhood

A few months ago I picked up a little book that caught my fancy: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. unknown.jpg

Aside from just being a fun, voyeuristic look at the practical schedules of brilliant artists from Toulouse Lautrec to Franz Kafka, Agatha Christie to George Balanchine, this book points to a single truth: The most productive artists scheduled an astonishing amount of down time. Sure, Lautrec and others filled that down-time with all types of debauchery, but most of them scheduled that time for activities that were quietly and rather wholesomely self-indulgent:

Two-hour walks. Midday naps. Reading . . . lots of reading. Silence. Passive music listening.

It made me wonder if they were onto something.

For most mothers, when we hear the term “self-care” we smirk. (As if I had the time! As if I had the money! As if that were even allowed!) And more often than not, we feel a blend of shame and guilt when we finally do something nice for ourselves. The simple act of lying down with a book and a cup of tea in the middle of the day can feel like an act of treason, punishable by death.

And yet… when I’ve taken what I now call my micro-vacations, I come back from that 20 minutes with renewed energy and a much better sense of perspective.

I began to wonder, privately, I might add – how I might begin to take better care of myself. Weekly spa appointments weren’t possible, and checking myself into Miraval a few times a year wasn’t feasible either.

Subversive Self-Care

In researching what smart gals out there were saying about self-care, here’s what I learned:

 

  • Circle of Peeps. Recently, someone was really hurting me with casually placed cruel remarks, and as I was venting to a friend, she said, “Why are you giving your power away to this woman? Is she even in the inner circle?” Wow. How often I replay and worry over slights or comments that come from people who are NOT on the short list of people I love (and who love me) most. So I got off the phone, and drew my circles. Me at the center, then my husband, then my kids, then my parents, then my best friends, then my close friends/coworkers, then the women who I feel a wonderful connection with but don’t know very well yet, and then “everyone else.” It turned out that the people who cause me the MOST grief weren’t even close to the inner circles. That realization alone gave me a whole new way of evaluating how I spend my time.
  • Physical Self Care. I have always put exercise—even just slowly walking my dog (who has to check his pee-mail every five feet) — in the “nice to have” category. These are the first things to fall off my to-do list. But when I looked through this lens of self-care I saw that a good 45-minute walk to the park with Ellis meant I couldn’t be on Facebook – there simply wasn’t enough time for both. I realized I had been settling for social media instead of really living life: feeling the sun on my skin, hearing my dog’s grateful steady panting as we walked in the direction of his dreams (he’s got a low bar--our local park is his Miraval). This small act, for reasons unknown to me, is incredibly grounding and peaceful. When my mind is grounded and at peace, I think more clearly. I’m not as reactive to every inbound email. I make better choices. Now, I begin every day by doing something physical, not just because I know I should, but because it makes me so much more productive later on. Who knew a slow walk, with a hot cup of coffee and a 90lb golden retriever could improve your financial bottom line? Turns out, it REALLY does.
  • Drive-By Indulgence. I stole this one right from an interview with Dr. Christiane Northrup on her radio show. In response to a caller who was feeling guilty over her love of chocolate, Dr. Northrup said, listen, if you need chocolate to be happy, make it an indulgence ritual. Really taste it. Live inside of your taste buds for those few minutes. Breathe. Smell it. What does it feel like on your tongue? What are the layers of flavors? You’ll feel like you’ve been to Maui by the time that chocolate is done. The same goes for a glass of wine. If you pour it, really let yourself enjoy it. I found this advice so utterly wonderful that now on my daily to-do list I have a special section called “Indulgence.” Today, this is what is on my list: 1) Meditate; 2) Walk the dog; 3) Listen to a book on the way to San Francisco; 4) Meet best friend for yoga/dinner. My full to-do list probably has 12 things on it. But those three are at the top, and at most they eat up 45 minutes to an hour of the work day. I easily lose that much time in mindlessly cruising the Interwebs. By allowing myself these drive-by indulgences, I’m less likely to rebel against and bail on the other items on the to-do list.

So, now that I’m out of the closet and publicly owning my Self-Care routine, I can say, it’s the best I’ve felt in years. I’m better focused, I’m kinder to my kids and my husband, and I feel a strong sense of actually living my life, instead of constantly feeling like I’ve been shot out of a cannon.

Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “We are on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.” Ladies, I think he was onto something.

Rothko and Me, Sittin' in a Tree

Rothko-Orange_and_Red+ I’ve always loved modern art museums.

The minute I walk in and feel the cool openness of the halls, the minimalism, the quiet, it makes me feel like I’ve come to church – in the best possible way.

