RIP: My 20/20 vision

Written by: on Tuesday, April 12th, 2011
Vision deteriorating after age 40

One good thing about glasses: you can make a fashion statement with them!

I don’t know about you, but I have always prided myself on my 20/20 vision. Years ago, when people asked if I wore contacts, I would always say (with a little bit of pride): “No, I don’t need glasses”.

 

Well, that has all come back to haunt me now since having kids and having turned 40.

If the shampoo and conditioner bottles look the same in the shower, I can’t tell for the life of me which is which (has anyone invented no-fog shower reading glasses yet??). The back of the Tylenol bottle? Forget it…can’t even make out one of the words. The newspaper in the morning? If I don’t have my glasses with me, I can’t make out type less than 24 point. My kids’ storybooks at night? They know now to bring mommy her glasses if they have any hopes of reading it.

And the worst: forget trendy dimly lit restaurants: I’m like an 85-year-old woman squinting and holding the candle close to the menu trying to make out what the specials are for the evening!

So I am completely tied to my reading glasses and because I’m far-sighted, I’m not able to get contacts. Payback, I think, for all those years of cockiness! Give me a couple of years, and I’ll be tired of running around the house to find my glasses and just get a decorated chain around my neck to hold them! (I always wondered how people could wear those…and now I know!)

The question I have: how the heck do you read the subtitles on the TV at the gym if you don’t have your reading glasses on? I squint and have resigned myself to not reading them as I don’t want to get my nice reading glasses all sweaty—or fogged up. Or maybe someone has a recommendation for a great pair of sport reading glasses…if so, do share!

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I am NOT Superwoman: Hear me Roar!

Written by: on Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
woman at peace; woman taking time to relax; taking time to smell the roses

Imagine having the time to just lie in nature and deep breathe. Sound indulgent, a waste of time? Maybe it's time to re-assess your life...

We live in a society where doing more, being more, having more is lauded … I lived that life for a long time—and did it at such a frenzy and a pace that I never had time to take a step back and look at whether being Superwoman to everyone and everything did anything for ME? The answer it did not.

While I did everything everyone ever asked of me (I never said no. I put out a magazine every month, oversaw the web site, went to lunches, outside talks, did volunteer efforts…ran from morning to night)—with much ohs and ahs “you do so much!”—inside I was slowly dying. I never did anything for myself, had no hobbies, never had time to pursue things I was interested in learning about, and never had much time for my family.

In a nutshell, I was so caught up in the myth of being a Superwoman that I never stopped to think what living that myth—day in and day out—was for doing for my soul.

Sure, I loved the work I did…but the pace at which so many of us work today is unparalleled. Work defines our life, who we are, our value in life. It sucks up our identity during the week (and now, the way jobs are, on the weekends and during every vacation).

So in taking a step back, I’ve realized I can no longer be Superwoman. And I don’t want to be. I want to work, but I want to have time to do other things important to living a fulfilled and happy life. (As that old cliche goes: no one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they had worked more!) And I’m proud that I’ve finally made this life-changing discovery. It only took me 41 years…

If you are starting to feel the way I did, here are a few things you can do:

1) Re-assess your work life. Can you shut down your computer at the same time every night—no excuses—or are you the type of person (as I was) who would continue to do more and more, leaving after only you completed everyone’s requests? You may find that you can easily achieve more work-life balance by putting limits on your time. “I leave at 6 every night”. Sure some people may think that you’re not motivated, but in truth, it’s those people who are probably most miserable in life. And do you really care what they think?

2)  Cut off e-mail at a certain time every day. And do not check it beyond that point. We live in a 24/7 society where if a boss e-mails you at 10, you’re expected to respond. Sure, you might think: I have to, if I want to get ahead. But ask yourself: is getting ahead at the expense of you really worth it? There’s that old cliche: if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile. And this is truth with setting (or not setting) hard-and-fast limits at work.

3) Do the things you want to do now. Do not put them off. If you want to train for a triathlon, start a plan today. If you want to take a photography course, sign up for a class. Doing more things in your life that you want to do will take the emphasis off work—so you’ll start to live a happier, more fulfilled life.

4) If you’re not happy in your job, look for another one. Finding a new one that offers you more work-life balance may not happen overnight, but moving toward that goal will give you more energy and make you feel more fulfilled.

And remember: you will ever never regret having more time for you…

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Why we should never stop going to “school”

Written by: on Friday, March 18th, 2011
school, adult learning, going back to school

Learning new stuff every day keeps us on our toes...and keeps us engaged in life.

I really, really thought that when I finished my Masters degree in journalism, that I was done with school: I was finished—for good! I had no desire to go back and wanted to be paid for my work from now on. (Many long hard years at school with no money can sometimes do that to you…)

And I pretty much followed that philosophy for 14 years until just recently when I left Shape as the editor in chief. I finally had time—and so I signed up for digital classes at NYU. And it’s now that I’m realizing why putting off the idea of “school” was a big mistake…

I’m in one class all about web design—and many times I’m completely lost and often can’t finish my homework because I can’t figure out what the heck I did wrong in the html coding to screw everything up! (For someone who has worked hard to master my knowledge and career, this is a bit of a humbling experience.) I’m in another class all about social media…and there’s so much information that my brain is on overload and I feel like I can’t absorb it all!

