Friday, December 28, 2012

No Excuses

“Oh well.”

They’re words we’ve all said before. Words we often use to let us off the hook or to silence that nagging voice inside our heads that says we should know better. But what about those times when “Oh well” isn’t good enough, when experience and integrity tell us the situation calls for something more?

I recently had to wrestle with this dilemma on a trip to Puerto Rico. I was at an oceanside restaurant with my nephew and some friends. Because of the nice weather and stunning scenery, we’d opted to dine outside on the beach -- 100 yards from the restaurant. Not expecting to get service so far away, we were shocked when one waitress trotted over to get our drink orders and ask us what we wanted to eat. Not only did she bring us our meals, she also went back and forth four or five times, refilling drinks, bringing us condiments. And for all her troubles, I left a hefty tip.

I left the restaurant feeling like I’d adequately honored her hard work, only to find a discrepancy on my credit card transaction when I got back to the hotel. It seems the hard-working waitress never received my tip.

What do you do when your good intentions are thwarted? Do you say “Oh, well” and move on? What about when the discovery comes at the last minute and you’re late for the airport? That was the situation I faced. I was at an emotional fork in the road but I knew what I had to do. I had to make sure she got the money I knew she deserved.

So the next time you’re tempted to say “Oh, well” and move on, ask yourself if the situation calls for more. If “Oh well” is really just code for “I don’t care.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Get Well

Do you ever feel like you’re being held captive by your health; like you have little to no control over your own body? Have you ever been given a diagnosis that seemed to rob you of options? If you’ve ever struggled with your own wellness destiny I have a story to share that just might make you reevaluate how much control you truly have over the future of your health.

When I first met Sarah she was a child selling Girl Scout cookies. She was dynamic, smart, loving and independent -- all the things I love in a person. And by the time she was 14, she was also a Type 2 Diabetic. To look at her, you’d never guess. She had a ruddy glow and a sunny disposition. But despite her seemingly good health, she was dependent on insulin.

Fast forward a few years and Sarah found herself on her own -- going to college, managing her own money and waiting tables to make ends meet. Of her small take-home pay, much of it was going to insulin shots. One day, Sarah noticed that when she ran, her insulin intake went down. That gave her an idea. If she could control her insulin with exercise she could put more money in her pocket -- in fact, she could save as much as $200 every three weeks!

Today, Sarah is still running and still controlling her insulin levels with exercise. While she may not be insulin-free forever, she has more control of her own destiny than ever before. As someone who comes from a family of diabetics, I find that encouraging. I once had a doctor tell me that if you eat well and exercise, there’s no reason diabetes should be part of your future. It doesn’t have to be inevitable.

So whatever your health concerns may be, ask yourself if there are things you could be doing to improve your own wellness. Are there habits you can break or good ones you can cultivate that will give you back some of the control you’ve lost? It just might be that with a little determination, you too can change the trajectory of your future health.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The "Fall" Basket

We’ve all been there when hardship finds one of our friends. Unsure of what to do and how to help, we fumble around for the right words and the appropriate acts of kindness. Does our friend want us to acknowledge their situation or is the pain too fresh? Do they want us to bring it up or just ignore the obvious elephant in the room? Lots of questions, no concrete answers.

A few years ago, I myself, went through a hard break-up where I found myself on the receiving end of my friends’ good intentions. Knowing I couldn’t muster up the strength to get through a conversation without crying, I sent out an email alerting those I cared for about the situation but also telling them I wasn’t ready to talk about it. My girlfriends respected my request, but also knew they had to do something to show me how much they cared.

The following week, one of my clients and friends came into the shop with a large basket of candles, coasters and potpourri. When I asked what it was she replied: “Oh, it’s just a fall basket for you.” I gratefully accepted the gift and didn’t think much about it until another person came in with a set of notepads for me. Once again, the reason for her kindness was the fall season. Throughout the week, about a dozen or so people came in to bring me some form or another of a “fall basket.”

What was this long-standing tradition I had somehow missed? How could I have lived here for so long and not known about these “fall baskets?” It took me a while, but eventually, I caught on: those beautiful “fall baskets” were my friends’ way of nonchalantly showing me they cared. Without making a fuss, or bringing up painful memories, they did what good friends do: gave me unconditional love and support. And during those dark days, their simple acts of kindness and those “fall baskets” made all the difference in the world to me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Memories From South Africa

I wasn’t used to this sort of thing -- sleeping outside on a mattress that had been drug out onto the deck. But everything about South Africa was outside of my comfort zone. Both raw and pristine, rugged and charming, it was the very definition of contradiction. And so I slept, fitfully at first, under the stars on a private game farm overlooking the valley with the Mabalingwe Mountains in the background.

I’d come here for a man (how often have you heard that one?). But until that moment, I’d only seen the country through his eyes -- his stories of playing rugby, the chutney his mother used to make, the landscape of his childhood. I’d heard so many tales it was hard to distinguish what was South Africa and what was him.

While it wasn’t as savage as the country I’d imagined in my mind, it certainly wasn’t for the finicky either. When my boyfriend told me not to turn on the light at night while going to the bathroom, he wasn’t kidding. One flick of the switch and a mob of bugs went scurrying across the floor right under my feet! And then there was the time I went to get a soda from our campsite only to look up and see a ceiling full of bats. But there was also the mama baboon we had to stop for as she crossed the road with a baby on her back and a hyena nursing her pups just six feet from where I sat.

