When the Hits Keep Coming

by Christine

In my thirties, I developed a theory that every person has one really bad thing happen to them in their life and once you learned the lesson you had to learn from that one really bad thing, it would be smooth sailing from then on out. In my fifties, I discovered I wasn’t really very bright in my thirties. 

We were now spending 15-hour days at the very same hospital that my brother had been in and out of for the last 5 months but now with our mother. She woke confused and unable to speak as we all waited for the medical professionals to pull out their tealeaves and read mom’s future. We became hopeful as in the course of three days; she regained 98% of her cognitive abilities and full speech. The only real downside was she was weak and we figured rehab could build back up her strength. 

The family was still shaken from Ed’s medical trauma and now we were thrown into another life and death situation. In the past, our family had relied on absurdist humor to handle difficult situations but shock and fatigue were setting. Nothing was funny or fun. 

My mother had in place a living will; she had been quite clear in her directive that when the time came, she be allowed to die without unnecessary medical interference. She did not want to exist on life support half way between this world and the next. I had talked with other families who found themselves in the awful position of having to “pull the plug”. Everyone said, that it was not one big decision that got him or her to that point, but a series of small, seemingly innocuous choices. As each specialist came to us asking for one more test, we worked to understand the unintended consequences of our acceding to their desires. 

What we found was that each specialist was in the business of solving the problem in his or her area of expertise. The Neurologist’s response was to prescribe a powerful blood thinner to avoid more clots and when met with the objection that mom was a fall risk stated that she would just have to be confined to a wheel chair for the rest of her life. This would be a major lifestyle change and he could not understand our hesitation at agreeing immediately.  He seemed to take our questioning as a comment on his medical judgment. 

In response to all the pressure that came with each new decision, we came up with a vision statement. I know that sounds funny given that vision statements are normally reserved for major corporations trying to manage a large workforce but it was an organic response to the situation.  Our vision statement was Safe and Comfortable. Using this concept as our touch point, we measured each medical request against this maximum.  Fortunately, by the third day, Mom was ready to go to the next level of care.

The hospital caseworker approached us about two rehabilitation centers that mom’s insurance would cover, excitedly telling us that one was the “best” center in the area. We jumped at the chance to get her into the premier rehab center. Immediately my sister asked if we should visit the facility and I stated it was not necessary. My response was totally against type. I do my research on everything; the Internet was made for me and here I was agreeing to send mom to a facility sight unseen.  My sister agreed without comment. Again, fatigue was shaping our actions and decisions. 

I have since come to understand that as much as we don’t want to think about all the potential health problems that could befall us or those we love, it is important to do so when we are healthy and rested. I was learning at warp speed about Medicare, bridge insurance coverage and hospital procedures while navigating individual personality types. The experience with Ed and my mom has shown me that I need to be more proactive in my own healthcare beyond just having health insurance.  

First, choose a doctor before you need them and have a conversation about philosophy and treatment. My family history is riddled with heart and stroke problems, so I need a cardiologist. You don’t want the first time you meet a doctor to be when you are lying on a gurney in the Emergency Room unable to speak.  Also, learn where they have hospital privileges. You may select and vet the most competent doctor in the field you require but if they don’t have privileges at the hospital you are in, you will be starting all over with a new doctor who the hospital has chosen. 

Second, choose your hospital. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with multiple hospitals, do your homework and make a choice. Don’t rely on what your neighbor does, how close the hospital is to your home or what the ambulance driver suggests. Know why you would go to a particular hospital.  Hospitals specialize and they have personalities. My father was a patient at Mayo in Jacksonville. Mayo has a team approach to treating patients with one doctor who acts as a family liaison.  The Mayo doctors met daily to discuss my father’s treatment. For a family such as ours, this worked well because we could get all our questions answered and knew who to talk to about our dad. My mother chose another hospital whose model was of independent specialist who made his or her rounds as their schedule permitted.  They communicated with each other though a chart that was kept outside my mother’s room. We found this a difficult and frustrating model. If we weren’t in mom’s room 18 hours a day, we would miss one of the multiple specialist treating mom and have to wait another 24 hours before getting our questions answered. 