(In fact, for me it was the SF MOMA and walking the sculpture garden at Yerba Buena that was the final straw that made the camel move North over 20 years ago)

There’s something about the modern art vibe that feels like home.  The crazy, the uncertainty of it all.  The fact that the artists use titles that don’t tell you anything about their paintings except the general color.

These guys and gals have no interest in notions of right and wrong, their only interest is to show what their minds are perceiving through the lens of their hearts, fears and often their wounds.  In fact, the folks that came after Surrealists (Materialists?) took exception with the fact that the Surrealist artists represented their work as in a “dream” state.  The Materialists were like, “No. This is real. It’s form.  It’s no dream.”  It’s way out there and I just love it.

When I look at great modern art that speaks to me, it’s because of the feelings it stirs up.  Most of the time I can’t even identify the feeling.  I just know it’s there.

But today, when I walked into the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., for the first time in my life, I actually burst into tears at the sight of a painting.

Let me provide some context.  I’ve been away from my children and husband for 4 nights and five days, which is about a day or two longer than I normally allow for business travel.  During those 4 nights and 5 days, I’ve had one exhilarating meeting after another, and very little sleep in between (hotel sleep is never ideal).  So, I guess I would describe my state as satisfied, but worn and a little fragile.

So I had 2 hours open to grab something to eat and whatever else I could squeeze in.  I googled “Modern Art Museum DC” and got the Phillips Collection.  I was in huge luck: Duncan Phillips and his wife/artist Marjorie Acker were responsible for supporting and encouraging some of the most important modern artists in history.  Many of these artists were living in real poverty, and might have been lost to us were it not for the patronage of the Phillips family.  So I was inclined to feel some instant love of this place, this family, these American artists… the special exhibit was called Made In America.

All was going swimmingly as I sauntered alone through the gallery high on espresso, fresh off of an exciting workshop I gave to a women’s group, taking in the Grandma Moses, Georgia O’Keeffe, the lovely Calder pieces, and lots of names I knew I should know but don’t. I was happy as a clam at high tide.

But when I got to a sneaky little gem in that gallery called “The Rothko Room,” I fell apart.  Only 6 people are allowed at a time in the little room, and it has 4 walls, each with a painting. Big Rothkos, not the smaller ones.  I got to the very first one, Orange and Red On Red, and Mark Rothko sunk his meat hooks into my chest, and next thing I know, I’m crying quietly while the nice people of Washington D.C. tried to give me my space.

I’ve always liked Rothko’s work because it’s always a little jarring, but in this particular state of sleepless exhaustion and emotional weariness, I finally understood the great risk it took for Mark Rothko to paint this kind of thing, this Orange and Red on Red.

Imagine how early on, many of the less modern-friendly art establishment just saw blocks of color, no clear edges to them.  Even today, so many of us might just see this effort as a pretentious unwillingness to say something specific.  But I swear in that moment I could feel that painting as a kind of vulnerability, and a specificity of a mental state. A moment in time.  I mean it made me weep for Chrissakes. And I marveled at the derision and ridicule he must have experienced as he started out in the world with his rectangles and color blocks.

So why the tears?   The nearest I can figure is this:  Isn’t this our story too? The greatest risk we ever take is to show up and reveal ourselves, our ambition, our perception of how things are, and our pain and history?  But every now and then, we accept the risk of self-revelation because the experience and the expression itself is totally worth the ridicule.  Whether that risk is opening our mouths to sing, or speaking up even when emotion makes our voices shake.

This Rothko room to me was a safe haven for any of us willing to simply put “it” out there in a world full of commentary, judgment and cleverness.  And to do so without apology or any sign of backing down.

So what does one do after a good cry in public in front of a fairly familiar looking Rothko painting?  One marches down to the gift shop and purchases a cheesy replica of  Orange and Red on Red, one orders a nice bowl of soup and small cesar salad, and puts on sunglasses to hide the embarrassing signs of an emotional reaction, that’s what.  But that cheesy replica (which I will guard like a she-wolf as people try and cover it with suitcases in the overhead bins on the flight home) will remind me that risk taking and honest self expression, while it may seem shocking and new to me as I experience it in each manifestation and each moment… it is hardly new.  My boy Mark will remind me of that every time I glance at it in my office, where it will take its rightful place next to my print of Marilyn Monroe lifting barbells.

(Sorry, Mark, wherever you are.  Sometimes your artistic risk leads you into the proliferation of cheap copies that live in a museum gift shop, and then move into suburban America.  Such is the nature of risk I guess.)

But I will be forever grateful for these risk takers, and grateful for the moment of emotional rawness that lead me to shed a tear for a piece of art far away from home.  If that wasn’t on my bucket list, it should have been.