So despite my fears and reservations, I gave into South Africa that night and she became more than memories I’d borrowed from someone else. That evening, I slept under a blanket of stars and awoke to the rustling of the trees in the morning. “Whatever you do,” my man whispered, “don’t move. Just watch.” And so I lay there, perfectly still, as dozens of tiny monkeys played in the branches above us. They jumped, grabbed each others’ tales and lunged for what remained of the previous night’s dinner. It was my reward for facing my fears, my own connection to the land and a dream that no one can take away from me.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Looking For Mars

I went to an all-girl schools most of my school years and grew up in a house of women. With my live-in grandmother, mom and eight sisters my father never stood a chance. Perhaps it was because of our influence, or maybe it was just how he was wired, but he was not your typical guy’s guy. I don’t remember him watching TV, playing sports or being a handy man. Instead, he seemed to spend his time dodging the never-ending stream of rants, melodramas and PMS-induced episodes.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I got my first glance into the world of men. I remember when the guy behind me in class asked me a question. I wasn’t sure if he was being nice, hitting on me or just trying to get the answer to the problem. To me, men were the unknown, foreigners from another world. And I was scared.

As I spent more time in the company of men I discovered just how different they were from me. To begin with, they were simple. The things they talked about were straight forward: no talk of feelings, no conflict of emotions. Just a simple problem and the pursuit of a solution. Women, on the other hand, have to look at the problem from every angle, even when it’s not all that big of a problem to begin with. We phone a friend, read some books and then begin to psychoanalyze it to death -- something a guy would never do.

After a while spent driving myself crazy trying to solve the secrets of men, I decided to act like a guy and take things one gender-different moment at a time. I’d laugh it out, skip the self-help books, and resist the urge to survey every woman I’d ever known. In short, I was going to trust myself and my instincts.

What I’ve learned is that men are never going to be like us. And why would we want them to? Most women describe their ideal man and it seems they’re just looking for the masculine version of their girlfriends. Not me. I want a man who is a man. Someone who is the compliment to me, not the mirror of myself. I want a man and all that implies: someone to order my drink and move me to the inside of the sidewalk, someone who will treat me like a lady, protect me in a crowd and make sure I make it home safe.

So for all truth there is in the statement that “men are from Mars, women are from Venus,” I think that may be why we’re so attracted to each other. It seems those “foreigners” I was so perplexed by as a child were the very thing I was looking for.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Barefoot & Pregnant

It all began with asaltos, the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling. When my co-workers showed up at my house that night I didn’t think twice about tagging along with their roaming holiday party. After leaving a note for my husband, I took my young daughter and my 6 month pregnant self and joined the festivities as they headed off down the road.

If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship yourself, you may not understand what came next or my own inability to predict it. I guess the signs were there but when you’re in that situation you just hope it doesn’t get any worse...until it does.

When I got home, he was awake and insanely mad. I knew it was going to be bad. To be honest, I don’t even remember everything that happened that night. I guess it’s my “borrar cinta,” it means to “erase the tape” or the ability to forget the bad in order to protect yourself. We all do it to some degree. It’s what allows us to move on from a trauma. What I do know is that he physically dragged me outside and locked the door. I tried to fight back but there were no winning with a 6’3”, 250-pound, drunk and anger-driven man. I had no shoes, no belongings and, worst of all, no daughter. Barefoot and pregnant, I walked several miles to the closest government building where I spent the night on a wooden bench. The next morning, I went before a judge to request a police escort back to the house. I don’t recall much about that journey just that in the end there was a report of domestic abuse, I’d moved in with my sister and I had my daughter back.

I guess it’s true that we see the past with 20/20 vision. If only we could have that kind of clarity in the moment. I did ignore red flags and dismissed my instinct and intuition. Should I have known our relationship could come to that? Probably. But men like that can make you believe it’s somehow something you did wrong. Abusers rationalize their abuse and make you doubt what really happened and your role in it all...and they’re really good at it. There’s also part of me that wanted to believe things would get better -- the eternal optimist. But that night was a deal breaker. I ended up leaving my husband and within a year-and-half I was living in the United States.

When I was considering divorce, I was torn with the belief that when you get married it’s supposed to be forever. But there were two things that kept me going in the right direction -- my toddler and the new baby I’d just had. I didn’t want my daughters to grow up thinking that’s how a man treats a woman, or that was marriage. I didn’t want them to one day excuse someone else’s bad behavior by thinking it was love. Today, both of my girls are in wonderful relationships with men who in no way resemble their biological father. That was all I could hope for as I made that long walk in the dark all those years ago. This place I’m at now -- where we are happy, safe and well-grounded and I am strong and independent -- was the place I was heading towards as I trudged on, barefoot and pregnant.

During this time in my life, I felt very alone and I was convinced I was the only one with this type of secret struggle. Time and wisdom have taught me that, unfortunately, abuse is all too common. If this is something you are dealing with, you don’t have to be alone. I invite you to email or call me, reach out to another friend or get in touch with one of the many support organizations available. Love isn’t supposed to hurt, and life can get better.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Eating Healthy On-The-Go

Whether you’re trying for a whole new you or just working to shed five pounds before bikini season, eating out is always tricky. Nothing can de-rail your intentions to get healthy faster than a split-second compromise in the drive-thru lane. Here are some of the tips I’ve found to keep me on track. That way, I can save my splurges for something I’ll really appreciate -- rather than a mediocre fast-food craving.

  Coffee shops are hidden calorie culprits. Order a shot of espresso for a caffeine jolt rather than a fancy coffee. Or, better yet, opt for water and the Protein Bistro Box from Starbucks. That way you’ll get a satisfying meal rather than a 500 calorie drink without any nutrition. 
  Skip the soda and drink water instead
  For breakfast on the run, order an egg-white dish. I love Starbucks’ wheat english muffin with egg whites and Subway’s egg-white wraps. To make it even better, treat the wrap like a napkin; just peel it back and enjoy the eggs and veggies without the carbs.  No cheese please!
  There’s always grilled chicken on the menu. Chose it over non-lean protein or anything breaded.  No bread please!
  When picking a side, go for a salad over fries. Try it with no dressing.
  If you really want to have the dressing, watch out for the hidden calories and fat! Try a “dry” salad or with oil and vinegar.  Worst case, order dressing on the side or one pouch.
  If you’re craving a burger, go for it; just ask for it without the bun and cheese. If you need more protein, order two and toss the bread.
  Fill up on proteins and lentils. One of my favorite dishes is a flank steak with lentils at Luma on Park Avenue. It’s a tasty meal without a buttery, fattening sauce.
  Seared tunas are always healthy choices.
  To control portion sizes, order an appetizer rather than an entree meal.
  If you are craving one of the entree meals, just ask your server to bring you half of the dish and box the other to go.
  Supermarkets are great for on-the-go healthy meals. Stop by the deli counter for a few slices of turkey and then hit the produce area for fresh fruit.
  When getting a sub, ask if you can make it a lettuce wrap instead of having the bread.
  If you’re having Mexican, you can always ask for your burrito to be made as a salad. Skip the tortilla and eat it with a fork.
  Canned tuna is a quick, healthy lunch option to keep on hand.
  Remember to take your time eating. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to know that you are full. If you slow down, it may take less than you think to make you feel satisfied.

