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Getting Back to What Matters Most

Written on June 23, 2014 at 10:37 am , by

By Rachel Macy Stafford, author of Hands Free Mama

As my family prepares for an upcoming out-of-state move, I’ve been forced to think about what home means to me. I’ve always believed home is a feeling, not a place. More specifically, home is the feeling of peace and completeness I feel when I am surrounded by the people I love.

But recently, my definition of home has expanded. Home is also living Hands Free.

What began as small changes to let go of distraction, pressure and perfection has become a necessity—like water, air and food. Each day, I need time to connect to what matters in some form or fashion. I need time to rest, laugh, listen and breathe.

Smelling my daughter’s freshly washed hair … feeling sunshine on my face as I wait for swim practice to conclude … jotting down writing ideas in a notebook … tight hugs before we go our separate ways … my Hands Free moments are home to me now.

But I must be realistic. As much as I would love all moments in life to be calm, present, safe and undistracted, it is simply not possible. We live in a fast-paced world saturated with duties, deadlines and devices. In a world inundated with distraction, it is easy to get far from home.

Yet with almost four years’ experience living Hands Free, I am able to detect when I am getting too far from what matters. No longer am I willing to push and pressure and “yes” my way through life to the point that I lose sight of everything that matters most.

Here are some of the difficult truths I say to myself when I am getting too far from home. These “red flags” help me realize when I need to say no, re-establish my boundaries or reassess what matters and what doesn’t.

My distraction radar says:

“You’re overwhelmed.”

“You’re staying up too late.”

“You haven’t sat down all day.”

“You’re eating at the kitchen counter.”

“Your heart is racing.”

“You are complaining more than you are being positive.”

“You are quick to anger.”

“You are bullying yourself.”

“You are trying to do too much at once.”

When I hear these painful truths in my head, I don’t ignore them like I used to. Nor do I make excuses or get defensive. Instead, I do one of the following actions to bring myself back home:

• I lower the bar. I remind myself nothing has to be perfect, just “good enough for today.”
• I turn away from the outside/online world and turn toward my inner circle of friends and family.
• I take a walk. Even 10 minutes of fresh air and time for reflection helps me feel rejuvenated and less overwhelmed.
• I silence the inner critic with three powerful words: Only Love Today.
• I resist the urge to push myself beyond my limits and make a reasonable plan for getting one item accomplished at a time.
• I throw on a hat and stop fussing over my appearance.
• I treat myself with kindness and compassion like I would a friend who is going through a hard time.
• I say, “I cannot worry about that right now,” and stop obsessing over things I cannot control.

Whenever my distraction radar goes off, I try to do one of those things—even if it is for only a few minutes. These actions help me protect what is important in my life and keep me moving forward on my Hands Free journey. My friends, we cannot control all the circumstances of our life, but we can control some. When faced with feelings of being overwhelmed, take a moment to evaluate: Is everything I’m trying to do today necessary? Is there somewhere I can lower the bar? Is the feeling of home in here somewhere? Each day, take one small step toward what brings you peace and fulfillment. This way, you’ll never get so far from home that you can’t get back to what matters most.

 

Rachel is the New York Times best-selling Author of Hands Free Mama. She resides in Alabama with her husband and two daughters, who inspire her daily. You can join her on her journey to let go of distraction and grasp the moments that matter at www.handsfreemama.com

 

To the Drill Sergeant in My Head

Written on April 10, 2014 at 11:27 am , by

Written by Rachel Macy Stafford, The Hands Free Mama 

 Stress

Before I began my Hands Free journey, I pushed and pressured and rushed my way through life until I became too busy to breathe. I became too stressed to laugh. I became too distracted to see the precious moments slipping right through my multitasking fingers.

Through a painful revelation while out for a run one day, I realized I was missing my life—the best parts of life. I decided to take small steps toward change. I created designated times to use technology so it no longer consumed my time and attention. I lowered my standards from perfect to good enough. I stopped trying to do it all and made sleep a priority again. I began putting my family, my health and my happiness back on the priority list.

It’s been three and a half years since I began my Hands Free journey. I have not been cured of the Disease of Distraction, but I have made significant progress. I live in today, rather than putting life off for someday. I know my children and my spouse as unique individuals. My smile and laugh have returned. Living Hands Free has not only become the practice of my life but is now a necessity. Like food, water and air, I need it. I want it. I crave it. Connecting to what (and who) matters is what I live for each day.

