Monday, April 24, 2006

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Very Talented

Ahhh. Travel. One of my favorite things about going away is meeting up with old—and new—friends and seeing how the other half of the world lives. And of how different spots in the world look! I am well aware that my own little place on top of this Connecticut ridge of ours would be unimaginable to much of the world, particularly if one were not familiar with the topography of New England…or with much of America for that matter. When I traveled to Florida last week for spring break, I felt somewhat out of my element; indeed, had it not been for the two years we spent living in Miami, I would have felt like I landed on another planet. Its juxtaposition to the northeast could not have been sharper. What with the dreary weather we’ve experienced for gadzooks, what seems like an eternity and the complete void of greenery and pops of fresh sprouts, waking up to sunshine, warmth and brightly-colored flowers was nothing short of glorious. It didn’t hurt, either, that my “second mom” (with whom I stayed) spoiled me half-rotten, with al fresco lunches on her patio, extravagant treats at local eateries, dinners at candlelit tables overlooking the bay, late night chats over dark chocolate, and late morning coffee, served piping hot on that proverbial silver platter.

While in Naples, I had the wonderful fortune of sharing lunch one afternoon with my “mom’s” best friends…and the delightful luck of being seated next to one of my favorite people in the world. Artist extraordinaire, world traveler and the author of three books, Very California, Very Charleston and Very New Orleans, she is, needless to say, Very Talented.

I first met Diana Gessler about five years ago when her first book debuted and she did a signing at a private home in Naples. A good friend of my second mom, I became instantly attracted to her. She radiates warmth, sincerity and, of course, talent out the whazoo. We toured the gallery which represents her work and talked about her book project, which propelled her to super-stardom seemingly over night.

But we know that overnight sensations are illusions. And Diana is no exception. Her story is quite remarkable and, as it is loaded with some great life lessons, I feel especially inclined to share it with you.

Her parents recognized her artistic talents very early on, and they promptly equipped her by providing her with the best instruction that they could both find and afford. She studied intensely for years, working both in the fine and in the graphic arts. She is now best-known for her watercolor landscapes and renderings of historic or architecturally-interesting homes and buildings, all of which command truly respectable rates. She also paints gorgeous florals and still lifes. Anyway, she has always “paint-journaled” her various world travels, choosing to capture scenes, people and experiences in watercolor renderings rather than through photographs or words (as the rest of us mere mortals do). Twenty-five years later, she has a huge collection of travel journals, all hand-painted and hand-lettered.

If I have the story properly recollected, it was shortly after she returned from a lengthy trip to California when she visited a publisher (on short notice) and inquired as to whether or not they might find some commercial value of her handpainted travel journal of her trip criss-crossing the state. A short interview there was generously concluded with a book contract, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I met Diana when Very California was hot off the press. I “got” her work…and its long-term potential…in a nanosecond. “Diana, you’ve got a real concept here. There’s not a city in the world you couldn’t do.” Sure enough, that first book was followed by Very Charleston and the recent Very New Orleans, which was, coincidentally, being printed as New Orleans was literally sinking in the flood of the century. Thankfully, Diana’s book preserves the city perfectly.

Diana and her work have taught me a lot about life in general, and about being an artist in particular. But they’ve also shed light on the process of parenthood. They have taught me, first of all, the value of recognizing innate giftedness early in a child’s life. And of fostering genius when it is first glimpsed. Diana’s parents get gold stars for doing that so generously. We all need to be on the lookout for flashes of genius in our own kids. And be willing to bring it to an honorable conclusion so that the rest of the world may benefit.

Secondly, I learned that it usually really does take a couple decades—at least—to bring out true talent. That practice, practice, practice gets you to Carnegie Hall. And that it takes dozens of journaled trips to get you to publisher’s attention and best-seller status. There is really hardly ever flash-in-the-pan success that’s worth writing—or reading—about. So don’t let your kids moan and groan about drills and workouts and practice….in whatever area in which they are currently working or struggling. It takes more years than we care to think about to finally “arrive.”

Thirdly, serendipity happens. Diana confessed that she wasn’t thinking about publishing her journals into books at the time she was actually painting them. It wasn’t until much later that the inspiration struck her. The important thing was that she kept practicing her talent so that when the opportunity presented itself, she was ready to accept it and go for it. How many times have you seen the same thing happen with others who have faced similar good fortune? As they say, there is no such thing as good luck; it’s just preparation meeting opportunity.

