Friday, February 27, 2009

I Feel Pretty

I made a big switch this week. I stopped using Maybelline Great Lash. I've used it for the last 564 years, but I tried something new and fell in love...with Maybelline Lash Stiletto.
It lengthened. It didn't clump. It made my lashes shiny. And quite frankly, I look fabulous - all for under $10!
Which brings me to this week's question? What makes you feel pretty? What have you used for years that you absolutely swear by?
Word of mouth is still the best advertising.
Keep it under $10 - since we're all watching out budgets - and let's help each other live a little bit better this week - feeling fabulous!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Women Achieving Their Dreams

Last night’s speech by President Obama and my work at a company that owns a number of schools throughout the country left me thinking. In his speech, the President encouraged people to good back to school and take classes to improve their job prospects. With all of the challenges we have to be fulltime mothers or career women, for some of us, this must seem an insurmountable task. But, if you want to do something else with your life, I can tell you taking one class is a good place to start. Once you try, you may find even more motivation to keep going.

I remembered years ago when I was unemployed for close to a year, I took some classes in Microsoft Office, Flash and HTML that helped me to move forward. Later, after I found a fulltime position, I was fortunate enough to work for a company that offered to help me pay for my Master’s Degree in Education. I ended up paying for the majority of it and am still paying that off, but, I do not regret the decision to further my education.

It took me more than three years to complete the degree while taking one or two courses at a time. Some nights were very tough sitting down at my computer after a full work day and the weekends were even harder. One thing that always amazed me, however, is that several of my classmates not only had full time jobs, but, children and full lives as well. They seemed to spend as much time on their coursework as I did and I don’t know how they did it all. Obviously, it was very important to them and they had some good support.

Once I finished my program, I felt very gratified at what I had accomplished. I truly believe it helped me obtain the job that I currently have and I use what I have learned nearly every day. I recently became aware of a new web site that my company started called womenachieve.org . It is aimed at encouraging women to go back to school or to pursue an education. There are a number of good resources on the site including information to help you find the best career fit, the right school and more. There are also some encouraging blogs written by inspiring career women and moms who are overcoming obstacles and working to achieve their dreams.

If you are at all considering pursuing a new degree or finishing one, this web site is a good place to start. Once you have achieved this valuable dream, you will know it was worth all of the effort and no one can take it away from you!

Monday, February 23, 2009

I'm a Homemade Smoothie Junkie



I feel that it is time for me to extol the many virtues of The Smoothie, made from fresh, wholesome ingredients in one's very own blender.

My smoothie habit began several years ago upon reading an issue of Southern Living Magazine. In it was a short breakfast recipe for Banana-Berry Smoothie and an accompanying picture of said smoothie that made my mouth water. In truth, this was about eight years after receiving a blender as a wedding gift, and the only task my blender had ever really performed was making frozen margaritas (something else I'm addicted too, but that's another not-so-flattering story); I often wondered what sorts of yummy culinary concoctions I was missing out on by not putting my blender to more creative uses. So, one morning I decided to give the smoothie a try...and YUM, was it ever tasty. I immediately knew that the Banana-Berry Smoothie would be a regular part of my culinary repertoire.

Before I go any further, allow me to share the recipe with you:

Banana-Berry Smoothie (from Southern Living Magazine)(Note: this is NOT the smoothie pictured above - keep reading for that recipe.)

1 cup plain yogurt
3 C frozen strawberries
2 bananas, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup crushed ice (I just threw in a couple of ice cubes)
1/4 cup honey

Process all ingredients in a blender until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. Serve immediately. Makes about 5 (1-cup) servings. (Note: for my small family of 3, I only needed half of this recipe.)

At the time that I first tried this recipe, my son, Kurt, had just turned one. He was a very picky eater (which he gets from his mother - I put my parents through hell at that age with my own eating habits), so I was looking for anything that would encourage him to eat more fruits and vegetables. The first time he tried the smoothie, he was hooked. I was deliriously happy that I had the opportunity to ensure he was getting a nutritional snack - yogurt, strawberries, bananas - I could just see all of those little strains of good bacteria and multiple vitamins and minerals coursing through my son's body making him strong.

The Banana-Berry Smoothie became a regular part of our diet, sometimes as a morning snack or a late afternoon refresher. We especially enjoyed the smoothie during Houston's hot summer days.

