Thursday, October 15, 2009

Skills Every Woman Should Master

In May 2008 Tom Chiarella published an article in Esquire listing the “75 Skills Every Man Should Master”.

By the way, my personal favorites are numbers 22 & 73.

I took a crack at my own list of skills every woman should master. I’ve been working on it for some time and have a tentative list of 75 but would be interested in your comments and suggestions. Here are my first 31. Please feel free to add to the list.

1. Train a dog

You don’t have to own a dog or even like animals. To train a dog you need patience, persistence, a clear instruction and positive reinforcement. Incidentally, this skill works with people too.

2. Conduct a meeting

I don’t care if it’s a senate meeting, board meeting, community meeting or family meeting. You need to know how to get a group’s attention, identify a goal and get them moving in the right direction.

3. Talk to a child

Not baby talk. Talk to a child like the remarkable, near perfect, little human being that they are.

4. Listen to an elder

If you listen closely you will get inspiration for the kind of experiences you want to accumulate.

5. Say No gracefully

Don’t argue; don’t whine; don’t launch into a mini series of excuses - just “thanks but no thanks”.

6. Say No with force when necessary

Stand up and move forward. No means no. If you’re 17 and it involves a boy getting too fresh slap his sorry face. He will appreciate it when he has daughters of his own.

7. Read a map

Speaking as someone with the world’s worst sense of direction a GPS and car compass will only take you so far and sometimes will fail you completely.

8. Add panache to a picnic

It doesn’t take much – add some votive candles, a nice blanket for the beach, linen napkins, or a bottle of bubbles. It’s not always about the food.

9. Write a letter

Whether you put your own words together or go in search of the perfect quote you should be able to construct a note of congratulations, thanks, sympathy and celebration in writing.

10. Style your own hair

Look, there’s nothing like having a good stylist in your corner but you need to take the reins between appointments.

11. Kiss

If you are going to share this perfect expression of intimacy with someone put some thought and heart into it. Think Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis in Bull Durham “…I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.” For further inspiration check out the last scene of Cinema Paradiso on YouTube.

12. Kill a bug

I don’t know of many bugs that can throw and pin a human being. Step on the thing and get on with it.

13. Complete a simple yoga routine

Soft music, deep breathes and gentle stretches – what’s not to love?

14. – 19. Know when to:

Throw out food (somewhere between my mother’s 3-day rule and my own when-it-can-walk-out-on-its-own rule)

End a relationship (somewhere between an hour into the first date and 10 years, 8 months, 1 week and 1 day into the last date)

Leave a job (going to lunch on the first day and not coming back might be just a tad premature)

Repair a friendship (there’s a reason some people never make it to your future)

Replace your car (when the amortized repair bills exceed the monthly payment on a Lexus it might be time to pull the trigger)

Let go of loss, guilt or resentment (no time like the present)

20. Dress appropriately

Wedding, funeral, interview – unless they are taking place on the beach the flip flops are probably not appropriate.

21. Ask for what you want

Ask – don’t demand, mandate, intimidate or manipulate.

22. Control your temper

This isn’t about being lady-like. Pick your battles so that when you do let it rip it’s worth something.

23. Pack for a week in a single bag

I hear this is important but it ain’t happening. I use a single bag for just shoes.

24. Create a budget and work it

This has so many benefits I don’t know where to begin. It sharpens your analytical skills, strengthens your self control, focuses on what is truly important and puts you on the path to fiscal security. I’m all about having options and this will help you get there. Apply to your professional and personal life.

25. Accept an apology

As in accept it and move on. No fair banking the offense to use later.

26. Give an apology

Admit what you did; say you’re sorry only if you truly are; and tell them what you learned or what you are going to do to fix it.

27. Rock a baby to sleep

Even better than yoga.

28. Flirt

Generally subtly is lost on men. This may be the only instance where less is more. Leave the giddy girly laughs behind and flirt like an adult – lower the voice, tuck the chin and lift the eyes – a direct gaze and a small smile.

29. Discourage a suitor and leave him his dignity

Give the guy credit for good taste if he approaches you. We don’t fully appreciate how much courage this takes. Pointing and laughing with your girlfriends is not nice.