Lastly, seeing Diana again reinforced how much I appreciate mingling with a humble spirit. Diana is Very Talented. But she is extremely humble about it. Hasn’t gone to her head. Or to her attitude. She’s quietly unassuming about it all…which is particularly refreshing in these days of obnoxious, celebrity-driven headline news about trivial baloney. (Do we really need to know day-by-day accounts of baby Suri Cruise?!?) It’s wonderful seeing someone of Diana’s talent and stature maintaining a low profile and an accurate sense of self.

You may have a similar story of parental nurturing. Of grown-up success. Of being Very Talented. If so, I hope you take some of these observations to heart. Or perhaps you’ll use them as encouragement in addressing your own children’s needs. Of being attentive to flashes of brilliance. Or of unusual giftedness. Of extremes in the senses. Great visual acuity. Great kinesthetic awareness. Great sense of taste. Or of touch. Gifts that can all be cultivated. That can be boosted with time or energy or money or teaching or mentoring.

For we can all aspire to be Very Talented. And Very Wonderful, too. Just like Diana.

Happy week,


A Quick Note

Diana Gessler’s web site provides some of the best eye candy on earth. Go to: Her books of course have special appeal if you have any connections to California, Charleston or New Orleans. They make perfect gifts!

She also provides free tips and tricks of the journaling trade at:

Monday, April 10, 2006

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It's Not About the Bunnies

Just when we thought spring had finally arrived, we got blasted with snow flurries and wretched weather all day Saturday. Rain mixed with snow and sleet…and spring spirits dashed right along with hopes of getting anything done outside in the garden…or of simply catching a whiff of fresh spring air. Because my calendar tells me that spring has officially arrived—we’re ten days into it for crying out loud and chocolate bunnies, eggs and marshmallow chicks line rack upon rack of grocery store shelves after all—yet my eyes tell me that winter is indeed, still in our midst—we cannot leave our homes without bulky overcoats and sweaters—I’m caught between the desire for celebrating spring’s freshness and vitality with the inescapable resignation that winter, at least up here in New England, is still here.

Such is Holy Week. We want so badly to celebrate the Resurrection at Easter, but we feel overcome with the passion and trial of the days leading from Palm Sunday through Good Friday. This season signals—around the world—time for reflection. During Holy Week, we move—day by day—from sadness to enthusiasm. From the valley of darkness to the tunnel of light. And that entails conflict.

Many of us feel conflicted these days. Overall, general “conflictedness.” The war in Iraq might be bogging us down in one way or another; college acceptance and rejection letters might be cause for overall malaise or even panic; and figuring out the calendar for summer activities for your kids in light of your own schedule might be more than you can emotionally handle.

I’ve been unusually conflicted lately. I’ll most likely be re-entering the official workforce in the next few weeks or months, and I’ve been interviewing, taking tests and talking with lots of different folks from varied areas of the work-world in an effort to nail down what I should be doing with myself, professionally, for the next oh, twenty years or so. A huge decision. We’re trying to figure out how to transition from having a mom in the home to having one gone during the day; how to shuffle kids to various activities without a mom-chauffeur yet with a new teen driver on our roster; and yet how to deal with the financial reality of multiple college tuition bills for most of the foreseeable future which, in and of itself is enough to cause discomfort. Perhaps my family just has too many balls in the air. Too many unanswered questions. Too many variables in the equation.

Yet as I look around, I see so many others facing conflict and discomfort. I cannot go one week without receiving an email or a phone call from a reader whose family member is struggling with one problem or another. Financial problems, health concerns, relationship issues. Most of us hate being uncomfortable. We hate conflict. Hate uncertainty. Hate dealing with the struggle in order to celebrate the victory. And yet that’s the real lesson of Holy Week.

However tempting it is to focus your thoughts and energies this week on the celebration of Easter—on resurrection and renewal—I hope that you allow yourself some quiet time to sort out the conflicts and discomforts of Maundy Thursday and of Good Friday. To focus on the sacrifice. For as you grow more fully aware of the sacrifice that Christ made on your behalf, you will gain immeasurable joy at the power of the Resurrection.