As time went on, my husband and I started noticing that our son was experiencing a few health problems. As he got a little older, Kurt began struggling with chronic constipation which made him (and us) downright miserable. Since even before then, I had also thought that Kurt cried a lot throughout his infancy, not in a colicky way, but just did a lot of crying in general. My husband reassured me that that's what babies did. Even though I wasn't so sure he should've been doing as much crying as he did, I accepted my husband's explanation.

When Kurt was two, we knew something was amiss. He began vomiting in the morning and clearly suffered from allergies. Just after his third birthday, we knew we needed more help; our own attempts to help Kurt deal with whatever allergies he had were not working. So, we had him tested by an allergist. In addition to many tree and grass pollen allergies, the result's of Kurt's tests indicated he was allergic to milk (yes, we were clueless about this for THREE YEARS - nice parenting, huh?) and chocolate. The milk allergy was, of course, the cause of the vomiting, and it was also the probable suspect causing the constipation.

With that in mind, I immediately began changing the ingredients that I cooked with. The smoothie now contained soy or goat's milk yogurt and those same milk alternatives. And the bananas had to go until we were able to work through Kurt's constipation; so, I replaced the bananas with blueberries and raspberries. I also added up to a teaspoon of ground flax seed in each of our smoothies. The health benefits of flax seed are great, including most importantly for Kurt, a good dose of additional fiber.

Kurt just turned four last month, and I'm happy to say that his constipation has all but disappeared. He still has some setbacks when we travel, but at home, he is as regular as regular can be.

Due to Kurt's dairy allergy, the smoothie that we now make on a virtually daily basis has morphed into the following tasty mix:

1 small container peach or raspberry or strawberry flavored soy yogurt
1 cup apple juice
1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup frozen blueberries
1/3 cup frozen raspberries
1/2 cup frozen strawberries

What's pleased me most of all is that we've conquered Kurt's constipation naturally. His pediatrician had given us medication for Kurt which we had used on a handful of occasions when his constipation was simply so awful that none of us could bear it any longer, least of all our poor little Kurt. I really believe the smoothie has been the key ingredient to helping Kurt become regular. When things got really bad for him, I'd make the above recipe and go particularly heavy on the raspberries which are especially high in fiber, not to mention adding a large spoonful of flax seed in Kurt's drink.

I've included a picture of our smoothie, just because the color is so very pleasing. It makes me happy before I've even taken a sip of it; something about that deeply rich tone of fuchsia puts a smile on my face every time. In the summer, I like to double the batch and make my own homemade popsicles by freezing half of it in popsicle molds. Kurt LOVES them, as you can see in the other photo. They're not only great in Houston's hotter-than-Hades weather but also whenever he is sick. If you're feeling too lazy to make popsicles, just pour some into an ice cube tray and when it's frozen, you can crush them up a bit and make slushies out of them. Kurt loves it that way, too.

In order to keep up our smoothie habit, I have a constant supply of three or four different kinds of frozen fruit in my freezer (I buy bagged from the supermarket; I'm way too lazy to freeze fresh fruit myself, but that would probably be a cheaper option). Sometimes, if I get bored with the recipe cited just above, I'll throw in some frozen mango or banana. The possibilities are endless.

Enjoy!

Sometimes Caregiving Blows

I am exhausted! I am feeling physically drained. Sometimes, I just get overwhelmed with everything I have on my plate but this week, my mom has really done a number on me.

She has had the flu for 2 weeks. She just sounds awful but I am just sick of going to the doctor with her. I had an appointment-free week planned for her which is rare. Seriously, she has a general practioner, a cardiologist, a diabeties doctor, a gynocologist, a dentist, an eye doctor, a retina specialist, defibulator doctor, a cancer doctor and now, she is going to have a respitory doctor too! Therefore, if each doctor wants to see her just once a year (it's more like 2 or 3 times a year) that's one appointment every month for 10 months! Really, it is more like once a week.

In addition to her health, she just got turned down for some government funding. So now, I have to figure out how to fund the rest of her life, her future care and her final arrangements. She spends half of her money on her medication and copays for all those doctors ($30 a pop) and the rest on food and shelter. I have bill collectors calling the house all the time for her. As her power of attourney I basically tell them, they can have $5 a month and that's it. It's ridiculous!!