When you’re hungry, it’s easy to fall for the tempting pictures on the menu or the delicious treat your co-worker just ordered. That’s why it’s best to prep your food before you arrive, set your determination and keep your ultimate goals in mind.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What Goes Around, Comes Around

I didn’t grow up with the idea of karma in my culture but life has taught me there’s a bit of truth in the concept that “what goes around, comes around.” The good you do and the bad decisions you make always seem to find their way back to you. Like a cosmic boomerang, karma has a way of coming back and hitting you upside the head.

The question karma forces us to ask is “how am I living my life?” When you reflect on your own life how much good are you doing? Are your actions healthy and helpful or damaging and destructive? While not every bad thing that happens is a result of bad karma, when you see a pattern you have to ask yourself what role you’ve played.

So often we don’t connect the dots. What is just coincidence to some is karma to others. Like that time I followed after the woman who’d left her checkbook, then helped the man at the laundry followed by helping the family with kids at the airport. They all had left something behind and I was there to warn them.  How coincidental this could be? What if I wasn't in their path?  Simple, common courtesies that were easy to do. But later when a man at the airport train reminded me I had left my laptop in the plastic bin at security, I thought it might be something more. What if all those little gestures of decency on my part throughout the day were being returned? Like a boomerang effect. What if doing good does, in fact, lead to more good? What if unexpected kindness is just karma coming back around?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Seek Wisdom Beyond Your Years

Wouldn’t it be great if we could Google wisdom? Order it up like Chinese take-out, delivered to our doorstep in 30 minutes or less. What if we could snap our fingers and know all that life has to teach us without all the messy fumbles and failures that are often the best teachers? There’s a saying my mom used to say: mas sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo, “the devil knows more because of being old than because of being the devil.” It seems life experience that comes with age, not position, is what matters.

So just how does one acquire wisdom? Or better yet, prudence? In my experience it goes something like this: First, you begin without knowledge. Then you gather some experience which leads you to knowledge. When you have enough of that knowledge you develop wisdom. And when you practice enough wisdom it leads to prudence. So if that’s the roadmap, just how do you go about getting started in the right direction?

It’s impossible to be wise without having lived through some things. That’s why I try to seek wisdom beyond my years. What I mean is that I try to look ahead and find others who’ve already walked the road I’m walking or about to walk and try to learn from their experiences. For example, as a new grandmother I know that there’s a lot I don’t know so I go to a friend who has already been there to get what I don’t have. If I want to know about marriage, I find a couple who’ve been together for 30 or so years and ask them ‘how do you do it?’

I look for people who’ve had success, people who’ve managed to deal with certain situations with wisdom and prudence. Like a business would choose a board of directors, I seek out those I trust. In my life there is a core group of wise men and women that I look to for direction. I take the lessons they teach so that I can then apply prudence. So while I haven’t yet dealt with a moody teenage grandson or the hurdles of retirement, there are those in my life who have and managed to do so successfully. And they, in turn, have lent me the lessons they’ve learned so I can have knowledge that exceeds my experiences and wisdom beyond my years.

Monday, June 4, 2012

When God Speaks

Have you ever felt a stirring inside yourself that you just couldn’t explain? Or heard a voice that spoke an unmistakeable message out of nowhere? When God speaks, are you listening? And when you don’t, does it sometimes seem like a never-ending nag?

Years ago, God told me to warn a close friend about doing business with a particular associate. After three months of that persistent voice in my head, I finally delivered the message. As someone who didn’t believe in spiritual things, my friend took my cautionary tale as “women’s intuition” or simply a good hunch. All I know is that once I told him my concerns, the voice stopped nagging me. It was as if I had done my part, and now the load was no longer mine to bear. In the end, the warning was heeded and the concern was well merited.

I’d like to say I was always so obedient but it wouldn’t be the truth. The next time I was given a message for a friend, I chose not to speak up. I kept telling myself “it’s none of your business. Don’t get involved.” In the end, my silence cost him a great deal of money. Years later, I got up the courage to reveal the message I’d received and failed to deliver. I asked him to forgive me for not warning him. I had learned a lesson: I have a responsibly to pass on the messages I’ve been given.

I guess you could say I learned through both my obedience and my lack thereof. When I listened to what turned out to be truth, my faith in God’s voice and my ability to hear it was reaffirmed. When I didn’t, I learned from the consequences of failing to do so. It was a lesson that came in the nick of time, and one that I could not have afforded to miss.

The same voice came to me when I was driving home late one night with my daughter, Viviana. The traffic light had just turned green on a very busy road when I felt something inside of me telling me to stay where I was and NOT GO. This time, I did not move or question the message. “Why are you stopped?” she asked.

How do you tell your teenage daughter that a voice has warned you? I was just imaging her shaking her head and rolling her eyes at me when a car came flying past us at break-neck speed. If I’d have gone seconds earlier, she would have undoubtably been killed. At that very moment, I knew that God had spoken.

