Tag Archives: United States

Living Yoga: Tuning In

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The Living Yoga Retreat in Santa Ynez, Calif. this past week, was a soulful, simple, beautiful journey. I say simple, because it brought me back to the beauty of the basics. We all know the simple truths that ring true if we stop to acknowledge them. These truths, if followed, allow us to live by what tunes us into the beauty around and within us.  For me, this retreat, led by the beautiful and talented yogis Linda Baffa and Chelsea Welch, allowed me to embrace my inner rhythms. Waking at 6 a.m. every morning, doing a netti pot, going to 6:30 yoga and meditation classes, assisting with cook and cleanup, required dedication, effort and focus. The salt water cleanse and whole, fresh, organic vegan diet—cleansed my body and mind. I felt buoyant, yet grounded with focus.  This coffee-drinking, chocolate-loving gal, felt free and pure and happy. I found myself walking through pomegranate fields and just smiling. And like good witches of the West, we all meditated and flowed—focussing on our intentions and manifesting our dreams. Dream boards were made. A day of silence required inner reflection, painting, giggling, hiking. For me, I was able to determine what voice to start the sixth chapter of my book with. I had vivid, inspiring dreams. And, just as important, I connected with soulful, kind, fun, inspiring women.

Now that I’m back, what I have taken from this trip, (which I also felt when in Tuscany) can be boiled down in simple thoughts and pictures. Enjoy:

Slow Down. The Journey May Inspire You as Much as the Destination.

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Be Grateful for whats around the corner. Even bumps in the road provide valuable lessons for growth.

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Pay Attention. Hidden Gems Can Be Found In Your World.

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Embrace What Inspires You.

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You Can Make a Difference: Small Efforts Blossom.

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Pay Attention to the Signs:

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Your Legacy Matters. Pass Down Traditions.

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Listen To the Wind, Breathe Deeply and Tune into Your Truth.

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NV’s Inspirational Single Moms List

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I need inspiration these days—maybe you do too? Being a single mom doesn’t necessitate giving up on personal dreams and goals, right?! … I keep telling myself this—like a mantra to get me through the eye of a storm. Yet, weeks go by where I find myself juggling demands from school, illnesses with the boys, a myriad of activities, homework help, cooking, shopping, freelance work, etc. … I know I don’t need to tell any of you about any of this! I am not alone. There are more than 10 million single mothers in America, according to the US Census Bureau’s Mother’s Day 2013 report .
I’d venture to guess that most of us are great moms. (Regardless of what silly politicians may say!) We put our children’s needs first and work diligently to provide safe and nurturing homes for them. But there’s no reason why we can’t also put ourselves, our dreams, and aspirations on our to-do lists, too.

For inspiration, I started researching successful women who pursued their passions—while also raising children solo. From poets and journalists—to athletes and politicians—these single working mothers beat the odds, pushed aside doubts and societal conventions and fought to make their dreams come true. I hope you are inspired by NV’s Inspirational Single Moms List:

mayaMaya Angelou: Ms. Angelou tops my list. Before writing I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings—and certainly before she became the Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University, OR read at Clinton’s inauguration, OR inspired Oprah—Angelou held a number of wild jobs to help raise her son Guy, including dancing, acting, writing and waiting tables. She was even rumored to have been a madam at one point. Thankfully, she kept writing, as her her poetry and vision has inspired millions. Angelou received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, numerous literary awards, theNational Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton. In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., by President Barack Obama.  

Maria Montessori: Most have heard of the popular Montessori schools, but did you know the person who developed that particular method of education, was a single mother? Her determination in a male-dominated field, must have helped Montessori later as a single mother. Montessori had to fight her way into the University of Rome in 1890 to study physics, maths and natural sciences—subjects women in Italy were not allowed to study at the time. (When turned down, she pled her case to the Pope.) Upon her graduation, with another intercession by the Pope, Montessori entered the Faculty of Medicine, and became the first woman to enter and graduate medical school in Italy. Her work as a physician with disabled children, inspired her to ultimately create the Montessori style of teaching . Her drive and ambition is incredibly motivational, especially at a time, and in a country, that shunned women from science and further education.

IsadoraDuncanIsadora Duncan: The inventor of Modern Dance led an adventurous and rather unconventional life for the times. She was born  in San Francisco in 1877 (on my birthday, May 27th, coincidentally), and taught dance at a very early age.  After a few stints with dance companies in America, she sailed on a cattle boat to England at the age of 21. She worked throughout Europe and even in Russia, creating schools of dance to follow her modern dance style. Duncan interpreted music freely and without restriction, with a fondness for scarfs and Greek-inspired attire. A performance in London, with her dancing barefoot, soon enraptured concerts halls throughout Europe. The revolutionary dancer was a single mother of two.

Madeleine K. Albright:  The first female Secretary of State took a circuitous route in her career. For many years Albright focussed on raising her three young daughters and supporting her husband and his career. After her husband left her for a younger woman, Albright, who earned a Ph.D from Columbia University, became foreign policy adviser to vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. By 1988 she was advising presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. In the course of that doomed crusade, she met Bill Clinton and wrote him a letter of recommendation to the Council on Foreign Relations. A few years later, he named her ambassador to the United Nations. And we all know where this position ultimately led her.

NataschaNatascha Ragosina: As an undefeated professional boxer, this Russian athlete spent much of her career as the top super middleweight of the world. Not afraid to show her sexiness, or her powerful reach and quickness in the ring, she held all major female super middleweight titles and two heavyweight belts. This single mom embodies strength, power and beauty.