On top of everything else, she has to get a breathing machine to deal with her recently diagnosed sleep apnea. I have no idea how she is going to pay for that either.

This isn't new. She has been a physical, emotional and financial mess her whole life. Imagine growing up as her daughter. I can't believe that I am not in a straight jacket shaking in the corner. It's a miracle that I am as together as I am. I guess I can take solice in that. But sometimes, the whole thing just makes me tired:-(

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Waterpark

We women spend a ton of time obsessed with our weight, don't we?

I've had the last couple of days off, and decided to hit one of those hotel waterparks with my family.

I didn't go in the water since I'm pregnant, but I did love watching my daughter and husband play. It's been a long time since I've seen her that excited - it made me very happy.

But as I sat on the "beach" I also had a lot of time to look around.

Skinny women wearing t-shirts, shorts and robes. Women who weren't so skinny wearing bikinis, without a care in the world.

Which just makes me wonder - what gives a woman self-confidence about her body?

I am not feeling very confident about my body. My husband assures me he finds my pregnant body beautiful. But when your old clothes are too small, and your maternity clothes are too big, keep falling down and even then still leave your belly exposed, I think it's hard to feel confident about how you look.

I think men actually judge us less harshly than we judge ourselves (after all, sometimes I think they're still just excited to see us naked!) But then they go and make stupid comments like, 'Boy, that Jessica Simpson's really putting on some weight, isn't she?' She is not! She's probably a size 4 instead of a size 2!

So, how do we come to a place of happiness and self-acceptance no matter what our size? Because at the end of the day, it'a all about making sure you're living life to the fullest right now - not after you lose another 5 pounds.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

He's Turning Two!

I didn’t tell you I am an aunt did I? My nephew Andrew is turning two this Saturday so I thought I would share a few photos from the past two years. I can’t believe how time has flown. Watching him grow has been such a joy and the older he gets, the more fun we have together.



Here he is the day he was born. I was there- not in the delivery room, but, in my sister’s room prior to delivery when she was in labor for more about eight hours before they finally decided she should have a cesarean since he was taking his time.

Here he is with my sister Charity. Both of them live with my parents. I am very proud of her. She has come a long way and is learning more and more as a single mom everyday. It hasn't been easy, but, I know she will have lots to teach me when it is my turn- one lesson would be to have a sense of humor and enjoy.



This is last year. Andrew is showing us how old he is and enjoying his first piece of cake.





Here we are together. Our favorite activity is reading and having him telling me the story showing me what all the pictures are.



And here he is this past Christmas. As you can tell we have a lot of fun together and I am a very proud aunt. I will share more about my favorite little one in the future. Thanks for indulging me on this special occasion.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's time to hit the panic button

The decision has been made. The tickets have been booked. My parents, my 4-yr. old son, and I will travel to Germany this summer to stay with my German relatives for a little over two weeks.

My dad (who lived in Germany until he was in his 20s) still has family there. This visit is mostly about a birthday celebration for his sister, my Aunt Erika, who will turn 80 while we are there. My dad, who is 73, also wants to go back to his hometown of Detmold "one last time." We'll stay with my aunt's son, Martin, my only first cousin. He's 50-something, married, and has 3 boys, one of whom, Christian, is my godson.

I haven't been to Germany in 4 long years. For me, that's quite the lengthy span of time. Since my husband and I are both German teachers, we've studied there and taken students there umpteen million times. For a while, we were going to Germany or Austria at least once a year. Then, it dropped down to once every 2 years. The last time I was there, was when my son was six months old back in 2005.

Most people would be jumping for joy about the thought of spending some summer fun days in Europe. And I am definitely pumped to go. Besides the fact that I find Germany to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world, my language skills really need the refresher. Plus, I love my aunt dearly. When I spent a year studying in Germany back in college, she was my mom for that year. Whenever I needed anything, I called her. I visited her often and we became extremely close. I also really enjoy being with my cousin and his family.

I've officially hit the panic button, though. And there's a definite sense of dread in the back of my mind.

You see, my aunt is a very attractive, classy lady and always has been. Still is, even at almost 80. She has a small but beautifully decorated home nestled in the hills in the outskirts of the little town of Detmold. On nice days, you can sit out on her terrace surrounded by her carefully tended roses (her name, by the way, is Erika Rose and she's very into roses and flowers in general, as most Germans are) look out onto the hills and hear cowbells ring as herds come down from their hilltop pastures at the end of the day. It's a lovely, very peaceful setting.

