Lord of the Human Decoder Rings

My husband and I are big foodies: dining has become an adventure. We love sampling new dishes, visiting cool eateries- anything to stretch our palettes. Generally, I’m pretty game for new food territory, but every once in awhile I find a dish that doesn’t hit the spot– hello, bone marrow– and I’m tempted to rate the dish based on a single bite. But if did, I’d be missing what’s around the corner, allowing a single experience to define my perspective.

Miss Misinterpretation

When we interpret the world, we rely on what we can see and feel, gauging what to do next. When it comes to food, books, and entertainment, it isn’t hard to make judgments or even to change our minds. People are another story. We often get caught up in singular impressions, shutting down empathy and amping up misunderstanding. Why is it so hard not to get stuck on single encounters when it comes to social situations? Being misinterpreted by others may be commonplace, but that doesn’t make it any less upsetting. How many times have we realized mid-argument that a conflict is based on misunderstanding? As social beings, we’re weaving through our days on Behavior Analysis permits, zooming from one confounding encounter to the next, riding alongside two of the most irresponsible Driver’s Ed instructors EVER: the fundamental attribution error, and the availability heuristic.

Our Sneaky Brains

As a psychological principle, the attribution error is a human tendency to understand how our own behavior is influenced by emotions, stress, and life events but attribute others’ behavior strictly to personality. Example: a stranger stalks down the sidewalk swearing & scowling = she must be a weird, angry person. Flip the switch to when we growl through the supermarket like the Incredible Hulk: clearly, we’re just having a bad day. Clear as mud because everyone else will be attributing our behavior to a natural Hulk-like state.

Truth: there’s danger in assessing other people’s actions. For all that our friends and family members show us, it’s typically only the tip of the cranial iceberg. Consider how many thoughts and emotions run through our minds in a given day. Gazillions. Now reflect on what percentage we share with the world. Twenty? We can’t share everything–would be akin to asking our friends to ride on a dizzying loop of It’s a Small World, Tower of Terror, Back to the Future, and The Lazy River. But knowing what we don’t know is still a win. Maybe we don’t have to read what others are thinking. Maybe knowing that we’re only seeing 20% is enough to start asking better questions and making fewer assumptions. Easier said than done, but powerful nonetheless.

Recently, I watched three friends gently confront one another about what wasn’t being said and what was being read (facial expressions) as a way to communicate honestly while working on a project. It was an opportunity to discover the truth and honor one another in the process. Their friendship survived and the work product evolved. Win/win. I admire what they accomplished because confrontation, even gentle, is my least favorite communication, but the alternative- BIG FAT AVOIDANCE- has never done me a single favor.

Availability Heuristic

That pesky second influence, availability heuristic, prompts our brains to weigh the likelihood of an event based on how quickly examples come to mind. The more stories we hear about kittens struck by lightning, the more likely we are to never let our furry friends outside in the rain. Doesn’t sound so bad until we connect it to human behavior. Example: after hearing three stories about friends’ breakups that started with the words, “we have to talk”, we’re convinced that any conversation with those words will lead to impending doom. Our friend texts, “we need to talk” and suddenly we’re dodging calls, taking alternate routes around the office, and hiding in our homes. Meanwhile, our previously un-angry friend is now feeling neglected, leading to actual anger and rifts in the relationship. Suddenly, the absence of a conversation that may not have been terrible at all has led to very real consequences. JFK’s words about fearing nothing but “fear itself” ring especially true here. Most people in our lives care enough about us—or at least about propriety–to have civil conversations about sticky subjects. Whatever we’re afraid of is likely worse than the actuality.

Message Clarity

Unfortunately, knowing these pitfalls doesn’t stop others from misinterpreting what we say and do. But perhaps there are ways to send better messages into the world, and as a result, be less misunderstood. I like to try these three.

1.) Facial Recognition Software: Our expressions communicate more than we realize. Taking stock of what our face may be saying is a good check-in. 

2.) Pre-emptive Strike: When it’s been one of those days, warning those around us that we’re in a sensitive place goes far to prevent our growliness from being interpreted as something they did wrong.

3.) Text Subtext: As much as we “text talk”, if we don’t shine a light on the subtext (in some cases, a floodlight) we’re liable to be in a mess of confusion quickly, and often without even realizing we’ve been unclear.

We owe it to ourselves, and those around us, to believe in good intentions. To look past the surface & acknowledge that what we see may not be the full picture. Going forward, let’s choose to honor the missing pieces, Let’s use our decoder rings to understand and be heard. Let’s take a second bite.