But it is not always easy. Technology, responsibilities, deadlines and the pressures of daily life are always tapping me on the shoulder, beckoning me away from what matters most. And when I take time to rest, relax, play and simply be, my inner drill sergeant yells, “There is no time for this!”

Three and a half years ago, I would have listened to that demanding voice. I would have jumped up in the name of productivity, perfection, validation and people-pleasing. But now things are different. My Hands Free voice drowns out the drill sergeant, and here is what it says. May these words help you let go and live a little today.

To the Drill Sergeant in My Head

If I don’t have time to cuddle that warm, pajama-clad body with glorious bedhead first thing in the morning,
If I don’t have time to press my lips upon the cheek of the man I love at nighttime,
Then I have to ask.
If I don’t have time to call my aging parent for a quick check-in,
If I don’t have time to offer a smile to the weary cashier at checkout,
Then I have to ask.
If I don’t have time to listen, really listen, to what my child has to tell me from the backseat of the car,
If I don’t have time to tell her all the things I love about her from the edge of her bed,
Then I have to ask…
What DO I have time for?
Clearing the inbox
Scrolling the newsfeed
Cleaning the kitchen counter till it shines?
Buying things I don’t need
Saying yes because I can’t say no
Filling my days till my calendar overflows?
I have to ask…
What do I think makes life worth living?
I know. I know.
It’s the pajama cuddles,
It’s the nighttime kisses,
It’s knowing I said “I love you,” just in case my dad’s ripe old age catches up with him today.
It’s the dandelion bouquets,
It’s the uncontrollable laughter,
It’s the worries my child confesses at the most inconvenient times.
Today I refuse to be too busy,
Too rushed,
Too impatient,
Too distracted,
To experience these moments—these moments that make life worth living.
Today I will not place life’s most pressing matters over the moments that matter most in life.
Because if there isn’t enough time to truly live, then I need to ask myself what I am living for.

 

Rachel is the New York Times best-selling Author of Hands Free Mama. She resides in Alabama with her husband and two daughters, who inspire her daily. You can join her on her journey to let go of distraction and grasp the moments that matter at www.handsfreemama.com

A Conversation with Rachel Macy Stafford, Author of “Hands Free Mama”

Written on January 9, 2014 at 12:12 pm , by

In July 2010, special education teacher and mother Rachel Macy Stafford decided enough was enough. No longer did she want to multi-task her life away with buzzing phones, mile-long to-do lists and overloaded agendas. Instead, Rachel yearned to take small steps to let go of daily distractions and connect to what truly mattered. She began by turning off the notifications on her cell phone while in the company of her loved ones. She also established daily rituals at mealtime and bedtime that were always distraction-free.

Immediately, she noticed the profound impact these small changes were having on her ability to bond with the people she loved most, as well as her own happiness. Rachel began sharing her experiences on a blog (www.HandsFreeMama.com) to stay accountable to her “hands free” journey. The public response was quite remarkable. Over the past three years, The Hands Free Revolution has grown to a community of nearly 100K!

Rachel recently released her first book, Hands Free Mama, which describes how she transformed her overly distracted life into one of meaningful connection. Read about Rachel’s transformative journey below.

 

Interview by Beth Gebhard of Lightshop Media

Q. What does it mean to live “hands free”?

A. Living hands free means making a conscious decision to temporarily push aside daily distractions and give your undivided attention to someone or something meaningful in your life. But it doesn’t mean giving up technology altogether, and it does not mean ignoring your job responsibilities, volunteer obligations or home duties. Instead, living hands free allows you to experience the joy that comes from being fully engaged with others.

Q. What caused you to embark on this hands free journey?

A. Three years ago, I experienced what I call my “breakdown-breakthrough.” For the first time in my life, I honestly answered the complimentary question I received on a daily basis: “How do you do it all?” I painfully admitted that I was able to “do it all” because I missed out on life⎯the playing, connecting, memory-making parts of life. Tragically, I knew every precious moment I’d missed could never be retrieved. With clarity, I saw the damage that my daily distractions were causing my relationships, my health and my life.

Once I acknowledged that living distractedly was not really living at all, I vowed to change. From that day on, I began taking small steps to let go of distraction and created designated times of the day to be fully present with the people I love.