J.K. Rowling: Rowling worked hard—to not only support her infant daughter—but also to write a little book that would become known around the world: Harry Potter. After divorcing her first husband while pregnant, Joanne “Jo” Rowling raised her daughter Jessica solo while on state assistance and writing Harry Potter. Her depression during this period inspired the now famous soul-sucking dementors.  Rowling wrote in 2008 that there were “fringe benefits of failure,” explaining that she poured all her energy into finishing her book, as she considered herself officially a failure in everything else in her life.  “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged.” Rowling’s hard work writing in cafes while her baby girl slept, paid off. She is now remarried and has two more children. Oh, and the mother of three has sold more than 400 million copies of her Harry Potter series worldwide. Her latest book, The Casual Vacancy, was published in 2012.

katiecouricKatie CouricThe now-famous TV journalist and talk show host, lost her husband to colon cancer in 1998—leaving her to raise her two teenage girls on her own. Couric rose to fame as a NBC new reporter, landing a job as the co-anchor of Today, then in 2006 becoming the first solo female anchor of CBS Evening News. Now Couric has her own talk show, Katie.  Clearly, she’s done a great job juggling single parenting and her career, while making it seem effortless.

Naomi Judd:  Before becoming the elder member of the wildly popular country music duo, Naomi Judd was a young single mother raising two little girls. She worked several jobs to support her family, including being a nurse, secretary, waitress and clerk, before she and her daughter Wynonna formed The Judds. The group would go on to become country music’s most successful mother-daughter duo. Her second daughter, Ashley Judd, became an acclaimed film actress. Along with her daughter, Wynona, Naomi has earned five Grammy Awards, and eight CMA awards. Not too shabby by any account!

mcclendonSarah Newcomb McClendon: McClendon worked as a long-time White House reporter and founded her own news service as a single mom during the post-World War II era. What I didn’t realize, is that this woman clearly embodies Texas grit and determination. After enlisting in the War and being assigned a public relations post, her husband left her before he met his death. She, meanwhile, was pregnant. Using her connections in Washington, D.C., McClendon landed a job—the same month as her daughter’s birth. Her moxie was evident her entire life as the savvy reporter became a leading model for women in the press and she was well known for asking bold questions during Presidential press conferences. She died in 2003.

Harriet Strong:  Her last name is perfect. I can’t imagine the strength it took to be able to invent a water conservation device and irrigation system during the first World War—after her husband left her and their four daughters for the California Gold Rush. The single mother and scientist was also a well known speaker for women’s independence and suffrage.

Julie-Newmar-CatwomanJulie Newmar: There are many actresses who are single mothers today. But to be honest, it’s hard to garner inspiration from their lives, when many achieved stardom before having or adopting children and have an entourage of help and money at their disposal. One actress, however, is a bit different. The original Catwoman in the popular “Batman and Robin” TV series, Newmar was an accomplished Broadway success in the 50′s and 60′s. Few realize, however, that she  raised her son, John who has down syndrome, alone—taking him with her all around the world. She showed that women can pursue their passions, while finding a way to provide love and security for a child.

Multi-tasking + Stress = American Way

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Is Mindfulness Realistic?

Is a mindful way of life actually possible for most of us—especially those in the business world? Can we really achieve mindfulness in today’s American society? Think about it. We are obsessed with multi-tasking and our devices that let us ‘stay on’ 24/7. On top of that, we keep pilling more onto our schedules (since, of course, we can handle more at one time now). Combine that with extra pressure and longer hours at work (See ABC News’ “Americans Work More Than Anyone”) and more stress with shortened fuses on the road and there you have it: a cocktail that completely erodes your 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation. Or so it would seem to me.

But maybe I’ve got it all wrong? I’d love some input from any of you out there as I’m at a complete loss. Unless I’m in the jungle (where I found myself a week ago!) or on an island without wifi and electricity, I doubt that I can stop my multi-tasking addiction—and I’m just a mere freelance writer and mom. How the hell do executives learn how to put the devices down and connect fully with loved ones when the work day just never seems to end?

I must admit that I’m a bit surprised by my skepticism as I’m the perfect candidate and proponent for mindfulness. I’m a yoga enthusiast and Deepak Chopra lover. Yet, I look around me—especially when at a business conference or with other journalists on deadline—and I wonder HOW can we be more mindful when stretched to the limits with multiple demands—sometimes needing to be met simultaneously.

A few months ago, I interviewed Janice Marturano, founder of The Institute for Mindful Leadership, who left the corporate world behind in order to consult executives on how to become more mindful. In our interview entitled “If Mindfulness can Transform CEOS … Imagine How It Can Help You?!” Janice explained how she works with executives and managers to help them slow down and focus on what’s in front of them. She does this through teaching them how to meditate, ideally, 3 times a day. At the time of our interview, after also seeing how much she helped my brother, I was a huge supporter. I still am a huge supporter of what she is doing. Now that my toes are back in the business world, however, I’m getting a taste of the stress and the “pressure to be on” and I see how hard it is to be mindful in this environment. If you’ve ever been to a board meeting or in the audience of a keynote speaker at a conference, than I don’t need to tell you about the hundreds of blackberries and iphones in the laps of attendees who are multi-tasking by texting, emailing, or reading assignments. CEOs of the household are just as easily distracted. Go to a park or library, and likely you’ll see a mom or dad glued to his/her iphone while the kiddos are on their own. Again, it’s the American Way.