And if you are of another faith, please be sensitive to the fact that this week brings with it introspection for millions of people around the world. Passover will be celebrated by Jews and they will have rituals and holy remembrances, too.

So as tempting as it is when you’re in discomfort, confused…or just in a funk…to focus on spring’s lightheartedness and brightness, on chicks and on chocolate, remember that for a few days anyway, it’s not about that. It’s not about the bunnies. Even though, I admit, they’re taking up inordinate amounts of windowsill and tabletop real estate in my own home these days, and as much as they emotionally lift me out of the doldrums of winter, out of my own confusion and state of disequilibrium and into the sublime celebration of spring, they have little to do with the days ahead of us this week.

Go ahead and splurge on chocolate and on baskets. On flowers for your home or in a new outfit or on travel. This is a time for celebration, to be sure, come Easter Day. But allow yourself in the next few days, to internalize the conflict of Holy Week. It is one time of year when your internal struggle should be palpable. For we cannot get to Easter, to victory, without coming to grips with the sacrifice of Good Friday. Throughout life, we cannot get to true celebration without coming to grips with life’s struggle.

Until next week,


A Quick Note

Thank you to rocket mom, Serena, who emailed me with these fun statistics after reading last week’s Newsletter.

• If shop mannequins were real women, they'd be too thin to menstruate.
• There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only eight who do.
• Marilyn Monroe wore a size 14.
• If Barbie was a real woman, she'd have to walk on all fours due to her proportions.
• The average American woman weighs 144 lbs. and wears between a size 12 and 14.
• One out of every four college aged women has an eating disorder.
• The models in the magazines are airbrushed-they're not perfect!!
• A psychological study in 1995 found that three minutes spent looking at models in a fashion magazine caused 70% of women to feel depressed, guilty, and shameful.
• Models twenty years ago weighed 8% less than the average woman, today they weigh 23% less.

• Body image, Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005
• Hartline, Christine MA. Dying to Fit In- Literally! Learning to Love Our Bodies and Ourselves Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005. .
• Lightstone, Judy. Improving Body Image Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005. .
• Maynard, Cindy MS, RD. Body Image Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005. .
• Surprising Stats and Facts Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005. .
• Size and Self-Acceptance for Achieving Healthy Weight Date of Access: 11 Jul. 2005..
• Weight and Body Image: A Problem for Boys and Girls of All Races Date of access: 11 Jul. 2005 .
• Women’s Body Image Date of access: 13 Jul. 2005.

A Rocket Mom Society Note

The next meeting is a spring Make-n-Take here at the Mother Ship. We’ll be planting bulbs in decorative containers for beautiful tabletop centerpieces. Start going through your favorite containers and come ready for a night of fellowship, food and fun. Bring a friend! Please RSVP so that I can get an accurate head count.

Rocket Mom in the News

Do you struggle with self-sabotaging habits that you’ve tried to break over and over again only to find yourself fighting them well, over and over again? Pick up a copy of this month’s (April) Redbook magazine and read Charlotte Latvala’s article in which my advice is given to readers. Her article, “Make over your bad habits!” deals with everything from impatience to sleeping late. See how yours truly struggles with these issues, too.

Monday, April 03, 2006

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Weighing In On Spring

As I sit down at my laptop with thoughts of responding to Sunday’s Headliner, “Before Spring Break, The Anorexic Challenge” in the Style section of The New York Times (April 2, 2006), a banner flashes across my home page with news of the hunger challenge facing millions of women in Africa.

The juxtaposition frightens me.

Apparently, anorexia and bulimia, advocated by teen girls throughout the northern western hemisphere and affectionately referred to as “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” respectively, have taken our daughters by storm. Thousands of teens are forcing themselves to 300-calories-a-day diets in order to fit into string bikinis for spring breaks in resorts all over the Caribbean…while millions of young girls on the other side of the world are sent to school in order to get just one half-way decent meal within any 24-hour period.