The Romance of Trance

Music is aggressively emotional. Songs have the power to transport our minds and bodies to a memory, a mood, a mindset…all within seconds. And unlike so many other experiences in our life, listening to music is a willing partner to almost anything we do. Work, play, grief, elation. Music can ride alongside, building a soundtrack to parallel the journey of our day.

It begs the question, if the soundtrack of our lives runs the gamut from ballad to bass, what makes a particular song good? For me, it’s how the song influences my emotions, how well it inspires daydream. Which is why I like trance. Imagine a beat that resembles the rhythm of your heart. Now add the sweetly haunting melody of a woman’s voice, superimposed against a sharp drumbeat. Slowly, the tune rises, gaining momentum, synthesizing a multitude of sounds into a calling. Dance. Smile. Move. Take it all in.

Many psychologists claim that anticipation is the most enjoyable emotion. Social psychologists Liz Dunn and Mike Norton take that one step further, categorizing anticipation as a vehicle for “free happiness”. And I believe. It is exciting to imagine, to dream, to get lost in the “what if”s of our visions. Now let’s get back to music. Trance is punctuated with rising beats, with melodies that evolve slowly, with a crescendo of notes that eventually explode into a beautiful, cacophonous, sensory overload. If there was ever a musical genre that embodies anticipation, it is trance. But that’s not all.

The magic of anticipation is the journey to a dream. Trance is particularly good at transportation to cerebral wonderland because it mirrors one of the dreams every person strives for– true human connection. Walk with me there. In a truly good relationship, we each bring something different to the table. And those differences are exciting because we are drawn to layers, to depth. Who wants to live a ‘one note’ life? The juxtaposition of steady & dynamic, of dark and ethereal, of explicit and obscure builds layers in our world. Trance weaves the beauty of a woman’s voice—soft, lilting–with the comfortable intensity of a steady beat. 

Ready to be transported? One of my favorite artists and an OG in the trance world, Paul Oakenfold, is a master driver. (1) In “Southern Sun”, we find the cadence of a heartbeat, alongside the voice of a siren. (2) Tiesto reinvents Adagio for Strings with an infectious beat and distorted rhythm. (3) Deadmau5 offers a loud, clear beat against a beautiful melody in  “I Remember” . (4) Armin van Buuren layers a haunting voice into a danceable beat with “In and Out of Love”. (5) William Orbit sends us on a journey through time, marrying synthesizers, piano and meditation in “Water from a Vine Leaf” 

In our best relationships, we find both comfort and excitement. We complement one another. We each bring a different dish to the table. After all, what’s a picnic of simply ambrosia salad? One note. 

 

 

 

 

The Power of One

Don’t give me a gun. Give me a hand.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last fifteen years in the classroom, inspired by the fire & audacity of students. Teenagers, in particular, are complex, emotional, and passionate about justice. They fearlessly pursue what seems impossible. As adults, we often shake our heads at their headstrong nature, at their inability to believe that time & circumstance will not be on their side.

What if we’ve got it all wrong?

As adulthood settles in, and responsibilities rise, we change: less likely to take great risks, less likely to boldly push against resistance, less likely to rebel. Today, as we grieve in the wake of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and count the decades since Columbine, we can no longer afford to intellectually dissect these horrors as adults. We must tackle them with the tenacity of our children.

One domino can topple an entire row.

It’s easy to feel cowed by the forces that seem beyond reach: corporations, agencies, and governmental bodies. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the rigidity of culture, ignorance, hatred. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the loud and the righteous. But the smallest motions still carry great power. We are interlinked, living in chains of dominos.

Consider our nation’s history. The power of a single person changing its course: that’s our story. Ruby Bridges. Rosa Parks. Ryan White. One person’s story launching a movement. One narrative to unite one voice. Yet, each day we wait for our world to transform.

Let’s not wait any longer.

The true power in the power of one isn’t about admiration for the one who stands: it is about standing as a single body, ready to force change. But forcing change doesn’t mean using force. Real change is a tug of war won inches at a time. It is gripping the rope and not getting discouraged as we feel our bodies lunge a bit forward. Setting our feet & pulling as one. Together, we have power. Together, our voice is louder than the timbre of money, status, and tradition.

Let’s grab the rope.

We need our children. We need to show them how to use this power. How to garner support via social media campaigns, how to articulate their thoughts to lawmakers, how to shame the profit makers, how to transfer their audacious spirit to a voice that will be heard. And we must stand up with them. We must not be cowed by those who do not understand, who do not agree, who try to discredit our concerns.

The most dangerous voices are not the ones who scream in favor of radicalism. They are the ones who lounge in apathy.

How will we be heard?