And I write this with a bit of irony. I’ve been away from NavigatingVita for a month. During that time, I’ve juggled business writing and children’s schedules and illnesses—while stressing out about both. Somehow I managed to catapult myself away for a week to the southern most jungle of Costa Rica. While there, even though I had access to wifi at a main eco-lodge, I decided to cut the phone off. I left instructions to call a friend if there was an emergency with the kiddos and decided to brave being on my own without emails, texts, calls. (I was only away for a week, I could handle it right?.) At first, when watching some friends upload pictures on Facebook, or get basketball scores during our communal dinners at the lodge with wifi, I got a twinge of jealousy. After a few days of device detox, however, I found myself more engaged in my world than I have been in a long time. I held my attention and listened deeply when others talked. I looked around me—all the time.  Of course, being in the jungle, demands mindful attention to avoid scorpions, lizards or crabs on your path. But when I looked up, I’d sometimes see monkeys swinging, blue butterflies, parrots, wild orchids and iguanas in the trees. I found myself looking around with wonder. I no longer wanted to check email or basketball scores. Twice during the week, I went back up to the eco-lodge with wifi and called my boys via skype to check in. I never turned on my phone, I used a friend’s computer. That was my only “connection” with the outside world. I lived. I thrived. I thought I was cured of my addiction. How wrong I was.

Before I left for Costa Rica, I read two New York Times articles that I cut out to interview experts about for Navigating Vita. They touched a chord when reading them three weeks ago, and my time in the jungle re-inforced their importance. The first by Barbara L. Fredrickson is called Your Phone Vs. Your Heart. It shows, clearly, how children suffer from a lack of eye contact when parents are constantly looking at their phones and not paying attention. The second, is by Alina Tugend: In Mindfulness, a Method to Sharpen Focus and Open Minds, where Alina spends time with experts, including Janice Marturano, to learn how to meditate.

What I thought about both articles, before I left for Costa Rica, pales in comparison to what I’ve learned upon my return. In Costa Rica, an environment that encourages mindful awareness and making appointments with wifi locations to communicate, I let go of my phone addiction. Sure, I was on vacation, but even when I’m not working, I usually tend to over-check the phone. I embraced being in the moment and made a silent vow to write this blog post as one that showed my success at tackling this distracted addiction of mine that most in Americans share. Well, I came back with multiple stories due, meetings to attend, taxes, sick boys, etc. And I found that being back in my old environment with multiple demands, I instantly fell back to my old habits. Sure, I still tried to meditate every day, and managed to squeeze in yoga twice, but it didn’t stop me from texting or calling someone while in the car. I raced back and forth from appointments or kids school or sport functions—all the time clinging to my phone, in case as a client or colleague or even a friend needed to reach me. Just doing that, made me think about those possible needs, instead of listening to my children. I’d worry about an assignment and say, “Sure,” or “Ahuh” absently to something that my four-year-old said.

Who suffers from this sort of distraction? Me. And my boys. I remember when interviewing Janice, that she advised me to turn off my racing mind and actually enjoy the moment—whatever moment—I found myself in. So instead of bringing my business meeting into my shower or my car ride, I need to shut off, and enjoy the ride with the kiddos or the warm water of the shower. By not stressing about all the ins and outs, and being more present, we can all be more productive later. Think about the manager who actually cuts off the phone and listens intently during a meeting, verses the manager who keeps looking at his blackberry or the clock when you’re talking.

I get it. I’m just not living it during times of pressure. Maybe there’s an app for that? 🙂 I know … But seriously. Maybe during my most hectic points of the day, I could set a mindfulness alarm on my phone. “Time to be mindful, Laura” could go off when I’m typically in the car with my boys, for instance.  Or maybe: “This is your mindfulness moment. Turn off the phone” could go off just before dinner, bath and books time in the evening, so I can give my boys my undivided attention.

Just an idea. Have any others? Clearly, I could use the help!

Stressed Out Kids: Who’s to Blame?

For this 100th blog post, I’ve decided to write about a topic that is killing us.

Literally.

I can’t think of a more important issue for the health of our children and our families than stress. Think your kid isn’t stressed? Think again. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 91 percent of children in the United States report feeling stressed—even though many of their parents reported those same kids were not anxious. It really shouldn’t be that surprising to us parents—as stress permeates every facet, age-group and demographic of our over-stretched, frenetic American lifestyle. Of course it has to affect our children too.

As I’ve reported for multiple magazines and news outlets, stress is a killer. Well, not stress exactly—but how we deal with it. When there are chronic excess levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our bloodstream, we put ourselves at risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and multiple autoimmune disorders. Pregnant women, especially, need to watch stress levels as cortisol crosses the blood-stream barrier and is linked to potential attention deficit disorder and memory impairment later in life—as well as being a precursor to pre-term birth. (See my FitPregnancy magazine article Beat the Four Biggest Pregnancy Stressors ).

We are just starting to uncover the truth about how stressed our children really are and what this means for their futures and their health. The APA’s latest Stress in America survey  shows that while a majority of parents didn’t think their children were feeling stress, 91 percent of children interviewed reported they were. And what do you think caused children, ages 8 – 17, the most anxiety? Watching their parents. This information from the survey really struck a cord:

“Nearly three-quarters (69 percent) of parents say that their stress has only a slight or no impact on their children, yet 91 percent of children report they know their parent is stressed because they observe a multitude of behaviors, such as yelling, arguing and complaining.”

Think about it, our young children watch us, worry, and later mimic us. In the meantime, their stress-filled bodies often become over-weight. Another article I’m writing this month for a health care magazine shows that Type-2 diabetes rates among children are rising at a staggering pace—even in fitness-oriented cities such as Los Angeles. The typical reasoning is our changing American lifestyle that hampers children from riding their bikes freely or walking to school. One diabetic physician in Los Angeles told me that children are staying home alone and playing video games more and more—then eating fast food for dinner. But that’s for another story…

Stress has other potential side-effects for our kids. For instance, one recent study linked extreme stress (such as children living with a chronically ill parent or sibling, or those who have experienced or witnessed violence crimes) with poor school performance, exacerbated health issues and a likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. And a University of Wisconsin-Madison study concluded that intense and lasting stress actually alters children’s brain functioning: reducing short-term memory and cognitive abilities.

