The lost art of the handwritten note

Written by: on Monday, February 28th, 2011

Let's not let letter writing become old-fashioned...and outdated! All it takes is 5 minutes to sit down and pen one to someone!

Today, a rainy dreary day, I sat down to write a handwritten note. Why this is memorable: I haven’t penned a note (that wasn’t something pre-printed off Snapfish, Kodak Gallery, or some other card printing site—or jotted in an e-mail to someone, which I don’t really consider a real “note” at all). It was to my grandparents, who—at 93 and 95—still eagerly await the mailman and have never had (and don’t want to have) a computer.

In our fast-paced world, this is an anomaly; we’re all connected via high-speed WiFi and mail is saved for catalogs (mostly unwanted ones, which end up in the recycling bin) and credit card solicitations. When was the last time you received a note from someone? If you did, your first thought would probably be: “Is their computer broken?” or “I wonder if everything is okay?”

Even stores like Papyrus showcase all the beautiful cards and notes you can send to someone, but how many of us pick ones with words already in it…so we only have to sign our names with a hastily written sentence or two?

With so many avenues open to us to communicate with others, it’s amazing how much we’ve really lost touch with the art of COMMUNICATING…writing thoughts long-form and in sentences, not in text format or 40 characters or less, which allows for more stream of consciousness and emotions. In a nutshell, it allows for depth.

Call me a bad mom, but I never really encourage my kids to write thank you notes when they receive a gift. I’ve always thought it faster to just pick up the phone and say how much they loved the present. So they aren’t really being trained in the art of writing a letter. This is definitely going to change moving forward!

And for me, I’m making it a new goal to jot a note or two to people (including my grandparents) moving forward. Even as I get more and more knowledgeable about everything digital, it’s important not to lose sight of just how much more meaning this form of communicating has—particularly for those who may not be connected. (And for those of us who use the ‘ol excuse: who’s got the time? My answer is: put aside the BB or iPhone for just 5 minutes and make the time!)

NYC & The Fight over Fresh, Clean Air

Written by: on Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Warning: if you smoke, you should probably stop reading right now because you won’t like what I have to say!

I spent the past weekend skiing with my kids in the Berkshires—and was disgusted standing in the lift lines behind people smoking. I had nowhere to go with my son and we had to stand there and breathe it in or get out of the lift line. Despite my son saying very loudly: “Mommy, something’s stinky!” the smoker just kept on smoking and then tossed his butt in the snow. Lovely.

Smokers are slowly losing more and more places to light up. A bad thing? Not at all!

Then, when we went toward the lodge for lunch, we had to pass through smokers—and a haze of cigarette smoke—standing outside for a puff.

NYC has just taken a stand by banning outdoor smoking in New York City’s parks, beaches, boardwalks, pedestrian plazas, and other outdoor public spaces—from May 23. I say hallelujah! Just as bad as standing on a ski mountain breathing in smoke is sitting on a beach having to breathe in the fumes of a smoker—or biking, running, or rollerblading in the park near someone taking a drag.

I know all the arguments: smokers have rights too. Yes, that’s true, but the bottom line is clean air should trump all. Period. End of story.

We all know about the research (smoking—including secondhand smoke—causes cancer and emphysema, as well as myriad other problems), so I don’t need to highlight those here. But smokers should not let their habits affect the lives of those who choose not to smoke.

Just think if every time someone chose not to exercise, you gained an extra pound? Or if restaurants mandated that everything would now be fried food, you’d be like: wait, I don’t want to eat that because it’s not healthy for me! So why should the unhealthy habits of some people affect those of us who choose not to do it?

Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg, for taking a stand! I can only hope that other cities and states follow suit.

Frenzied life = Frenzied Eating, Spending, & Substance Abuse? (aka The Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan disorder)

Written by: on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
Spending with a credit card

Using your plastic a bit too much? You might want to stop to think about why

Since leaving my job at the end of November, a curious thing has happened to my spending: it has slowed down dramatically. Now, you might say, of course it has: you don’t have a regular paycheck anymore! True, true, but it’s more than just that: it’s that I don’t even have the desire to spend money. No need for designer shoes or bags, no need for random things picked up that I never ended up using, no need for that fourteenth pair of black pants, and no need to browse in stores for something/anything.

There were times, mind you, in my frenzied life—juggling 60+ hours of work a week, a 3-hour daily commute, and two young kids—when the spending would slow down, but the mindless eating would start. When one was temporarily tamed, the other would rear its ugly head.