In the arms who pull lost children out of the darkness. In the hands who join in solidarity against the myth that change is futile. In the steady voices who reach our leaders, reminding Americans that in the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, life will always be first.

Wearing the Silver Lining

The night is darkest just before the dawn. The hardest part is believing in the promise of the coming light.

When the days are cast in shadow, when crawling into the abyss seems as safe as curling under the covers, it can be difficult to imagine light on the horizon. But the light is always there. And in those moments–when hurt & frustration threaten to drag us under–we owe it to ourselves to seek the light.

Luckily, finding the light is not chasing windmills: we can find more than ourselves in the process. We just may need a few pitstops along the way.

Stop One: Temporarily embrace the darkness.

Sometimes there’s no way out of the funk except through the “dark and twisty”. Pretending only deepens the hurt. We have to wrap our arms around the holes in the pits of our stomachs. Shout. Dance. Pommel a punching bag. Pour every thought into a letter, a journal, an empty room. When I can’t find my own words, music calls to me. There’s nothing quite like the wisdom of Metallica’s “No Leaf Clover” shouting about how “the soothing light at the end of your tunnel…is a freight train coming your way”. Singing with all my might alongside one of my favorite metal bands bleeds away the tension, leaving room for peace. Once that angst is spent, even just a little, we can breathe, and welcome clear thoughts, not simply those clouded by the thickness of emotion. Whenever I try to sidestep my emotions- instead of walking through them- any progress I make toward feeling better is small. Unresolved emotional baggage is a boomerang poised to slap us in the face when we least expect it. The path forward is always through.

Stop Two: Channel your inner warrior. 

Inspiration is a powerful fuel, but so is friction. Invincibility is all about perception. Remember what it felt like to believe that we could do anything if only X, Y, & Z would get out of the way? That spirit of rebellion is just as effective in the wake of adversity. For every challenge, for every time someone tells us we can’t, we have to fight for authenticity. Find the nearest phone booth & unwrap the superhero suit we’ve been hiding beneath our daily duds. Summon the courage to smile, to trust in our strengths, to find common ground, to not just think outside the box but throw out the box altogether. We are strongest when we trust in our capacities.

Stop Three: Wear the silver lining. 

Optimists get a bad rap. In a world of sharp retorts, witty barbs, and rampant sarcasm, hope & light are often lost in the Great Dreary. But the silver threads of every cloud’s lining are magical. Those silver threads are stronger than any bright white silk, than any dark twine. Those silver threads are a reminder that through the rain, we can still see the glimmer of the sun. We will surely face darkness again. Some days it may feel like we’re living in perpetual darkness, but the notion that the dark is forever is a scary misconception. A single light can illuminate a large path, and that’s all we need to believe. Wrapping ourselves in the glimmer of possibility keeps us moving forward. Wear the silver lining with pride. Optimism is not naive. Happiness is not a fool’s paradise. We create the life we want to live. So, for 2018, I wish for all of us, a closet full of silver threads.

Five Old School Trends Still Stylin’

In a world where we communicate more via text, post, Snapchat, or Twitter than we speak aloud, I’m curious how this is changing the conversation. Wordsmithing our lives into shareable bites is fun and quick and clever, but does it deliver? Close your eyes and relive the most transformative conversations of your life. Our memories are cloaked in sensory sustenance. Spontaneous half-smiles, the timbre of laughter, familiar scents…these goodies are hard to recreate in a digital landscape. This has me thinking about the relics of the Old School Kingdom we should fight to hold onto. When I move to Tech Island, what do I bring from the Pre-Smartphonian Era? 

Vinyl

Vinyl is rising from the ashes because music is rich and textured and gorgeous on a record player. It’s personal. Suddenly, the band is sitting with me, performing like gladiators because their talent is boundless, and they don’t need a team of sound engineers to smooth out their edges. Rawness is a concert: the moment that separates all true artists from makers of music. If you can rock in person, you can truly rock. And though I know it’s an allusion to believe there’s not a team of production geniuses somewhere behind the scenes, this less polished sound is real & vibrant & worth the resurgence.

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Scrapbooks

There are so many new,-fashioned, visually-appealing ways to capture our experiences: glossy, digital photo books, musically-cued video collages, Pinterest boards, to-the-minute-social media pages…but nothing replaces the sensation of touch. Running fingers across the lace of a dress from decades ago, curling up inside a quilt passed down from generations of yore, breathing in the scent of perfume on a sheet of old stationary…if there’s a sense we lose in the digital world…it’s touch. I may be able to listen to my child’s voice and wander through galleries of photos on my phone, but when I flip through my childhood scrapbook, I can touch concert tickets, corsage ribbon, and puffy, scratch ‘n sniff sticker collections. The sniff may be long gone, but the feel of those stickers sends me backwards in time. Touch makes our world real: so, trundle boxes, cedar chests, and fabric-covered scrapbooks will always trump what lingers in the cloud.