Helping Our Children Starts at Home

Clearly, it’s critical that we help our children lower their stress levels. But how can we expect our kids to manage their stress well—if we, as parents, aren’t doing a good job ourselves? It’s a bit hypercritical and impractical as the bad reactions and habits we have actually triggers their anxiety!

We are our children’s teachers. They watch our every move. If we are snapping at them and rushing in all directions at a scattered pace to get to work, school and a myriad of activities—how can we expect them to roll with the punches? How can we expect them to be relaxed, if we aren’t? Yesterday I overheard a mom at the grocery store yell at her whining toddler: “STOP it or I’ll pop you in the mouth!”

Clearly, that didn’t work—or make her more relaxed. But who hasn’t felt that way? (Obviously, I’ve had my moments too! See this post.) Who hasn’t been triggered by over-load from work and life demands that suddenly leave you breathless and reacting instantly instead of calmly and patiently?

I know I can be guilty of this. If I don’t slow down or limit the number of obligations I have on my plate, I’m less mindful.

Think of what other habits you may be forming that aren’t the best for you or your kiddos. Do you often complain about work demands or money? Do you find yourself racing around, not listening, and then ordering pizza, putting a kids show on the tube and pouring yourself a glass of vino to veg out? Do you and the hubby argue in front of the kids?

They’re watching, or listening, even if you think they aren’t. I’m not trying to lay on the guilt…like we all need one more thing to feel bad about! But, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I expect my children to make healthier choices—I have to as well. It starts at home. It starts with me.

I recently wrote an article about kids and stress for Pulse, a Los Angeles-based healthcare magazine for Torrance Memorial Medical Center. (Soon to be published.) I reported about an elementary school principal in Palos Verdes, Calif. who hired a stress-reduction and mindfulness expert to come into her school last year to teach young children techniques to lower their stress levels. The health expert, who has a Master’s Degree in clinical holistic health education, showed the children relaxation techniques, including how to “find a safe place” through guided imagery and meditation.

This program was introduced before the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, and surprisingly, even in the wealthy enclave of Palos Verdes—many children reported feeling stressed and anxious on a weekly basis. Most anxiety was reported as stemming from wanting to fit in or pressure to excel (yes, even in elementary school!) and worrying about their parents. So you see, even if you think your children aren’t feeling the strain that other kids are, you’re likely wrong.

Wouldn’t it be great if more schools in America introduced yoga, meditation and other mindfulness workshops to their children? In a time with multiple school budget cuts, it’s not likely. And, to be more on topic, unless parents attend these workshops with their children—I wonder if stress levels would lower very much within the family dynamic?

I know in this family, it’s time for mom to make a concerted and consistent effort to lower anxiety levels for my boys.  And that starts, well, with me.

A Moment To Pause

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The boys and I hiked up to the top of one of the highest canyons in Malibu to get this vista of Catalina Island and the vast Pacific Ocean. Taking a moment to pause, especially when at a distance, can truly give you a better vantage point. It’s easier to put things into perspective when you give yourself that distance and that moment to take it all in.

Lately I’ve been thinking that this is applicable to everyday life—although it takes much more effort. Trying not to react instantly, or to flare with anger, or to over-react—takes more than just patience. I think it takes practice. Ironically, in order to have a better relationship with those I care the most about—I’ve come to realize that I need to find a little bit of distance, or detachment, to create a mental vista for clarity and calm.

Maybe this sounds a bit nutty for some of you? But have any of you suddenly become irritated with your child who is not listening to you and who continues to do something that you’ve asked him or her not to do? Do you find that, without thinking, you snap, yell, grab an arm or say something that you wish you hadn’t? It’s easy to do isn’t it? When I react instinctively, I can literally feel my heart beat faster, my breath get fast and shallow and all clear thought escape the building.

It’s now mid-January and I’ve determined that the best New Year’s resolution for me is to try, not only to be more present, but to carve out the ability to be calm in the midst of storms. (I don’t want my children to carry with them memories of a parent who ‘loses it’ on a consistent basis.) To do this, I’m going to try to take a deep breath and count to five whenever the munchkins start misbehaving. (Unless of course, it’s a dangerous situation, like one of them running into a street!)

As my yoga teachers and Deepak Chopra have all shown me—it’s almost impossible to overreact while breathing deeply. Try it with me. Take a deep breath and fill up your lungs completely. Hold it at the top and count to five slowly. Now, breathe it out, slowly and deeply. Can you imagine your heart or mind racing while you’re doing this? It’s virtually impossible.

I was reminded twice this week of how important this breath break is. The first was a yoga teacher who said she wanted to focus on finding a pause before reacting. Her goal for the week was to pause during stressful events in order to choose the right reaction, instead of reacting. Then two days later, I snapped at my boys. After trying to get James to sleep for two hours unsuccessfully, his big brother comes into the room, making too much noise and knocking over and spilling the humidifier. Was it the end of the world? No. What did I do? Overreact and chastise him. Of course, I immediately apologized, and realized how I should have reacted.

Hopefully, taking a deep breath, holding it for the count of five and slowly letting it go, will give me the vantage point I need to then deal calmly with any stressful moments with the kids—or in life in general. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Luck, Murder and Kids with Guns

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I published this article a year ago today. It’s still such a critical topic. (In the past year since I wrote this, 194 children under the age of 12 were shot and killed in America, according to Slate Magazine.) I hope my small personal story will inspire even one person to lock up their guns or change their mind about gun control in this country. As a southerner, I have so many dear friends who are NRA supporters, but read this story.  I lost a dear childhood friend and am lucky to be here today. Why? Because a sick teenager had access to a loaded gun.

