Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Feel Beautiful

September 30, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s topic is drawn from a recent spread in RealSimple magazine’s August issue, which featured six famous women writers talking about what makes them feel beautiful. I’m not usually much of one for women’s magazines (probably that inner-14 year old who still feels woefully un-stylish), but a friend describes RealSimple as “a women’s magazine for grown ups.” And she’s right:  it’s a bit more serious, a bit more thoughtful and a bit less girl-y.

This article is a case in point. When asked about what makes them feel beautiful, all six writers responded in non-appearance related ways. Here is my summary of their answers (You can read the original here):

1. Feel loved. Anne Roiphe‘s answer boiled down to her late husband telling her – 10 days before he unexpectedly died-  that she’d made him a very happy man. Now, whenever she wants to feel beautiful, she reminds herself of the joy that comes from “the union with another being.” Not all of us are in happy partnerships, of course. But most of us know that someone – a sibling, a parent, a friend, a child – loves us unconditionally. Remind yourself of that.

2. Be active. OK, this sounds like a body-is-beautiful sort of tip. But the way that Winifred Gallagher frames it is all about the way in which staying active as we age makes us feel lively on the inside. That could come from the calm induced by yoga or the way in which Michelle-like biceps become a symbol of endurance and vitality. Either way, liveliness=internal beauty.

3. Invest in your work and your kids. No, this is not a cheesy throw-away line about work/life balance. Rather, I’m combining the thoughts of Asha Bandele and Kathryn Harrison. Bandele notes that work – especially writing – can be a way to simultaneously touch other people and discover more about yourself. Children do the same. They also, as Harrison puts it, enable you to “redeem an unhappy past.” Of course, some of us only focus on one or the other of these two goals, whether by choice, life-stage or circumstance. But both offer a deep satisfaction, especially – as these writers argue – for women.

4. Drink A Glass Of Wine. I can’t say enough about Lori Leibovich‘s post. Her own personal anecdote to her “scheduled-by-the-minute existence” is to drink some wine (just a glass!) each night after her kids go to bed. For her, it’s the equivalent of taking a long, deep inhalation at the end of a hectic day. Wine also allows her to connect – with strangers if she’s at a cocktail party, with her husband if she’s at home – and reflect on where she’s been and where she’s going. In short, wine=freedom.

5. Embrace Your Quirks. This is probably my favorite post of all. It’s written by Jennifer 8. Lee, who talks about her ugly feet. While she used to feel embarrassed by them, she now sees them as a source of individuality, character and…yes, imperfection. Love it.


If you’re interested, head on over to where I posted yesterday on Gordon Brown’s painkiller “problem.”

Image: Friday feet 1 by JiJi via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.


Is It Grown Up To Tell All?

September 28, 2009

Last week was arguably the week of the over-share.

First, you had childhood actress Mackenzie Phillips (and daughter of Mamas and the Papas star John Phillips) tell the world about her consensual sexual relationship with her father.

This was followed by the uproar generated by career blogger Penelope Trunk’s revelation over Twitter that she was having a miscarriage during a board meeting. (Trunk has also blogged about a non-consensual incestuous relationship with her father. I linked to both posts on my Friday Pix last week).

What intrigued me in all of this was the response in much of the blogosphere. It seemed to boil down to: “Grow up! We don’t want to know!”

And fair enough. That is certainly one take on what it means to grow up:  you learn to think before you speak. You learn the difference between private and public. And, especially if you’re a WASP, you learn restraint.

But you could also credibly argue that in an age where the tell-all, confessional memoir has become the iconic text, what it means to grow up is precisely the opposite:  coming of age means coming to the truth – your truth – and acknowledging it in front of others. We – Americans, at least – have defined adulthood in this way – as the right, even the obligation – to come clean about ourselves. So why should we be shocked when people like Penelope Trunk and Mackensie Phillips take it to its logical conclusion?

I don’t have an answer to this, although – as a blogger – I think about it a lot. So I’ll throw it open to you:  is it more grown up to reveal or to conceal?