Third, select a rehabilitation center before you need one.  Today, insurance companies are working to minimize costs so they push hospitals to move patients into a more cost effective situation as soon as a patient is “medically stable”. Rehab centers are an intermediate step when someone is really not ready to go home but doesn't need all the medical options a hospital offers. My brother needed to go to rehab but the closest facility that his insurance carrier would cover was one hour away from his home and doctors. (Even though there were some logistical challenges with the location of the rehab center, Ed received excellent care.) We learned that the real driver behind selecting a rehab center is insurance coverage. Obviously, the better your insurance, the more choices you will have. 

Fourth, understand your insurance coverage. Yes, I too, groan at that statement. To really understand your coverage, it is necessary to read the policy and then talk to the insurance company. Don’t bother talking to the guy who sold you the policy. Call your insurance carrier directly and explain you are trying to educate yourself before an emergency and ask to speak to someone in pre-authorization. Those folks really do have all the answers.  

It is not easy for a family member to be sick or hurt but the emotional pain is complicated by the necessity of making decisions in real time in unfamiliar territory. Making informed decision about doctors and hospitals before you need them can result in better medical care and reduce the stress on family. 



How to Make 2012 and EVERY Year the Best Year Yet

by Karen Graves

Is it just me or have you noticed there is some serious enthusiasm about the New Year going on out there? I don’t know if I just didn’t notice last year and people have always been this excited or if there really is a heightened welcoming of 2012.

On one hand, it is infectious and pretty magical and on the other hand it’s also pretty telling---perhaps people really did have a sucky 2011 to the point they were ready to leave it behind.

In any event, here we are almost a month in so no turning back now.

Now I don’t know what you’re intentions are for the outcome of 2012, but if I may offer one piece of advice, do yourself the favor and claim this year as the year of taking ACTION. If you want to get past what has ever held you back to get to wherever you are trying to go, then you have to take action.

Intentions of “I am planning on doing" or “I will try to” just don’t cut it. Just do it.

If this is the year you will run a marathon, start with enrolling in a 5k in the spring. My closest girlfriends did this last year to forward them in their goal of doing a triathlon and they ended up doing more than one and becoming avid cyclists!  Not only did they achieve their goal, but also they have since excelled in their fitness overall. (My she-roes!) 

If this is the year that you are going to do more public speaking, join Toastmasters or invite friends over to your house to run a home workshop. If this is the year you want to grow your business, put a networking event on your calendar. 

If this is the year to improve your relationship with a loved one, plan a dinner date or make a phone call.

See where I’m going with this? It's the little steps that count. 

So in order to make this the year you accomplish big things, let me share my 5 Step Formula for knocking 2012 (and the rest of the years) out of the park:

Step #1: Set a goal---a big fat juicy one. Just make sure it is achievable and realistic. Set yourself up for success.

Step #2:  Determine what the very first thing you need to do to achieve the goal. For instance, if it is to run a 5K, do you need sneakers? Do you need to go the gym tomorrow?  

Step #3: Think of what the step is before the first step. Trust me, there is always a step before the first step. If you said, get sneakers, do you know what sneakers to buy? The real first step is finding the type of sneakers you want.

Step #4: Do the first step --- make it a stretch to get some skin in the game. Buy the $150 pair of sneakers because you will not like having a $150 reminder of what you are not doing if you don't take action.

Step #5:  Repeat Steps 2 - 4.

That's it. It really is that simple. Think small, incremental, achievable steps to your end goal and then act on them. They should be easy enough to do and not as painful as you may think.

You can move mountains this way.

One caveat: Resist the urge to overhaul your entire life. Think of all the areas that need changing and pick the one area that will make the most impact. If you focus on accomplishing shifts in that one area, you will notice that welcomed changes take place in all areas. You just need to change behavior on a very minor scale to see dramatic results.

I promise.

Because in the end, it’s nice to have plans, but until you take a first step in the direction you want to go, plans remain plans. 


The Role of the Family

by Christine

There is a superstition that famous people die in threes. After the first two celebrity deaths are announced, the question is breathlessly asked, who is next? I have come to believe that when crisis strikes, it too, comes in threes. When the most powerful earthquake since records began struck Japan the result was a crisis but when it triggered a tsunami that caused the meltdown of multiple nuclear reactors along the coast, a true feeling of despair swept over the nation. The devastation seemed too great to overcome. 

After Ed’s surgery, an infection set in that required more surgery and dramatic treatments to save his life, the family struggled against feeling overwhelmed. But as the weeks progressed, Ed’s health improved and mom too started to recover both mentally and physically. Julia and I decided to return home vowing to spend more time with our mom and brother in the future. 