I now know that the progress of learning to hear God’s voice is just that...a progression. He starts with small things and builds on them; teaching you through trial and error so that when the ultimate test of life comes, you are listening when He speaks.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Do(n't) Talk to Strangers

It’s been drilled into us since childhood: “Don’t talk to strangers.” But now that we’re grown, is the fear of stranger danger keeping potentially-valuable relationships at bay and preventing us from making some meaningful connections? Don’t get me wrong, there’s undoubtably evil in this world and bad consequences do exists; but is the boogie man, or as the Spanish call him, El Cuco, really lurking behind every stranger’s eyes?

I once struck up a conversation in an airport with an attractive stranger. Ill-advised? As it turned out, that innocent dialogue led to a dating relationship and, as the degrees of separation often go, led me to reconnect with a girlfriend of mine who I knew in the third grade in Puerto Rico! That connection then led me to another classmate who now lives in Barcelona. On a recent trip, I met up with her and her husband and ended up touring the city with them for hours. What a memorable moment.

Then there’s the woman I met over the shampoo bowl at the salon. It just so happened that 60 years ago she went to school with a certain “Nido” boy. She shared the sotyr of how enamored she was with him and stories of the two of them together. To my disbelief, that young boy was my father and she was his childhood sweetheart! What a random moment.

Those are just some of the special people I’ve added to my life because I gathered my courage, took the first step and said “hello” to a stranger. There’s no telling what can happen when you welcome the unknown into your life. It could open the door to a valuable business connection or new, innovative ideas in the workplace. It could mean an exciting personal relationship or new horizons you’ve yet to explore.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that there are many strangers-turned-friends in my life. According to my mom I never met a stranger. “Every time you went to a party, your sister would come crying because you had already made friends with everyone.” But what about those whose personalities don’t naturally gravitate towards the unknown? Talking to strangers can be daunting, but it’s also a skill that can be learned with practice.

I like to make it an exercise. Start with a person of the same gender or someone with a common connection. Initiate the conversation, find out all you can about the other person and keep the talk flowing. Then, move on to more intimidating situations: that attractive man at the bar, the head of the company you really want to impress or that striking woman next to you in carpool. Like the first person on the dance floor, sometimes others are just waiting for someone to make the first move. Just take two deep breathes to lower your racing heart, and as you breathe in the second time around, smile from your heart and start with a simple “hello.” You never know what could happen next.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Paying It Forward

I’m often asked why I write a blog. Why now? What do I get out of doing this? It’s not for the money; not so people will know my name. It’s more about passing it on and paying it forward. Sharing the hurdles, experiences and the wisdom I’ve acquired along life’s road in the hope that there’s a take-away for someone else. It’s also my legacy -- a place for me to tell the story of my life so that one day my girls, my grandkids and even my great-grandchildren can read these words and feel a connection to where they came from. I’ve always said that if by doing this I could touch just one person’s life, it would be worth it. That person was Anna.

God brought Anna to the salon, in the chair close to mine, when she was at a crossroads in her own life. After a brief conversation, she went home, sat down at her computer and pulled up this blog.

“I was so energized after meeting you,” she wrote, “that I went home and found your site. I stayed up late last night reading and was up early this morning to pray, read the Word and do some yoga stretches before breakfast. I’m back on track now with my bag of fresh fruits and veggies. I don’t know what is right or wrong about this, but I feel happy and energized.”

Anna found something in my story that she could relate to. It gave her hope that her own journey to health and well-being was do-able and what she was up against was not insurmountable.

“I honestly feel you participated in a divine appointment,” she continued. “While reading your bio I couldn’t believe how I am right where you were physically, mentally and emotionally when you were my age. Thank you for the work you have done to improve yourself. That investment has now been passed on to another woman who is making the decision to honor herself.”

I don’t know if Anna will keep reading or if what she received at that moment was enough. I do know that God has sent people into my life at just the right time to look after me. There’s a lot of Annas in the world -- I know because I’ve been one. I’ve been uncertain, unmotivated and uninspired and there has been someone there to encourage me, to tell me that life is always a choice and to help me get up and move forward. Who are the Annas in your life? What part of your story is it that they need to hear? I encourage you to be bold with the lessons life has taught you. You never know who might be listening.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Integrity: Who you are when no one is looking

How far would you be willing to go to keep your word? Would you honor a commitment even if it hurt? What about if no one but you would ever be the wiser? I always thought I had the question of integrity answered but a recent promise to deliver a discount to one of my diamond clients had me second-guessing my good intentions...if only for a moment.

Here’s how the dilemma came about. Seldom do I receive an additional discount from this one particular vendor I purchase stones from; the standard discount for the type of diamond this customer was purchasing would be about $500. In my mind, that was the savings I had promised to pass on and only if I received it. I did make it clear that that additional discount rarely happens.  However, when my vendor came back with a $4,000 discount I faced a huge battle of conscience. The struggle was between keeping my promise to pass on whatever discount I received or pocketing the profit and giving my client the expected amount. In the end, I passed on the full savings to a very grateful and pleasantly surprised customer. He got more than he expected that day and I guess you could say I did too.

It seems like an easy thing to say you are a person of your word -- but what if keeping it comes at a cost? Better yet, what if no one would ever know the difference? This instance gave me pause for thought. I had been raised with a great work ethic and a very uncompromising sense of right and wrong but in the business world is wrong always wrong? Turns out it really is.

Remember the days when a handshake was as binding as a contract? When was the last time you “shook on it” to close the deal? I do it all the time. I admit, it’s an old-fashion way of living but if you are who you say you are, your word is all the promise anyone will ever need. Consider for a moment your own reputation. Do you show up on time and deliver what’s expected? Do you own up to your mistakes and refund when someone overpays? Do you treat your clients, and your employees, with respect and honor? Integrity may seem like something of the past, but when you live your life in pursuit of it, it pays back in immeasurable ways. Try it!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The 90-10 Rule

It’s no secret that I value a healthy lifestyle. At this age I can no longer eat and drink like some twenty-year-old at a frat house or even like I used to before I turned 30. That’s why I have the 90-10 rule. It’s a way of eating and living that balances good health with pleasure.