Image: Microphone by Mick Opportunity via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For the Weekend

September 25, 2009

This weekend, I point you to some worthwhile reading around the blogosphere:

1. Dueling interpretations of that childhood classic, The Wizard of Oz, at Slate and DoubleX.

2. I’m very taken with a new (to me) blog called A Boat Against The Current, a self-described “cultural omni-blog” examining literature, history, theatre and the arts. I was particularly enticed by this entry about the day Fiddler On The Roof opened in New York City twenty-five years ago. Because, really. What’s a day without humming If I Were A Rich Man?

3. This is one of the most amazing videos I’ve ever seen. Nuff’ said. (Via: Very Short List).

4. For sheer audacity and willingness to put herself out there (as well as some very useful career advice along the way), I highly recommend Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog. This post will make your jaw drop. As will this one.

5. Finally, my thoughts on the unfolding crisis in Honduras over at
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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Limit Children’s Computer Time

September 23, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

So there we were, at the parents evening at my son’s new school. The teacher had finished her spiel and she asked if there were any questions.


Then my husband’s hand shot up. He asked the teacher if the school had a policy on computer usage by children…at home. She paused, not quite sure how to answer. And then he threw it open to the crowd. Did other parents have concerns about their children’s computer usage and if so, how strictly did they police it?

I cringed. After all, we’re the new kids on the block in this school. I’ve already spent way too much time worrying about what to wear. Now he’d gone and outed us as a bunch of laissez faire, pop-culture junkies who spent entire weekends playing The Sims as a family?

But in the wine and cheese that followed, it was amazing how many parents approached us to confess that they, too, were struggling with this very issue. One thing we all agreed upon was that computers are O.K. in moderation, but that there had to be limits. Here are five reasons why it’s a good idea to limit your kids’ computer time:

1. It’s addictive. A recent study in the U.S. suggests that one in ten children (usually boys) are pathologically addicted to video games. Even if you question some of the inferences drawn from this study, it’s still a staggering figure. And one that rings true. Hey, I should know. I used to be a smoker. The glee in my son’s eyes when he’s about to get a “fix” is as disturbing as the withdrawal symptoms (sluggishness, irritation) when he goes a day without access to his beloved Fifa09.

2. It impedes creative play. Ok, Ok. I know I sound like a scold. But it’s true that the more time kids spend in front of a screen, the less time they devote to creative play – roaming, exploring, thinking up imaginary friends. And such creative play is crucial later on in life for things like executive function (which, among other things, enables you to exert self-control and discipline). I’ve noticed that my own son’s interest in drawing – something he once did regularly – has dropped off precipitously as his screen time has grown. Maybe he’s expanding his communication skills with strangers, but the recent email he received in cyrillic does give pause.

3. It ruins handwriting. And good handwriting, in turn, trains us to think more carefully before we write. Don’t believe me? Just ask Umberto Eco. (I’m figuring if Umberto Eco took time out of his day to worry about this, I should at least give it five minutes of my own time.)

4. It exposes them to too much sex and violence. I consider myself lucky that my son only likes playing sports games on-line, rather than violent shoot-em-up ones. (Ok, mostly). But even then, I entreat you to check out the “grunt” that comes out of the server’s mouth on the tennis version of All I’ll say is: “I’ll have what she’s having.”

5. It gives you a bargaining chip. Because kids get so easily addicted to computer games, if you limit access – rather than rule computer games out entirely – you have a great bargaining chip for inducing good behavior. We just instituted a new policy that limits computer time to weekends. My son, ever the negotiator, is now angling for school holidays as well. I see some room for manuever here…
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Image: Wii! by Zarzoso via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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In Defense of The Nanny State: Should the Government Always Treat Us Like Grown Ups?

September 21, 2009

Few questions loom larger on the political horizon right now than defining the proper role of government in regulating individual freedoms. As many have argued with varying degrees of sanity over the past few months, much of the current health care debate boils down to what kind of government America both needs and deserves.

Today I’m over at taking issue with a piece that came out over the weekend in Slate by Jacob Weisberg. Weisberg points to a dismaying trend of “nanny state”-type intrusions on individual liberties sweeping the United States, things like a series of New York City initiatives that aim to ban smoking in public places and to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. In response, he mounts a spirited (bipartisan) attack on such heavy-handed public policies, arguing that our country is on a slippery slope toward “paternalistic over-reach.”

I disagree.