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Cards

It’s still fun to get mail. Real mail that travels through the hands of loved ones to postal workers to our doorsteps. Our name scrawled in familiar handwriting, written on a card that bears smudges and creases and, often, a signature scent. Everything my grandma ever mailed to me smelled like lavender. I don’t know how, but when I opened a box or a letter, I was suddenly next to her, minimizing the hundreds of miles between us into negligible space. Now that she’s gone, I can find her again in her letters, her cards. Just like a message in a bottle, I know that once a card is written and sealed, I am giving it away: it belongs forever to the one who reads it. In a world where we are able to reread and rethink conversation, handwritten cards are singular moments of expression, casting into the ocean of our relationships. 

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Window Shopping

I love Amazon just as much as anyone—heck, they’re selling my book (warning: shameless plug alert in three, two, one… https://goo.gl/7xl1yQ)—but there’s nothing quite like walking into a locally-owned store, chorus of bells jangling at the door, strolling aisles of vintage clothes, quirky knickknacks, and homemade candles. Imagine Christmas shopping without the sounds of carols streaming through store speakers, the sparkle of twinkling white lights adorning every window, or the smell of peppermint, chocolate, and roasted cinnamon wafting through the air. Something is missing. While online shopping remains exciting and convenient, sometimes in order to get a feel for an item, we actually need to feel the item. 

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Books

Real books with spines & creamy, beige-tinted pages. Real books with glossy covers & pages that smoothly shear the air as they’re turned. Real books that tumble from hand to hand, reader to reader. Unlike the devices we hold dear, getting our hands on real books doesn’t cost a dime, yet we can carry them like we own them. There is such beauty in the stillness of a library, of vibrantly-colored spines adorning the shelves of every local bookshop. Sanctuaries of dreams, purveyors of imagination. As much as I appreciate the convenience of reading online, my heart will always belong to the printed text.

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The future is exciting. I’ve never been one to shy away from change or adventure, so I’m certainly not suggesting we turn away from the connectivity new technology offers. On the contrary, let’s marry our worlds: embracing the adventures Innovation has to offer without losing sight of Classic and Quality. If it’s epic, it will probably be epic tomorrow. For each time our family expands, we don’t stop loving those who first stamped our hearts…our hearts simply grow. Here’s to a world of giant hearts.

Five Reasons To Bring The Montessori Spirit Into Every Classroom

Montessori classroom

Freshly sharpened pencils. Scissors swishing through construction paper. Waxy crayons. These are the sensations of imagination. Promise. Eagerness. Remember simmering with excitement for fossil searches, water tables, and fairy tales? Remember bursting at the seams for Curious George, scavenger hunts, and ancient Egypt? These were the moments we fell in love with academia, and now, as my oldest child prepares to enter kindergarten, I feel so grateful for the wonder in her eyes, the spark of untapped potential, due in large part to the Montessori preschool she has attended these last two years. Here are five elements of Montessori in which every classroom would flourish. 

Learning is Personal

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” George Bernard Shaw reminds us that the search for enlightenment is not about discovering what makes us tick, it’s about becoming who we want to be. In the classroom, the essence of personalized learning is crafting the path of the individual student in such a way that her needs and interests meet her just where she is. Designing a classroom that presents this kind of diversity can be challenging, but Montessori does it so well by providing a wide variety of materials in accessible spots throughout the classroom, inviting students to explore. In my daughter’s classroom, she approaches each day by choosing which “works” she’d like to pursue, selecting familiar materials, or requesting a lesson about new tasks that pique her interest. The classroom is her oyster, offering pearls of intellectual adventure that are presented by her teachers based on students’ interests, aptitudes, and challenges. Whether she’s painting a map of South America, identifying verbs in a story she’s read, or classifying the parts of a bird, the student is the architect of her learning.

Language as a Tool

“We teach children to begin with their own words before they learn to read the words of others.” At parent night, I ruminated on this comment from Amy Valela, my daughter’s teacher at Peaceful Child Montessori Academy. She explained that instead of beginning with the alphabet as a way to read, students first learn the letters they will write. Tracing the outline of a letter in sandpaper, training her fingers to form the shape of the letters that will tell her stories, my daughter envisions words as her own, as a way to communicate the ideas burning through her, ready to pour onto the page. Reading comes later. First, she writes, and learns to bend the shape of the letters into a personal narrative. The words are not just her own…she owns the words. Language is not something to learn, but something to use.