30. Intimate communication before the “big event”

Some of my male friends say that this skill is their personal favorite. These guys want to please their ladies and are completely baffled by the fact that the same routine doesn’t score a homerun every time (because, you see, in their case our same moves do score a homerun every time). Women are complex, moods and circumstances change, and what worked last week isn’t going to cut it this week. So, ladies, think clear instruction and positive reinforcement, remember that you chose this guy and give him the courtesy of at least a hint of what you like – he will move heaven and earth to do it for you.

31. Intimate communication after the “big event”

This one if far easier - let the guy rest. If you’ve honed your skill in number 30 he’s earned it. And, whatever you do, do not ask what he is thinking or feeling. All the blood has left his brain. He’s not thinking or feeling anything.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Confessions of a Failed Femme Fatale

According to the movie Mildred Pierce, it can be defined as "the kind of woman men want...but shouldn't have.” Allure, mystery, and classy, dark glamour embody the femme fatale. (excerpt from

I always wanted to be a woman of mystery, a femme fatale. I yearn for that elusive quality that draws in strangers because they just know there’s more to you than meets the eye – someone with secrets and dimensions that are slowly revealed in the course of whispered conversations in smoke filled, dimly lit rooms.

I have never been able the master the art of mystery. I laugh loudly when I’m delighted, cry easily when I’m touched or saddened and stutter wildly when I’m grappling for self control. I’m more like Lucille Ball than Lauren Bacall. has some guidelines for becoming a femme fatale. Here is an excerpt from their list with my commentary…

Speak in a low voice. Not creepy low, just attractive low. In typical conversation not so much but if I concentrate or if I’m inspired to lower my voice register I might actually be able to pull this one off. Of course then there’s the whole giggling thing that completely breaks the mood. Grade: B+

Wear dark, sexy, retro clothes. I’m not quite sure I walk the line between “retro” and “old” but I make an attempt. I’m thinking I get points for the perpetual black dresses in my wardrobe and the 1940 peep toe pumps. Grade: B

Hang out in mysterious places. Not sketchy or scary - just unusual. The problem with this guideline is that there aren’t that many unusual places to be found in Northern Indiana that aren't scary. And, if you do manage to find an unusual place everyone flocks to it like the opening of a new Walmart. Grade: D
Hold your own with the guys in their poker, pool, or video games and occasionally win - be one of the guys. I fail to see how being one of the guys gets you into the Femme Fatale Club. Besides, I’m not a good winner. The little happy dance I do might be frightening but it definitely does not help my mystique. Grade: F

Be mysterious. Don't let everybody know what you are feeling or what's going on. Oh boy I don’t even come close to this one. Don’t misunderstand. I’m capable of being discreet and keeping confidences. But, if you are standing before me delivering what I believe is a load of fiction you can practically see the word “Liar” written across on my face. Grade: F

Find some unusual interest, skill, accessory unique to your femme fatale and work it. I can’t tie a cherry stem in a knot. I don’t smoke so I never learned how to blow smoke rings. I can, however, make a mean pineapple upside down cake but somehow I don’t think that qualifies. Grade: D

Wear a signature scent - not wimpy little fruit-foodie sprays, something oriental or woody. I do have a signature scent and the signature is Jovan White Musk sold for $14.99 at the corner drug store. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to get me into the Femme Fatale Club either. Grade: D

Wear your hair in an extreme side part with Veronica Lake-esque waves. Yeah right, as soon as I part my hair I look just like Veronica Lake – wait, isn’t she dead? Grade: F

Wear pale foundation, 'cat's eye' eyeliner, and red or maroon lipstick. Even if I could pull this off I wouldn’t. Can you say mortician? Grade: F

Watch old movies. Hell, if I was going to stay home and watch old movies why would I want to be a femme fatale? Grade: B

Make guys wonder. How? How? How? Can I get a little more detail here? This is like saying that in order to be a millionaire all you have to do is make a million dollars. Duh. Grade: F

Bonus Question:

Situation: Snotty remark made by a clerk in an upscale clothing store
Femme Fatale Response: small indulgent smile while she begins to compile a list of ways to embarrass her villain publicly – revenge served up cold.
My Response: “You bitch”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Sounds of Love

Most of my friends know that I have been going through a serious romantic drought for quite a while now. Some of it stems from a self imposed relationship vacation but, if I’m honest about it, most of it comes from a lack of opportunity and effort on my part. While having a romance appeals to me in theory, I don’t mind my own company and I’m getting a lot of sleep.