Here’s how it goes...Ninety percent of the time I eat for fuel. What I mean is that I eat to keep my blood sugar from dropping and my stomach from growling, not because I have a craving and not for enjoyment. It’s basically salads, vegetables and grilled, lean meats. But because we can’t live a life totally void of decadence, ten percent of the time I eat with “gusto”! I enjoy crèmes and chocolates, the “widow maker” at Prato and every other goodness you can imagine. The ninety percent is a sacrifice so that I can truly appreciate the ten.

This kind of living has taught me a few things. The first is that I need to be mindful of what I indulge in. I no longer blindly snack on whatever happens to be sitting in the break room or waste my calories on treats that don’t satisfy. Instead, I indulge in quality food and I am present and aware of every sinful bite. The other thing I have learned is that I don’t put limitations on the 10 percent. I make it a gastronomic indulgence moment or GIM as I like to call it. I eat outside my comfort zone. Rather than the same meals time after time, I’m adventurous. I try new things and challenge my palette. Finally, I indulge with company. That way it’s more about the experience than it is about the food.

Sure, I’d rather have chicken wings and anything made of chocolate for every meal but I know I can’t. If I ate with the same desire all the time, I would never stop. So instead I’ve learned to fuel up and hold back so that every once in a while, I can surrender to my appetite and truly appreciate the best of what the kitchen has to offer.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Animal Attraction

If a woman of a certain age prefers to date a younger man, they call her a “cougar.” If a man dates younger women, the guys slap him on the back and call him lucky. Why the disparity? After all, a cougar is an animal with a strong agenda, one that preys on others. I don’t like the comparison. Why is this woman on the prowl, while the object of her interests is not? Maybe we can call these younger men who prefer older ladies “cheetahs” or even “bulls.” Cheetahs are smaller wild animals who, like the cougar, are just another form of predator. And bulls will charge at anything that has a target on its back -- sort of sounds like a single’s bar to me! But my question is this, when did we all become animals? And when did dating turn into hunting?

I began considering this question not too long ago after a certain television show came out. I called one of my daughters to clarify the meaning of the term and to ask if there was any connection to myself. “No, mom,” she said. “A cougar goes after younger men. In your case, they’re chasing you.” We laughed and it got me to thinking about age, attraction and where we draw the line.

Today’s woman is independent, active and financially secure. The 50 of today is not the same as it was for our mothers and grandmothers. In fact, some women mid-life are more physically fit than plenty of 20- and 30-year-olds. We work harder to be attractive and often, we finding ourselves dating in between visits to see our grandkids. Maybe that’s why the lines between young and old have blurred over the years. Maybe that’s why everyone seems to be on the prowl.

These “cheetahs” are fast predators. But to be honest, I don’t know if one could keep up with me and my life -- or if I’d want to slow down enough for him to catch up. That’s not to say I haven’t been approached -- one time even by a man who graduated high school the same year as my daughter. Yikes!!! I can’t imagine ever being up for that. I do know this, life is too short to rule out happiness because of a number; and like the men of the past, today’s woman doesn’t have to. Like the term “old maid” that used to describe a 22-year-old who wasn’t married, I hope that time, perspective and progress will one day too make the term and the thinking behind the “cougar” a thing of the past.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Ghosts of Couches Past

Have you ever noticed you can trace the course of your life by the sofa in your living room? Think back a moment to the couches of your past. Can you remember where you were, what your life was like, as you sat on the cushions of each of them? When you look at faded Polaroid pictures of your kids in their Halloween costumes sitting on those ghosts of past lives, are you taken back in time?

I began my adult life on a sofa so hot, you could barely stand to lay on it. It was where I sat during my first marriage on two seats so small you could hardly fit another person alongside you. I didn’t pick it out, I would have never chosen it. I married into it. Like the marriage that never quite fit, that sofa was too small for comfort.

After I left that marriage and sofa behind, I came to America with my two girls where I found a new life and a discount couch. It’s what a single mom could afford: blue with flowers, practical and, most of all, cheap. It wasn’t quite the dream, but it was mine -- just like the new life I was building.

Then there came a pretty crème sofa that was the most beautiful one at the Scratch & Dent store. With its barely-noticeable, mismatched cushions and light color, this one fell under the category of “what was I thinking!” I had two children and “crisp and clean” weren’t nearly as important as “sturdy and stain-resistant.” Long since gone, it might be in someone’s basement by now -- who knows.

Years later there was another marriage and another couch; an ugly pink-leather one that came and left with the husband. Divorced again, and sofa less, I talked a friend who needed to store his furniture into letting me have his sofa. Eventually, I bought it from him and when he returned, he bought it back again. It now sits in his mother’s nursing home room -- that’s a lot of life for one small sofa! Even though I loved it, that couch was never really mine.

Finally, there is my current sofa -- the one I now say will be my last. I love it! It’s the one I bought and chose. There were no children to consider, no worries about spilt sippy cups or stray crayon marks. I didn’t have to consult a man or base it on another’s opinion. It’s a couch built and designed to my taste -- as comfortable as a bed, big and roomy enough to share. It’s where I can sit ‘Indian style’ to read a book or cuddle with my grandson. It’s the place I can choose to snuggle with a boyfriend, work in a power nap or just fall asleep alone. It’s not borrowed or inherited, pink nor floral. It’s finally what I want and it fits me perfectly. So this time around it looks like I’ll be keeping my last sofa!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Learning To Take The Road Less Traveled

Have you ever stayed at a 5-star resort when all you really wanted was a 5-star experience? I discovered the distinction between the two on a trip to Maui. I began my vacation at the Ritz Carlton where I enjoyed every luxury you’d expect -- from Egyptian cotton linens to gourmet meals. But what I remember most about that trip isn’t the thick monogrammed robes or the poolside cabana drinks but sleeping on a futon in a local home and eating at an old picnic table at the edge of nowhere in a place called Hana.