Curiosity is King

I don’t hear the word “curriculum” in the Montessori classroom. The focus is not so centralized. Instead, it is a living, dynamic environment that builds low shelves & open containers into beautiful, child-centered stations accessible to the curious mind. Students approach the materials they want to use, selecting and directing their education based entirely on their interests. It’s the re-envisioning of Oliver Twist…every child asking, “Please, sir, can I have some more?”, yet hearing only ‘yes’. As our home collection of giant, painted maps of the world’s continents continues to grow, I smile. Right now, geography & geometry are favorites; tomorrow, who knows? But regardless, she is able to follow her curiosity wherever it takes her- something we can all bring to our students.

The World’s Classroom

Candles, warm hearth. The table is set with fine linens, adorned with personal place cards, as we are served the first course: a charcuterie board spread atop a wooden platter sanded and oiled by my daughter. This is the French Culinary experience, a four-week evening class in the art of French cooking. Learning to cook is only one part of this class; the real lessons are about patience, measuring, and pride in what takes time. My daughter finds this same attention to culture and fine art in her monthly classes at The Petite Palette, an art studio. A show at the Sandwich Opera House. Visits to Willowcrest Nursing Home. My little girl and her comrades may only be three to five years old, but they enjoy the finer elements of the world just as adults have liberty to do. The world is their learning space.

Children are People Too

“Be careful.” “You’re too little.” “Wait until you’re older.” We share these concerns with our little ones all the time. It’s only natural to worry about their safety, to not want them to grow up too fast. But Montessori has taught me that my daughter craves the chance to demonstrate her maturing skills. Pouring a drink from a large, glass water jug. Carrying ceramic plates. Cutting up an apple for a mid-day snack. These tasks are a source of great pride for my daughter, an opportunity to contribute to the practical elements of life she watches her parents master every day. These are the signs of independence and the ones we should foster in every student. 

As a parent, I may never be fully ready for that first day of kindergarten, but thanks to the lessons of her imaginative, innovative preschool experience, I know my daughter is. As a teacher, I may never be able to fully transform my classroom into a Montessori-like oasis, but I know my students are eager for an active, personal, curiosity-inspired learning space. Sometimes it feels like the barriers are greater than our resources, but I have seen incredible strength, resolve, and creativity in the teachers I know. We have the power to make the world our students’ oyster.

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Five Resolutions to Never Keep

As 2016 closes, social media is buzzing with disdain. For every tragic death, violent act, public mishap, and political apocalypse, the world is ready for a breath of fresh air. And that’s understandable. But let’s also remember that strength rises from the ashes of disappointment, that innovation is the result of facing the seemingly insurmountable. Maybe we should thank 2016 for pushing us, for having our number, for throwing us into the lion’s den with a toothpick and a meat sandwich. So, in turn, as we rinse 2016 from the drain, let’s resist making crazy deals with the Fates, bargaining our way into “better me” misery. Traditionally, the New Year incites a flurry of “do’s & don’ts” to finally shape our lives and bodies into the version of ourselves we’ve always dreamed. Yet, the personal foibles and bad habits we carry are so often the idiosyncrasies everyone else adores about us. In the spirit of embracing ourselves, let’s promise to NOT make these five resolutions.

1.) I resolve to never eat another sweet treat again.

NO. NO. NO. What did sweets ever do to us besides provide immense pleasure to our taste buds and sugar buzz to our tired, distracted brains? Ever since “calorie” became a naughty word, sweets have been labeled the devil’s manna, and while it’s always good to exercise caution, it is NOT good to eliminate the wonders that are double-fudge brownies, raspberry cheesecakes, and homemade whipped cream. I say, let’s eat fewer veggies. Let’s drink more juice and coffee and beer- ah, yes, beer. Water is still the main ingredient for every beverage, so rather than strip down the fluids and solids of our life into flavorless microbes, let’s just acknowledge that sugar is worth the taste.  

2.) I resolve to yoga/sprint/break dance/lift giant logs with gusto. 

Keeping active is crucial to feeling good. We’ve all felt the sluggishness after a gloriously lazy day, and thought, “Okay- this was great, but I maybe tomorrow I need to actually move more than five feet off the couch.” So, I’m certainly not suggesting couchitude, or lay-in-bed-ishness. I’m just saying…we don’t need to devote three to four hours per day to becoming the next Jillian Michael. Let’s activate in moderation. Let’s get outside, play with our kids, bounce on a trampoline or two…and then, you know, sit. Five-minute abs? Sure. Ninety-minute quadriceps? Yeah, I’ll pass. 

