How to Recognize and Shed Toxic Friends

Guest blog by Debbie Mandel
Author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

To feel happy and healthy we need to seek out what specifically brings us joy. High on the list is friendship. Instinctually, we gravitate to positive people to trigger positivism within ourselves. We look to our friends to interpret the big picture for us, to help us find a solution to dramatic problems that overwhelm us. We trust them with our secrets and often take their advice. However, over the years friends change and we change as well. Each decade reveals buried treasures of personality and personal growth. Careers, finances, status and intimate relationships undergo transformations. Our friends remember us way back when… And what if we should succeed? Jealousy, the green-eyed monster, slings its barbs, chipping away at our ability to trust. Et tu, Brutus? Here is how to recognize a toxic relationship and how not to fall apart. 

If your friend speaks to you sarcastically, and most of the remarks though they are housed in humor are basically insulting, eroding your self-esteem or your goals to move forward, this is the first sign of toxicity. Be alert and don’t ignore it. Put up your invisible shield of light to protect your heart.

If you are sick with a chronic and serious illness, have lost your job, or are getting a divorce and your friend keeps asking you for the smallest, most intimate details about your condition, this is a sign of well-meaning toxicity. While you need to separate your identity from that of your plight, get back into life, your friend sees you only as the problem and is fascinated by it as though watching a house on fire, yet doing nothing to put it out. This is a clear signal to alert your friend that you would rather not talk about it. Your friend sees you as an object of pity while you need empowerment to heal. Eventually, you will need to free yourself from this friendship.

If your friend tries to monopolize your time, possess you and limit your contact with others, by making you feel guilty of abandonment, then that friendship has become parasitic. Do not become enmeshed. Declare your independence.

If your friend is narcissistic, rarely complimenting you, tugging at your heart strings as to what you can do for her, calls you when it is convenient for her- even late at night, never remembering what is going on in your life, then be aware that you are being used and drained. Establish your boundaries, so that her soap opera does not become your soap opera. After awhile the same old story becomes redundant and boring. Friendship needs reciprocity.

To close the door on a friendship, gradually wean the two of you off one another. Speak less frequently on the phone. Meet for lunch or dinner with others, not alone, so that you can position yourself next to someone else in the group. Express your feelings honestly and try not to vent. Explain what is wrong. Listen to the answer- what is said as well as what is not said. See if you can salvage the relationship by clearing the air. Adopt a wait and see attitude. If the transgressions continue, let your friend know that it is not working for you.

As we get older, we have fewer friends and more acquaintances. We see with experienced eyes. We tend to expect more from our friends; perhaps we expect too much. Nevertheless, reserve judgment and forgive, but move on. Tap into your gut feelings. Just because you have a history with someone, doesn’t mean you need to keep on repeating it. We outgrow many things during the course of a lifetime and take many detours. During the course of our journey we make new friends and exchange our gifts with them. 

How To Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep

Guest blog by Debbie E. Mandel
Author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

The news from Iraq is frightening and demoralizing. Technology has enabled us to work late into the night causing our brains to whirl around in an alert frenzy unable to shut down. Meanwhile our daytime dilemmas quietly steal into our nights. No wonder we have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Research indicates that losing as little as one and a half hours sleep for just one night reduces daytime alertness by about one-third. Memory and the ability to think and process information are impaired. Sleep deprivation also makes us prone to mood changes, attention deficits, slower reaction times, and increased risk for accidents, especially driving. And sleep deprivation is cumulative, building a sleep debt that must be paid. Counting sheep is boring and doesn’t work anyway. So we lie in bed listening to the loud ticking clock and our own heart beating anxiously – we worry that we will not function well the next day and that we will tire easily

The best remedy for sleep is stress-reduction, letting things slide. Stop listening to the depressing evening news. Finish your detailed work by early evening to relax the mind. Regarding our daytime dramas, here is a different solution: allocate about twenty minutes for concentrated worry time before bedtime. Get it over with! Twenty minutes and not one minute more.

Instead of counting sheep, try an auto-hypnotic visualization. Visit your happiest place on earth. This could be a beach, a country home, or Tuscany. Imagine it descriptively, using your five senses. The more you practice, the better your imagination works. Really experience this secure, loving place. Breathe naturally to your own rhythm. See each breath go through your heart. Give yourself a loving message while you visit this beautiful place like “I trust and let go; I let go and I trust.” In order to fall asleep you have to give up control, yield and trust that you will be safe and that you will wake up. This visualization will help you relax with its sing-song rhythm.

Here are some concrete suggestions to facilitate nighttime renewal:

Absolutely no work station in the bedroom.

Try to go to sleep the same time every night and wake up the same time in the morning. Create a habit.

I saved the best for last: Have sex. It releases melatonin to help you sleep.

Create a bedtime ritual like a bath and moisturizing lotion, or listen to inspirational music. Meditate. Absolutely no late night news shows!

Try your grandmother’s remedy- warm milk and crackers—they work! So do bananas, yogurt, figs and of course, turkey. Avoid sugar, spinach, eggplant, tomatoes, alcohol and of course, caffeine. Some of us should not have coffee past noon.

Exercise large muscle groups in the daytime. Walking is excellent. Do not exercise close to bedtime as you will feel over-stimulated by your endorphins and your increased body temperature. Instead, try stretching exercises before bedtime as these are relaxing.

Cool down the room and lower the shades. Make sure the room is dark and does not let in the early morning sun.

If all of the above doesn’t work, try this trick: Force yourself to stay awake. That’s right: You must stay awake. Go to the living room, read a book, pay the bills and stay up. This will take the pressure off falling asleep. We understand and process a concept from its opposite. Sometimes we have to combine several remedies in order to sleep.

Good night and sweet dreams!

Can Caretakers Take Care of Themselves?

Guest blog by Debbie E. Mandel
Author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

On a daily basis, four stressors constantly bombard us: environmental, physical, internal and national. Then we wonder why we feel anxious, irritable, fatigued and unhappy. Shedding stress must be a top priority because stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine coursing throughout the body without a release outlet do physical and emotional damage. If we are unbalanced, all the people who depend on us suffer as well. Of course, this is reason enough to take care of ourselves for the sake of others, but how about exhibiting some compassion for the self? Sometimes we take better care of our pets than we do of ourselves. Carl Jung explained that the hardest person to have compassion for is the self. We need to become selfish in order to cultivate a sense of who we are and express what we want.

Go From Worrier to Warrior

Emotional and physical health depends on the metaphysical balance of giving and receiving. Both the Kabbalah, a work of Jewish mysticism and the Book of Transformations by the Dali Lama state the same concept: In life we can't just keep giving to others. Some of us, particularly women, tend to be givers. However, we must learn how to receive as well because if we just give away what we have to others, we become depleted. Don't wait to be sick and tired before you say no! We need to ask ourselves how we feel before we agree. If it doesn't feel right, or we intuit that it is wrong, we have to honor our feelings, not suppress them, and say no. When we don't, we often become ill. Our disease usually symbolizes the underlying emotional condition that we are blocking out.

The "good little girl syndrome" and the "accommodating woman" must be balanced with personal goals. A first step is to get rid of a word like, should from our vocabulary and change it to could or choose. If our schedule becomes overwhelming, we need to prioritize, release what is no longer important and clean out the clutter. Everyone has freedom of choice and the determination to feel empowered. Each one of us has a mission to experience the feeling of fulfillment and simply stated we must strive to be the best person we can be. Therefore, we must learn to engage in activities that keep us personally stimulated. Everyday we can make a point to learn something new. Routine deadens both the heart and soul.

Sometimes we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our perceptions. Some people let defeat ruin them; others let victory ruin them. It is neither the win nor the loss that makes you triumphant, only how you feel about yourself. Self-doubt and negative self-talk create paralysis. We need to visualize a successful outcome just as an athlete does prior to a competition or a speaker preparing to address a large audience. Each triumphant performer envisions the event and sees the self successfully completing and shining! Recite a personal affirmation to facilitate the positive outcome. Conceive, Believe, Achieve.

Use humor to objectify difficult situations and restore balance. If it were happening to someone else in a sitcom, you know you would be laughing. Try not to take yourself so seriously and use the humor to take the sting out of these volatile situations. G. K Chesterton aptly said: Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. An added benefit: humor boosts the immune system.

And lastly, exercise away your stress. When you are angry or unhappy, exercise will release stress hormones, release your endorphins to make you feel alive, oxygenate your brain to help you think more clearly, lower your blood pressure and strengthen your heart, build up your bones and muscles, reverse the aging process, activate your immune system-need I say more? In addition, exercise will help you organize your day in a healthy way by making you pay more attention to what you eat: proteins, complex carbohydrates, a rainbow diet of fruits and vegetables, fiber and plenty of water. No deprivation, please! The body needs to be constantly fueled to function efficiently and so does the mind. Exercise increases focus for the mind/muscle connection, which carries over into life quality. 