BUT...as far back as I can remember of my visits to Germany (they started when I was 16), my aunt and my cousin's wife have this very annoying habit of commenting on various aspects of my physical appearance each and every time I am there. My hair, my skin, and my weight seem to be the usual topics of choice. I hear both their praises and criticisms, both of which, to be perfectly honest, annoy me equally as much.

I really find no need to comment on a specific part of a person's physical appearance. Perhaps the occasional - "Did you get a hair cut? It looks great!" - but that's it. I suppose it's because my own physical appearance has its flaws, so why would I wish to comment on anyone else's? I know I'm self-conscious about my own and I certainly wouldn't want to make anyone else feel the same misery I have felt at times by pointing out theirs.

My aunt and cousin's wife have always thought that I was too thin or too heavy, my skin looked great or it just outright didn't (I suffer from adult acne), and I either have a cute hairstyle or it "looks like it needs something."

So, here is the present state of my physical appearance (and it's not all that great): I'm 5'7 and about 140 lbs. That may not sound that heavy to you but it's the heaviest I've ever been in my life, and I'm not thrilled with it, let me tell you. The weight is also mostly unsightly fat around the gut, and the rest of me is just plain flabby and out of shape. My skin is a nightmare lately. I'm 38 and still have acne. It's awful. I've seen a dermatologist for it in the past and just went back the other day, because it's gotten so bad again. It makes me feel like I look dirty to people even though I wash my face religiously twice a day and know it's all about hormones, but other people frequently give me that "why don't you try washing your face" look. My hair is the only thing I've been satisfied with as of late. It's a little too long but otherwise no major complaints.

So, as far as my weight and my skin go, I can already hear the comments from my relatives overseas. And, even though I know I shouldn't allow my self esteem to succumb to their criticisms, I've decided to do something about it.

I've started to walk to try to drop a few pounds. My goal is 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Heaven knows, my body needs it. It also desperately needs strength training, so tomorrow is my day to start some weight training. I've been meaning to get into some healthier physical habits for years now, and perhaps this trip to Germany will be the motivation I need to do it. I've also had it with my skin. I've vowed to investigate the reasons for my acne and to try to do something about it. Dermatologists are just not cutting it. I'm thinking I need to do something that will help me from the inside out, and I'm not talking antibiotics, which can often exacerbate the problem in the long run. Some initial online reading seems to indicate that probiotics and diet changes can help.

Wish me luck on sticking with some new exercise habits and changes in my lifestyle to promote better health! I'll keep you posted (no pun intended - ha ha) with how things progress.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Less of a Woman

That's right...I am less of a woman than I was last month at this time....5 pounds less:-) Yeah me! I am so excited. Maintaining a healthy weight is the one area in my life in which, I have not been successful. And now, I am finally seeing some movement on the scale.

Stress has been my main barrier. Unfortunately, adding my mother to our household and other sources of anxiety have made my weight loss efforts futile. But now, I finally feel like I have this stuff under control.

Meditation has been my biggest helper. I learned progressive relaxation and I have learned to slow down. That is such a foriegn concept to me. How am I going to get everything done if I slow down? But it actually works! By going slower, I am more deliberate and more conscious. I make less mistakes and experience everything more fully. I am slow and I love it!!

I was able to step up my workout from 2 miles to 3 miles. And viola! Success! Here's to another month and another 5 pounds. Maybe by next May, I will be 40 and fabulous!!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Baby step your way to love!

When I think about the concept of love, I soften and wince at the same time.

As a typical female, tears start to flow almost immediately when my husband or my son present me with a card (before I even open it; just having it in my hand still in the envelope will do the trick!), flowers, or a gift. Any gesture of love and affection on their parts makes me melt just about as quickly as The Wicked Witch of the West. If I were still single, I'd be the easiest date in the world. Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting anything about hopping in the sack on the first date. What I mean is, that any compliment, small gesture of affection, or thoughtful behavior immediately wins me over. It doesn't require much. I'm grateful for all of it, because it gives me such a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