3.) I resolve to organize all facets of my life.

Chaos is intriguing. Chaos is inspiring. Chaos is never boring. Now, eliminating boredom is a resolution I could actually get on board with…not that my life is boring now–far from it–but keeping things interesting is a great goal. It’s just hard to be adventurous when every detail of our lives is organized, planned, locked into the calendar. Be spontaneous. Let your life get messy. Throw away the calendar, date book, neatly arranged file organizing system….and just dig into the dirty. Messy mode is real and beautiful and exhilarating. And if it really drives you crazy, just rip January out of the calendar. You can go back to Organization Station February 1st.

4.) I resolve to live firmly in the present, to let go of the past.

Grudges. Ah, grudges. They are there within each of us, lurking, casting shadows on our relationships and self-images. So, I understand the desire to live in the present, to cast away the pain of our past in order to embrace the light of the future. But there’s something to be said for learning from our past, from walking forward without the burden of a toxic relationship or a negative environment. If we let everything go, will we remember the lessons we’ve learned? The past includes a map of our most emotional moments, of our mistakes and trials, of regret and longing. It is our foundation. As we walk forward into 2017, let’s bring the past with us: the lamp of experience.

5.) I resolve to be gloriously, deliriously, all-consumingly happy.

Okay, no one is saying we should sit around and cry all the time. (Those who know me well are laughing right now.) But, seriously- I’m not advocating Trail of Tears- the Resurgence. No, I’m just saying that happiness is sweetest after a sipping the appertif of disappointment. As much as I love roller coasters and dance clubs and Key West, experiencing them every single day would remove some of the beauty and excitement from the special times I actually get to go. (Okay, Key West is the exception- I could happily live there for the rest of my days, secretly writing in the Hemingway House by day and roaming Duval Street by night). But for everything else…less is more, including being ecstatically happy. As 2017 dawns, let’s remember that sunrise is breathtaking because it follows the deep darkness of nighttime. 

May 2017 be filled with resolutions to just be yourself. Happy New Year!

 

Five Ways Women Rule the Stratosphere

Since Helen and the launching of a thousand ships, women have been described by some of our most famous poets as symbols of beauty and longing. But in truth, a woman’s beauty, strength, and desire reach far beyond soft curves, wanton eyes, and sweetly-scented hair. As I dry my (copious) tears in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, I remember how far we’ve come, and dream of how far we will go. Women are a force to be reckoned with in this world, even if we don’t yet–officially–rule it. Thankfully, we can still rule the stars, the moon, even the universe. (I think there might be a crown for that.) For all the beautiful, complicated, hilarious, tenacious women in the world…five ways we already rule.

Emotional FortitudeThe expression “cry like a girl” just kills me. What’s wrong with crying? When the sky is falling, there’s something deeply satisfying about completely losing it. And guess what? It actually feels better to let these emotions explode into the heavens instead of bottling them up to brood for all eternity. Women are pretty fantastic at embracing and accepting their emotions. I’m not saying it’s not messy—it’s plenty messy–but there is strength in that. The world is more exciting with passion, exuberance, indignation, even melancholy. Times of crisis are reminders of what is so important, what is so enjoyable, what is so worth the struggle. Managing emotions is incredibly challenging— thank goodness women have so much practice.  

Straddling the Divide– For women, I’m not sure there is a mode called Single-Tasking. Juggling 1,001 tasks seems to be the norm for every woman I know, namely because she’s not just Jane Doe: she’s Doctor Jane, PTA President Jane, Auntie Jane, Softball Captain Jane, Best Friend Jane, and Sexy Jane. The great thing about multi-tasking is that life is never boring…I mean, it’s kind of impossible to be bored when your hair is on fire 24/7. But don’t bring me the fire extinguisher yet: the wonderful thing about having so many elements in our lives is that our lives are very, very full. Yes, I wish I could hire a personal masseuse and stream nature sounds in the air while I race through my day…I’m thinking Cinderella and her team of tiny creatures…but until Disney converts Wonderfully Average Woman into its next multi-billion dollar princess venture, I guess we’ll have to be satisfied with knowing that tackling at least 992 of those 1,0001 tasks is pretty damn great.

Mastering MotherhoodEvery parent knows that this job is the hardest one to tackle, to wrestle, to tame. Parenting is no joke, and motherhood- phew– is similar to riding a terrifyingly fast carousel that never stops spinning: it’s not that the carousel isn’t great…just be nice to maybe slow down and reset the equilibrium once in awhile. Yet, all the mothers I know are incredible. They balance work, family, and self in a way that looks like Wonder Woman. From those first waddling days of watermelon bellies, to the superhuman powers of childbirth, to half-dazed, sleepless nights, women have tackled motherhood with tenacity and grace. For every vomit-stained shirt, playground bully showdown, last-minute snack share, and two am nightmare, mothers are ready for the challenge. I’d like to see Homer write about THAT.