Each day find a balance between earth practicality and spiritual vision. There is no separation between mind and body, not even a hyphen-one word, mindbody. When you find your personal balance, you will live your authentic life expressing your true opinions and achieving your goals one by one. Through positive perception you will heal and grow. Get rid of toxicity and negativity in your life. That includes toxic friends and family. Surround yourself with positive people, media and books. Meditate daily on the good in your life; on things you appreciate or used to appreciate but now take for granted. Learn to read life in order to be receptive to the universe. When you see the obvious, what is in front of your eyes, the rest will be revealed to you. As in Zen philosophy: Before enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. What has changed? Perception. Be in the moment in everything that you do and enjoy that moment intensely. The moment may be all that we have.

Support From Within

Guest blog by D.L. Bolk
Author of When Heroes Fall

A few years ago I lost the best office assistant I ever had. He moved on to kindergarten. Prior to his departure, my nephew, Daniel, provided me with one of the most valuable things a writer can receive.  Support.

He would often tell me I was the best writer in the world (of course this was quickly followed by - - he was the second best). He would send me little memos, on construction paper, words of wisdom that he would have to translate because I never mastered scribble. He would share thoughts that struck him during the day, bits of advice he felt I should share with my 'Petite Group'. 

The first day of school he stepped on the bus and I yelled, "Have a good day at school."
He returned with, "Have a good day writing." Then he turned to another little boy. "My aunt is a writer," he said, pride and support ringing in his voice.

Déjà vu. Fifteen years ago I was knee deep in OD green, uniforms and combat boots. My son was in kindergarten. It was parents' day at school and my son wanted me there. 
I was running late and didn't have time to change from my uniform into civilian attire. I was proud to be a member of the military, but I wasn't sure how my son felt about it. None of his friends' moms were in the service. I dreaded walking into his classroom looking like an escapee from a Rambo movie. I dreaded disappointing him more. 

When I entered his classroom he jumped up from his desk and yelled, "That's my mom. She's a soldier."

The pride I heard in his voice that day is a memory that I will carry in my heart forever. I realized then the importance of support. I also realized where it has to start. It has to come from within. Because what I didn't realized - - until that day - - was that by nurturing my belief in myself, I had gained my son's support.

It's nice when support comes from others, but that doesn't always happen. When it doesn't, that 'self-support' has to kick in. You have to be your own biggest fan.

Not everyone will realize how important writing is to you. There are some who will view it as a hobby. Not deserving of the time it demands of you. Nowhere near as important as getting the laundry done, fixing dinner, or getting that report out.

We all have demands on our lives that warrant our time. But if you believe in yourself, support yourself, you'll find the time to do it all.

Easy?    No.
Possible?   Yes.

Although we no longer share office space, Daniel is still one of my biggest supporters. I'll admit there is a possibility that I'm not the best writer in the world. But I'm the best writer in Daniel's world and in mine.

I support my belief in myself by writing every day. I have faith in myself. I don't waste valuable time letting doubt grab me. A rejection slip doesn't mean I'm a failure, it means I've learned another lesson, taken one more step on the long road to publication.

Support yourself, have faith in yourself. Because without that faith - - that 'self-support', you'll never be the best writer in anybody's world.

As a matter of fact, you might never be a writer at all.

Park That Elephant

Guest blog by D.L. Bolk
Author of When Heroes Fall 

When my oldest son obtained his learner's permit, his father decided to let him drive our 15-passenger van. When he arrived home, the first thing our son said was, "It's like using an elephant to practice riding a horse."

How's your writing? Are you moving according to plan or are you practicing to ride a horse using an elephant?

Do you have that special story that you've always wanted to write, but haven't because someone convinced you it won't sell?

Are you becoming an expert on synopsis and the first three chapters because that's how you were told to market you story ideas?

Did you whip up a neat little short story because someone told you it was easier than writing a novel?

Or, maybe you penned an Inspirational because Inspirationals are hot right now. Or did you just finish that sweet romance, although you'd rather write something hotter? But you can't do it because your mother might read it.

What! You don't want to write a romance at all! You want to go mainstream, but someone told you breaking into romance would be easier because you have structured guidelines to follow.
I won't say you'll never get published if you've taken a spin on any of these elephants, but I will tell you the ride won't be anywhere near as satisfying if it wasn't what you really wanted to write.

Here are six of the best words ever written: To thine own self be true. 

I'm not saying you shouldn't be aware of what's happening in the market. What I am saying is this. What makes you special, as a writer, is you. Telling the story you want in your voice.
I recently dismounted my elephant (romantic fiction) and rode my horse. My first novel (a psychological thriller) WHEN HEROES FALL was released in November 2001.
So, unsaddle that elephant, get on that horse. Your horse. And write your story.
I won't promise you'll get it published, but I will promise you'll enjoy the ride.

Choose Optimism

Have you ever wondered where the expression, “knock on wood” comes from? There are several theories dating back to the Pagans, Christians and ancient Celtics. The most common is that knocking
on a tree woke the good spirits who would protect people from evil. Today’s version includes knocking on any wood-like surface, but the premise remains the same--preventing bad luck. To me, it’s just another form of negative thinking--focusing on the bad instead of the good.

You bring into your life that which you focus upon. If you’re one of those people who thrives on gloom and doom, yanking others into your web of despair, and then gloating about your foresight when life becomes as miserable as you feared--guess what? This becomes your own self-fulfilling prophecy! You will always live in victim mode, shunning happiness, while you anticipate your next inevitable misfortune. 

Amid these forces of negativity, notice that there are others who always seem cheerful, finding the good in any situation or person. The words, “Murphy’s Law,” never touch their lips! You may think that they have all the good luck. And they do! Because they focus on how great things are or can be, versus what can ruin it. And, if something does go wrong, they find the lesson in the experience--maybe even the silver lining--and move on positively. These are the people who choose optimism. 

When I woke up one day to find my car tire flat in my driveway, I didn't think, “These things always happen to me. This car has been bad luck since I bought it.” Instead I chose to think, “Wasn't I lucky to have this happen here, instead of while I was driving 60MPH on the freeway?” OK…you say, “Big deal! It’s just a flat tire. What about the really bad stuff that happens to us, like death, divorce, 
bankruptcy, illness?” My answer stays the same--How you see it is still your choice. I lost four family members in four years, and my mother was ill for ten years. After that devastating time, I decided to write a book to help others deal with tragedy. I wanted to turn those tragedies into something positive for others and myself. That was my choice.

Optimism is a learned behavior. If no one in your life has ever taught you to be positive, then it becomes your choice to learn. You create the reality around you with your thoughts, words and actions. It’s the law of the universe--what you put out, you get back. Simple. 

Negativity zaps so much energy from you and comes back ten times stronger. It’s cold, dark and heavy on your soul, while being cheerful and optimistic feels like a cool summer breeze--light, sweet and airy. Try it sometime; you may never go back. 

Five ways to choose optimism in your life
1) Hang around positive people even if it seems uncomfortable at first.
2) If you work or live with negative people, don't get pulled into their fear or impose your opinion upon them.
3) Try to change every negative thought and word to a positive one. 
4) Always assume the best from people and situations.
5) Make positive affirmations--if you say it enough, you'll start believing it.

Choose Acceptance

It’s so easy to accept the good stuff when it happens to us. We savor those fortunate moments, like a piece of Godiva chocolate slowing melting in our mouths. But when we’re faced with bad news or unpleasant feelings, we fight, ignore or deny them like the plague. We dig in our heels and think, 
“Not in my lifetime is this going to happen!”

There is a generation of people who experienced more than the usual death and loss, while they struggled through WWII and the great depression. Having gone through so much pain, they seem to be more accepting of what happens in their life. My parents were part of that generation. After my mother became disabled, she would often say, “I never imagined I'd be living like this.” Then in the same breath, she'd follow with, “I guess it’s God’s will.” Whether it was God’s will or not, the acceptance of her uncontrollable misfortune helped her stay sane through ten consecutive years of chronic illness, disability and near death experiences.

Now, I'm not suggesting you roll over and play dead when life deals you a bad set of cards. You should always attempt to change and improve whatever you can. But sometimes, a tornado sweeps into your life without cause or warning. While you can't prevent it, you can certainly live through it. That means acknowledging it and adjusting your life to accommodate and embrace it--without anger or guilt. Major setbacks are often lessons that help you change your life for the better. 

Death is one of the most difficult events in life for us to accept. Often family members choose to deny a terminal diagnosis or worse, assume they’re doing the dying person a favor by not telling him. Then the person dies without the opportunity to say good-bye, make amends or get his affairs in order. Afterwards, the remaining friends and family are left with an even larger burden --sorting out the mess and all their emotions of denial. They may never accept their loved one’s death, which can cause a domino effect of emotions from anger to hate to depression. On the other hand, had they accepted the impending death, they might have been able to make that person’s last days more joyful and their own less frustrating.

By accepting the events in your life, you accept life itself.  You become more tolerable of others and more content with your personal situation, whatever it may be at the time. You realize that every event in your life--trivial or life changing, fortuitous or tragic, eventually comes to an end. 