I first heard about the Hana Highway from a man named Hank that sat next to me on a flight from Puerto Rico to Orlando. As those things often go, our conversation quickly turned from “what do you do?” to “tell me about yourself?”. That’s how I learned about his home in Maui and the secret treasures most of the guide books leave out. The one he said not to miss was the Hana Highway.

The Hana Highway is a remote stretch of road that connects Kahului to Hana, and unofficially continues up the mountains to the dessert side of Maui. It is a winding, narrow pass through tropical rain forests, alongside crystal-blue ocean waters and across nearly 60 one-lane bridges. I was so enchanted by what that man on the airplane had told me, I e-mailed him and began making my arrangements to go. Not only did he provide me with driving directions and practical advice for the journey, he also connected me with his brother, Mike, who lived in Hana.

That’s how I found myself leaving the Ritz early one morning in my rented Jeep with a blanket, a pillow, a towel and some snorkel gear. Now before you chalk this up to an ordinary scenic drive, I must point out that the Hana Highway is very remote -- sort of the tropical version of the Devil’s Highway. When you see a sign saying “last chance for gas,” they mean it. You better stop because you won’t have another opportunity.

When I got into Hana, I called Mike to let him know I had arrived. He and his family welcomed me into their home for a meal which turned into a late evening. Since it was getting dark and the road back to my hotel was a series of hair-pin, blind turns they invited me to stay the night. At that moment I had a choice, I could turn them down or make it an experience. That night I slept on a futon in their living room and awoke in the morning to a beautiful, sunny day.

Now this is where the few vacationers who venture upon the Hana Highway do a U-turn and head back the way they came. But at Mike’s urging, I decided to continue the loop to the other side of the island. It turns out the road less traveled does make all the difference. On my journey I met a girl who had left California to work on a farm in Hana and live in a treehouse. I had lunch at a retired couple’s home where they fed people on picnic tables in their yard and played music that was set to whatever dish they were serving that day. There were roadside stands where I sampled fruits I’d never tasted and black sand beaches where I laid back and watched the waves lap at the shore.

What if I’d never ventured from the comfort of the Ritz or chosen not to stay the night with Mike and his family? What if I’d taken the predictable route back home or missed the chance to have that airplane conversation? If I hadn’t taken some risks and stepped out of my comfort zone I would have missed jumping from the rocks into one of the seven sacred pools. I would have never taken a sunrise swim with the sea turtles, snorkeled in the Hana Bay, found the remote caves Mike told me about or hiked to the hidden waterfall. Sometimes joy is found in an 800-thread count sheet set but more often it’s found in the unexpected treasures you find when you venture off the crowded path and take your own detour.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Dos and Dont’s of Hair

It’s been said that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory. If it’s true, then why are so many of us guilty of subjecting our crowns to dime-store products and do-it-yourself dye jobs? As a hairdresser, I’ve seen it all. Here are some of the things that I, and every other hairdresser, wish you knew about caring for your mane:

  When over-the-counter color says “not permanent,” it doesn’t mean that all the affects wash out with just a shampoo. The intensity of the color may wash away but the process inevitably alters your natural hair for the worst.
  Overlapping color is hard to avoid, and virtually impossible if you’re doing it yourself. As hair grows out, you should only apply color to the roots. Otherwise, you’re stacking ammonia-based products on top of each other ultimately damaging your hair.
  Overlapping color applications on the hair can also cause the hair to turn out too dark. So be careful.
  When you make an at-home color mistake, and the hair turns out too dark, it’s tempting to “correct” it yourself by lightening the color. The result is that you will end up with lighter roots that stand out against the rest of your still-dark hair.
  Always be truthful with your hairdresser about your color history. Omitting what you’ve done can result in your hair not reacting to a treatment the way it should.
  If you are going to be your own colorist, be savvy, and keep track of what you are using.  Keep the box, lid, or write it down.

  Let’s face it...we’ve all taken the scissors to our bangs at one time or another. The mistake people make is going too short. This is especially true if you have curly hair which never lays the same way twice. I tell people to avoid cutting curly bangs shorter than the tip of the nose. Regardless of your hair texture, make sure the hair is relaxed and don’t pull on it when cutting.
  Don’t marry yourself to a cut or style just because it looked good on you in high school. In time we all change. I’ve seen women with curly hair go poker-straight and vice versa. Age, medications, grey...they all have an impact so go with a cut that looks good on the hair you have today.
  Face shape is key when picking a cut. Let’s face, it not everyone can wear a pixie cut.
  Not all hairdressers are identical. You can no more expect everyone with a smock and a pair of scissors to cut the same as you can expect the same artwork from everyone with paints and a brush.

•Pony tails cause breakage at your neckline. Try pulling your hair through the hole in the back of a cap or, if you must, wear your hair elastic in a different place each time and remove it as soon as you’re done working out.
•When you move to a different climate, your hair will change. If it doesn’t do what you expect, try adding a new service, product or style.
•The biggest mistake people make in styling their hair is not letting it dry fully before styling. When it begins to feel dry, your hair still has humidity and frizz. You have to keep going past this point until it feels silky.
•Just like you need steam to get wrinkles out of a shirt, you need water or you’ll scorch your hair when flat-ironing. Always begin by washing your hair, then blow dry it to get most of the “wrinkles” out before using a hot iron.

  Not all shampoos are created equal. Now I have to admit, I was a Breck girl growing up and I doubted this; but there is, in fact, a huge difference. You can’t expect your hair to act and look the same as it does at the salon if you’re washing it with the hair and body wash from your gym!
  Watch out for chlorine. I know this all too well. Your hair is like a sponge, it soaks up whatever it gets wet with first. If you jump in a pool with dry hair, it soaks up chlorine. That’s why you should always wet your hair and put conditioner in it to block the absorption of the pool water before diving in.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Lesson in Boldness: The distance from my barstool to possibility

Years ago I was in a bar with a friend when I noticed a particularly handsome man across the room. (“OMG!,” I said. “This guy is hot.”) After doing a double-take, I saw that he was watching me too. Throughout the evening we took turns glancing at each other, locking eyes for a moment before looking away. At one point I went to the bathroom and returned to find him still looking at me.