Now it’s a different story: Spending time with my kids reading; being able to make it all the way to the end of a compelling book (I just finished Water for Elephants…which was amazing) or through the entire newspaper; spending an extra 10 minutes to have a cup of tea in the morning; going for a 5-mile invigorating run outdoors: these are all things I treasure so much more now than that trendy bag, pair of shoes, or piece of clothing.

It got me thinking: how much of the mindlessness in our lives (and this includes mindless eating, drugs, drinking, and so much more) is a result of the crazy impersonal nature of our 24/7 lives? It’s almost as if we’re trying to feed some innermost, unspoken (and unmet) need. We put ourselves on a diet …yet again… or a budget (or go into rehab), forcing ourselves to restrict our compulsiveness—but we never get to the root of the problem, of why we feel the need to do it in the first place. That may be why diets and budgets often backfire with “binges”.

I think about the actors and actresses in Hollywood with big issues (think Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, and all the stars in rehab for substance abuse, eating disorders, etc) and I see this firsthand: lives lived in excess are most certainly trying to fill a void. What that void is has to be determined by each of us as it’s an individual thing.

And when we feed those needs, a funny thing happens: we don’t need to diet anymore because our weight naturally gets under control; we don’t need to manage our credit card debt (because it never gets out of whack), and we don’t need to go into rehab because the drugs and drinking just aren’t necessary anymore.

How to identify what we’re really craving? It’s not easy but: Living in the moment; not living for other people (and what they think you should be—or should be doing); having a greater purpose in life; loving wholeheartedly; learning to appreciate what we have (not what others have); respecting our bodies every single day (as you never know when your days may be up)…these are just a few of the things that are helping me.

Where hath all my willpower gone?

Written by: on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

There have been platefuls of cookies sitting in my kitchen as of late: leftover Super Bowl treats and heart-shaped Valentine’s Day goodies, complete with pink frosting, sprinkles, and jellybeans. But I’ve never been one of those people who can leave a plate of goodies out on the counter—and casually resist their call. You might argue: Who really has willpower strong enough to do that?


There definitely are people: a friend of mine used to have a giant jar of M&M’s on her desk and only ate a few per day (crazy but true!). I was always so impressed and told her that if I had a jar like that on my desk, I’d eat the candy by the fistfuls! No joke—and the reason why I never had (or ever will have!) a candy jar on my desk.

So I’ve always been of the mindset that I should just keep the treats out of the house altogether: no treats equals zero temptation—and no extra pudge around the middle.

But I could not just toss the cookies in the trash as I might have done years ago; not only do I realize that it’s a complete waste of food, but my son likes them with his lunch and my daughter eats them as afternoon treats. So as my kids get older, I need to learn to manage my stay-slim tricks accordingly.

What I have found: by just moving the treats out of view (Ziploc them up and put them in the cupboard or, better yet, store them in the furthest recesses of the freezer), I don’t nibble on them all day. In fact, I don’t even think about them. It’s an easy and quick solution. And in the meantime, I’m working on why I feel the need to eat four cookies off the plate in the first place!

How do you react when you “wobble” in life?

Written by: on Friday, February 11th, 2011

When things aren’t going your way, when your boss doesn’t like the project you’re doing, when you get into a fight with your significant other, when your diet backfires and you gain 5 pounds: how do you respond? How does your body react?

I can tell you how I respond: I get panicked, I don’t breathe, and I don’t sleep—which worsens the problem tenfold. In a nutshell: my whole life goes into stress mode. And all the research out there, shows us that this kind of response triggers long-term health problems like cancer, autoimmune diseases, and more.

But asking yourself that question—and bringing awareness to your body’s knee-jerk reactions in times of stress—is the first step to change.

Spinning top as metaphor for life

Does your life ever feel like it's spinning out of control? You CAN learn to control that by controlling your body's reaction.

For years, I’ve realized that you can’t change the world and people around you (no matter how crazy and irrational they may be!): what you can change is how you respond to craziness around you. But I couldn’t alter my own response as I was stuck literally in the day-to-day grind: exercise, go to work, work all day, come home, put the kids to bed, go to bed, wake up and do it all again the next day and the next day and the next.

It’s only after leaving my job—and now taking up yoga—that I’m starting to become more aware of my body and how it reacts. And I’m learning—albeit very, very slowly—to control that reaction.

As my yoga teacher, Ellen, says—as I’m in a very wobbly tree pose, flailing my arms trying not to topple over (and not breathing, which is typical for me): “The point is not to NOT wobble; it’s to control your reaction to the wobbling.” Ground your feet, pull your shoulders back, lift your spine, and take deep breaths in and out. Putting your body in a position of strength gives you strength to face the world. Now I just have to remember that every single time I get stressed!