Life will always be a series of ups and downs. For some of you, it’s a roller coaster ride. For others, it’s just a few bumps on a rather flat road. Either way, you'll be happier if you hold on, pay attention and embrace every bit of the ride.

Five ways to choose acceptance in your life: 
1)   Say and believe each morning that you are open to whatever the day brings.  
2)   Consider death a natural part of life--talk about it, work through it.
3)   Remember that unhappy events and emotions are temporary--don't deny them, they'll come back to haunt you.
4)   Embrace misfortune; it will make the good times feel that much better.
5)   Don't worry or blame yourself for things out of your control--go with the flow.

World, Heal Thyself

Guest blog by Donna Labermeier

More and more people today are being converted to the benefits of self-healing, a metaphysical process by which one can rid the body of toxins, illness and stress. By employing a blend of positive thinking and new-age philosophies, some even claim to be able to influence the health of others.

Self-healing can help people to recover not just from physical ailments but also from psychological trauma. Relying entirely on their own instincts to direct the treatment, those who seek self-healing may enjoy any of the following benefits:

* Greater awareness of the causes of their pain
* Release of deep emotions, such as guilt, fear and anxiety, which might be preventing the achievement of full potential
* Increased self-esteem
* Less unhappiness and stress
* A more profound sense of serenity

My story:
After years in the business world, I decided to try my hand at “stay-at-home” mom. I soon realized that it was the hardest job on the planet! With a few years at this under my belt, a four year old on one hip, a two year old on the other, an ailing mother with dementia, an elderly father living on his own, and a husband working more hours than not trying to keep his business going and pay the bills, I had lost myself somewhere down the line. I no longer had an identity. Who was I? Did I have a purpose outside of caregiver? I felt completely drained, used up, a shell of a human being…I had given my power away.

My mother died later that year, and my depression became deeper. I felt terribly disappointed and angry at the way she left me. I was never alone, it seemed, but I felt utterly lonely.
My mental anguish had begun to manifest itself physically. Like clockwork, every month, I would acquire an unbearable strep-like sore throat. Knowing what I know now, I realize it was from not speaking my truth, not expressing my authentic self.

In the Spring of the following year, my sister asked me to go on a trip with her. She was sure I needed some time for myself. I, of course, was very reluctant to even entertain the thought with two small children at home. I had responsibilities, and how would my husband feel about the added duties? So after mulling it over for a time, I woke up one morning and made a command decision…I was taking my power back! This was my life, too! I was going to go on a trip with my sister! Everyone was just going to have to make due without me for a few days.
So my sister, Ginny, and I went to Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Arizona. My sister had been there before and enjoyed it so much as a relaxing retreat that she was sure it would be good for me, too. There, I did some reflecting, but I was still very sad. I felt as if I was supposed to be doing something else in life. I was searching for a missing piece of myself. I didn’t know what it was or how to go about figuring it out. Then one day, I scheduled myself for a session called “Healing Touch.” For many years of my adult life I had been interested in the metaphysical and in spiritual development, but energy healing was a new concept to me. This process of healing another individual of emotional and physical blockages using only the healing energy inherent in each of our bodies and minds was positively fascinating to me.
When I came home from this adventure, I still couldn’t put my finger on exactly what my larger purpose in life was, but I began studying energy medicine. 

After a few more months of feeling aimless and continuing to search for my path in life, I became terribly sick. I had come down with a respiratory illness and coughed incessantly for a month. Again, I now know this was a serious sign that I was shoving negative energy down into my body instead of releasing it through some form of personal expression and having some fun in my life. 

I was prescribed stronger and stronger medication, but I continued to get worse. I was desperate to get well. One night, afraid that I might fall asleep and never wake up, I said to myself, “What if these medicines I’m relying on to heal me don’t work? There MUST be a way for me to heal myself.” And the instant those thoughts poured out of my mind, the premise for my book, The Healers, flooded in. The detail was amazing, especially considering my exhaustion and delirium at the time. So crisp and clear were my visions of the characters – children from various parts of the globe, each with their own healing abilities, using specific techniques, teaching other young people and adults, alike, to use energy healing in their own lives.

The next morning, the ideas were still so vivid in my mind that I began writing them down on paper. I had now found what I was searching for: a greater purpose in life, an identity, a creative outlet to express my true self, a way to spread a message of hope and love to humanity. In a world of infinite possibilities and infinite abundance, I had finally attracted what I was ready to have. That was two years ago, and I haven’t been sick or depressed since.
I sincerely hope that my readers will come away from this book with the realization that they have more power than they ever dreamed. The power of the Universe lies inherently within each and every one of us. We live on a vibrational planet, and all that exists is simply made of energy. We have the ability to shape our own realities through the focus of our thoughts, so if you hold your thoughts on the positive and the good, your life will be a mirror reflection of them. This Universe of ours is loving, caring, supportive, and abundant; and I passionately believe that every person on Earth has the inner strength to better his or her own life – to release all fear, worry, anxiety, distress, and dis-ease from their bodies and minds... It is a gift we ALL possess.

Women Who Reach Beyond the Stars A tribute to women making aviation and space history

Guest blog by Marion E. Gold
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow them." Louisa May Alcott

When Louisa May Alcott said these words, she likely had no idea that women one day would not only look beyond the sunshine, but travel beyond the stars to brave new frontiers in outer space. 

In 1961 aeronautics history began a new era when 13 women reported to the Lovelace Clinic in Southeast Albuquerque, New Mexico. They were carefully selected to be the FLATS, the First Lady Astronaut Trainees - candidates for a mission to be known as Mercury 13. Their names are: Myrtle "K" Thompson Cagle, Jerrie Cobb, Jan Dietrich and her identical twin Marion Dietrich, Mary Wallace "Wally" Funk II, Jane Hart, Jean Hixson , Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen, Irene Leverton, Sarah Lee Gorelick Ratley, Bernice "B" Steadman, Geraldine "Gerri" Sloan Truhill, And Rhea Hurrle Allison Woltman.

The program was so secret, according to an article by Funk, that not all the Mercury 13 candidates knew each other during their years of training and evaluation. It was not until 1994 when ten of the Mercury 13 met for the first time. 

Funk is a member of the "Ninety-Nines, Inc.," an international organization that was founded in 1929 by 99 licensed women pilots for the mutual support and advancement of aviation. In 1931, Amelia Earhart was elected as the first president and the group was officially named for its 99 charter members. Today, the 99s boasts more than six thousand members, all licensed women pilots, from 35 countries. Its International Headquarters is located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

In documenting the history of the Mercury 13, Funk said that despite their outstanding test results - all passed the same tests as the Mercury 7 men-- these exceptional women never got a chance to fly into space. But their hard work paved the way 22 years later, in 1983, when Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space. (http://www.ninety-nines.org/mercury.html)

Ride was not the first woman in space, however. That bold step was taken in 1963 by Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union - the first woman to orbit the earth. Ride's journey to the stars was followed in July 1984, when another Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya made history as the first female spacewalker.

Ride, Tereshkova and Savitskaya have been joined by many more daring women who are committed to trailblazing their way into history - space history. 

Today, if you visit the "Women of NASA" website, there are biographies of dozens of women throughout the program: Administrators and Managers; engineers, technologists, and astrobiologists; astronauts who are mission specialists, pilots and commanders; astronomers and astrophysicists, biologists, chemists, computer scientists, system specialists and programmers; aeronautics, aerospace, biological, chemical and biomedical engineers; educators who reach out to the public; computer and design engineers; environmental specialists and geologists; pharmacologists and psychologistsŠ. The list goes on and on. (http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/women/WON.html)

This month - women's history month - we honor them. This month, and every month, we especially pay tribute to the four brave women who gave their lives in the daring quest for knowledge. Four trailblazing women who reached far beyond Louisa May Alcott's sunshine and into the heavens: 

KALPANA CHAWLA emigrated to the United States from India in 1980s and became an astronaut in 1994. In a 1998 interview with the newspaper "India Today," Chawla said: "When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system." Chawla was killed on February 1 when the space shuttle Columbia STS-107 tragically disintegrated just sixteen minutes before its scheduled landing in Florida. DR. LAUREL CLARK was a diving medical officer aboard submarines and then a flight surgeon before she reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1996. After completing two years of training and evaluation, she was qualified for flight assignment as a mission specialist. She also died in the Columbia tragedy. DR. JUDITH ARLENE RESNIK was selected as a NASA astronaut in January 1978. She became the second American woman in orbit during the maiden flight of Discovery, STS-41-D, between August 30 and September 5, 1984. During this mission she helped to deploy three satellites into orbit; she was also involved in biomedical research during the mission. Resnik was a mission specialist on the Challenger (STS-51- L) which exploded just after launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on January 28, 1986. SHARON CHRISTA MCAULIFFE was the first teacher to fly in space. Selected from among more than 11,000 applicants from the education profession for entrance into the astronaut ranks to be trained as a payload specialist. McAuliffe also died on January 28, 1986 when the Challenger exploded.