As my own daughter and I were lunching with the family on Sunday, she asked me how many pounds I thought she could reasonably lose before she went to Florida to celebrate spring break with a girlfriend and her family. We chatted about the need for daily exercise (and she spelled out their plan for daily visits to the gym as well as for long beach jogs) and the forsaking of sugary snacks (my husband at this point adding his own two-cents worth of the need to stop eating ice cream and cookies as well as to check fiber content in white vs. whole wheat bread and his estimate that she could, indeed, expect to lose seven-and-a-half-pounds in the next two weeks pre-bikini season.) With his tongue clearly in cheek, my daughter, frustrated and a little angry at his underestimation screamed: “But Mooommmm! You said I could lose ten?!?”

So what’s a mom to do when her teen daughter gets regularly bamboozled by peers who post photos of super-skinny models on their home page of (called “thinspiration” or “thinspo” according to the Times article) and by hosting dieting marathons of their own; by celebrity advertising using the skinniest and prettiest of human creation; and by her own mom who is desiring to get back into bathing suit season with stringent expectations of her own? (I confess to verbally, i.e. in front of my own teen daughter, dreading my need to shed the unwanted seven L.B.’s picked up post-Christmas and hidden underneath layers of New England polar fleece; my own visit to Florida in two weeks to visit my “adopted” mom brings internal freaking out about not fitting into my cutest Lilly Pulitzer skirt unless I move and re-sew the waist button.) This sounds so bizarre, even as I write it, and yet I know I am striking a nerve (or cellulite dimple) as many moms have confessed to me (and to friends whose friends have confessed to them) that we could all stand to lose at least ten ugly pounds apiece.

The New York Times article goes along to quote Dr. Margo Maine, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders: “Every year spring break seems to get bigger and bigger,” adding that “body-image pressure also rises…(sic) with expectation that you have to ‘party like a rock star and be over the top” including ‘looking like a rock star, that is, fashionably, even dangerously skinny.’” (*)

Let’s face it: cultural expectations demand leanness. I read a quote two decades ago in a magazine article apparently earth-shattering as it has stayed in my long-term memory all this time, that “the ultimate status symbol is a fit and thin body.” So times haven’t changed all that much, except in the intensity and extremes with which we move toward that end.

That said, and given the enormity of the problem (which might be better understood by reading the fascinating yet deeply troubling article in its entirety…see NOTE at end of this article) here are 7 Ways in which we are weighing in on spring in our own household:

1)Continue to stress radiant health rather than compulsive weight-checking and clothing size comparisons. Granted, this is easier said than done on some days, like on Friday when I had my annual OBGYN check-up. I half-jokingly asked the doc what the deal was with the stuff around my middle, grabbing a couple inches of ugliness and looking up quizzically at my doctor’s face. He picked up my chart and reviewed my own weight trend during the past three years. “Let’s see,” he dead-panned. “The first year you saw me you refused to get on the scale, and last year you were ten pounds lighter.” While I explained to him that this was not exactly one of my lighter weeks—if you get what I mean—and that these heavier weeks consistently carry with them an extra five pounds of pure water weight, and that I just ate breakfast and was fully clothed so that the delta was more like two to three pounds, he did affirm that I looked “great.” While that was clearly code for “don’t feel like you need to lose weight but if you’re asking me about your middle, it’s called ‘fat,’ he did place a premium on being fit and strong over being super-skinny. The fact that I had my tennis skirt and shoes on along with a scheduled game immediately following my check-up was good enough for him. And it’s what I stress over and over with my daughter: just keep exercising and eating in a healthy manner and the rest will take care of itself…even if some weeks are “fat weeks” and some weeks are “thin weeks.” (I realize this is a foreign concept to rocket dads, but trust me on this one.)

2)Strive for a diet that is as natural as possible. Avoid processed foods, refined sugars, refined flours, excessive sodium, and chemical additives. While this might make packing the kids’ lunchboxes more challenging (those cereal bars, juice boxes and mini-bags of chips are awfully convenient) it’s far healthier to pack a piece of whole fruit, some raw nuts and a water bottle. Try to cook as many meals from scratch as is humanly possible, avoiding packaged and prepared entrees that are loaded with preservatives and artificial flavorings and coloring.

3)Drink lots of water. Forget sodas and fruit juices loaded with unnecessary refined sugars. Train your kids to drink that proverbial eight to ten glasses a day. And add a squeeze of lemon or lime whenever possible as the health benefits of doing so are tremendous.