But I have to admit, I often times feel that I SUCK at love. It's just so dang HARD. And I am actually really a very lazy person by nature, so working hard at something is oftentimes not necessarily my strong point. The effort required by all things that are hard work can be quite overwhelming for me. For example, in regards to this love thing, when I think of everything that love represents, I tend to think of the biblical definition of love itself. Think 1 Corinthians 13...love is patient, love is kind...you know what I'm talking about...but just in case we could all use a refresher here is the verse I'm referring to (despite the fact that we've all heard it umpteen million times at basically every single wedding we've ever attended in our lifetimes so far - I don't know about any of you other females out there, but my Italian and very devout Catholic grandmother would've had a stroke right then and there in the church had it not been a reading in in my wedding ceremony):

Love is patient; love is kind
and envies no one.
Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude;
never selfish, not quick to take offense.
There is nothing love cannot face;
there is no limit to its faith,
its hope, and endurance.
In a word, there are three things
that last forever: faith, hope, and love;
but the greatest of them all is love.”

When I think about the kind of behavior required of love, it makes me want to curl up and take a nap. Because that's what I like to do when I am overwhelmed. I mean, think about it. The above verse suggests that love is pretty demanding. Patient? I'm not all that patient of a person. Kind? I guess I try to be, but I've inherited a little bit of nastiness from both the Italian and German sides of my family, and I've been known to not be afraid to show it. And the list of things I must admit to goes on and on... I'm envious, boastful, conceited, rude...yes, all of it. Perhaps you are thinking I'm not exactly the first person in this world whom you'd like to run into on the street. Actually, I'm not that bad, really, but when I compare myself to the above love standard, I think I fall a little short.

But then again, I guess that's what love is all about. I think of love as a spiritual pursuit, "spiritual" meaning something that transcends yourself and makes you work to be a purer self, a self closer to the one God intended you to be. And heck, that's not easy. As the saying goes, to err is human. And I err all the time. But I try. I try to love well, even if I realize that I may screw it up half of the time. But I know that each and every time I make the effort with even the littlest loving gesture, I'm breaking the boundaries of my limitations.

In fact, I've been reading a book about walking lately, walking as exercise. And something I've read recently reminded me of my efforts to be a loving person, namely that there is a misperception that walking with bigger, longer strides is more effective exercise. In fact the opposite is true: smaller steps and strides help the body burn more calories and bring about a higher level of fitness. So, it's really all about baby steps. And that's how I like to think of love, too. Because when I'm really worn out and am just tired of putting forth the effort, I may just have enough in me for a little baby step of loving behavior. And that little baby step of love always has positive results: both the giver and receiver end up happier and things get a little easier. When things get even just a little easier in my household, I'm not so overwhelmed and have more energy to be even more loving. And so the cycle of love continues.

Until I get really pissed off, that is, and crash and burn all over again.

Baby steps....baby steps...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What I have learned about LOVE

What l learned about love from MY SISTER
Love grows. At first, when we are young, our siblings are just there, but, as we grow older, we find they stick by you like no one else. They go from being the person you teased (or teased you), to the person who you confide in because they come from the same place (spiritually that is) that you did and they know you better than most.

What I learned about love from MY PARENTS
Love is knowing when to step in and when to give you room to breathe. My parents have been pretty good at doing this throughout my life. This might be because they are both teachers who always seem to demonstrate that same balance with their students.

Love is expressed through actions; not just words and it doesn’t have to be the big gestures- sometimes it is the little things you do. My parents seem to have the right balance of doing big and little things.

Love is providing a place to land or at least rest.

What I learned about love from MY FRIENDS
Love is sharing in your joys and comforting your fears. Love is filling the spaces in between. I am lucky enough to have several women in my life who have been there from my early 20s on and some even longer who I feel that same closeness to as I do with my sister.

What I learned about love from MY HUSBAND
Love is appreciating your beauty both inside and out.
Love is supporting you in spite of your faults or at times of when you are not at your best.
Love is tender. Love is in a hug as well as a kiss.
Love is discovering new things and new ways to explore and express that feeling.

As you can tell, I have been luckier than some and for this I am grateful.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Things I Love

With Valentines Day approaching, we thought we would each take a day and talk about love. I thought about the topic and thought a list would serve me right. So, here is a list of things that I love as a woman:

1. My husband: No one makes me feel more like a woman than him:-) And not just where you think. He is such a man's man that in contrast to him, I feel very feminine. I love him for being my man and he loves the lady that I am:-)

2. My girls: My two beautiful girls allows me the chance to stay a girlie girl. We have tea parties, play dress up, where makeup, shop, talk about boys and music. Through them, I am forever young.