I have been giving it more thought lately. What do I ultimately want? The flowers, dinners, concerts, vacations, walks, talks and the ever popular sex are great benefits but they don’t always translate into genuine love or even like. I decided that this time around I would go for the real thing – not romantic posturing but genuine love.

I can’t say if I will ever find that special someone. I don’t know exactly what genuine love will look like but I certainly know what it sounds like. I hear it every day from my friends and family. And, since I’m a compulsive list maker I started a list of the sounds of love I’m already hearing…

You make me smile.

I understand.

What do you need?

I trust you.

You can do this.

How can I help?

Be careful.

Call me when you get there.

You are the smartest person I know.

You deserve to be happy, too.

I forgive you.

I’m sorry.

I’m proud of you.

I’ll be there.

I couldn’t have done it without you.

I need you in my life.


I care about what happens to you.

Don’t go.

I’ll go with you.

You inspire me.

I don’t want to disappoint you.

I remember.



I may be on a romantic diet but I am certainly surrounded by genuine love every day. What was I so worried about?

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Tim Left for Me

The suffocating grief that followed Tim’s death is finally starting to lift. I still think of him several times a day. I miss him and my world and his family’s world will never be the same. But, I have started to think about how to honor him rather than mourn him.

I decided that I would take the best parts of Tim and display them to the world each day so that those who didn’t know him could still appreciate the man he was and those who did know him could catch a glimpse of him along the way.

Here are just some of the things I learned from my brother…..

  • Never miss an opportunity to enjoy a dog or child.

  • Confidence is attractive in any package. My beautiful brother was short and solid with a receding hairline and gray wiry hair that he pulled back into a pony tail.

  • Don’t avoid the camera. Pictures of Tim enjoying his life, his family and friends have been a tremendous comfort. I have one picture of Tim and me together that I now cherish. It is one of the few of us – just us – together as adults.

  • Never put housework and yard work ahead of spending time with family and friends.

  • Life turns on a dime. Never miss an opportunity to tell someone that they are important to you, that you like them, appreciate them or love them.

  • Some people may ridicule your quirky traits. They are the most memorable parts of your personality. Embrace and showcase them without apology.

  • Never stop creating …you have talents, skills, and passions to share.

  • Never stop recreating….play.

  • Celebrate…holidays, birthdays, achievements, perseverance, survival, haircuts, Tuesdays

  • Believe every wonderful thing that someone says about you. Cast off the bad stuff – those are products of someone’s agenda.

  • Forgive easily and quickly. You don’t have to condone the behavior – just allow others to struggle with their own demons.

  • Your occupation is what you do – not who you are.

  • Take care of yourself. You are taking care of someone who is precious to your loved ones. It is not selfish. It is an act of love.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Finding Nemo

In October of this year I hit a serious patch of blues. Although season-wise, this is my very favorite time of year the change in climate sets off a serious emotional time bombs. One in particular this year was missing Kristi (still). The fall was our favorite time of year to walk through the neighborhood and crunch leaves. My nest had been truly empty for 9 months. I found that taking care of me was not nearly as satisfying as taking care of someone else. There was and is no romance on the horizon and I don’t really want to base my happiness on that anyway. I was outwardly functional but inwardly in danger of becoming permanently unhappy.

I didn’t miss having a pet. I missed Kristi. I didn’t want another pet. I wanted Kristi. In my head I sounded like a petulant child. Even looking at the rescue sites seemed disloyal to her memory. Still, I thought if I could find a dog that needed a home maybe doing a good thing – even half heartedly – would be a step toward recovery. I have to admit that my motivation was totally selfish.

This time around my selection would have to be small – less than 25 pounds due to neighborhood association rules. I had still been cruising the greyhound sites up to this point. I attempted to adopt first one female and then another only to find that applications had already been received and accepted on them. I widened my search to include a male – after all, I had raised a son, why not a male? That’s when I found Nemo.