But I’m LOVING every minute of it. Why? Because I’m forcing my brain to look at things differently…outside my comfort zone. And it’s really invigorating. As I said to someone recently: we should never stop trying new things or taking classes— be it a community class about finances, an intro to wine class, an intro to yoga class or a class about web design. It keeps us fresh, keeps our mind engaged, and keeps us meeting new interesting people—outside our daily lives.

Many friends I’ve talked to recently have said: “Oh, I’d love to go back to school.” So my answer to anyone who says that is this: start small; sign up for one class (even if it’s a one-night class) and then go from there. You don’t need to be in a program at a university. Just doing something outside the daily grind will keep you continually excited about—and engaged—in life.  Now, back to my homework…

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My kids give me indigestion…sometimes

Written by: on Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

…there, it’s out. I feel as though I have a giant secret off my chest. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE my kids (as I tell my them before bed every night I love them more than all the stars in the universe), but sitting with them at a family meal gives me indigestion, literally. Let’s set the scene at breakfast: Dishes are laid out; food is at everyone’s places; cups filled with juice; forks, spoons, and napkins are all set out. In a nutshell: the kids have everything they need.

It's okay to admit your kids drive you crazy at mealtimes...just don't plan to eat with them so you can enjoy your food—earlier or later—indigestion free.

And I set down my bowl of oatmeal, cup of tea and the newspaper. I am on the verge of an almost audible contented sigh, when it starts:

“Mom” (on verge of crying) “I dropped my spoon on the floor and now I don’t have a spoon” (crying ensues). I get up to get another spoon.

I eat one-half of a biteful of oatmeal before the next one starts.

“Mom” (other child now) “I don’t have enough brown sugar in my oatmeal. I need more brown sugar” (I get up again to get a bit more brown sugar.)

I sit down, take a sip of tea, and open the paper. And then the 3-year-old has suddenly decided she doesn’t like her favorite cereal any more.

“Yucky. Yucky,” she says. “I not like that!”

And this goes on for at least 5 more minutes. My stomach is in knots.

Needless to say, my tea got lukewarm, my oatmeal was cold by the time I got back to it…and the paper didn’t get read until much later. And maybe that’s okay. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s not REALLY necessary to eat every possible meal with your kids (oft-quoted research—that makes any working parent feel horribly guilty—speaks to how more well balanced, smarter, successful, less angry, etc your kids will be if the parents eat meals with them). I don’t mind sitting with my kids, jut not sharing a meal with them. Sometimes a sane, well-fed mom is better for everyone  … than having to deal with this at mealtimes.

A must-read for busy parents!

And as a sidenote, if you’re a parent and you see yourself in this situation, you must read one of my favorite kids’ books: Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy. You’ll enjoy it and get a good laugh.

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…and now Dior’s John Galliano is out (more proof stars are losing a grip)

Written by: on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Charlie Sheen is still losing it, despite his cozy, kinky threesomes that are splashed across the news every day; Lindsay Lohan is always on the brink of being put in the clink; Christina Aguilera got locked up because she was wasted along with her new beau, who was driving the car; and John Galliano—Dior’s designer whose creations I never really wore because I couldn’t afford them—is fired for making drunken anti-Semitic slurs. What the hell is going on with these people? Get a grip on reality! Get a grip on your lives people: life is not about air kissing, catwalks, and publicity stunts (at least, dear God, I hope it isn’t as I’ve really lost out then). Do these people have any depth? While I always try to assume the best in people, I think the answer is a resounding “no”.

Not all stars are crazy: one whom I loved meeting was Modern Family's Sophia Vergara (this shot at my last cover shoot for Shape). She's real, down to earth, and grounded. Let's focus on these saner celebs and leave the other ones to their ridiculous antics.

That’s part of the problem: so many of the stars in Hollywood (and not all of them are this way, see photo of Sophia Vergara, above…)—and the world of people who dress the stars—is not a reality. It’s either a huge publicity stunt or the result of them just not caring (I mean, really, Christina, you have a son for chrissakes. You could have been killed in a crash! Did you think about Max or did you not think…it’s probably the latter.) Charlie Sheen started a Twitter account and within hours he had more than 345,000 followers! (I was not one of them, nor will I be.) Next up a reality show about his kinky relationship and psychotic life (you know this will be next)…and the worst part, people will watch it! Lindsay Lohan struts into court as if she’s strutting down the red carpet. And John Galliano…well, that’s just a sad situation, but I’m sure he’ll come out of it—at the top. Maybe he’ll have his own reality show too—or at least his own clothing line.