Their legacies live on in the hearts of all women who reach beyond the stars to follow their dreams.

Timeline of Women in Aeronautics
1910 Bessie Raiche - First woman to fly solo. She flew in an airplane her husband built of bamboo, wire and silk.
1911 Harriet Quimby - First U.S. woman to receive a pilot's license. In 1912, she also became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel.
1913 Ruth Law Bancroft- First woman to fly at night.
1914 Katherine Stinson- First woman to fly a loop (Cicero Field, Chicago, IL). In 1917, she
set flight endurance record of 9 hours and 10 minutes.
1918 Anna Low- First Chinese-American, female aviator who flew in the San Francisco, CA region.
1921 Bessie Coleman- First African-American female aviator to qualify for an international pilot's license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.
1924 Ruth Nichols- First woman to earn an international hydroplane license.
1929 Ninety-Nines was founded by women pilots - female aviators club with Amelia Earhart as president. The name comes from the fact that out of 126 female licensed pilots, 99 of them joined.
1929 Elinor Smith-Sets solo flight endurance record of 13 hours and 16 minutes.
1929 Bobbi Trout-First woman to fly all night.
1930 Florence Klingensmith - First woman to set loop record for 143 consecutive loops.
1931 Anne Morrow Lindbergh- First woman to earn a glider pilot's license.
1932 Olive Beech- Helps to found, with her husband, Beech Aircraft Corporation. Also in
1932, Kathryn Cheung- First Chinese-American female to earn a U.S. pilot's license;
Amelia Earhart- First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean (in just under 15 hours); and Ruth Nichols- First woman hired as a pilot for commercial passenger flights, on New York Airways.
1936 Louise Thaden, pilot and Blanche Noyes, co-pilot- First women to win the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race from Los Angeles, CA to New York City, New York.
1937 Willa Brown- First African-American woman to earn a commercial pilot's license.
1938 Hanna Reitsch German WWII test pilot who was the first woman to pilot a helicopter.
1943 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) -The government program in which female pilots were used to train the male pilots for combat duty. The U.S. female pilots also ferried airplanes across the Atlantic Ocean for use in combat.
1944 Ann Baumgartner- First U.S. woman to fly an experimental jet airplane. She reached speeds of 350 mph and altitudes up to 35,000 feet.
1947 Ann Shaw Carter- First U.S. woman licensed to fly a helicopter.
1953 Jacqueline Cochran- First woman to break the sound barrier.
1955 Whirley Girls-Female helicopter pilots start their own association.
1960 Jerrie Cobb - First woman to undergo the testing developed for the selection of the Mercury Astronauts. 
1961 Jacqueline Cochran- First woman to fly the highest to an altitude of 55,253 feet; that same year, Cochran also Established a new altitude record for the T-38 aircraft by flying 56,071 feet.
1963 Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the First Woman in Space.
1964 Jerrie Mock- First woman to fly solo around the world. She made the flight in 29 1/2 days flying 22,860 miles.
1973 Emily Howell-As second officer for Frontier Airlines, she became the first woman to fly Boeing 737 jets for a regularly scheduled airline; Bonnie Tiburzi-First female jet pilot hired by a major airline, American Airlines.
1984 Betsy Carroll-First woman to fly a jumbo jet across the Atlantic Ocean for a commercial airline (People Express).
1984 (July) Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya - First female spacewalker.
1984 (October) Kathryn Sullivan -First American Female Spacewalker.
1986 Jeana Yeager (and Dick Rutan)-First pilots to fly around the world non-stop and non-refueled. They accomplished this in a specially designed aircraft called the Voyager.
1990 British Chemist Helen Sharman flew to Mir Space Station for a week long stay after answering a newspaper advertisement. " Astronaut wanted - no experience necessary".
1990 Jean K. Tinsley-First female to fly a tilt rotor aircraft.
1992 Mae Jemison-First African American woman in space.
1995 Eileen M. Collins-First female to pilot U.S. space shuttle; 
1996 Shannon Lucid returns from six months aboard Mir, setting a space endurance record for women and a U.S. space endurance record.
1997 Kalpana Chawla -First Indian woman in outer space.
1999 Eileen Collins made history once again as the First Woman to fly as a Space Shuttle Commander.
Doris Brell a hellicopter pilot Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

This Holiday, Trim the Turkey-And Your Waistline

Guest blog by Dara Stieger, Registered Dietitian, MS, RD, LDN

Most Americans can pack on five to eight pounds every year between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, enjoying big family dinners and other seasonal festivities.

Sugary baked goods, butter-laden side dishes, sugar-loaded cakes and breads, and fatty main courses can make it hard to maintain your waistline, or lose weight, during the holidays.

But in fact, it can be downright easy to maintain your weight and the holiday spirit with some creativity and advance planning.

Avoid Mall Munchies

Step one: stay away from high-fat, high-calorie snacks when shopping at the mall or supermarket. Plan your shopping after mealtime, so you won't be hungry when you shop. And try to have three balanced, home-cooked meals a day, which will help you fend off snacking and overeating.

If the mall's food court is your only option for a meal on a busy day, choose healthier items such as a "create your own" salad with low-fat dressing (or olive oil and vinegar), or a slice of pizza topped with fresh vegetables.

And here's a neat exercise tip to use while you're mall hopping: Park as far from the mall entrances as you can, or enter the malls at the opposite end of your destinations. Depending on how much extra walking you can engineer into your travels, you can burn any extra 100 to 500 calories.

Be a Party Planner

The holidays are loaded with great get-togethers; sometimes several in a week. To maintain or even trim your waistline at cocktail parties, eat something healthy, yet filling before heading to the parties. This will help you cut down on or even avoid fattening party foods and snacks.

And if you're hosting your own bash, wait until the day of or day before the party to buy your groceries, even if that means missing a sale. Keeping sweets, cakes, breads, drinks, snacks, and other party foods out of the house will also keep them out of your tummy.

Also, plan your schedule so there's little as time as possible between party preparation and the arrival of guests. This will help you avoid snacking on your tempting and delicious party creations.

Remember, being the host means that you can create healthier versions of all of your favorite recipes which you, your guests and your family can enjoy without any guilt.

Skin the Bird

One holiday dinner can have over 3,000 calories-more than people should consume in a single day. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the meal. Instead of ham, roast beef, or other dark meat, reach for white meat turkey. Then peel off the skin, which harbors about 4 grams of fat, and you've shaved about 35 calories off that delicious helping.

Likewise, pass on too many starchy side dishes. Favor roasted vegetables and salads instead (especially salads without dressing already mixed in). You can also opt for low-sodium butter, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites to cut calories without cutting flavor.

The Skinny on Drinks and Desserts

Alcohol is very high in calories. Cutting back on alcoholic beverages will cut your total caloric intake. Wine or light beer may be a better choice than mixed drinks which are often high in sugar and calories. And remember, if you choose to consume alcohol, do so in moderation.

When baking sweets, use a substitute for sugar, use light butter instead of regular butter when possible, and use apple sauce instead of oil (yes, you read that right!). Top your desserts with a dollop of light whipped cream. And be sure to serve a big bowl of high fiber fruits, such as grapes, pineapples, honeydews, and strawberries.

Lastly, don't let watching what you eat get in the way of your good time. Remember that healthy options are nearly always available on the table. You just need to be alert and inventive. Make this the year that you make the best choices, and have the best, slimmest holiday season ever.

Power Within!

Guest blog by Donna Labermeier
Author of The Healers

After years in the business world, I decided to try my hand at “stay-at-home” mom. I soon realized that it was the hardest job on the planet! With a few years at this under my belt, a four year old on one hip, a two year old on the other, an ailing mother with dementia, an elderly father living on his own, and a husband working more hours than not trying to keep his business going and pay the bills, I had lost myself somewhere down the line. I no longer had an identity. Who was I? Did I have a purpose outside of caregiver? I felt completely drained , used up, a shell of a human being…I had given my power away.

My mother died later that year, and my depression became deeper. I felt terribly disappointed and angry at the way she left me. I was never alone, it seemed, but I felt utterly lonely.
My mental anguish had begun to manifest itself physically. Like clockwork, every month, I would acquire an unbearable strep-like sore throat. Knowing what I know now, I realize it was from not speaking my truth, not expressing my authentic self.

In the Spring of the following year, my sister asked me to go on a trip with her. She was sure I needed some time for myself. I, of course, was very reluctant to even entertain the thought with two small children at home. I had responsibilities, and how would my husband feel about the added duties? So after mulling it over for a time, I woke up one morning and made a command decision…I was taking my power back! This was my life, too! I was going to go on a trip with my sister! Everyone was just going to have to make due without me for a few days.