Gurus of Comfort Women are particularly good at knowing when someone needs to be fiercely wrapped in a hug, or gently soothed by a soft hand on her back, brushing the matted hair out of her tear-stained face…namely, knowing how to focus all her attention on the personal crisis of the one sitting before her. When it comes to affection, compassion, and empathy, women are great at reaching out or listening…and when the time calls for it, vilifying whatever or whoever is causing such strife in the lives of the ones we love. No problem can’t be made just a little better by jacking up the volume to “I Will Survive”, dancing around the room, and screaming the lyrics with gusto. Gloria, Janis, Pat, Madonna, Alanis, Fiona, Gwen…I thank you for your wisdom and your terrifically singable anthems. Because when no one seems to understand the Crazy that is our lives, we still need people to listen to that Crazy, to try their best to decode that Crazy, and at the very least, help us put the pieces back together when the Crazy becomes too much. Women are pretty great at that.

Beautiful CreaturesJust because women should be admired for more than their attractiveness doesn’t mean their beauty isn’t worth mentioning 🙂 For all the complaining we may do about the constraints of female fashion, there’s something truly creative, fun, and empowering about the style of a woman. Regardless of what that style is- natural, understated, sporty, elegant, edgy, artistic- women are gorgeous in their originality. As the seasons change, and the trends emerge, women find a way to be vibrant, sensuous, colorful, and alluring. When I think of how this reconciles with everything else a woman is, imagine a piece of rich, decadent chocolate cake. I’m talking molten lava cake with fresh whipped cream. The richness of the cake, the moist layers, the melting chocolate center…that’s the good stuff…but add the whipped cream, and the dessert becomes positively heavenly.

For every beautifully complicated woman…happy reign.

Five Cures for a Broken Heart

As cool air beckons and leaves gently fall, summer’s warmth is almost a memory. That change reminds me of the way darkness sometimes creeps into our lives: how loss can fall into our laps at the most unexpected times. Loss of faith.  Loss of ambition. Loss of a relationship. And even though the wonderful moments aren’t possible without vulnerability, risk, and frustration, it’s still hard to cope with the calamities of life. These five salves can never heal all the world’s problems, but they will soothe the hurt.

1.) Hot Water. Baths brimming with pomegranate-scented bubbles. Showers pooling coconut steam. Fast-rushing jets pounding the knots of my shoulders. Water is incredibly soothing, especially when it’s warm and smells amazing. The other beautiful thing about water….best place to have a good cry. Sink into the tub, place your head against the tile, lean back into the jets….and just let go. It’ll be okay.

2.) Loud Music. Imagine the sounds of Metallica’s “No Leaf Clover” spilling into the room. Nothing is more satisfying than the jarring, angry chords of a rock song to match a churning vat of emotions. Volume is essential for music to become one with our bodies. Sense the vibrations of bass, feel the ring of guitar chords, embrace the dissonance….and suddenly: adrenaline. That physical release won by belting the lyrics to wistful ballads and stormy songs is a powerful way to transform emotion into movement.

3.) Comfort Food. As a kid, Mom soothed sick days and sad days with household, culinary staples: tiny shell pasta with plain tomato sauce; buttered toast; oatmeal with sugar and cream; and, of course, chocolate. As an adult, chocolate is still my favorite go-to, but I also relish espresso drinks with whipped cream, and lemon-butter pasta with melted parmesan cheese. Eating such warm, rich foods and indulging in sweet treats is contenting….a great reminder that the smallest things can bring immense satisfaction. 

4.) Random Road Trip. Yes, I know….”driving while emotional” is not a safe way to travel. This is very logical. But once that initial emotional outburst has died down, driving IS a great way to reflect. Embarking on a journey without a specific destination can be liberating because it’s moving forward without actually having to make any real decisions, without having to select a permanent path. Driving is connecting with the world from the safe distance of a private bubble. Windows down, music playing, eyes scanning the horizon….suddenly, life feels a little bit calmer.

5.) Total Emotional Immersion. Sometimes there’s just no way around it: the hurt has to be felt. Bottling emotions is like throwing a lid on a boiling pot….might stop the bubbles for a second, but unless you turn off the heat, water’s going to keep rising. When loss has come home to roost, maybe the best way to conquer it is to look Hurt squarely in the face. Open the memento box, flip through the photo album, reread cards and messages….just embrace the tangible scraps of all loss-related memories….a la catharsis.