 

“Good luck has its storms.” – George Lucas.

I was buying a coffee at my local spot yesterday morning and the barista, who likes to serenade me for some reason, was singing a made-up tune: “Lucky Laurrra, Loving Laura. Lucky Laura comes around the bend again. How lucky for me.” You get the idea. And as I walked out of the cafe, I thought: she has no idea about the timing of her little ditty.

Twenty-seven years ago a good friend was murdered at my high school by a likely insane student with unrequited love for her and access to a gun. That fateful day was also a very close call for me. So close, that most friends and family really have little idea. Had I just reminded my friend to meet me at our teacher’s office after our practice, maybe I could have thwarted my friend’s murder. Knowing me, I did remind her as we were both in trouble. So, I’ll never know why she didn’t show. Had she shown for our detention, I would likely have been shot too. So, perhaps I should look at it as Norma saved my life by forgetting to meet me, and therefore, not letting me walk with her to her car and mine, which was parked across from hers that afternoon. Instead, I got to find her slumped over her car, arm dangling down the rolled-down window, blood on the ground and see her murderer’s car spinning out of the dirt parking lot behind a cloud of dust. His best friend just standing there holding a knife. It was all surreal and I recall just deciding to go to Norma’s house to tell her mother and take her to the hospital before the madness of the media began. How I thought of it, I’ll never know. But I’ll never forget the way Norma’s mother looked at me when I walked in, and without a word said by either of us, she collapsed into tears. She could never look at me again, after that day, without utter sadness. We took her to the hospital, where hoards of TV crews were now filing in, and I remember thinking how cruel it was for her family to be captured in complete agony. Later when I was a crime reporter, I made a vow to never be an anguish chaser.

But back to the unfolding of that story:

Here’s the twist of fate: Norma and I had been in trouble with our anatomy teacher for being late, yet again, to class. We had a problem with flirting and chatting in the halls and not making it across campus in time for his class. He demanded that we both stay after school to discuss it. But we had cheerleading practice. So he said he’d wait and we needed to see him afterwards. Norma was my partner who lifted me in all jumps and so for the next hour and a half, I worked with her on lifts and dance moves. (I know, I was a cheerleader back then, bear with me people!) I recall saying something like see you at Coach L’s, but maybe I didn’t? I know I didn’t want to go alone for our ‘talk’ but I really can’t recall whether I reminded her. When practice broke up and we all left to change or gather books, I went to Coach L’s for my punishment. Coach L and I waited for Norma before our ‘talk’ could start, but instead, a football player appeared in the door screaming shots were being fired and we all ran out to the student parking lot.

Chance, luck and coincidence have played huge rolls in my life. Even at 16 years, this wasn’t my first brush with near-death. So, yes, I’m a very lucky girl. And luck or chance visited me again on this day—and for years—I’ve been plagued with guilt. So much so, I couldn’t participate in court proceedings or in interviews for an HBO documentary about teen murder. I felt like I could have stopped this. Three weeks before the murder, this disturbed boy who was angry she didn’t have feelings for him, left threatening notes and flowers in Norma’s car that made her cry and shake with fear. There were obvious signs that something was wrong. And then, of course, I didn’t walk with her to her car like I always did after practice.

None of it is reasonable, I know. But I carried that guilt for a long time. Now I’m just angry. This unstable boy should not have had access to a gun. His friends—who knew about his rage and likely read his notes and recordings planning Norma’s death— should have told a teacher or parent or someone.

And parents, please, lock up your guns. Just a few months ago, I read a tragic Facebook post from a former high school friend, who still lives in our hometown, saying her young daughter’s friend fatally shot herself accidentally when she found a loaded gun at home. Sadly, I recall finding my own father’s gun in his bedside drawer at one point in my own childhood. I’m sure it was an accident, but then again, can you imagine if a disturbed, drunk, or angry teen found it? (I am one of four children, so there were kids, friends, neighbors, in our house most days.)

I’ve given up trying to curb guns in our country. We’ll never be England where kids never have to fear being shot at school or elsewhere. And while I’m encouraged that assault weapon bans are moving forward—there are still SO many guns and NRA supporters, that it’s impossible to get rid of the sheer volume of guns in homes across America. So my hope by sharing this sad story is that it will inspire just one person to go out and buy a gun safe. And if you have a safe, for pete’s sake, I hope this story will inspire you to put all your guns (preferably unloaded) in your safe at ALL times.

Gun violence has escalated since my friend’s murder in 1986. In fact, according to Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, of the 11 deadliest shootings in the United States, five happened since 2007.  

For those interested, on the day of the Newtown elementary school shooting, I stumbled upon his excellent article in the Washington Post: Twelve Facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States . 

Our society is becoming ever-more violent. Please, please, please lock up your guns.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. North Carolina readers: Norma’s killer is up for parole and a North Carolina law may make it easier for him, and other felons, to get out of prison. I just found out about this today. You can read about it here.

How Tragedy Crystalizes What’s Important

Photo by Chris Anastasiou

Photo by Chris Anastasiou

Three weeks ago my words were taken away. Since the Dec. 14th horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn., I haven’t been able to write. I haven’t written in a journal or in this blog until now. Nothing on my previous blog schedule interested me. It felt almost treacherous to write about the mundane holiday stress story, or the single parent wishlist. I couldn’t justify the importance of such trivial, albeit timely, topics. I couldn’t find the energy. On the morning that the events unfolded, I was at home with a very sick four-year-old, and as he slept, I watched the T.V. and wept. And from that moment, nothing—no topic—felt compelling. So, the article with an expert interview on keeping traditions alive post-divorce never got posted. The reviews of the best children’s books to buy this year also fell to the wayside. I just couldn’t muster up the energy to write on these topics.