We were not home 24 hours when the call came. Mom was in the hospital. It appeared she had had a stroke. She was awake but was coming in and out of consciousness. This was déjà vu all over again.  Seven years earlier, my father had a stroke and the decision was made to hold off calling the out of town family. Dad had entered the hospital awake but was going in and out of consciousness. By the time the decision was made to call everyone, Dad had slipped into a coma. He died three days later never regaining consciousness.  Guilt and regret still needlessly surrounds the decision to wait for more information before telephoning remote family members.  Nobody was going to make that mistake again. Calls were made immediately and everyone quickly put travel plans in place.

I have always been fascinated by birth order and gender studies. I would read them like one does the morning horoscopes, looking for anything positive that applied to me.  Growing up Ed and I were very close with me being the bossy older sister. As adults, Ed and Julia became closer. Julia and I are close too.  But Ed and I have been distant for many years. Julia has been, the peacemaker, the glue between the siblings.

After Ed's open-heart surgery, Julia and I took on very specific roles in the family. I would come into my brother’s room and immediately give him an update on his progress. I believed it was vital that we kept Ed connected to this world and while he was sedated, I believed on some level he could understand what I was saying.  I told Ed the date and time and explained to him that he had done well during surgery and that his job now was to give into the drugs and get well. I would not allow anyone to discuss or say anything negative in front of him. 

Julia, on the other hand, could not speak to him without the fear of breaking down into tears but she could intelligently discuss with his doctors and nurses his condition. I would stand on the periphery of the room listening as they discussed his medical care and future lifestyle changes.  This “role reversal” surprised me. The bossy older sister stepped back while the baby of the family interacted with the “authorities”. 

During the recovery period after his surgery, Ed said, whenever he opened his eyes and looked at me, he saw a halo. Ed was amazed and a bit in awe of my halo. He told everyone that came into the room that I was an angel. I was, on the other hand, amazed that Ed would see a halo on me!  Our relationship had been strained for most of our adult years and to be anointed even in a drug induced hallucination surprised me. Remarkably it did allow the two of us to change old behaviors. 

What I witnessed during this family emergency was the breaking down of preconceived notions of each individual’s role in the family.  My sister was no longer the peacemaker who worked hard to make everyone get along; she became the tenacious medical advocate for my brother. My brother, who for years fought for dominance in the family because he was male, now stood back and respectfully allowed his sisters to make decisions on behalf of the family as he worked to heal. My role as big sister became one of comforter and peacemaker, a role traditionally held by my sister. 

What transpired was our ability to morph and evolve as individuals and family members. The real and frightening health crisis required us to put aside our petty childish games and work as a team, as a family for the greater good. I am not saying that in our complete exhaustion at managing the long days, bad diets and the ups and downs of healing that we didn’t snap at one another. What I am saying is that when we did snap, we were met with understanding and forgiveness. 

I do know that we are lucky. Crisis like these make many families break apart and in some cases they never speak to one another again. But what I have learned from our own family drama is that if you can come from a place of love, healing is possible. Not only the healing of the body but also the healing of the fractures in a family relationship that were caused by gender and birth order. 




The Crisis

by Christine

When we first started Footsteps our vision was to be an information portal for managing the issues surrounding aging and how to think creatively about aging. But as we started to evolve we highlighted individuals who live a creative life at every age. Our goal was and continues to be to present positive people and concepts at Footsteps. Our mission is to give a forum to those with real world solutions to living a creative life.

This past 5 months my family has been going through an aging evolution of sorts. Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series called “Walk the Walk” about how our family has handled and is handling a major health crisis that affected us all. It is personal and I will be walking a fine line between sharing relevant and beneficial knowledge and disclosing private information. What I have found as I have talked to others around the country, is, they too have a parent, grandparent or neighbor whose health is declining and nobody seems to know an elegant way to help them transition from their current living situation to another more fitting living arrangement.  Our hope is that as each of us travels this journey that we can share what worked and didn’t work with our fellow travelers to make the trek a little easier. And in those cases where it doesn’t get any easier we will find understanding and support.

It always starts with a crisis and then the realization that the situation was not as one believed it to be. I had a friend whose father died suddenly and the family quickly came to the realization that their mother was suffering from dementia. Their father had effectively covered up their mothers failing memory for years. It was a double loss for my friend and his family as they grieved the death of their father and the loss of their mother’s essence. 