I don’t know how I got so lucky. I found a loving, eager to please, smart, quirky, charming little dude bundled up in a 3 year old, 10 pound frame. He is a Maltese - rescued by Second Chance Small Dog Rescue in Elkhart. He was in foster care for 6 weeks after having been with a breeder.

He had to learn about stairs, treats, stuffies, sit, shake and bounce balls. He had to learn to endure brushing his coat, brushing his teeth, wiping his face, wiping his feet and negotiating his days with two other dogs at Mom’s place while I was at work. He also had to learn how to ask to potty outside and that I was the pack leader in our little family. He has mastered all of this in the three weeks we’ve lived together. And, oh yes, I’m becoming one of those – he has a sweatshirt for cold mornings in the car.

What started out as a half hearted search for relief has blossomed into a whole hearted love affair. Kristi would have loved him too.

Losing Kristi

Friends, I debated whether or not to add this piece to my postings. I like that most things here are upbeat or irreverent. Still, this one became a labor of love and while it is still an unfinished story I thought I would include it. I wrote this out in May this year. And, I don't think I can tell one story without the other.

I’ve been away for a while. Shortly after I posted my very hopeful New Year’s blog I had to say good-bye to my beautiful greyhound, Kristi.

All of the fears I had ever harbored about this event were played out in those three days in January. I had hoped that when her time came she would slip peacefully into a never ending sleep. That was not to be the case. Instead she endured pain, suffering, confusion and panic the last days of her life. She remained alert, loving and brave throughout. I had no idea that an animal could display and teach grace.

She was born and bred to run, retired from racing and 13 years old. We couldn’t fix her leg, we couldn’t even amputate. The bone was crumbling. She wouldn’t survive the surgery; she would never recover. There were two options. One was to medicate her and mask the pain as much as possible for whatever days remained and the other was to give her my final gift. As the vet administered the injection I held her and my breath. All too quickly her muscles relaxed, her breathing slowed and her eyes unfocused. I could feel her spirit, life and soul slip away. The moment her heart stopped beating mine broke completely.

Months have passed and the loss today is as fresh and heartbreaking as it was that cold January morning. My fear now is that I will grieve so long that the best parts of our time together will be overshadowed. I won’t wash her blanket or put away her picture or try to remove her from my days in any way. I carry her tags with me sometimes so I can hear them as I did when she was with me and wearing them. The vet’s office gave me a clay imprint of her paws. But, the most enduring memory of my beautiful girl is the imprint she left on my soul.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Bliss List

This weekend was blissful. I didn’t plan for it or expect it but it was. I’m sure that part of it was the confluence of good weather, an open schedule, a healing heart and a downsized lifestyle. Still bliss is not a word I throw around lightly and like the perfect houseguest it doesn’t come often or stay long.

I pulled out a piece I started a few weeks ago. It seems like the ideal time to share it.

Bliss, the word is synonymous with joy, happiness, and contentment. Bliss has a different feel to it though. Joy is deep, spiritual. Contentment is quiet, warm, and comforting. Happiness is bliss on steroids. Bliss feels like the perfect alignment of stars, a fleeting yet intense affirmation that sometimes we get it right.

Here is my bliss list. These are the things that wrap me up in a long affectionate hug.

  • scratching a dog’s ear and having them lean into you
  • that first bite of your favorite dish (prepared by someone else)
  • the first kiss with a new love
  • a child’s head surrendering to sleep on your shoulder
  • when everything you brought into the dressing room fits, is priced right, looks great on you and is machine washable
  • tears of gratitude when you’ve done something for someone you thought was no big deal
  • fat flakes of snow on Christmas Eve
  • the smell of fresh coffee and bread baking
  • Sunday afternoon naps punctuated by soft, steady rain
  • overhearing someone say something nice about you
  • soft supple leather
  • the crackle of a fire
  • the afterglow of a summer sunset
  • an unexpected handwritten letter
  • dappled sunlight and spring breezes
  • waking up fully rested before the alarm goes off
  • the perfect cross breeze in your living room in early summer
  • fall days in the Midwest – crisp air, crystal blue skies, crunchy leaves and long shadows