3. My family: I am lucky to have a family that allows me to be a wife, mother and caretaker however, I am also the lady of the house. This management position gives me purpose and focus on the things that are important.

4. My friends: We have been teenage girls together. We have been young women together. We have been married women together. We have been each others fashion critics, counselers on boy issues and the ones I have partied with. I have been with them through high school, bar hops and baby spit ups. I have loved them through breakups and weddings with tissues and hugs or chinese food, sangria and turtle sundaes. We have found a way through this crazy life and I love these crazy women:-)

5. Chocolate: My drug of choice...nuf said:-)

6. Baths: There is nothing better for a weary woman than a nice soak in a bubbly warm tub. It is definitely a luxury that I enjoy as a woman. And, as a woman, the one place where intense grooming (mud masks, bath beads, lotions, etc.) takes place.

7. Diamonds: I don't have many but the ones I do have I love. My wedding ring, earrings and necklace from husband. They are shiny and gold and nothing else makes me feel so acutely woman:-)

Friday, February 6, 2009

I'm Having a Boy

So, I had my ultrasound last week, and it turns out, I'm having a BOY.

Don't get me wrong. I am excited, but it makes me nervous at the same time. I've always been a little bit afraid of the opposite sex (go on, admit it, you are, too - they're weird). Now, I'm going to be forced to confront those fears head-on.

Plus, I have a whole new set of worries I didn't even realize I'd be concerned about.

One of the first things I thought of when I found out I was having a son is a) my poor baby is going to be bald by the time he's 30 and b) I hope he's tall.

I never had those kinds of thoughts about my daughter. I never wished for her to look a certain way, or to be anything other than happy and healthy (oh, and smart). But I think it's hard for men to be short and bald.

Most of my family is 6 feet and over, but my stepson is 18, and hanging out at about 5'4" right now.

And I do think, to a certain extent, we have ignored our boys in society. We've been so busy telling girls how fabulous they are - how they can do anything, that we've forgotten we need to nurture our boys the same way. So, what do you guys think? Any advice on raising boys vs. girls? Are they different or the same? What are your fears?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Is it just me?

Is it just me or do most women have this ongoing stream of things that need to get done running through their heads nearly 24 hours a day? Some days, I swear it would take a dozen pills to shut it down, but, I don’t have the right prescription.

It is very annoying, since I can’t seem to let go and I don’t even have kids yet. It could be anything from household chores, to bills, to work details, to the blog I had to write tonight before I went to bed. Sometimes, if it is a conversation that is really pressing, I ‘ll replay it over and over again in my head or hold a future conversation with a person before it even happens. And at certain times of the month, my mind’s capacity to do this multiplies.

Women are some of the most anxious people I know. It turns out there is a reason, according to a Gallop poll in 2005, a significant number of women answered they worried “a great deal” about seven of the 12 issues in the survey. For women, the amygdala portion of the brain processes emotions like fear and anxiety communicates with parts of the brain for hormones and digestion. For men, the amygdala communicates with organs that take in visual information. This may mean that women are more prone to experience more stress both physically and psychologically (Live Science, 2006).

According to this information, I am not the only one. I would like to know how many of you also have a this problem?

Reference
Lloyd, R. (2006). Emotional wiring different in men and women. Retrieved February 4, 2009 from Live Science Web site: http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060419_brain_wiring.html

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Make a friend, prolong your life!

I've been thinking a lot about friendship lately. After living 27 years in Wisconsin, one year in Germany, and a whole bunch of summers in Austria, I've called Texas home for the last 11 years. Between all of the those places, I'm happy to say that I've made a lot of friends. Which, for me, is a very good thing, as I've always been very needy for female acceptance, companionship, and friendship. I like women. I like hearing about other women's life experiences and feeling that intimate kinship between us that I have never felt very strongly with male friends.

Lately, a few things have been rocking my friendship world, and last week, I found myself a bit unsettled about it all. After mulling things over, I've come to a few interesting conclusions that I thought I'd share with you.