4)Eat several small meals a day or three solid ones, never skipping breakfast or eating on the run. If it means getting up in the morning a half-hour earlier in order to get some healthy food on the table, it’s important that you put this practice into play with consistency and longevity. Just because your kids are old enough to make meals on their own does not mean that you should give up on the practice of seeing them out the door in the morning without this wonderful foundation. Sliced fresh fruit or a protein fruit smoothie is far better than a sugary doughnut or processed fruit roll-up. Make sure that when you pack snacks into lunchboxes, too, that they’re as healthy as manageable. I tend towards organic nuts, yogurt and fruit, or dark chocolate chips or whole-grain, organic cookies. (My husband is still trying to decipher the “organic” in Paul Newman’s wonderful—and my personal favorite—organic chocolate or ginger cookies, each crème-filled and especially delicious. “Does he use organic cream to make the icing or is it the flour that’s organic?” he wonders out-loud every time I open a bag. Who cares? They’re a great alternative to the junk that’s out there being peddled as food.)

5)Recognize clear genetic differences in body style. While I subscribe to the fruit theory of women’s body shapes (you really are an apple or a pear), your DNA plays a huge role in body shape, weight, clothing size and in what you will eventually look like. Stop obsessing—and teach your daughter to do the same—about the body-type that you or she will never have. My daughter is built almost exactly like me; I can teach her about my trouble spots, as I know they will be hers, too. But I also need to teach her to treat her body respectfully, which means that she needs to give it the right fuel as well as daily aerobic workouts and regular strength training. And, given that you know your areas of weakness, try not to dissect your body. Try not to say: “I love my waist but I hate my thighs” or “I’d like my body so much better if my hips weren’t so wide.” You can’t change your basic bone structure so learn to live with the genetic hand you’ve been dealt.

6)Practice proper skin care. Teach your daughter how to take care of her skin, especially her face, so that when she’s older, the habits are well-formed and firmly in place. (And she needn’t resort to botox or chemical peels while young.) Using a high-quality olive oil soap with warm water is still the best cleaning technique possible; don’t succumb to all of the expensive glamour-puss products on the market. I confess to perking up my ears when I over-heard a friend talk about a foundation make-up she uses that she jokingly refers to as face spackle, as it apparently covers up all of one’s skin imperfections. I’ve yet to really check it out, but the word picture of spackling my face—sunspots and all—was tempting. Imagine how much more tempted your teen daughter is with the plethora of celebrity and rock star advertising for beauty products in magazines, MTV, movies and billboards everywhere.

7)Focus on shining eyes, hair, teeth and nails. You can’t hide good health. If you’ve got it, your body will show it. Your eyes will sparkle and your hair will shine in the sunlight. Your nails will be strong and your teeth will be white. These have always been hallmarks of radiant health…and they should be your family’s goals. Compliment your daughter when she exhibits these signs of glowing good health. Give these things your attention. Praise her for bouncing through the day with rosy cheeks and laughing eyes and always give priority to health and well-being rather than to weight or dieting or clothing size analysis.

Bathing suit season is upon us, whether we like it—or care—or not. Perhaps as we struggle through “the anorexic challenge” before our nation’s young girls—as well as our collective desires to be tan and thin and able to fit into a bikini (or one-piece or heck, even a pair of shorts), we can get a grip by getting our arms around the situation…and around our own daughter’s shoulders.

Until next week,


* NOTES: All references to the article “Before Spring Break, The Anorexic Challenge” by Alex Williams are found in The New York Times, April 2, 2006. The online edition can be found for a limited time at:

A Quick Note

While hoping to not sound like a shameless self-promoter, I want to make sure you know that I have devoted an entire chapter of my book, ROCKET MOM! 7 Strategies to Blast You Into Brilliance, to personal health and well-being. It is clearly a foundational block of parenting with excellence; you cannot give exceptional care to your children unless you are functioning at peak physical performance. And you cannot perform at peak unless you are in physical “fightin’ shape.” My seventh strategy takes up 40 pages in wrapping moms’ arms around this most important subject area. You can find my book extensively on the web, on amazon, or by calling my toll-free operators 24/7: 888-476-2493 (All credit cards accepted with same day shipping.)