How could I? There are 26 families who would barely be able to celebrate the holidays this year. Their worlds will never be the same. What about the families in Colorado who lost loved ones this summer in the movie theater mass shooting? What about the families across America who lost babies and children after they tragically found unlocked guns at home and shot themselves accidentally? How many American children have been caught in the cross fires of drive-by shootings? (I read more than 500 people were shot in Chicago this past year!)

Seriously, how many distraught, depressed and lonely people ‘celebrated’ the holidays and rang in 2013 desperately missing family members who were killed by kids wielding guns?

Right now, the media is obsessed with the Fiscal Cliff drama. But I can’t move on from the terribly important topic of keeping our kids safe and healthy. And that INCLUDES the mentally ill kids who desperately need their medications and therapies that may be too expensive or too scarce in many communities. I know I’m not the only person in America in this debate. In fact, the gun rights debate sickens me. I’m originally from the South and am ALL too familiar with the typical NRA stance.

All I know is that right now I just can’t continue to write about typical single parent topics as the ONLY issue weighing heavily on my mind is how Americans can continue to live in a country that allows easy-access to rapid-fire guns and very little access to mental health services. I just can’t muster up the typical parenting topics right now. It just feels treacherous or wrong—like the feeling one must get when watching a magnificent sunset emerge above a battle field strewn with bloody bodies. Yes, life goes on. You and I can forget about Newtown and Boulder and Columbine. But this battlefield will keep emerging. How can it not? America can’t seem to limit its gun sales—and at the same time, doesn’t offer proper and affordable resources to assist the mentally ill. Add our culture of stress and violent video game habits and we’re brewing the right cocktail for yet another mass shooting to emerge in some picturesque town near you.

I’m fairly convinced that we are, in fact, stuck as a country. It will be a long time before I feel safe, or I feel my children are safe. Whenever they travel back to the South, I’ll worry about whether friends or family members have guns in locked safes. As someone who experienced a high school shooting, I know first hand the post-traumatic stress of finding a friend shot and nearly missing your own death at the young age of 16. What that sort of experience must do to a five, six, seven or eight-year-old is unthinkable. Right now, I just don’t think it matters what side of the gun debate you are on. The conversation about whether you think our founding fathers would want everyone (including teachers) to carry guns—or whether you’re thinking about moving to Europe in order to find a safe spot away from machine gun wielders—isn’t the conversation I want to have.

I want to know why we can’t provide better assistance to the mentally ill. I want to know why we can’t keep machine guns or rapid fire assault weapons out of our country. Why are social services departments strapped? Why is it easy for the wealthy to buy prescription drugs online to numb what doesn’t really ail them—but it’s almost impossible for the lesser thans to get medications and counseling they desperately need?

In order for me to feel inspired to write about the topics of helping children of divorce feel safe and thrive—I need to feel as if they have a fighting chance of surviving elementary school, middle school and high school first. Our children’s safety is what should connect all of us—no matter what side of the gun debate or raising taxes to provide more social services argument we may fall.

In the new year, expect to find more articles that explore the stigma of mental illness; services for the mentally ill; stress-coping skills for teens and tweens and parents; post-traumatic stress from trauma (and this includes nasty divorce trauma) and kids; and combating violence at home and at school. I’ll still have posts specifically for single moms, but I just can’t ignore what’s really important. It would be like getting diagnosed with cancer and deciding to take an Asprin and wish for the best. Here’s to a safe New Year in America and a future for our children.

If Mindfulness Transforms CEOs … Imagine How It Can Help You?

Photo by: Administrador Galeria Uninter

Photo by: Administrador Galeria Uninter

Mindfulness expert and former General Mills executive, Janice Marturano, helps CEOs and corporate executives across America manifest their dreams and better manage their stress, their personal lives and business communications through mindfulness meditation. So, it’s no wonder that I reached out to the founder and executive director of The Institute for Mindful Leadership for advice. We all know that single parents juggle more than most. Those of us who are working full-time, as well as juggling the lion share of parenting needs, can feel drained, frazzled and out -of-control. Ironically, Marturano, who spoke with me today via a phone interview, explained that finding “moments to pause,” which teaches us how to be present, is the to key to bettering all our relationships: whether those are with co-workers or our children. Her work with Fortune 500 executives is garnering much word-of-mouth recognition, and just last week, Arianna Huffington personally invited Janice to write for HuffPost. (Read her first HuffPost column here.)

I’m thrilled to include this Q&A with Janice, who not only changed my brother’s life, but is helping to demystify mindfulness meditation and bring it to the masses:

NV: Mindfulness meditation is certainly getting a lot of media coverage these days. You’ve been an expert in the field for over a decade. What do you think about all the articles that are out there now?

JM: Quite frankly, a lot of what’s out there is just garbage. So many people say that it’s [mindfulness meditation] about feeling your breath or doing deep breathing. And that’s just not it.

NV:  I hear that all the time too. So, if it’s not about breath, what is it?

JM: It’s just not that simple. The real power and richness [of mindfulness meditation] is that it’s a journey. … Take 10 minutes every day and just feel your breath. Don’t try to do deep breathing, just feel your breath. When the monkey mind chatter begins, and the mind takes a hike to your to-do list or an upcoming meeting, just gently re-direct it back to your breath without judgement.

NV: Well, I’ve been doing this for a few months now and I’m still trying to figure out exactly how this will help me.

JM: It’s in the re-direction of your wandering thoughts back to your breath that starts the capacity to get us present—with our kids and our work colleagues. You’re going to be able to find what I call “the purposeful pause.”