So my sister, Ginny, and I went to Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Arizona. My sister had been there before and enjoyed it so much as a relaxing retreat that she was sure it would be good for me, too. There, I did some reflecting, but I was still very sad. I felt as if I was supposed to be doing something else in life. I was searching for a missing piece of myself. I didn’t know what it was or how to go about figuring it out. Then one day, I scheduled myself for a session called “Healing Touch.” For many years of my adult life I had been interested in the metaphysical and in spiritual development, but energy healing was a new concept to me. This process of healing another individual of emotional and physical blockages using only the healing energy inherent in each of our bodies and minds was positively fascinating to me.
When I came home from this adventure, I still couldn’t put my finger on exactly what my larger purpose in life was, but I began studying energy medicine. 

After a few more months of feeling aimless and continuing to search for my path in life, I became terribly sick. I had come down with a respiratory illness and coughed incessantly for a month. Again, I now know this was a serious sign that I was shoving negative energy down into my body instead of releasing it through some form of personal expression and having some fun in my life. 

I was prescribed stronger and stronger medication, but I continued to get worse. I was desperate to get well. One night, afraid that I might fall asleep and never wake up, I said to myself, “What if these medicines I’m relying on to heal me don’t work? There MUST be a way for me to heal myself.” And the instant those thoughts poured out of my mind, the premise for my book, The Healers, flooded in. The detail was amazing, especially considering my exhaustion and delirium at the time. So crisp and clear were my visions of the characters – children from various parts of the globe, each with their own healing abilities, using specific techniques, teaching other young people and adults, alike, to use energy healing in their own lives.

The next morning, the ideas were still so vivid in my mind that I began writing them down on paper. I had now found what I was searching for: a greater purpose in life, an identity, a creative outlet to express my true self, a way to spread a message of hope and love to humanity. In a world of infinite possibilities and infinite abundance, I had finally attracted what I was ready to have. That was two years ago, and I haven’t been sick or depressed since.
I sincerely hope that my readers will come away from this book with the realization that they have more power than they ever dreamed. The power of the Universe lies inherently within each and every one of us. We live on a vibrational planet, and all that exists is simply made of energy. We have the ability to shape our own realities through the focus of our thoughts, so if you hold your thoughts on the positive and the good, your life will be a mirror reflection of them. This Universe of ours is loving, caring, supportive, and abundant; and I passionately believe that every person on Earth has the inner strength to better his or her own life – to release all fear, worry, anxiety, distress, and dis-ease from their bodies and minds... It is a gift we ALL possess.  

The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation

Guest blog by Doris Zames Fleischer and Frieda Zames
Authors of The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

In the "Preface" to our book, The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation, we point out that when the prejudices that have been prominent in American life are discussed, disability discrimination is rarely included. Yet "misrepresented as a health, economic, or safety issue," discrimination against people with disabilities, the largest minority in the United States (54 million and growing), continues to have devastating personal and social consequences. This failure to recognize the prejudice to which people with disabilities are exposed may stem from a collective fear, for "everyone is subject to illness, accident, the declining powers of advanced age-all forms of human vulnerability."

Most people deal with disability in their lives, first with their parents, then with themselves, and that does not take into account other family members and friends. The general public is unaware of the far greater number of people with invisible disabilities (e.g. psychiatric and learning disorders, heart disease, diabetes and cancer) than of those with visible ones (e.g. motor impairments, blindness, and deafness). What may be most surprising is that improved technology results in not fewer-but more-people with disabilities as people live longer, as well as survive and often flourish after what formerly would have been calamitous or even fatal disabilities. With medical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs and computer technology, however, people with disabilities are contributing members of society whose potential is
too frequently thwarted by socially-accepted, and until recently legally sanctioned, discrimination.

Such discrimination dates back to the Thirteen Colonies where people with disabilities frequently were not only denied the right to social participation but, even in their own families, hidden, disowned, or allowed to die because they were not provided with the life-supports
they required. The story of noted early twentieth century social critic Randolph Bourne-isolated as an adolescent and unemployed as an adult-reveals this legacy of bias. Bourne, who had a very visible disability with no significant functional limitations, was described by renowned poet Amy Lowell: "His writing shows that he is a cripple. Deformed body, deformed mind." Bourne could have been refused entrance into a public setting because of what was deemed his "unsightliness," but in Chicago he could have been arrested as a result of a 1911 ordinance (repealed in 1974) referred to as the "Chicago Ugly Law": "No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city,
shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view."

Still Bourne was more fortunate than most people with disabilities in his time, for many never had the opportunity to get an education as, for example, the boy with cerebral palsy who was expelled from public school in Wisconsin in 1919. The reason was that despite his academic
ability, his teachers and classmates found him "depressing and nauseating." (Even as late as the 1960s, one in eight children with disabilities received no education whatsoever, and over half received an inappropriate education.) Eugenicists and professionals who dealt with people with disabilities proposed "segregation and sterilization of deaf people, blind people, people with developmental disabilities, even people like Bourne who had tuberculosis."

In fact, by the First World War sixteen states had adopted sterilization statutes for people with disabilities, and some eugenicists even supported mercy killing of those with epilepsy and cognitive disabilities. Fritz Lenz, a German physician-geneticist, in 1923 criticized Germany for having "nothing to match the eugenics research institutions in England and the United States." In his 1932 study of the sterilization movement in America, J.P. Landman referred to "overzealous and overardant eugenicists" who consider those with disabilities as threats to the "quality of the ensuing generations." The 1930s euthanasia movement in England and the United States "inspired execution by Nazi doctors of two-hundred thousand people judged deficient because of their physical and mental impairment."

Echoes of Nazi rhetoric were apparent in the statements of the 0well-publicized former physician Jack Kevorkian, who promoted and assisted, according to his own claim, as many as one-hundred and thirty suicides of people with disabilities. Kevorkian declared, "The voluntary self-elimination of individual mortally-diseased or crippled lives taken collectively can only enhance the preservation of public health and welfare." Fearing being perceived as costly and unproductive expendables, people with disabilities feel like the canaries in the mine in a social climate in which the "right-to-die" is becoming the duty-to-die." Even Derek Humphry and Mary Clement, prominent campaigners for the euthanasia movement, have stated that "in the final analysis, economics, not the quest for broadened civil liberties or increased autonomy, will drive assisted-suicide to the plateau of accepted practice." With a constant threat of scarce resources resulting in the rationing of health care services, with disability a possibility for anyone at any time, Humphry and Clement's assertion is a harbinger of a frightening dystopia.

The struggle for civil rights by people with disabilities beginning in the 1970s "took place with less visibility than, but in the same venues as, the battles fought by African-Americans-the streets and the courts." The symbolic significance of buses for both African Americans and people with disabilities should be noted. The requirement in the late 1950s that Rosa Parks sit in the back of the bus was emblematic of her second-class legal status. The inability of many people with disabilities to even board buses until the late 1970s and 1980s (when they demanded lift-equipped buses) was representative of their de facto segregation. The 1977 signing of the regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (the first Federal civil rights law for people with disabilities) and the success of disability activists in many confrontations emboldened them to work toward full participation of the disability population in society. These victories, realizing the promise of the Section 504 regulations, were expressions of the emerging disability rights activism that would result in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States and the irrepressible demand for justice and inclusion by people with disabilities throughout the world.

Reprinted with permission from The Harvard Independent (February 14, 2002)

Can Caretakers Take Care of Themselves?

Guest blog by Debbie E.Mandel
Author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

On a daily basis, four stressors constantly bombard us: environmental, physical, internal and national. Then we wonder why we feel anxious, irritable, fatigued and unhappy. Shedding stress must be a top priority because stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine coursing throughout the body without a release outlet do physical and emotional damage. If we are unbalanced, all the people who depend on us suffer as well. Of course, this is reason enough to take care of ourselves for the sake of others, but how about exhibiting some compassion for the self? Sometimes we take better care of our pets than we do of ourselves. Carl Jung explained that the hardest person to have compassion for is the self. We need to become selfish in order to cultivate a sense of who we are and express what we want.

Go From Worrier to Warrior

Emotional and physical health depends on the metaphysical balance of giving and receiving. Both the Kabbalah, a work of Jewish mysticism and the Book of Transformations by the Dali Lama state the same concept: In life we can't just keep giving to others. Some of us, particularly women, tend to be givers. However, we must learn how to receive as well because if we just give away what we have to others, we become depleted. Don't wait to be sick and tired before you say no! We need to ask ourselves how we feel before we agree. If it doesn't feel right, or we intuit that it is wrong, we have to honor our feelings, not suppress them, and say no. When we don't, we often become ill. Our disease usually symbolizes the underlying emotional condition that we are blocking out.

The "good little girl syndrome" and the "accommodating woman" must be balanced with personal goals. A first step is to get rid of a word like, should from our vocabulary and change it to could or choose. If our schedule becomes overwhelming, we need to prioritize, release what is no longer important and clean out the clutter. Everyone has freedom of choice and the determination to feel empowered. Each one of us has a mission to experience the feeling of fulfillment and simply stated we must strive to be the best person we can be. Therefore, we must learn to engage in activities that keep us personally stimulated. Everyday we can make a point to learn something new. Routine deadens both the heart and soul.