Now this is where most women would keep making subtle glances and wait for him to come over. But when it became apparent that for whatever reason -- nerves, fear of rejection, bad passed experiences -- he was not going to cover the distance between us, I had a choice. I could stay on that barstool and pretend nothing was happening, or I could stand up, gather my courage and take a chance based on nothing more than a gut feeling. (At that moment, I finally understood how hard it can be to be a man.)

“Hi,” I said as I approached him. “I noticed you’ve been staring at me for quite a while so I figured I’d come over and introduce myself.” That was the beginning of a four-year relationship. A relationship that began with one bold moment.

The words I used were honest and to the point, something I think he really appreciated. You see, more times than not, we’re not truthful with our words. We use sarcasm, we ramble out of nervous energy or we say something that is not even a true reflection of who we are. I think that’s because being truthful requires being vulnerable and that’s hard. You risk rejection or embarrassment when you put yourself out there. But, you also give yourself the chance to experience something great.

Women are notorious for not saying what we feel but letting others draw conclusions. We do it with friends when we let them make assumptions about our intentions because we are unable to voice them. We do it in job situations when we hesitate to ask for the sale or speak up for that promotion. And more than anything, we do it with men when we chose to be subtle over choosing to be real.

So here’s what I’ve learned from my experience. First, life’s too short not to take a chance. Allow yourself to create moments of happiness whenever you can. When you do, be prepared to risk being yourself -- it’s what opens the door for the other person to truly appreciate you for who you really are. And finally, be honest with your words. It’s the only way to have anything that’s true.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Intentional Kindness

Years ago I was rushing into work, coffee cup in hand and a million things on my mind. I breezed past a co-worker who wished me a good morning. Lost in my thoughts and too pre-occupied with my world, I failed to acknowledge her or, to be honest, to even take notice of her.

Hours later, we were sitting in the break room eating lunch when I was struck by how truly talented I thought this person was. Totally out of character for me, at the time, I blurted out a compliment: “I think you’re one of the best hairdressers I’ve ever worked with. You are truly exceptional.” I was taken aback when her eyes filled with tears and she said to me, “I didn’t even think you liked me.”

Did I hurt her feelings? It seems my curt responses, lack of attention and general self-absorption had given her the impression that she didn’t matter. Or worse, that I actively disliked her. Ouch! I learned that day the importance of being in the present, the power of looking someone in the eye, hearing what they are trying to say and paying a compliment.

From that event, I have taken away three lessons that I try to apply to my own situation -- three ways that I can live a more intentional life.

1.  Look for the truth of the situation. My friend had bought into a lie -- the lie that said because I didn’t give her my attention I must not like her. That was her truth. Now this is no excuse for bad behavior. But let’s be honest, there are plenty of reasons why someone might not respond to you -- maybe it’s a problem they’re preoccupied with, maybe they just got some devastating news or maybe it’s as simple as a lack of hearing. The take-away here...don’t interpret others’ intentions until you’ve given them a chance to voice them for themselves.
2.      A compliment goes a long way. Today I try to live with purpose. When I think something kind of someone, I don’t let it go unsaid. I pay the compliment, I look for ways to encourage and I try to be in the moment.

3.  The simple act of giving someone your attention tells them that they matter to you. I make a conscious effort now to notice my surroundings and to take note of others.

Today, decide you’ll tell three people what good you see in them. Make sure your compliments are sincere and thoughtful. I have no doubt, the results will not only be a blessing to those three people; they will also enrich your life as well. Take it from me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

One Small Thing

Have you ever noticed that sometimes one small step can be the catalyst that leads to great change? Often times, the road we need to travel down can seem overwhelming, a task too daunting to even consider. But a baby step, something seemingly insignificant, can be the very thing that begins a great journey.

My friend has struggled with depression for a long time. Through the years, I’ve listened to her, comforted her and acted as her life coach. I wanted her to own her reality -- not the life she wished she had, not the one she used to have, but the one she was actually living. Who would have thought that it was not my words of encouragement or the life lessons I’ve picked up along the way that would have made the difference -- it was a haircut!

“That haircut changed my life,” she said. You see, after a devastating break up, she had stopped living, she had let herself go and she had given up. It seemed like she was frozen in time -- unable to go back and unwilling to go forward.

“When I got that haircut I started caring for myself again,” she said. “I started to feel a little bit better about myself when I looked in the mirror. Because of that small change, I began to make other changes. I took a shower, put on some nice clothes, left the house and, eventually, started connecting with others and started making future plans.”  And she welcomed hope.

Now, when we talk, all I hear is joy.  She laughs.  She has regained hope, faith, and optimism.  She plans for the future. She has abandoned her “victim” style tendencies. 

It wasn’t the haircut that made the difference; it was what it represented for her. I’ve had a similar experience myself. For me, it was a breast augmentation. After my babies, I felt deformed. I was so self-conscious that I began wearing my hair down in my face to cover myself. After I took that step, I found I was pulling my hair back totally away from my face (bangs and all!) again, putting myself out there more and no longer hiding.

I don’t know what you’re going through right now; I can’t understand all the emotions you feel. But I do know one thing for certain; life is a journey that is always changing. The little people might not think so but I trust that you do have the courage to take that small step that will put you back on the path of your own destiny.

Go for it!!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

When The Muffin Top Becomes a Souffle, It's Time For My Salmon Plan

We’ve all done it -- put on our jeans and struggled to get the zipper to move. Now that's a moment. Then come the lies we tell ourselves in order to justify that bucket of wings we had for lunch: “They probably just shrunk in the wash,” “I’m sure it’s water weight” or “It’s that time of the month.” And guys, don’t think you’re off the hook. We all know that lowering your belt until your belly laps over your pants or adding an extra hole a little closer to the end of the belt does not account for a good fit.