In our family, the triggering crisis was our brother’s quadruple bypass. Ed is a long haul truck driver and had gone in for his annual physical. He failed his stress test and went for what was believed to be a routine angioplasty. It turned life threatening quickly so family members gathered at the “family home” to share memories and make peace where needed.  After Ed's surgery, an impromptu routine was implemented as family members took turns sitting by my brother’s bedside in ICU as his medical team kept him sedated during the worst of the pain. 

But the hardest and loneliest struggle was being played out at my mother’s home.  After my brother’s divorce 12 years earlier, he had moved in with my father and mother. What was supposed to be a temporary situation turned into a convenient way of life for everyone.  My brother spent all week on the road only coming home for 24 to 48 hours before heading out on the road again. After my father died, we were all relieved to have my brother with mom never questioning their relationship dynamic. It became easy to believe that Ed was taking a major role in decisions that were being made by mom. We never talked directly to Ed about our assumptions.

Now my mother was quickly declining with each day that my brother was in the hospital.  She was fearful, disoriented and physically failing. Over the previous year, she had become frail and during weekly phone calls with my sister, Julia or me, she would seem confused as to the day of the week. We dismissed it with a joke, saying that we too get confused at times. Still we took steps to bring in someone to spend time with her, taking on such duties as driving, grocery shopping and cooking. Mom jokingly said, “We had hired her a friend”.  Denise also reassured us that Mom’s memory lapses where tied to her blood sugar spikes; Denise maintained that eating well and routine insulin use would take care of her failing memory.  

As mom said many times,  “Denise is good to me” and it was easy to allow Denise, a RN and paid caregiver, along with Ed to take leadership on mom’s care. But now, Ed was in the hospital and we could all see that more was going on with mom than we realized. 

As days turned into weeks we took up residence in Mom’s home instead of staying in town for only a couple of days at a local hotel. Julia and I quickly came to understand that things weren’t running as smoothly as we once believed. We learned that home maintenance was being deferred; Mom was not taking proactive action on her own health issues and both her short term and long-term memory were failing. As diligently as Julia and I had worked to monitor our mother’s aging process long distance, we had failed to see what now appeared to be obvious signs of decline. 

We all see a situation from our own vantage point. Julia and I live out of town and until we actually stayed in our mother’s home, we had believed that her living situation was more controlled than it was. My brother who came home for only brief time periods believed that mom’s refusal to carry out routine home maintenance was tied to her depression era mentality and not a symptom of a bigger medical issue. And Denise whose training is in the care of the physical body not the mind, worked diligently on getting her to eat properly, take her medications on schedule and exercise. But it was a crisis that shifted our “world view”. 

I was aware that most stories about a family being forced to take action with an aging parent began with a crisis. For many families, it involved their parent giving up driving. With mom we bit the bullet and had the hard conversations about her no longer driving while developing an alternative that was as painless as possible. But now we were in the middle of a crisis that necessitated everyone’s full attention and energy.  By the very nature of the word crisis, it is unplanned, inconvenient and coupled with other stresses of living.  We were now in the middle of two crises and for all our planning, we were “making it up” day by day.  




New Year's Resolutions

by Christine

{Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts}

I love the idea of a New Year, that artificial time designation that makes all things new. The New Year forgives as a Priest forgives his flock during confession. We are now allowed to leave sinless and guilt free. January 1st is the day to just “let it go” and start anew. We can pack up the Christmas decorations and start the long awaited diet. It is January 1st and as the checkered flag waves in our rear view mirror, the green flag dips down.

I have a confession; I make New Year's resolutions. There, I said it. The process of making NYRs became part of my life when I worked as a professional sales person. As every sales person of a large organization knows, the first two weeks of January is the time when the regional sales manager pulls the sales team off the road and starts the arduous routine of crafting strategic account planners, 90-day plans and action list. It is an exercise that can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time. Frustrating because it keeps a sales person tethered to a desk filling out paperwork and rewarding because it can be an opportunity to define what is success and what steps are necessary to achieve that success. 

Today, I have my own process for setting goals in my personal life. I take a day, January 1st, to reflect and review the previous year’s goals and craft new ones for the up coming year. January 1st became “the” day after reading one too many headlines about drunken New Year’s Eve revelers who get behind the wheel of a car and drive head on into oncoming traffic, killing the unsuspecting. So I settled on a night in because it just didn’t seem that important anymore to “Welcome the New Year” and then drive home with the “crazies”. 