Within a span of a month's time, a dear childhood friend of mine committed suicide and a nasty argument broke out between some cherished friends of mine from high school. In relationship to the female friends in my life I feel closest to, I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster. And for me, a roller coaster is not a good thing. They not only make my head pound but eventually lead to some serious projectile vomiting. I just can't stomach them. So, I've been feeling a little stressed out lately with what's been going on with the girls.

I'm sure you all know the emotions one goes through when a friend commits suicide: the grief, the guilt (why hadn't I been a better friend to her over the years?), the loss, the desire to nurture the friends I have now even more and not to take them for granted.

When an argument breaks out among close friends, we often times want to fix it, get things back to the way they were before the argument, even if we know in our heart that it is out of our hands. And when it happens in the aftermath of a suicide, one really wants to try to convince our friends who are quarreling to think about what really matters in this life.

In any case, between these challenges to my psyche this past month, I have had this overwhelming desire to nurture my current friendships - to communicate more with my friends and get together with them more often.

Apparently, my feelings are quite normal as a female. After doing a little research on female friendships, I was quite surprised with my findings. We females handle stress by cultivating our relationships with other women. That may seem rather obvious but check this out... Scientists used to believe that we humans were all pretty consistent in our response to stress. Fight or flight, right? We've all heard of it. Well, as it turns out, that is true for males and not so much for females. Scientific research on stress responses was traditionally done by male scientists on male research subjects. In recent years, we women have done our own research and been our own subjects. The results: women react to stress quite differently than males with with what's referred to as a "tend and befriend" response. In her book The Tending Instinct (Times Books 2002), UCLA psychologist Shelley Taylor describes this phenomenon. Women are genetically hard-wired for friendship. When we get stressed out, the hormone oxytocin is released into our system, the same hormone released immediately after giving birth to a baby which helps promote cuddling and bonding between mother and infant. Scientists now believe that this hormone may be instrumental in the way that we women tend to circle the wagons with our female friends and loved ones - not male - in times of stress.

Not only that, but women who form strong friendships tend to live longer, healthy lives. Good friends to turn to for support in times of need means lower stress levels, and lower stress levels mean better health in a wide variety of ways, from lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels to overall heart health. In June 2001, the renowned Harvard Medical School's Nurses' Health Study declared women's friendships play an important role in enhancing our health and quality of life going even further to say that not having at least one good confidante is as detrimental to a woman's health as being overweight or a heavy smoker.

So, I challenge all of you to work even harder to be a good friend to the women around you. Lord knows, it's not always easy. The truth is, female friendships can be high maintenance. But in the end, our female relationships are good for us all, mentally and physically. Perhaps if we could all learn to listen a little better, trust a little more, and stop keeping score with each other, we'd all live happier, healthier, and longer lives.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Be the Change You Want

In the wake of a fairly difficult week, this post was born. What is on my heart today is the need for women to raise each other up. Kari and I were together this weekend (a rare event these days). We were talking about why there is a debate about everything that it means to be a woman. This is especially true when it comes to motherhood. SAHM vs. Working Moms. Parenting styles. Family culture. It seems that everything is up for grabs. I think we have figured it out.

Being a mom is hard! It is so hard that when you find something that works, you think it is the only way that it can be done. Every second of your day is accounted for. When, you see someone who is excelling in areas that maybe isn't your strong-suit, you think about what you would have to give up to make it work. "Her house is clean but I bet her kids hate living in a museum." "She's a fun mom but she is really disorganized." "She is the perfect mom but when her kids leave home, she won't have anything left to call her own." There is always that back-handed compliment to make us feel better about how we fall short.

I think there needs to be a movement in the feminine consciousness. A movement of lifting each other up. The catty comments need to go. "Wow, I am in awe of her clean house. What can I take from her that could work in my life?" "She is a fun mom. I am inspired to really get in there with my kids because I encountered her today." "I really appreciate how in touch she is with her kids. I hope I always approach my kids with such vigor and excitement about their lives and mine." It may seem like semantics but it really does make a difference.

I really believe that you are responsible for the energy that you bring to another person. I also believe in the law of attraction. You attract energy to you that will further your growth (spiritual, financial, career, etc.). You have to emit or be the result that you want. I want to have a happy and fulfilling life. Recently, I have been examining what I need to do to get that result. I am working harder to be positive and surround myself with positive forces.

So, are you with me? Can we start a movement today to change our consciousness? It is my hope that we can!