Sometimes we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our perceptions. Some people let defeat ruin them; others let victory ruin them. It is neither the win nor the loss that makes you triumphant, only how you feel about yourself. Self-doubt and negative self-talk create paralysis. We need to visualize a successful outcome just as an athlete does prior to a competition or a speaker preparing to address a large audience. Each triumphant performer envisions the event and sees the self successfully completing and shining! Recite a personal affirmation to facilitate the positive outcome. Conceive, Believe, Achieve.

Use humor to objectify difficult situations and restore balance. If it were happening to someone else in a sitcom, you know you would be laughing. Try not to take yourself so seriously and use the humor to take the sting out of these volatile situations. G. K Chesterton aptly said: Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. An added benefit: humor boosts the immune system.

And lastly, exercise away your stress. When you are angry or unhappy, exercise will release stress hormones, release your endorphins to make you feel alive, oxygenate your brain to help you think more clearly, lower your blood pressure and strengthen your heart, build up your bones and muscles, reverse the aging process, activate your immune system-need I say more? In addition, exercise will help you organize your day in a healthy way by making you pay more attention to what you eat: proteins, complex carbohydrates, a rainbow diet of fruits and vegetables, fiber and plenty of water. No deprivation, please! The body needs to be constantly fueled to function efficiently and so does the mind. Exercise increases focus for the mind/muscle connection, which carries over into life quality. 

Each day find a balance between earth practicality and spiritual vision. There is no separation between mind and body, not even a hyphen-one word, mindbody. When you find your personal balance, you will live your authentic life expressing your true opinions and achieving your goals one by one. Through positive perception you will heal and grow. Get rid of toxicity and negativity in your life. That includes toxic friends and family. Surround yourself with positive people, media and books. Meditate daily on the good in your life; on things you appreciate or used to appreciate but now take for granted. Learn to read life in order to be receptive to the universe. When you see the obvious, what is in front of your eyes, the rest will be revealed to you. As in Zen philosophy: Before enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. What has changed? Perception. Be in the moment in everything that you do and enjoy that moment intensely. The moment may be all that we have.

What You Need to Know About Your Parents

Guest blog by Dale Atkins and Nancy Hass
Author of I'm OK, You're My Parents: How to Overcome Guilt, Let Go of Anger, and Create a Relationship That Works

To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?--Cicero

The key to handling your parents is understanding them. Sometimes, especially when they are annoying you, the very idea of that is repellent. You don't want to understand their motives; you want to grumble about them, shrug your shoulders helplessly about how impossible they are, assure yourself that they're crazy. 

That's a completely natural reaction, but it's not useful. The only way for you to improve your chemistry with them is to know what forces shaped them. Just as you are shaped by your past (the humiliation of having your heart broken by that achingly beautiful girl in junior high school, the jubilance of overcoming a learning disability, the pain of your parents' divorce), so too are they people with a past every bit as poignant, surprising, and important as yours. You need to know that history in order to: 

...understand that when they try to manipulate, control, or demean you, they are often acting out dramas from their past that have little to do with you; 
...formulate an effective way to deal with them based on their vulnerabilities, sore spots, and "points of entry"; 
...develop empathy for them so you no longer feel threatened by them and can relate to them as an adult; 
...find common ground that will make it easier for you to create a more meaningful relationship, a relationship of equals. 

How to Dig Up the Dirt...It Can't Hurt to Ask 

As you read this, you may be thinking, I couldn't possibly just come out and ask my mother about her childhood. That would be too embarrassing for her . . . and for me. But you may be dead wrong. Your parents may be much more open to direct questions than you think. Many of my clients judge their parents' approachability by their own childhood standards of privacy, fear, and taboo. Because their childhood was scary and full of family secrets, they assume that their parents will be shocked if asked about their childhood. 

But these two things are not necessarily related, especially not in your parents' minds. Many parents enjoy answering questions about their childhood. To begin with, they're getting older, and as the human brain ages, it tends to favor long-term memory. That means your parents may now remember, perhaps fondly, details of their childhood that they thought they had forgotten. Also, if your parents are the types who demand a lot of attention, asking them these questions will help satisfy that need. They probably enjoy talking about themselves (Who doesn't?) and will be flattered by your interest. You may be surprised at how quickly and fully they open up -- provided that you deal with them skillfully. 

Tips

Choose a comfortable setting for this discussion, a place where they will not feel defensive. 
Think about what kind of interaction they handle best -- are they better talking "off the cuff," or do they need time to organize their thoughts and words? 

Be gentle. 
Be nonjudgmental. 

If it will help draw them out, be willing to share some of yourself. Major caveat: be sure you don't one-up them, bring up uncomfortable things from your childhood that involve them too directly, or monopolize the conversation. Remember, this is about them, not you. 
Ask follow-up questions. Don't let them drop an intriguing detail and then move on. If your mother says, "It was really hard for us because my parents were so poor and there were six kids," you reply, "That must have been tough. What was the hardest thing you remember about being poor?" 

Gently dig for stories, not just impressions. Specific anecdotes tell the important truths. Your father may say his own father was a disciplinarian, but what did that mean? Try to elicit a story that demonstrates how strict your grandfather was with your father. Remember, the story he chooses to tell is the one that is the "money," the one that will tell you a lot about what discipline -- or lack of it -- means to your dad. 
Probe for the opposites. If your dad just talks about negatives ("My mother was very cold; she never said she loved me"), ask if there were positives too ("Did you have any surrogate-parent types in your life? Did you get love elsewhere?"). If your mother only speaks in glowing terms ("I was a superstar in high school"), gently ask if there was any downside ("Did you feel a lot pressure to perform?"). 

How to Get the Ball Rolling 

Always begin with a neutral, nonthreatening observation or question. Then steer the conversation toward the topic you're interested in. 

Here are a few opening gambits you might adapt to your situation. 

"Dad, I've always been jealous of how well you X (shave, cook, organize the bills . . . ). Did your father teach you that?" 
"Mom, I was looking through some old photos of you and Aunt Jean, and you guys looked so cute and happy in your poodle skirts. And Grandma looked so young and proud. Were things as happy for you back then as they look?" 
"You know so much about the Civil War, Dad. Were you interested in it when you were a little kid. No? Then what were you interested in back then? What were you like back then? It's hard for me to imagine. I'd love to have met you then. What were you like as a kid?" 
You may find many keys in their childhood. Perhaps you don't have the expertise to analyze all their answers like a trained therapist (Her mother yelled at her a lot, so that's why she sometimes pulls that martyr crap with me), but you can reflect on their answers, and that may give you innovative ideas on how to deal with them. Many clients who delve in earnest into their parents' pasts find a cache of unrealized dreams and aspirations: a father who dreamed of being a professional athlete until a knee injury sidelined him forever; a mother who wanted to go to college but wound up pregnant at seventeen. You may think that you're the only one who had your dreams thwarted, but maybe that's not true. Be careful -- you may discover that your parents are much more like you than you think. 

Here's a good example from my life. My father was a navy pilot during World War II, stationed in the Pacific. After the war, he and two friends wanted to stay in Hawaii and start a small cargo-shipping company, but my mom, who'd been raising my older sister at her parents' home on the mainland, didn't want to move that far. Dad was an easygoing guy and agreed to come back to New Jersey, but I know he always wondered what would have happened if he had stayed in Hawaii. That little company his pals started became one of the biggest in the Pacific Rim. 

Disappointment colors people's lives and can have a profound effect on their families. It can be painful to find out about such things, but it's crucial that you do so if you ever hope to see your parents as fully realized beings. 

Knowledge of their past will give you empathy for them. You may find that their childhoods were much more similar to yours than you thought, that they echo the chilliness in your youth or the overpowering expressions of concern that made you feel smothered.

Or you may be surprised to find that their impressions of their own childhood are in direct conflict with what you've heard from other family members or what you experienced in watching them deal with your grandparents. (I've had many clients whose parents describe their own childhood as idyllic, though the clients themselves remember volcanic fights between the parents and the grandparents.) 

This is all grist for the mill of your empathetic imagination. Remember, just as you want to be respected for your memories of childhood, they too are heavily invested in their childhood stories, despite the fact that those memories may not be entirely accurate.

As you explore the past with them, you may even find buried clues that will help you help them get in touch with some of their more tender, vulnerable memories and experiences. 
Copyright © 2004 Dale Atkins and Nancy Hass

Laughing Through The Apocalypse

Guest blog by Dale Atkins and Nancy Hass
Author of I'm OK, You're My Parents: How to Overcome Guilt, Let Go of Anger, and Create a Relationship That Works

With the fearful strain that is on me night and day if I did not laugh I should die. --Abraham Lincoln

Laughing is probably the last thing you feel like doing when your parents are driving you insane, but that is precisely the reaction you should have sometimes. Throughout the ages, much humor has been derived from the antics of bumbling dads, meddling mothers-in-law, and overindulgent parents of all sorts. Think Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Woody Allen, Philip Roth. From Sanford and Son to Meet the Parents and The Royal Tenenbaums, relations between adult children and their mothers and fathers have been a rich topic in popular culture. There is good reason for this: almost everyone periodically finds themselves in situations with their parents that walk the line between harrowing and hilarious. 