Q. You began chronicling your journey on your Hands Free Mama blog. Why?

A. When I was ready to tell someone about my endeavor, I started with my husband, Scott. The hands free concept I described impacted his behavior immediately. While at the children’s museum that morning, he’d noticed several parents paying more attention to their phones than to their kids. This observation motivated him to turn off his phone, push away thoughts of work and focus solely on our children’s clever comments and funny expressions. In doing so, he felt a strong sense of connection, peace and renewal. That was the moment I knew I needed to go public with my hands free journey. The impact of the small changes I was making in my daily life was so immediate and so profound that I knew I must share it with as many people as I could. As an educator, writer and encourager, I felt certain this was my purpose in life. I believed that the people who could most likely benefit from my hands free message were people who read blogs and use social media. That is why I chose those media to share my message.

Q. What surprised you when you began sharing your stories?

A. Within weeks of my first blog post, readers began reaching out to me. People all over the world wrote to me saying, “I need this message. I am joining you on your journey.” Even my friends and neighbors, who I thought had it all together, were saying, “I’m tired of living on a hamster wheel. I am tired of the pressure. I want to enjoy time with my family. I want my kids to be kids.”

As stories from my journey fell into the hands (and onto the screens) of others who also felt trapped by their distractions, I suddenly had companions on my hands free journey, and a movement to live with less daily distraction and more human connection began. I soon discovered it wasn’t just stressed-out moms who were struggling…I heard from a Fortune 500 company executive, a stay-at-home dad, a single mom living in a battered women’s shelter, a homeschooler, a grandmother, a blogger and even a teen—people from all different backgrounds and circumstances were implementing strategies described in my stories and experiencing the life-altering results.

Q. Did you find it difficult to live hands free during the process of writing this book?

A. When I got started writing the book, my husband, my two daughters and I sat down and discussed what we would need to do as a family in order for me to meet my publishing deadlines. Much to my surprise, every member of the family was willing to take on more household duties and daily responsibilities in order to help me. I am proud to say that my family came through like rock stars! Although I worked more hours than usual that month, I refused to miss out on the daily rituals of connection I’d established with my family throughout my journey. Those little moments of togetherness are the most meaningful and renewing parts of my day.

Q. What is the most challenging aspect of living hands free?

A. Before, I avoided painful truths about the way I was living by being overly busy, tied to my devices and never alone with my thoughts. Once I quieted down my external distractions, I was forced to face some painful realizations. Once I was honest with myself about changes I needed to make, I had to take action. I learned to apologize, be kind to myself, show up “as is” and admit my imperfections and shortcomings, among other things. These actions were not easy, but as I often say, “The truth hurts, but the truth heals…and brings me closer to the person I want to be.”

I thought that after one year of grasping what really mattered, I would be cured and my journey would be over—but it is far from over. Although I have made significant progress toward a more present and gratitude-filled life, I am faced with choices every moment of every day on how I spend my time and energy. Daily distractions and societal pressures will always be ready and willing to sabotage my time and my relationships. Living hands free requires constant daily effort and continual honesty, but the payoff is a closer relationship with the people you love.

Q. What are some immediate and simple ways to transform a tech-obsessed family into a hands free family?

A. 1) Turn off the notifications on your phone and place it out of reach while driving. This was the easiest and most impactful effort in my hands free journey.
2) Allow yourself 60 extra seconds for an unrushed, undivided, loving goodbye. If you make only one small effort to let go of distractions and grasp what matters in a day, do this!
3) Establish do-nothing moments with no agenda and no itinerary.
4) Create and maintain one daily ritual where time with your loved one is protected from all other distractions and interruptions. For example, morning snuggles, nightly tuck-ins, walking the dog together, prayer or a daily devotional, after-school snack time.
5) Consistently invite your family to engage in activities that do not involve electronic devices. Try cooking, board games, nature walks, bike rides, arts and crafts, sports or science experiments.

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Let 2014 Be Your Life Do-Over Year

Written on December 30, 2013 at 1:20 pm , by

Written by Rachel Macy Stafford, The Hands Free Mama 

I’d always believed there were no do-overs in life.
I’d always believed I needed to stay true to the person people expected me to be.
I’d always believed I shouldn’t let people down—well, only my family. I could let them down because they understood I was very busy doing very important things.

And then one day I spoke to a former teaching colleague that I hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years. At the sound of her husband’s name, I instantly pictured the two of them together. She and her husband had “it.” You know that spark, that invisible bond that draws people together and leads you to believe they’ll always be together. Her husband had cancer and they didn’t know how much time he had left. But they weren’t rushing around trying to make up for lost time or missed opportunities—that was not necessary. Why? Because these two people had been living their happily ever after all along.