But the truth is, jeans don’t lie. Where a dress or skirt or even a pair of slacks can hide that waistline growing beneath our belt, jeans put it all out there for everyone to see. So here’s the challenge -- face your fears, grab those skinny jeans and get ready for some three-way mirror honesty. Ask yourself if they fit like they did when you first bought them. Is the view from the back as good as you’d like? Do you find yourself covering your waistline with an untucked shirt?

If so, I can help. The “Salmon Plan” is a system of protein-heavy, simple carb meal choices that I’ve come to develop to assist me in losing weight or just maintaining my ideal size. The goal is to eat in such a way and exercise enough to achieve the size that works and then, (and here’s the key), stay there! Keep in mind, it’s not about a number on a scale because we women know that thing is a moving target some months. Plus, everyone’s ideal size is different. Instead, try to stay within a dress size (or pant size for you fellas). Find where you feel best and make it a mission to stay there.

Disclaimer: This meal plan is a system that I have discovered that works best for me.  If you decide to follow this plan, be conscious of what is best for your body.  If you find that you are hungry, by all means EAT. Eat more frequently or eat more of the foods listed for whatever plan you follow.

Track 1-Soufflé  (Extreme)
Track 2-Muffin-Top (Work in Progress)
Track 3- Comfort Fit
(Lifestyle)/ Allowing Room for GIM

1st cup (16 oz)

2nd cup
·         Black Coffee (1 cup)
·         2 egg whites (hard boiled or scrambled)
·         Coffee (can add milk)
·         ½- ¾ cup oatmeal (steel cut or Quaker old fashion) with skim milk or water. Sweeten with Sweeten with your choice of artificial sugar.  
  • Track 1 breakfast
·         Coffee( can add milk & sugar)
·         Oatmeal
·         Egg whites with low glycemic index vegetables (chart to follow)
  • High protein low fat, low sugar yogurt (i.e. Chobani)
  • Track 1 & 2 breakfast options
3rd cup
·         ½ low fat mozzarella string cheese stick
·         1 small apple or ½ of large apple

·        1 Snack option
·       1  Snack option

4th cup

5th cup
·         4oz of Salmon (P) 
( 1/4 filet)
·         1-2 cups vegetables or salad combination (SC)
·         4-6oz protein(P)
·         1-2 cups vegetables or salad combination(SC)
·         4-6oz protein(P)
·         1-2 cups vegetables or salad combination (SC)
6th cup
·         4-5 strawberries
·        1 Snack option
·       1  Snack option
7th cup
·         5-10 non salted almonds
·      1  Snack option
·      1  Snack option
8th cup
·         4oz of Salmon (P)
·         1-2 cups vegetables or salad combination (SC)
·         4-6oz protein
·         1-2 cups vegetables or salad combination (SC)
·         4-6oz protein
·         1-2 cups vegetables or salad combination
Snack (before bed)
9th cup
·         ½ low fat mozzarella string cheese stick
·      1   Snack option
·      1   Snack option


·         1 Gallon daily. Room temperature with lemon. (12x12oz or 9x16oz)

·         Take a well-rounded multivitamin daily

Protein Options (P) (Baked, Grilled, Broiled, Boiled, Steamed, Pan Seared, or Roasted):
·         Wild Salmon- Salt, pepper, lime. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18min. (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Salmon (Track  2, & 3)
·         Chicken (1/2 breast) (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Veal (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Lean Beef (Track 2, & 3)
·         White Fish (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Lobster (Track 2, & 3 )
·         Crab (Track 2, & 3)
·         Shrimp (Track 2, & 3)
·         Quinoa (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Canned meat (Tuna or chicken in water) (Track 3)
·         Deli meats (Turkey or roast beef-low salt) (Track 3)
·         Pork (Track 3)

Vegetables/Salad Options (SC)- Choose all natural or frozen ONLY:
·         Spinach (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Lettuce (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Tomato (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Onion (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Mushrooms (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Garlic (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Peppers (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Cucumber  (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Celery (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Eggplant (Track 2, & 3)
·         Broccoli (Track 2 & 3)
·         Cauliflower (Track 2 &3)
·         Asparagus (Track 2 & 3)
·         Beans (Can also substitute for a serving of protein) (Track, 2, & 3)
·         For tracks 2 & 3 add vegetables that are low on the Glycemic Index.

Snack Options:
·         1 apple (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         ½ grapefruit (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         1 low fat mozzarella string cheese stick (Track 1, 2, & 3)
·         Strawberries (4-5) (Track 1)
·         Fresh berries (blueberries, raspberries) not to exceed ½ cup(Track 2 & 3)
·         5-8 almonds (salt free roasted or raw) (Track 1)
·         Walnuts (Track 2 & 3)
·         Pistachios (Track 2 & 3)

Dressing/Seasoning/Condiment Options:
·         Good Seasons Italian Dressing Mix
water & vinegar only Track 1, add olive oil Track 3
·         Vinegar:
o   White Balsamic
o   Apple Cider Vinegar
o   Rice
·         Olive Oil (extra virgin) (Track 2 & 3)
·         Lime
·         Lemon
·         Garlic (fresh)
·         Parsley
·         Basil
·         Salt
·         Pepper
·         Cinnamon
·         Celery seeds
·         Cilantro
·         Horseradish (Track 2)
·         REAL butter (Track 3)
·         Mayonnaise (Track 3)
Reserved for GIM-Limit 2 (Track 3 Only)

·         Alcohol-any
·         Ingredients-any
·         Sweets-any
·         Complex Carbs-any
·         Quantities-any
·         Cooking Methods-any

Unfortunately a change in eating habits alone will not result in weight loss.  Exercise and a meal plan go hand in hand.  It comes down to simple math.

Pounds lost= calories burned > calories eaten

If you aren’t willing to put in the sweat equity required to burn those extra calories, don’t eat it!