One of my clients, a top executive at a huge entertainment company, brought his mother to the Grammy Awards. After introducing her to some of his colleagues, he brought her over to say hello to Mariah Carey. His mother took one look at the singer's gown -- cut down to her navel -- and asked in a voice tinged with disapproval, "Do you work for my son?" 

"No," said Carey. "I'm an entertainer."

"I'm sure you are, my dear," said his mother, turning on her heels. 

Did you laugh when you read that? I certainly did when my client told me that story. He was mortified by how his mother had acted, and I was trying to be sympathetic, but I couldn't help myself -- a little guffaw just slipped out. And you know what? When he saw me laugh, he started laughing too. In fact, we both laughed so hard tears came to our eyes. I still smile now every time I think of his five-foot-two-inch mom in her spangly pantsuit giving Mariah Carey the cold shoulder. 

My point is that learning to see your parents' foibles -- and your sometimes overblown reactions to them -- as humorous, at least on some level, is healthy and extremely productive. Seeing that your life resembles a not-ready-for-prime-time reality show can be as efficient as the SWAT explosives unit at diffusing any bombs your parents throw at you. 

And learning to laugh to yourself at your parents -- yes, it's something you may have to learn -- will also provide you with great material to share with friends and family. That's important, because telling funny stories about your zany parents is a good way to drain the drama and heartache out of your dealings with them. And that's a giant step toward putting it all in perspective and eventually dealing with your parents in a sane, strategic manner. 

With whom should you share such stories? Well, for starters, your Second Opinion will enjoy hearing you talk about your parents with humor. He or she already knows the players and what's at stake, and -- if you have chosen your S.O. carefully -- will be overjoyed to hear that you are dealing with the conflict in a less loaded way. Everyone loves a good story. There is no greater tension reliever than being able to transform an annoying interaction with your parents into a ruefully funny story to tell your partner as you both lay in bed at night. The person you love probably has heard his or her share of horror stories, listened to you complain endlessly, probably with good reason, about your burden. If you can occasionally rework the drama into a comedy, it will make listening to your complaints much easier the next time around. 

I realize that recasting the drama between you and your parents into a comedy is not always easy. Laughter requires distance. Unless you put some space between yourself and the situation, learn to float above it and look down at the dynamics from a safe place, you will not be able to appreciate the inherent humor, however black, in the situation. If you allow yourself to be stuck in the role of victim, you will feel threatened and angry instead of bemused and in possession of a good story for your friends. 

Imagine your family as a sitcom. Even though you may react to that suggestion by saying, "But the things that go on between me and my parents aren't funny; they're tragic," remember that, on paper, the friction on Everybody Loves Raymond, or All in the Family, could have been tragedy, too. The guilt in those shows is thick and unwieldy, as are the insults and humiliations. But the writers work hard to tap into the universality of suffering, which can be funny in a poignant, human way. They tried to find the humor in misplaced pride, in petty self-interests, in love gone awry. That is how I want you to view the friction between you and your parents, at least from time to time. What role would you play? What actors would you cast as your mom and dad? What would your character do differently? What funny lines would you give yourself? Where would the laugh track chime in? 

You might also create a parental humor support group with some friends and swap tales of your parents' silly behavior. Avoid complaining; concentrate on the nutty narratives. Not only will such sessions alleviate an unbelievable amount of stress, but they will show you that you are not alone. They may even show you that some people have parents even crazier than yours. 

Humor can exist in the most painful and difficult of situations. In urging you to find the humor in your situation, I am not suggesting that you mask your darker feelings -- merely that you not be overwhelmed by them. The key is to accept that your parents can be simultaneously annoying (or humiliating or sad or manipulative) and funny. And that you can sometimes be funny or at least light-hearted in your response to them. 

There is a big difference between manufacturing humor (it will always feel phony and hurt more than it helps) and cultivating it if even the faintest whisper of humor lurks in any situation. That is a gift that will last you for many years. As Mark Twain said, "Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand." 

Copyright © 2004 Dale Atkins and Nancy Hass

Turn Back the Clock By Turning On Your Inner Light

Guest blog by Debbie E. Mandel
Author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

The generation who didn't trust anyone over thirty is now aging. As a result, botox, collagen, face-lifts and liposuction procedures are ubiquitous and thriving-as common as Tupperware parties. Cosmetics companies market a vast array of anti-aging products. Anti-aging sounds as negative as: don't trust anyone over the age of thirty. Perhaps these same products could be relabeled as rejuvenating, or youth enhancing. No one over forty, the consumers most likely to use these products, is going to adopt the slogan of anti-aging! In any case, there are better, healthier and happier ways to reverse the negative effects of aging and they are free!

Come out into the light! Not midday sunlight which etches lines and wrinkles, but your own inner light. Live more joyfully by cultivating a positive eye for life. Whatever happens to you, no matter how painful or dark, there is always the dual side, the companion which is the power of your perception: illness is a companion to wellness; suffering is a companion to happiness; in other words, everything that has a front also has a back. By merging the two we create a complete whole. Working at being happy, putting both your mind and body into it will help you to think, affirm and ultimately implement. Happiness radiates throughout the body making you less prone to disease. Laughter activates the immune system. Conversely, depression makes you more prone to cancer, infection, osteoporosis, heart disease, etc. Nothing ages a person more than sadness. You trudge around stooped shoulders, your eyes to the ground. You are fatigued as your energy levels are weighted down by your mood. Your eyes have lost their sparkle, to say nothing of your libido!

However, when you make up your mind and body to be happy, by beginning with a smile, you release serotonin in your brain. You feel capable of possibilities and your face begins to lighten. A smile immediately makes you look more attractive and others respond to your smile. 

Next, look in the mirror and take inventory of what you see. Like Michelangelo, keep what you like and get rid of the excess. Eat a balanced diet. Get rid of sugar and white processed foods. They are inflammatory. Watch your skin take on a healthy glow along with hair and nails when you follow a diet rich with Omega 3s. Drink plenty of water to flush out the toxins and moisten your skin. Avoid stimulants that keep you up at night. Getting your beauty sleep is more than a time-honored cliché. At night our cells regenerate. You want that well-rested look that takes years off the face as opposed to a pinched look of tension.

As you work your way down a full-length mirror, you may notice that you need a bit of exercise to combat the force of gravity and carve away the excess baggage that adds weight to the knees and makes your heart work harder. The most effective way to reverse the aging process is exercise: strength training, cardio and flexibility. As a result of exercise, our biological age is reversed. Strength training drives glucose into the tissues to keep insulin levels steady and drives glucose into the brain to keep the mind in focus. We stand up straighter and improve balance through core stability. Exercise is a great energy booster because it relieves stress by ridding the body of stress hormones. Put the spring back into your step and increase libido with exercise-induced higher testosterone levels in both males and females. (Testosterone increases libido for both sexes.) By the way sex provides a glowing skin treatment!

In addition to exercise, the following mind/body prescriptions will help you to reduce stress in your life to be the best that you can be. No one can live stress-free, but it is important to learn how to de-compress quickly. Reinterpret a stressful situation with love and forgiveness, or objectify it with humor. Don't take yourself so seriously. Begin to develop a comic eye. Another great stress-reducer and wrinkle smoother is meditation. Breathe deeply and close your eyes. Detach from the negativity. Watch your cares float away on clouds. Don't judge your thoughts or worries. Just let them float by you as you rise above them seeing them from a distance growing smaller. Then attach to the spirituality and light within. Tap into your own personal glowing energy. Return to your surroundings when you are ready. You feel at ease and as relaxed as though you have been away on vacation.

So, throw away the genie in the bottle that deceptively promises you a great body without any exercise. Throw away the cosmetics that use twenty-year old models to demonstrate their anti-aging products! Instead use simple moisturizers and sun blocks. Live your true, authentic life. Become ignited with creativity. Nothing deadens the heart and soul like routine. Go ahead and stir your coffee backwards, or change your seat at the kitchen table. 

Instead of looking in the mirror and asking: "Mirror, mirror, on the wall who is the fairest of them all?" See yourself benevolently reflected in someone else's eyes as you do volunteer work or perform a kind deed without telling the whole world about it.

Dozen Ways to Add Physical Activity to Your Daily Routine

Guest blog by Denise Austin
Author of Denise's Daily Dozen: The Easy, Every Day Program to Lose Up to 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks

Keeping up with your exercise sessions — a walk, a bike ride, a strength-training workout— goes a long way toward burning calories and making you feel fit. But don’t forget the importance of working more physical activity into your daily routine. One easy way to remind yourself is to think about every little step you take. This helps keep your body burning calories all day long. If you’re sitting all day, your body isn’t burning the calories it wants to and sitting is the fastest way to gain weight —except for lying down. I’m a big believer in doing easy activities without getting sweaty. Short bursts of activity like that can really add up —which is what you want when you’re trying to lose weight. Here are some tips on stepping your activity up a notch:

1. Dance your dinner off. Whether you’re out on a Saturday night or staying at home, turn on your favorite tunes. The beat will keep you moving your feet, not to mention burn off some extra calories.