If you are anything like me, you know that’s not always the case.

If you are anything like me, you can become quite skilled at putting off your happily ever after.

“Once I get this work done” …
“Once this project is finished” …
“After I make these calls” …
“In just a minute” …

And once the project is complete, the minute has passed, and the call has been made, something else always comes up. Your “one more thing” has no end.

And that’s when things start to happen: you drive into the intersection before it’s your turn because you’re looking at a screen … you scream at the ones you love the most because you’re stretched too thin … you wake up feeling irritable and unhappy, the same way you went to bed. But then you speak to a dear friend whose husband is battling cancer and realize your happily ever after is slipping right through your busy, little fingers.

And that’s about the time you go for the Life Do-Over that you once thought was never possible.

Let me show you what my do-over looked like:

At the height of my bulging social calendar, at the height of my glowing reputation for getting things accomplished, at the height of my ability to do it all, at the height of my perfectly orchestrated life, I let go.

I began telling the drill sergeant inside my head that homemade breakfast rolls for out-of-town guests were a thing of the past, organized closets and kitchen drawers would happen when my children were grown, flourishing flower beds could be admired in the garden department of Home Depot, but not in my yard.

These tasks are not important right now when my children need me and want me to be present in their lives.

I told my harsh inner critic to pick on someone else because I would no longer be bullied on a daily basis for the bulge around my waist or the permanent lines around my eyes. I began seeing these flaws as lasting reminders of the unconceivable joy I’d been given while alive on this earth.

These physical imperfections are not what define me or give me value as a human being.

I informed my internal over-achiever that I would no longer be everything to everyone. Continually saying yes to everything outside the home meant saying no to the most important things inside the home like laughing, playing, and memory-making with the people I love the most. I vowed to stop saying no to what was most important.

In order to be joyfully fulfilled, I must choose to place my energies in what (and who) truly matters.

And that’s when I began to see it. Feel it. Crave it. Undistracted love.

It’s living your happily ever after now. In little loving ways. Every. Single. Day.

It’s the kind of love that gets you through the hard times and makes the good times even sweeter.

It’s the kind of love you can stand on.

It’s the kind of love that holds you up.

It’s the kind of love that leaves you with no regrets—even when faced with the unexpected, the unplanned.

Because regardless of what tomorrow holds, there is peace in knowing you spent today living your happily ever after … instead of tacking it to the bottom of the to-do list where it will never be touched.

Join Rachel on her journey to let go of distraction, perfection and societal pressure to grasp what really matters by visiting www.handsfreemama.com or “The Hands Free Revolution” on Facebook. Rachel’s book, Hands Free Mama, is currently available for pre-order and hits shelves on January 7.

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Re-gifting from the Heart

Written on December 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by

Written by Rachel Macy Stafford

From a very young age, my older daughter, Natalie, has been a gift giver. Like most children’s, her offerings consisted of items that adults wouldn’t ordinarily classify as gifts. Broken seashells, traumatized frogs, dying weeds and misshapen rocks were often presented in small, dirt-laden hands beneath a wide smile. In the past two years Natalie’s gift-giving practices have moved up a notch. Gifts are no longer found in nature; they are found in our home.

Yes, it’s re-gifting at its best—wrapping barely used items and presenting them with great love.

Although highly practical and earth-friendly, this gift-giving practice brought to mind words like “tacky” and “cheap.” But for some reason, I had enough sense to stand aside and let my child give as her heart dictated.

Last Christmas Eve, Natalie spent hours wrapping barely used bottles of lotion, tiny hotel shampoos and gently used books. She then declared she wanted to distribute the colorful packages to homeless people in the downtown area. Her very first recipient was a frail, elderly woman with sad eyes who clutched her life’s possessions in a ripped trash bag. It wasn’t until I watched this woman’s face completely transform at the mere sight of my pint-size gift-bearer that I got over myself.

Shortly thereafter, Natalie thought it would be nice to create a care package for a family in India with whom we’d connected through Operation Christmas Child. On top of the new pajamas, packaged toothbrushes and pristine white socks, she placed two hairbrushes that she and her little sister had used for almost a month. Natalie was adamant that the brushes must be included. It wasn’t until we received a thank-you note with this picture that I vowed I would never cringe at her gift-giving practices again.