NV: Ok, so this teaches me to later stop letting my mind wander, or check texts, or think about the next article I need to write, while I’m chatting with my children?

JM: Exactly. You learn to be present, and they notice. Just like colleagues or employees notice when they are truly being heard.

NV: That’s powerful. I’m sure so many of your clients from Fortune 500 companies may feel like they just don’t have time to sit and meditate. I know some single moms who feel like that too! What do you say to that?

JM: Fifteen years ago I was one of the only women to become an officer in my company (General Mills, Inc.) ever. I wasn’t a single mom, but I was certainly a working mom and understood the stress of juggling and the demands of keeping all the balls in the air. Who has time to meditate? … When I went on my first retreat [with General Mills] Jon Kabat-Zinn was my first teacher! (Insert laugh here). Jon created mindfulness stress reduction techniques! Anyway, on our first day he says, “we’re going to be practicing for an hour.” I about died! Now, I wish it could be for longer. But for most of us, finding 10 minutes a day, or even 5 minutes twice a day, is a great start. And, for those really busy executives, I tell them to find time while they do other things. You can meditate when you brush your teeth or when you’re in the shower.

NV: Okay, you’re going to have to explain how I can meditate while I brush my teeth. I always imagined that I need to sit on a cushion with my legs crossed and my hands facing upwards.

JM: I teach all levels. If someone thinks they are too busy, I suggest they find ways to make something, like brushing their teeth, a meditative experience. So, you focus your full attention to feeling the brush, tasting the toothpaste, listening to the sounds around you and you keep re-directing your thoughts back to the present moment when they wander.

NV: So you can do this anytime. I try to find 5 minutes in the shower in the morning, when my kiddos can’t reach me.

JM: Sure, the shower is a great place. I started saving money on conditioner costs by meditating in the shower! [Before utilizing mindfulness techniques] I used to have my whole 10 a.m. meeting in the shower with me! And as I was lost in my thoughts, I would forget that I already conditioned my hair and would condition it twice! Now, I clearly don’t do that.

NV: I imagine that this little example sort of crystalizes how being mindfulness, or finding moments to pause can help us in all areas of our life.

JM: Yes, exactly.

NV: Thanks SO much for your time! I’d love for my readers to also check out your article A Mindful Calendar—as executives and stay-at-home moms a like—can benefit from this organizational article. Thanks again for your time and your valuable contribution to our world.

A related story of interest: The Power of NOT Holding It All (Together)

Avoiding Gossip and Other Survival Strategies for Single Moms

A year ago, just after launching this blog, I wrote the post “Adjusting My Attitude”. The title itself is misleading, but I was new to blogging and often picked titles back then that didn’t accurately convey the real subject-matter at hand. Yes, I was adjusting my attitude—but the post really outlines survival tips to help us single moms keep our sanity and our families intact. Last weekend at one of my son’s soccer games, I was reminded of how easy it is—just after a few careless remarks and questions from an insensitive mom—to sink into self-doubt or pity or fear. The mother of another child, who has known me for four years, says loudly (after watching me run after my 3-year-old and not watch my 10-year-old play): “You clearly need your husband.”

I smiled and looked at her, with my huge, wiggly three-year-old in my arms, and saw a few moms and dads of the other players whom I didn’t know well, look up at me—and I took a deep breath. Here we go again, I thought.

Talking about the divorce with strangers is never a good idea. It not only sets you up to be the subject of gossip, but it also re-hashes old issues that may really not bother you anymore—even if it bothers others. This woman did not have my best interests at heart, but I felt I had to respond when she continued with her questions by asking why he didn’t come to the games.

“He lives in London and I’m divorced,” I say to her. (I figure it’s better to say I’m divorced than I’m still separated as I’ve been separated for more than 3 years with a lengthy, drawn-out divorce process.)

She begins tisking and sighing and I literally block her out  as she starts asking question after question very loudly and I can sense the other parents intently listening: “Does he see the boys?!” “How can you deal with this?” and “OMG, I’d just DIE!” I somehow pretend I see someone I know and walk back to the playground with my little guy. I swear I told this woman about the divorce 3 years ago at a playdate at her house when she inquired about my husband and where he was, etc. I think that she’s doing this on purpose—or that she’s incredibly dense—or just socially inept and insensitive in the very least—but I decide to shake it off. I don’t need a husband at the games. My boys are loved and they both know that I’d do anything for them. I’m juggling just fine and we ARE a complete family, I think as I clap loudly for my older son—whom I’m watching from a distance away from the chatty Cathy, gossipy mom.

I’ve learned a long time ago to block out the noise and the opinions of others and to focus solely on the health of my family: my boys. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to re-publish the majority of one of my first posts. It’s a great reminder to me, (and likely other single moms) as I prepare for many more soccer games with this woman and the others who may dig up the past for me with a barrage of questions and/or gossip—that I am strong. I am focussed. I am happy. Their self-projecting pity, gossip, or wonder over my situation is not my problem and I’m not obligated to talk about anything with them. Talking about the divorce doesn’t do me or my boys any good. I’m focussed on the future—and it’s already becoming a better one every day.

Single Mom Survival Tips:

1. Think of your divorce as a springboard for positive change.

Instead of thinking of myself as a victim, I have to think of myself as a champion for change. This is our opportunity to live a better life. I thank God every day that I have this chance to build a better life and a better self for my children.