What does your bliss list look like?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Exercise Equation

I grew up in a time when organized athletics for females in junior high and high school were limited to cheerleading and gym class. I was not popular enough or coordinated enough for the former and not enthused enough for the latter. I could pull off being oblivious to exercise when I was walking with my friends, dancing and bike riding for fun. But over time those free spirited activities were replaced by driving just for the fun of it, reading, needle working, desk jobs and being a wife, mother and exhausted. I’m not suggesting exercising in the midst of everyday adult life can’t be done but I am telling you that I couldn’t or didn’t do it.

At this stage of life I know that I better get moving or type II diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are going to come knocking. Since taking a battery of pills doesn’t appeal to me I figure life style changes are the only acceptable options.

Over the years I’ve run the gamut on rationalizing, deluding and financing every possible approach to this exercise thing. I’ve purchased a treadmill, a stationary bike, a Gazelle, a step, countless exercise tapes, CDs and DVDs, a yoga mat, an exercise mat, 2-lb, 5-lb, 10-lb weights and I’ve watched (on the couch with a bowl of sausage gravy, I imagine) all of the paid commercials for shedding pounds, losing inches, building muscle, increasing metabolism and decreasing appetite. Not one of these efforts lasted long enough for the charges to clear my credit card.

A friend of mine finally gave me the perspective I needed to move forward. She suggested that I look at exercise as a second job. I may not make the healthiest lifestyle choices but I have an awesome work ethic. Armed with a new philosophy I opted to find an acceptable health club. I wanted a place separate from my home life and dedicated to the job of exercising. In my search I found the perfect club for me. The location was less than a mile from my home. The hours worked with my schedule. The facilities were clean and safe with plenty of equipment that was kept in good working order. Plus, I found out later that they have a members' lounge that offers the best flavored coffee every morning. The trainer who gave me a tour pointed out that every cardio machine had its own cable television with sound provided via head phones. I thought, “TV got me into this position – that’s your selling point?” The fee was a little steep but I rationalized that I would have to go more often to make the cost per day rate reasonable.

Starting out was a little rough. The first day I had to follow someone to find the ladies’ locker room. I haven’t warmed up to the group classes yet. Some of them are pretty intense and the trainers are a little masochistic. I don’t want to strain my fragile ego. Besides, I get pushed around enough at my first job. I don’t care to subject myself to it at my second job.

I prefer to work out solo so I opt for early morning. There are plenty of people there at that hour but I’m too sleepy to interact. I like going early in the morning because I’m not awake enough to make excuses not to go. By the time I wake up I'm at the the club so I might as well work out. For some reason I feel virtuous for getting up at an ungodly hour. However, I will confess that prior to finding the lounge with the great coffee I would go home and nap for 20 minutes before preparing for job number 1. It took a while for the mythical endorphins to kick in.

I'm a regular now. I find it funny that so many of us who use this club are paying for the privilege to get more exercise but find the closest parking place to the gym entrance. I am also amazed at the women who come to the club in designer workout gear, jewelry, full makeup and who read magazines while they are on the cross trainer. I come in clothes that have been retired from weekend wear due to paint drips and baggy knees. I have to concentrate on breathing and not dying while I’m on the cross trainer.

I don’t have any delusions about meeting Mr. Right at the club. I’m not a pretty picture when I work out. I’m fairly certain I won’t attract anyone with my sweaty clothes and matted hair. Besides, it’s difficult to engage in witty repertoire while gasping for breath.

It surprises me to see discarded cigarette butts outside the health club entrance. When I commented to a friend that I didn’t understand how someone could commit to exercise every day and still smoke they pointed out that I commit to exercise every day and still eat chocolate. The difference is that I exercise so I can eat chocolate.

I don’t know that exercise will come back naturally to me but I do know that I have found the right exercise equation for the time being. I go 6 to 7 days a week for 1 to 1.5 hours. I use weight machines, dumbbells, and the cross ramp. I can cover 3 miles on the cross ramp daily while watching the Food Network (turns out that whole TV thing is a good selling point after all).