For me, it is just plain fun to set challenges for the upcoming year. I get up early, make a cup of tea and grab my computer with great excitement. Whether at home, in a hotel room in New York City or on an open balcony in St Lucia, this is my time to think and dream. In the beginning, my goals were mundane…lose 15 pounds and save money. But as my imagination expanded, so did my goals. I started to construct goals that spoke to my need to be part of a community and live a more deliberate life. My goals were more nuanced and rousing. 

I won’t say that I successfully completed by December 31st everything that I stated I wanted to accomplish on the previous January 1st but I have been pleasantly surprised to see that even in those years that life took me in another direction, I did accomplish many of my New Year’s resolutions. I have learned that as I have been more willing to write down what I want to accomplish, I am more fruitful. Not all goals are completed but in all cases they are further along because I stated them “out loud”.

Now is the time to dream, think and plan. New Year’s Day is a true holiday, a day off that requires no obligation to be fulfilled; a free day to be used as one wishes. It is a time to organize and cleanse ones mind and life of the clutter built up during the past year.  For many people, making NYRs is an exercise in futility, a joke in the making but for me it is a hopeful promise that declares all things possible. 



Manners Matter

by Melissa Gooding

Thank you so much …

I beg your pardon …

You’re very welcome … 

It all began with the French. Back in the 1600’s, the French nobles spent much of their day hanging out in the Royal Court. None of them worked, so, when they weren’t gossiping, they dedicated themselves to developing elaborate social customs. From these customs they created a list of proper social behavior and called it etiquette (a word derived from an old French word meaning ticket.) This code of behavior soon spread to other European courts and eventually was adopted by the upper classes throughout the Western world. Knights bowed, ladies curtsied, and the civilized world was very, well, civil. 

Where are we today?

Many people believe manners are a distant memory, and even basic civility is fast becoming the exception rather than the rule.  Is it because more Mother’s are spending their days working outside of the home? Are children spending less time ducking in and out of their friend’s houses, less time making their way and testing their social skills? We baby boomers knew that our friend’s Mothers would call-us out if we did not exhibit “guest” behavior when visiting.  And upon returning to our own homes our Mother’s would ask, did you say thank-you? Did you put your napkin on your lap? Over and over and over again we were reminded of our manners. Good manners became a habit. And we didn’t suffer from self esteem issues when our parent’s told us were eating like animals. When we got busted for exhibiting bad manners we knew it was our fault and took the heat and improved our behavior. 

Use to be that children learned manners from watching the examples set by their parents, especially those set at the dinner table. Now, with the average family having sit-down dinners together at an all time low, a recently published study cites seriously poor behavior can be a result of those missed meals.

In fact, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University shows that teens who sit down to a family dinner five or more times a week are 42% less likely to drink alcohol, 59% less likely to smoke cigarettes, 66% less likely to try marijuana. Yikes. It is also believed by experts that regular family dinners facilitate better communication between parents and children that help parents guide their children’s behavior and encourages kids to confide in their parents about serious matters. Whose turn is it to set the table?

Polite Post’s mission is to provide, through its daily Polite Post newsletter, entertaining, friendly and timely manners-related content that will remind, teach, and encourage common courtesy and good manners. And specifically, to provide participants with the tools and skills to exhibit those good manners in one of the most important ways—the writing of thank-you notes and appropriate social and business correspondence. 

Between email, texting, tweeting and the like, technology rules the day, destroying any real opportunity for thoughtful and cordial communication. In these fast moving times, with days and nights filled with family, business and social obligations, who has the time to be polite … to even utter a thank you, yet alone write one?     

At Polite Post we believe the answer is … EVERYBODY. 

By unifying cutting edge computer engineering with genuine, heartfelt communications, Polite Post’s digital correspondence technology provides a fast and effective way for everybody to say thank-you in a manner that’s as distinctive and memorable as the words you write. From birthdays to Bar Mitzvahs, weddings to wakes, writing a personal thank-you or other correspondence is an important, even essential, part of the occasion. From home or office, instantly from your computer, for free.