2. Your family is complete if you are.
Another well-meaning friend came over for dinner one night. I made a roast chicken, roasted vegetables and a salad. As we sat at the table with my two boys she seemed really sad. Later after the kiddos were asleep (which was a miracle!), she admitted to me, “I feel so sad for your boys. The family just doesn’t seem complete” (meaning without their father.) I know she meant well, but I told her that it has almost always been just me and the boys or just me and William, my oldest, as my ex hardly ever made it home before dinner time. I still think it’s important to have dinner and sit around a table and chat. She apologized profusely, but I still had her thought in my head.  To clear it out, I remind myself that we are complete. I take an even more concerted effort to plan dinner. As we sit around the table and chat, giggle or make fun of the two-year-old who wears more food than he eats, I say a silent thanks for my complete family as I watch them eat healthy food. (See my Cooking section for more inspiration.)

3. Be thankful.
Every night for the past 9 years I have made William, my oldest, say a list of what he is thankful for. Because he’s ten, he says the nine things he’s thankful for. Jamesy says the three that he’s “tinkful” for. It’s a great way to remind us to focus on what’s good and what’s working in our lives. Since I’m a bit in denial of my increasing age … cough … just know that I now have a long list to come up with each evening of what I’m thankful for—and what a great way to end the evening!

4. Become a planner.

I’m trying hard on this one as it’s not my strong suit. Every weekend seems to spring upon me and I end up a bit lonely as I shuffle to find things for me and the boys to do. (Most of our married friends are enjoying family time and there are few playdates to be had for my little ones on the weekend, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t stay busy!) If I don’t plan something ahead of time, I end up a bit blue with bored kids on my hands. Now, I plan day-trips and museum outings and am reaching out to other single moms who may want to get together for dinner, brunch etc, in order to stay busy and survive the weekend! (Read this post of my two-day unconventional Thanksgiving escape with the boys: “Wide Open Spaces.”)

5. Continue with or make family rituals. 

Who says I have to have a husband to have family night with the kids? I love long dinners and board games. There, I said it. I am definitely not very hip. I love playing games of monopoly, charades, trivial pursuit, checkers, scrabble, etc. My oldest does too. Since I’ve been separated, I barely manage to do these things as the then baby, now three-year-old, usually grabs game pieces or makes it a bit tricky. I’ve decided to re-institute family game night slowly this time. It may be hard at first, but we’re going to try to do games the youngest can master too: big puzzles, for instance. We’ll see. It may end up as family movie night until Jamesy is at least four. But we’ll get there!

6. Stop talking about the divorce.

This is difficult, but I’ve learned the hard way over the past three years that it’s better not to talk about the impending divorce with anyone other than your therapist, trusted friend or sister who remains positive, or your support group. I find that when I do respond to well-intentioned questions from neighbors or friends, that I end up feeling badly when I might have been feeling great before I started talking with them. It’s weird isn’t it? Maybe it’s just that I start to see their pity. Or maybe they may say things like “He’s such a jerk!” or “How the Hell do you do it? If I were you I’d have slit my wrists by now. Your two-year-old is such a handful!” These are just two comments I’ve received from well-meaning friends over the past few months. Ok, they aren’t helping. So what I can do in response to a well-meaning question is just smile and say, “I’m really doing well. Do you mind if we talk about something else right now?” It’s a better way to go. It also limits your exposure to being the focus of gossip. Even on my bad days when I’m actually not doing well. Fake it till you make it, isn’t such a bad way to go sometimes!

7. Limit Drinking.

I’ve never really drank much. But I find that when I do have a glass of vino with friends on the rare occasions that I go out now, I start to feel worse, rather than better.   And, I still have to get up at 6:30 a.m. every morning. Enough said.

8. Work out!

Think of this time in your life as parenting boot camp. I take out all of my frustrations with the impending divorce and parenting solo during yoga class or on a bike ride. I’m lucky enough to live near the beach, so I run, walk or bike every day during the week. It’s the best way to clear my head and get the endorphins soaring!

9. Learn to Meditate.

I’m new at this, but over the past year, meditating has helped me tremendously. Even if you can just focus on your breath for 5 minutes, do it. My good friend and wonderful therapist Lisa Nastasi, Ph.D., outlines a great mindfulness meditation technique in her guest post: “The Power of NOT Holding It All )together).” 

Did any of these tips help you? What ideas do you have? Please chime in!

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Eating Fresh in Tuscany

Salad greens fresh from the garden with local wine from Montepulciano.

When you think of Italian food, your mind likely drifts to pizza, spaghetti, cold cuts such as Proscuitto and Parma ham or cheeses like Pecorino or Mozzarella. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But I’m finding that the abundant fresh fruit and vegetables are just as much a part of the Tuscan daily life. Eating vegetables just picked from a garden is a luxury for Americans—but the norm for Tuscans.

A neighbor’s summer garden.

Massive round zucchinis grow in many backyards.

In every yard of field, you’ll find gorgeous, plentiful gardens.

Apricots dangle temptingly down a local wall.

And many of the fruit and nut trees, bushes and plants I photographed during a recent morning walk through our Tuscan village were found along the roadside or in ditches or over walls. It’s remarkable the sheer amount of fresh fruit and nuts that I found on a one hour stroll!

Fig trees like this grow along the roadside with plentiful fruit almost ready to be picked.

It seems that walnuts, almonds, apricots, figs, plums and artichokes (carciofis, my favorite!) grow like weeds in this area of the world.

Yummy plums along a dirt road.

A walnut dropped on the road from a plentiful, old tree.

Artichokes!

Gorgeous pears.

Mysterious blue berries in a ditch near an abandoned field. They weren’t our blue berries, as we tasted them! Perhaps ripening black currants?

Pomegranates?

As we looped back around from town and through the surrounding fields, we then, of course, came across the staples of Tuscany: grapes from vineyards with champagne grapes, semolina wheat fields and olives.

Olives, almost ready for harvesting.

Semolina wheat field recently harvested.

Sinalunga champagne grapes

The local Tuscan olive oil company.