Fighting the urge to hibernate!

Written by: on Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Remember: bears hibernate, we do not (although some days we really, really want to!)

There’s no denying it: It’s cold, dark, and absolutely miserable in the mornings these days—making getting out of bed to go to the gym that much more difficult.

This morning, I shut off my alarm at 5 a.m. determined to cozy back under the covers instead of doing my daily workout. Then, I felt guilty and the voices started in my head: “Valerie, you took yesterday off (true!), so is this going to be a habit? If so, you will start gaining weight (a definite fact).”

“You feel SO much better, more invigorated, better about your day when you get your butt out of bed and exercise (true again).”


I did. I got dressed and drove to the gym in the pitch black at 5:45 a.m. But just 10 minutes into my workout (which included 2-minute bursts of jumping rope while listening to motivating music on my iPod), an amazing thing happened: I felt great—and was so happy that I got motivated.

Bikini here we come! And even if you never ever want to be seen in a bikini, zero belly overhang is a good goal for all of us!

Moral of the story: Yes, sometimes it really sucks to have to work out, particularly in the dead of winter…but you will feel SO much better, so much more confident, and so much stronger and healthier if you get your butt out of bed and exercise.

And for those who aren’t morning exercisers, the same holds true. If you commit to going to the gym after work, know it will be dark, cold (if you live on the East Coast, like I do) and you won’t want to go. But do it anyway. You’ll be glad you did, guaranteed!

And then come spring and summer, when your pants are not snug and your belly isn’t hanging over your bikini bottom…you will look back and be happy that you are the fabulously motivated person that you are!

Put on your oxygen mask first!

Written by: on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Give yourself the gift of a life-saving breather

There’s good reason flight attendants, in going through the emergency routines, tell parents to put their oxygen masks on first: we can’t possibly help our kids if we’re incapacitated. So why don’t we do this in real life?

As women, men, dads, moms—working and stay-at-home—we run around all day doing what needs to be done for our jobs, the kids, the family, the house, ailing and elderly parents, other people in need…but leave little—if no—time for ourselves.  For some crazy reason, we don’t consider that important. (It also seems to be the easiest thing to skimp on since we have no immediate and outward consequences.)

In speaking last night to my brother—a dad of 4 kids—I heard about how sick he’s been: lethargic, unable to do his typical running around (which usually involves driving his kids to various soccer games at all hours in between doing what he needs to do for his full-time job). He’s worried; his family is worried. He hasn’t been taking care of himself—and it’s catching up with him.

In fact, SO many people that I talk to tell me how little they do for themselves. One woman I just met with yesterday told me how she has found it so hard to find time to exercise: work has been nonstop with frequent overseas traveling, home life has been compounded by a husband with a bad back, and there are kids’ birthday parties to plan and so much more. Life was filled with just making sure that everyone else has what he/she needed.

I talked to another woman who told me her husband had just been laid off from his high-profile job; she was thankful. “He was headed for a heart attack,” she told me, adding that he’s now finally taking time for himself and de-stressing. “It’s a gift that he got let go,” she said. “He couldn’t keep up at that pace much longer.”

The picture is all-too-common these days. We’re rushing through life at top speed that, at some point, we’re going to be forced to slow down: we’ll get sick or at worse, have a breakdown. I read a horrible story in People this week about a stay-at-home mom who shot both her teenage kids in the head; she killed them just like that.,,20463841,00.html

What possible horrific point does a mom need to get to do this to her two babies???? That’s obviously the worst extreme, but I think to myself: this woman had no life and didn’t care of her needs at all—and this built up over time and, most likely combined with mental illness, she lost it. But why didn’t she ask for help? It’s just beyond sad.

The bottom line: we all need to start taking a stand for ourselves: make time for YOU. Take a lunch break, every day. Go to that movie you’ve been wanting to see. Make a date to see a friend for coffee—every week. Get out to walk for a breather in the morning, at night after dinner. Exercise. Ask for help: you can’t do it alone. Eat healthy: sugar and sweets and caffeine can contribute to the frenzy. Drink enough water. Don’t smoke. Have a drink, in moderation. Take care of your mental health; if you feel like you’re spiraling out of control, seek help. Call in sick to work if you need a breather. Wake up a little earlier and create a tea or meditation ritual for yourself. Watch a sunrise. Take deep breaths.

You have to take care of yourself before you do everything for everyone else. It’s not selfish and it can’t be an option; it’s a matter of personal survival.