Polite Post believes that the knowledge and understanding of good manners can make for a kinder and safer community. One where people feel and act comfortable and confident in almost any situation and importantly, exhibit mutual respect for one another. And simply put by Lillian Gish, “You can get through life with bad manners, but it's easier with good manners.”



Discipline: Is it for you?

by Christine

The word discipline amuses some but rankles many. Just mention the lack of discipline in a room full of pre-school mothers and stand back. A multitude of opinions are stated as to the best methods of child rearing while agreeing that the only children being disciplined properly are their own. If you really want to see the fur fly, mention discipline to a Baby Boomer. You might not only want to step back but hide behind a large piece of furniture. Boomers were the first generation to experience mandatory PE where the Coaches used physical exercise as punishment. “Give me 20” was a phrase heard in public schools all over the nation. For Boomers, control obtained by enforced compliance is not discipline but Fascism. 

Recently the concept of discipline has been on my mind. I have watched as a couple of my family members and several friends have been struggling with some pretty serious health issues. Health problems that in most cases could have been avoided by following a healthy diet and a moderate exercise plan. If they had been more disciplined, they may have avoided the repercussions of their actions. 

My son, Matthew, is a marathon runner who has competed in the Boston Marathon as well as several lesser-known races. (Lesser known to me.) He has a daily, weekly, and even yearly training schedule that includes physical exercise and diet. He does not deviate from his plan even if it is cold and rainy at 4:00 AM when he gets up to run. During serious training periods, he has been known to turn away the most delicious treats because it will make it difficult for his body to compete at top performance.  Everyone in both his personal and professional life is in awe of the effort and dedication he puts into running. When people talk about how disciplined he is, Matthew just smiles.

Marty, my exercise buddy, has embraced our commitment to daily exercise and healthy living. He has gone from walking two miles daily to running those same two miles. He swims and rides his bike almost daily and has embraced our Weight Watcher’s diet. He has a daily and weekly plan for “getting in” his exercise. But when I told him he was disciplined, he scowled. He does not want to be thought of as disciplined. When I told him he was obsessive about his training program, he agreed and smiled. 

Both these men had an emotional response to the concept of discipline. For Matthew, discipline is a training program expected to produce a specific result but for Marty it is a state of order based on submission to rules and authority. Matthew finds strength in discipline; Marty finds weakness. I believe those two approaches pretty much sums up the state of discipline in our lives. 

In my commitment to lose weight and improve my health, I started out on a moderate diet and exercise program. I had a good plan. Unlike in years past, the weight was slow to come off and it was more difficult to exercise. But the biggest challenge was my own hubris. Marty was progressing faster than me and I did not like it. So I started to push and now, I have injured myself. It is not a “bad’ injury but it hurts and I need to slow down so I may heal. If I had been more disciplined and respected my plan, I would not be suffering the repercussions of my actions. 

Discipline is not a dirty word. It is a building block of success whether you are crafting a life, building a business or raising a family. Discipline allows you the freedom to achieve. Coaches, parents, bosses and spouses can create a state of order that can allow you to excel and achieve but you are the only one who can bring discipline into your world. You are the only one who can dream, plan and implement your vision. Embrace the concept of personal discipline and you will surprise not only others with what you can accomplish but you will surprise yourself.

So I ask, is discipline for you?


It's Not Fair

by Christine

{Marty and our friend Mark on the set of David Letterman}

“It’s not fair”. Those are some of the first words we hear on the playground. To be honest most of us have said that within the last 6 months. For many, fairness is considered an American right. We work hard to be fair and to be perceived as fair whether in business or in our personal life. We listen to both sides of an argument, no matter how ridicules the other side might be, just to be fair. Americans are obsessed with being fair. 

When my brother and I were little, my mother almost wore herself out trying to be fair. Every time she cut a piece of cake or divided an apple her main goal was to avoid hearing, “it’s not fair, she/he always gets the biggest piece”. To my mother’s credit, she was able to solve that problem when we became old enough to handle shape knives.  She would hand the knife to me and explain, you may cut the brownie in two but your brother gets to choose which one he wants. I quickly learned to divide the brownie evenly knowing that any failure to be “fair” on my part would result in me ending up with the smaller brownie.  

I know that life is not fair. I get it. I even get a bit annoyed when some guy on TV talks about the court system or Congress trying to work out a “fair deal” Don’t these guys know life is not fair. I don’t consider myself an individual who is obsessed with making life fair. I also know that I have been blessed in my life and should never begrudge another the blessings they receive but I can no longer contain myself. I must shout! IT’S NOT FAIR. It is not fair that men can lose weight faster and easier than women. 