Happy Healing.

 

Five Dishes to Rock Your Palate

We’re foodies in my household. Meals are an event, so the kitchen has become far more than a refueling station. Yet, in all my nearly-burn- the-house-down-serve-up-the-occasional-food-poisoning years of experience, my role in the cooking process is now fairly limited. (Let’s be honest, I’m only allowed to touch the occasional spatula.) So essentially, I have the privilege of salivating over the menu- taking on the ever important role as Taste Tester– while my husband does all the fancy footwork to prepare each heavenly dish. 

But as much cooking as we do at home, we adore eating out. It’s exhilarating to experience a brand new food, bite into a unique version of an old favorite, and then just melt into the tabletop because it’s THAT good. Here are five dishes I can’t get out of my head….

1.) The Dining Room, Little Palm Island Resort. Dish to Die For: Prime Beef Châteaubriand, Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Foie Gras

Let’s get a little romantic. Close your eyes, and envision small, round tables set just off the beach, ocean waters lapping in the background at sunset, tiny Key deer grazing the edge of white tablecloths like magical creatures. Warm breezes kiss your skin just as a waiter arrives, carrying a silver platter like he’s about to bequeath you the keys to the kingdom. Whisking away the cover, you visually feast on a bed of buttery Caribbean lobster, atop tender prime beef, subtly sauced with rich foie gras, and graced with a generous shaving of truffles. The lightness of the lobster marries so well with the richness of the beef, highlighted by strong, tangy flavors of truffles and the silky texture of foie gras. Size was no match for my appetite: I savored every last bite.

2.) Joe’s Seafood Prime Steak & Stone Crab, Chicago. Dish to Die For: Double-Cut Colorado Lamb Chops. 

Walking into Joe’s is like stepping back in time to the days of swagger. Tuxedoed wait staff, rich linens, and a Sinatra-esque dining room sends the immediate message that diners are about to be really well-cared for. But more amazing than the atmosphere is the food. When dining at Joe’s, stone crab has to be ordered, and lots of it. Luckily, stone crab is so light and delicious, it really qualifies- in my book– as both appetizer and dessert— and by that I mean, it’s essential to order enough to continuously inhale throughout the meal. But beyond the crab,  Joe’s has an amazing menu, including one I knew was going to blow my mind: double-cut Colorado lamb chops with mint chimichurri sauce. I knew these chops were going to be unbelievably tender, barely-there salt savory, and minty, tangy-sweet. They lived up to every expectation.

3.) The Turf Room, North Aurora.  Dish to Die For: Butternut Squash “Mock” Risotto

Before I describe the universal wonder that is butternut mock risotto, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the most vital piece of advice in dining at the Turf Room: bring your thirst buds. Yes, yes, it’s all about the food…and the food is one-hundred percent delicious, but the cocktail menu at TR is out of this world. So water up before stepping foot in the door, because Jack, Jose, and Captain have some particularly delicious plans in store for the adventurous imbiber. But back to the food…I love fall dishes that feature warm, whipped squash…but The Turf Room takes it to a whole new level with the tanginess of blue cheese, savory shallot, and the crunch of candied walnuts. This side dish was so good, I actually stopped eating my entree just to make more room for it.

4.) Camille’s, Key West. Dish to Die ForNorwegian Eggs Benedict

My soul could live forever in Key West, so it’s only fitting that one of my favorite meals is served in an eclectic restaurant on Simonton Street, just blocks away from the Heron House, our favorite place to stay. Eggs Benedict is a delicious dish in any form, but to me, nothing tastes better than the Norwegian version. Smoked salmon on a crisp English muffin, topped with poached eggs, swimming in buttery Hollandaise. Camille’s eggs are always the perfect temperature, breaking the yolk just as my fork dips into the side of the egg, pooling the smoky salmon with savory yellow. I could eat breakfast all day.

5.) Better than Sex, Key West. Dish to Die For: Try everything.

Dessert is supposed to be last. Eat vegetables. Drink milk, and, maybe…if you have room after all that…dessert. But in this tiny, busy, candle-lit restaurant, dessert is the only item on the menu. From cocktails to coffee, every beverage is served in a glass coated in white chocolate, milk chocolate, or caramel. Pair a sweet beverage with bread pudding, molten chocolate cake, peanut butter silk pie, or lime cream pie. Each dish is arranged sensually on the plate, named to inspire a wink and a smirk from diners and wait staff alike. Eating vegetables may be the best way to keep our bodies healthy, but eating dessert feeds our hearts and souls.

Bon Appetit.