And I actually feel bad for Billy Ray Cyrus: Hanna Montana probably really did ruin his family. But shame on him (sorry for the finger wagging) for pushing her into it in the first place. I’m one of those moms who will NEVER sign my kids up for an modeling audition or a movie spot or anything: let kids be kids. If they grow up too soon, they may be flashing their panties at an audience and dancing on bars like Miley Cyrus when they’re just 18 years old.

As happiness in our own lives drops (we’re working more, spending more and having less time to enjoy life), we’re more and more fascinated by the sad, pathetic lives of these stars on the brink—fueling them and their behavior. Ratings go up after Charlie Sheen trashes his hotel room. If we can watch the train wrecks on Jersey Shore or in Charlie Sheen’s lives…then don’t we feel so much better in our own lives? That theory doesn’t really work as any satisfaction gained is fleeting at best.

My best advice: focus on improving your own life—and really try to work toward fixing the problems in it, one step at a time—and ignore these publicity stunts: don’t sign up for Charlie Sheen’s tweets, don’t sit glued to the TV or the computer watching the rants of stars on the brink of losing it. And maybe they’ll learn to reign in their stupid stunts and make something of their lives. At least one can always hope.

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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!)

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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.

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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?

Sweets should come with a warning label: DANGEROUS TO THOSE WITH LITTLE TO NO WILLPOWER. STORE OUT OF SIGHT!

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!

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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).”

“So GET OUT OF BED!”

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!

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Don’t have a bucket list yet? Why you should write one…today

Written by: on Monday, January 24th, 2011

In my recent sign-off as the Editor in Chief of Shape, I mentioned having a bucket list and so many people wrote to me…curious just what was on it. Well, here’s a peek at what’s on my ever-evolving list right now.

Nothing fancy; just written from the heart

There are a couple of things etched into my memory over the past year. The first is the face of my 3-year-old daughter asking me hopefully “Mommy, you stay home all day with me?” as I was rushing to catch the early-morning train. “Oh, no sweetie, not today. Mommy has to go to work,” was always my response. Her thumb went into her mouth (she’s a big thumb sucker) and her face was crestfallen. (Truth is, I had been working 60+ hours a week since before she was born and had never really spent any quality time with her, so every time she asked this was like a dagger in my heart.)

The second thing I so clearly remember is my grandmother, who turns 93 this Wednesday, telling me: “Valerie, one day you have to slow down before it’s too late. Your children grow up quickly and then you’ll be 93 and regret not having been there for them. You can never get back time.”

Assessing, and re-assessing your needs, throughout your life is so important as those needs change. (Years ago, I didn’t even want kids as I felt it would “mess up” my career…and now here I am leaving a job, partly for my kids.) But I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel when I pick up my 6-year-old son from school these days and see his smile when he spots me (this coming from a child who told me last year that he was the only kid whose mom NEVER picked him up from school…which is true).

So for right now, my kids are my priority. It’s not something that I can afford to do for a long time, but it’s something that I’ve been enjoying every second of for now.

Yoga is the second priority. I’ve always been a sprint-Spin-swim kind of girl and my previous lifestyle of commuting 3 hours a day and working 60+ hours a week definitely fed into that. I never had time for yoga and honestly, the few yoga courses I did try, I hated. I was B-O-R-E-D and beyond anxious to get free from the class!! (“God, when will this class be over?” is what would be going through my mind as I was trying to stretch my body into various poses.) But I know how important yoga is for the body and mind…so I want to really give it a chance. (I also think it will  help me deal with stress throughout any stage of my life.) I start this Friday and have signed up for (and paid for…so no backing out!) 5 weekly sessions. (I’ll keep you posted on how I do!) Of course, I’ll still be running, swimming, biking and strength training, but this will hopefully balance out those more intense workouts. This, plus enjoying every single moment, is what I hope will help me slow down and learn to breathe again (not the quick, rapid “I have to get these deadlines out” or “I have to make this train” breaths I’ve been so used to).

Slowing down to travel with my family would be nice too…but we haven’t figured this one out yet. Having given up 21 days of vacation last year (that I never had time to take), it would be great to really get away—and do so, without having to check my work e-mails every minute of every day! More on that once I figure it out!

The last couple of points on my current bucket list are what I hope to learn (and do) moving forward. Learning about everything digital (this is the future of media, which is why I’m heading back to school [NYU] in a few weeks to learn more about it). My motto: never be afraid to admit you don’t know something…and get out there to learn what you do need to know. And someday, I hope to write a book—no details on that yet!

And then whatever job I move into, I want to continue to be the kind of boss who allows her employees the flexibility to have a life. (I’m continually surprised by how many employers—many of whom I’ve worked for!—refuse to allow that kind of work-life balance.)

But writing your goals down is so important; whether you make a bucket list or a list of things you hope to accomplish this month or this year, putting pen to paper helps you clarify where you’re going or what you hope to achieve. It prioritizes things for you so—like my grandmother said—you don’t have any regrets years down the road. And regrets is one thing I never want to have. As I’ve always said: life is just too darned short for that.

So if you don’t have a list, write one up today…and remember, it can change and evolve. But the key is to write it from the heart.

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