Four months ago, Marty and I started an exercise and weight loss programs. Today Marty is down 40 pounds and I am down 15 pounds. Almost three to one. It’s just not fair. I do all the grocery shopping, I prepare healthy meals and I even make Marty’s lunch to take to work. We eat the same things…no, that is not true…I eat LESS than Marty. I don’t drink alcohol or eat desserts. But the weight just falls off him and me? I struggle to lose a half a pound a week.  

We are using Weight Watchers on-line system. Each time I put my half-pound loss in the system, it says, “Good Job, keep up the good work”. Yeah, right.  But when Marty puts in his weight loss it says, “We recommend that you lose only two pounds a week. Maybe you should slow down.”  Slow down?! I have never had anyone, man or machine, tell me to slow down. It’s not fair.

And another thing, what is it with men and scales? Every morning Marty jumps out of bed and rushes to the bathroom to get on the scales. Any and every scale he sees in private or in public, he gets on and weights himself. He compares the scales like they are fine wine. Can you imagine any mentally sane women doing that? We approach the scale as one would a death sentence. Once I was really sick and had to go see my GP. When the nurse said she wanted me to get on the scale I refused. I explained that seeing that number and feeling so bad would probably put me in the hospital. The nurse understood and she let it slide.  

Today I have come to the only reasonable conclusion; we will never have full equality in this country until woman can lose weight as easily as a man. (And of course, have comfortable high heals) But until that day, I will repeat. It’s not fair.


Nature Vs. Nurture

by Christine

It all started several years ago on a road trip to the Wild Coast, South Africa.  Shayleen Dwyer wanted to spend time with her mother and, following the advice of a friend; Shayleen and her mother chose to spend 10 days at the Bulungula Lodge.

Bulungula is an eco-friendly backpackers lodge situated on the western coast of South Africa.  The Lodge works in tandem with the people of Nqileni village to create a harmonious experience for the eco-traveler that includes highlighting village life in a spectacular natural setting. Nqileni is in one of the most impoverished areas in South Africa where ¼ of the people are HIV positive; there are few roads and no running water or electricity.  Part of Bulungula’s mission is to enable the people of Nqileni to start community-owned businesses that create jobs and income for the local families.  Matador travel writes, “the community is so involved within the lodge, a feeling of belonging, sharing and respect has been established with the travellers who visit”.

Shayleen, who has a history of small business development, noticed that the Lodge lacked a gift shop.  She recognized that the international travellers who visited Bulungula would like to take home a memento from their time visiting the Wild Coast. She also understood this would be an opportunity for the people of Nqileni to develop an outlet for local crafts. Shayleen offered to produce a business plan and raise capital to start a “shop”.

“I have always been a craft person”, explained Shayleen.

“Just before visiting Bulungula, I closed my store in New York City.  I was freelancing in the fashion industry and keeping my options open for the next opportunity”, she continued.

“I knew that a store would work in Bulungula.  So at the end of my vacation, I returned to New York where I started to work on a plan.  I raised money for the project from my family and friends.”

A year later, Shayleen returned to Bulungula to start work.  “I figured that teaching the locals a skill would be more beneficial than donating money or goods.  So I put out a call to teach felting and sewing.  A day later a dozen women and one man showed up and we started creating clothing and bags using the local hand-powered sewing machines and the locally produced traditional shwe shwe fabric.  The tourists started buying and ordering that same day", Shayleen recalled.  Success!

Next they tackled felting - felt is the oldest form of fabric.  Felting is the process by which raw wool (such as sheep’s wool or alpaca wool) fibers are manually interlocked and shrunk to form a durable piece of nonwoven material.

All that's needed for the process is water and soap - perfect for an off-the-grid area.  Several of the young women took to the process quite naturally and within a couple of days were sculpting various scarfs, hats and purses for the gift shop.

In just 3 weeks, Shayleen and the local crafts people created a viable craft business.  3 years down the line the project has grown and now supports 10 families.

Working with the Bulungula Lodge helped Shayleen meet another of her personal goals.  “My parents and my youngest brother live in South Africa and I wanted to be able to spend more time with them.  Working with Bulungula gives me something rewarding to do while I am there”, said Shayleen.  "They've also all spent time with me down at the lodge, an unexpected gift - it's a wonderful place".  