2. Stand up every hour on the hour and stretch your arms overhead. It opens your chest and brings oxygen into your lungs. It’s great for circulation and enhancing your energy level.

3. Take the stairs instead of elevators. In addition to burning more calories, you'll save time — one study showed that waiting to ride an elevator takes twenty seconds longer than climbing up one flight of stairs. Today, see if you can take the stairs at least once when you normally wouldn't. Then tomorrow, do it twice. In no time, you'll be a stair master! If you need to go up several flights and can't climb them all, try a combination of the stairs and the elevator. 

4. Walk up the escalator rather than just riding along. You’ll burn calories and get to where you’re going in no time.

5. Decrease your dependency on your car and see how many errands you can run (or how much commuting you can do) by bike. Biking is fantastic exercise because it helps tone your legs and gives you a great cardio, fat blasting workout. 

6. If you live in a house with more than one level, bring things up stairs or down stairs as needed rather than letting a pile gather and then doing so.

7. If you're blessed with the gift of gab — as I am! —use that time to your fitness advantage. Instead of sitting on the couch or in a chair, pace back and forth.

8. Try this wall squat next time you’re chatting on the phone. Stand up and lean your back lightly against a wall, making sure to press your spine flat. Then, as if you are sitting down in a chair, slowly lower your body along the wall until your knees are bent to at least a 45-degree angle (but don't go lower than 90 degrees). Hold the position for as long as you can. Start with twenty seconds and work your way up to sixty-second intervals. Repeat the exercise every few minutes during a phone call and you'll really give those thighs a workout!

9. At work, walk to a co-worker’s office to tell him or her something rather than emailing. Not only will you burn a few calories and stretch your legs, but you’ll reap the benefits of making a human connection instead of a computerized one.

10. Walk your kids to school rather than driving them. Childhood obesity is a huge epidemic and physical education classes at many schools are being cut from school schedules. So if it’s possible to walk to your child’s school from your home, do so. You’ll help establish healthy habits at a young age and that’s priceless.

11. Lift and lengthen your legs while you cook. I stretch my legs like a ballerina using my kitchen counter tops. Just lift your leg, place your heel on the counter and with your abs in, fold over your leg and reach for your toes. Do this and other stretches often enough and you will be able to touch them one day.

12. After food shopping and loading your car with your groceries, walk your shopping cart back to the store instead of leaving it in the store’s parking lot. OW!!!   

Twelve Reasons to Break a Sweat"

Guest blog by Denise Austin
Author of Denise's Daily Dozen: The Easy, Every Day Program to Lose Up to 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks

By now you know that exercise can help you slim down—and hopefully you’re seeing this for yourself. But you get so much more from working out than a slimmer waist or smaller size. New studies come out all the time touting all the benefits of breaking a sweat. Use them as motivation to keep up your hard sweat session. Because if you do, you’ll reap amazing rewards. Read on to find out what they are.

1. Working out helps you re-awaken thousands of muscle cells so you’ll have more energy and vitality.
2. Exercise can lift your spirits because it releases brain chemicals called endorphins. These naturally enhance your mood, which is why you always feel better after a workout than you did when you started.
3. Breaking a sweat is an ideal way to relieve tension and de-stress.
4. Food tastes better, and you’ll know that you’ve earned it. 
5. Exercise helps you build more muscle, which boosts your metabolism. 
6. Exercise will help your clothes fit better.
7. Moving around helps clear your head and may make you feel more creative. I know that I get some of my best ideas while working out.
8. Working out enhances circulation giving your complexion a youthful, rosy glow.
9. Exercise helps reduce your risk of an array of disease from diabetes to cancer to heart disease. There’s no better preventative medicine than good old-fashioned exercise. 
10. You’ll sweat your way to a younger-looking body. 
11. Your posture will improve so you’ll stand taller. 
12. Working out improves your health so you’ll live longer to enjoy life with your family and your friends. How’s that for motivation?

Twelve Ways to Trim Your Body & Your Food Costs

Guest blog by Denise Austin
Author of Denise's Daily Dozen: The Easy, Every Day Program to Lose Up to 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks

I often hear people say that eating healthy is too expensive, but I disagree. Sure, some fast food costs less than a dollar. But it’s not worth it to eat all that heart-clogging fat and high calorie food, especially when there are some easy ways to make healthy foods fit your budget. Here some of my favorite tips:

1. Buy in bulk. I buy whole grains, nuts, dried beans, oats, dried fruits, and organic brown rice in bulk at places like Costco, Sam’s Club, and B.J’s. Because you’re not paying for extra packaging or marketing, your price per pound is a lot cheaper.
2. Don’t buy small packages. It may be easier to buy portion-size packages of food, but those little bags are often more expensive. Instead I suggest buying the large package and then dividing it into small portions in individual plastic bags when you get home. 
3. Shop locally. I buy local produce and very reasonably priced olive oilat a store in my area called the Mediterranean Bakery because it offers great bargains. I also go to my local farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. It’s fresh and wholesome, less expensive, and you’re supporting local farmers.
4. Buy seasonally. I plan my recipes and weekly menus around what’s currently in season. These foods are lower in price and typically have much better flavor, too.
5. Grow your own. Homegrown is always best. I have my own herb garden in my kitchen. I can take snips of what I need like fresh basil, thyme, parsley, and rosemary, and it costs me just pennies.
6. Cook yourself. Restaurant meals tend to be pricier than what you’d eat at home, plus you don’t know exactly what goes into it so it’s harder to track fat and calories. I love to cook at home because I can control exactly what ingredients are in my food—such as how much salt or oil is used —as well as portion size. 
7. Pick inexpensive edibles. Foods that give you more nutritional bang for your buck include potatoes, beans, eggs, milk, and canned tuna and soups. These foods have low price tags, but are high in vitamins, minerals, and other healthy compounds.
8. Split costs with a friend. Sometimes the food at those warehouse stores is less expensive but comes in huge packages that you can’t possibly finish. Instead, find a friend to split some of these items with. 
9. Make restaurant meals more cost efficient. Today’s restaurant meals are bigger than ever. Instead of eating too much and regretting it later or wasting food, have your waiter put half your entrée in a To Go box before he even brings it to the table. For one price you get dinner today and another meal for tomorrow!
10. Cook in bulk. Once you’re chopping, dicing, and cooking, why not make more than one meal at once and then freeze it or put it in the fridge for another day? This saves time and money since all those perishable items you bought won’t go to waste.
11. Brown bag your lunch. Even if you do have a healthy place to buy food at work, it’s always cheaper to bring your own. This way you’re not paying marked up prices for something like a sandwich or salad that you could easily make yourself. 
12. Practice good food storage. There’s nothing worse than spending good money on healthy foods only to toss rotten, unused items like fruits and veggies at the end of the week. Use your refrigerators crisper drawers for vegetables and when you freeze foods make sure the containers you use are made for the freezer (this helps ward off freezer burn and loss of flavor).

FIVE Tips To Avoid Letting Financial Issues Ruin Your Relationship

Guest blog by Dani Johnson

FIVE tips to avoid letting financial issues ruin your relationship. According to most studies, financial issues are the # 1 cause for divorce.

 1) THE ENEMY IS NOT YOUR SPOUSE IT IS YOUR DEBT. Debt can be overpowering, you work all month just to dig yourself deeper in debt, increasing stress, which leads to fighting that can destroy your relationship and your happiness. STOP! The enemy is not each other; the enemy is your debt and it is time to declare a war on it together.

2) LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS, RICH PEOPLE GO BANKRUPT, TOO: Whether you are worth $5M or make a modest salary, you need to live within your means. For the average American, there are simple and proven techniques that work. One example: stop wasting thousands of dollars each month on food you don’t need. Eat every item in your fridge and pantry before you go shopping and you will save THOUSANDS each month. I feed my family of eight on $100 per week.

3) PROSPER WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED: Whether you are a small business owner, an entrepreneur, or work in corporate America you need to learn to prosper where you are planted. Blaming your spouse, your parents or your boss will not fix your problems. The debt fairy is not coming. It is time to stop complaining and get to work.

4) TURN THE BLACKBERRY OFF: Work as hard at your home life as you do at the office! Set aside time completely devoted to your wife, husband and kids. Don’t take business calls or even think about business. This not only reminds you how much you love each other but will recharge your batteries so you are itching to go back to work to kick butt.

5) COMMUNICATE AND DO NOT COMMIT FINANCIAL INFIDELITY: A poll recently commissioned by Forbes Women showed that 31% of Americans lie to their spouses about money. This is the fastest way to sabotage your relationship. Sit down with each other, figure out where you can trim back and set goals for yourselves. Money should not tear you apart. If you are open and honest with each other, you can overcome these issues together and it will make you stronger.

First Steps to Wealth” is available for free at www.danijohnson.com