Have a look

Image: Anatomy of a Smoker9 by drburtoni via flickr under a creative commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

September 18, 2009

This Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. As a big believer in slash careers, particularly within writing, I was pleased to see Slate legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick trying her hand at fiction. Apparently, the editors at Slate have given her a (paid) month’s sabbatical to do something really different professionally, and she’s decided to write a chick lit novel in one month before resuming her Supreme Court beat. Read her explanation for why she’s decided to do this (includes a link to the novel in progress). Bravo!

2. And speaking of employment, here’s a great new blog I stumbled across (via @heymarci on Twitter) about an unemployed journalist who decides to drive a taxi. It’s called Recession Taxi. Love it!

3. I daresay that if you’re over the age of 30, you’ll relate to this New York Times illustrated blog post about what keeps us all awake at night in our middle years.

4. Here are two fabulous visual websites: one, a slide show of viral sculpture from the Daily Telegraph and the other, a set of photographs on Mental Floss of  ten unusual playgrounds from around the world.

5. Finally, my thoughts on measuring economic progress over on

Have fun and Happy New Year (you know who you are!!)

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Things To Avoid In America

September 16, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last Wednesday I posted about five things I love about America, gleaned from my recent trip home. As I looked that post over, however, I realized that in my zeal to express my joy over certain features of my home country, I also forgot to frame them as tips. So allow me to quickly rectify that problem ex-post:

Celebrate our superstores!

Take pleasure in your helpful salesperson!

Smile at a stranger!

Eat BBQ!


I got a lot of positive feedback on that post, for which I’m duly grateful. But fair is fair and – as noted last week – all is not rosy back in the US of A. So, as promised, this week I’m going to post about five things that drove me nuts about my visit back to America and which you should try to avoid when/as/if you go there:

1. Fast Food. As last week’s rant over at suggests, I was overwhelmed – and appalled – by the quality and quantity of fast food I encountered in the States. It’s everywhere. And the more you stay, the harder it is to avoid. I think I knew I’d hit rock bottom when I began to contemplate the Hawaiian pancakes at IHOP in earnest. I mean seriously, folks. Who can honestly stomach caramel sauce and macadamia nuts over breakfast? As my colleagues over at PoliticsDaily remind us, fast food isn’t just bad from a nutritional, environmental and ethical standpoint. It’s directly linked to our current health care crisis.

2. Driving. My goodness, we did a lot of driving while we were in America. Sure, we took a road trip from New Jersey to Cape Cod and that racked up a lot of miles. But what really struck me was how much driving we did even when we weren’t traveling. Trips to the corner store. Trips to get coffee. Trips to the beach. Everything required a car. Granted, I’m a bit out of practice, given that we’ve now lived in London for three years without a car. I’ve grown used to just walking everywhere, or taking a bus or a subway. And those things aren’t always readily available in suburban America (or a rural peninsula!) But all that driving just makes you feel fat and tired. Yuck.

3. Over-abundance. Another thing that hit me back home was the ridiculously over-sized nature of just about everything there. Breakfast buffets. Televisions. Back yards. One friend I visited had – I kid you not – ten different pairs of running shoes. Ten!! What is up with that?

4. Partisanship. I was also taken aback by the gun-toting partisanship that has overtaken my country. I mean sure, I’d seen the town hall coverage on TV and the Internet. But I wasn’t prepared to take it on personally. At one point, my mother and I were having breakfast in a diner and began chatting with our neighbors at the next table. Somehow, the topic of health care reform came up, at which point my mother and I defended the public option as just that: an option. The other couple countered that, in their opinion, the “rest of us” shouldn’t be subsidizing the health care of the poor. Fair enough. But the next thing I knew, the husband of said couple allowed that if he ever saw the President in person, he’d shoot him. Whoops! As my mother and I beat a hasty exit towards the door, the wife ventured that she’d also like to talk about abortion. Um…taxi?

5. Starbucks. Ok, I drank it every single day I was there. Sometimes twice. (Finding good coffee on the Cape is surprisingly difficult. Where are all those shrinks buying their coffee?) And I know the company has fallen on hard times. But if I never hear the words “dopio macchiato” again, I’ll be all the happier. See #1.

Image: Gotta Love Starbucks by She Watched The Sky via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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