“My whole life has moved in an organic and instinctual way.  I am more of a wing-it kind of person.  I prefer waiting for opportunities, feelings or needs within me to arise, rather than chasing down an idea.  It takes a bit of patience - sometimes things take time to come together.  But at least it feels right when it does manifest." 

But was her willingness to take a risk on something new just the way she is or is it learned behavior?  Without pausing, Shayleen says, “Considering my siblings all seem to be the same way, I'd say learned behavior.  My father enjoyed a fulfilling and interesting career as a diplomat with only a high school education.  My mother is super creative, adventurous and brave.  From them I learned that 'following your bliss' is a good way to ensure you'll enjoy your work.  And making time for travel and adventure keeps the feeling of freedom alive".

Shayleen continues to travel periodically to the Wild Coast to work with the crafters at the Lodge and returns regularly to the States to sell the crafts created at Bulungula.  She has been inspired to develop her own line of felted crafts and is working with the shop at Bulungula to expand their line on the Internet.  She is expecting to soon be able to phase out her freelancing and work full time on both these projects.  

So how did Shayleen end up helping a community in South Africa, developing a new craft line and spending more time with her family?  She did it by being open to new experiences and new opportunities while letting go of those situations that no longer worked for her.  She was able to craft her own life by clearly defining her values and living them.  As we navigate a changing world economic environment and a limited US job market, it would serve us well to remember that opportunities are right before us, we just need to be willing to take a chance.



Getting Better

by Christine

This mornings’ exercise was riding my bicycle around Central Park. Marty, my exercise buddy, and I headed out about 7:00 AM to beat the heat and the crowds. I enjoy riding my bike in the City as long as it is before 10:00 AM. After that the “strollers” come out to meander along the various bike and walking paths. Strollers are the Sunday drivers of the exercise set. They walk 3 abreast on the pathway oblivious to other walkers or cyclist as they talk through the day’s activities. Other strollers include parents who chat on their cell phones as their six-year-old darts across the roadway on his dirt bike causing near accidents. I prefer the morning ride because serious exercise adherents are out at that time. 

It has become easier for me to exercise at a higher level now that I have a cohort to accompany me. This morning Marty suggested we cycle around Central Park instead of biking along the Westside Highway. I like biking in the Park but the reality is Marty and I tackle the 6.1-mile drive circling the Park differently. Marty is out to master Park Drive; he wants to win! After each ride he declares that it was easier and that he did it faster. I just want to finish and not embarrass myself.  So he heads off as fast as he can and I lag behind where I try not to fall off my bike and avoid getting in the way of other cyclist. 

Central Park was designed and implemented by Frederick Olmsted whose philosophy on parks was to create wide-open spaces where everyone no matter their economic reality could enjoy being out of doors. I love biking in the Park because it allows me to do just that and I see something new everyday. This morning I spotted Still Hunt, a bronze statue of a large panther. Unlike other statues in Central Park, the Still Hunt is not on a pedestal but perched on a massive rock in a natural setting. 

As I was marveling that I had never noticed the bronze panther before I realized that I was breathing easier and making the ride faster. I could now look around at my surrounding instead of continually gasping for breath.  But for those who are unfamiliar with the route, Park Drive at Central Park North is straight up. (That maybe a slight exaggeration but not much.) It is the point in the ride where I start talking to myself.

“You can do this, you can do this”, saying it over and over until I am up the hill. My self-talk is very reminiscent of the little engine that could. 

It can be slightly embarrassing at times as I struggle up the hill. First the cyclist who thinks he is participating in the Tour de France races past me. Next comes the 20 something woman who works out 7 days a week where she alternates between palates and spin classes. Then comes the woman pushing her 6 month old in a jogging stroller and the man jogging with his golden retriever. Finally the old man with his walker rushes past me. (Just kidding about the guy with the walker.)

It is hard to get up that hill but I do it each time. Slowly, sometimes very slowly but I ride up the hill. There are rewards for succeeding. In the spring there are beautiful blooming flowers that mark the top of the hill. In the summer, it is the satisfaction I made it. I feel proud. Only 6% of Americans get 30 minutes of exercise a day. I am in the 6% so I have bragging rights when I get up the hill. 

I continue to strive to live a healthier life and each day I feel I am getting better.