In fact, when the mood strikes and a present is needed, I thoroughly enjoy watching Natalie search the bottom of her messy closet for the ideal gift. I am now quite certain there is something miraculous in the way my daughter gives—in the way all children give.

Children remind us on a daily basis that our most precious gift is when we stop in the midst of our busy lives and give a piece of ourselves—our undivided attention, a lingering embrace, a word of encouragement, snuggles in bed, one-on-one time or a helping hand. This season, consider giving like children do. Rather than spending hours at the mall shopping for the “perfect” gift, remember that what your loved ones want most this year is you.

If I had to give a name to such heartfelt gift giving, I would call it “hands-free”—letting go in order to give the gift that really matters. And you can’t put a price on it.

Just ask a child.

 

Join Rachel on her journey to let go of distraction, perfection and societal pressure to grasp what really matters by visiting www.handsfreemama.com or “The Hands Free Revolution” on Facebook. Rachel’s book, Hands Free Mama, is currently available for pre-order and hits shelves on January 7.

 

When Someone Hurts Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Written on July 10, 2013 at 6:07 pm , by

 

Words hurt. Just ask Rachel Jeantel or Marion Bartoli.

Who? Let me explain. Rachel Jeantel is the young black woman who was a key witness in the Travon Martin murder case. Her stature, weight and smooth dark-skin led many to dismiss her presence as a grieving friend and minimize her value.

Marion Bartoli is the 2013 Women’s Wimbledon champ. After winning Wimbledon handily, this French competitor was faced with the insensitive comments of BBC commentator John Inverdale. Noting that she wasn’t blond or tall, he publicly uttered, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker?’” His absurd remarks trivialized her drive and talent as if she chose competiveness as a consolation prize.

Sadly, the comments of people, parents, teachers, friends, family and strangers can leave a lasting sting. In some cases, wounds in self-esteem and self-identity are opened that are difficult to close.

Starting in adolescence, going through periods of certainty and uncertainty about just who we are and what we are is a natural part of self-development. The key is the ability to sort out and through the process without being weighed down by negativity and difficult circumstances like emotional or physical abuse.

As parents, we constantly have to teach our children to imagine a better future. Sit down with your kids and discuss situations that had an outcome that resulted in hurt feelings. Help them identify their feelings, understand the emotions and list actions to prevent future scenarios.

Who we are is more than words. Self-esteem and a healthy self-identity are a commitment to having goals, personal standards and life roles that matter. Like a butterfly, emerging from a cocoon weaved from life experiences, we fly, not fueled by stereotypes. We fly on courage, fearlessness and determination.

 

 

How do you help your children overcome negative comments? Post a comment below and tell me.

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

We Love Mr. Noodle!

Written on June 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm , by

Like many grownups, I loved Sesame St. as much as my kid did, especially the adorable Mr. Noodle—that bumbling, rubber-limbed sweetheart of a clown, living in his own little world-within-Elmo’s World (accessible only by the window shade), trying so hard with his supremely silly process of trial and error to figure out how life—and its dizzying assortment of gizmos and gadgets—works. (“No, Mr. Noodle! Put your feet on the pedals!”)

I’ve followed the supremely multi-talented Bill Irwin in the years since—Tony-award winning Broadway performances (both as mime and dramatic actor), movie and TV roles (Rachel Getting Married, CSI serial killer)—and still love him. So did my daughter Natalie, now 12; she just didn’t know it.

That’s why I took her to see his recent stage show, Old Hats, a vaudeville variety mash-up of clowning, comedy, music, theater and dance. There were floppy shoes and baggy pants, spaghetti-wrestling and hobo pathos, a live band with subversively witty tunes. And, after all these years, Mr. Noodle in person! Nat loved it all.

Art at its most creative and ebullient. Something you and your kid can never get too much of. Something you never outgrow.

 

 

Old Hats Irwin (right) and David  Shiner.

 

What Should You Do If Your Child Is Bullied by Your Friend’s Child?

Written on February 15, 2012 at 12:21 pm , by

When bullying happens between kids we often forget that parents face their own challenges about how to handle the problem. Things get even more tricky if you’re the parent of the target and you are friends with the parent of the bully. There’s lot of reasons why but here are a few. You may have known the bully since they were little and know the good sides of them. It can be easy to dismiss what your kid says because the bully may act nicely when you’re around. Or it could just come down to the last thing you’d like to do is tell a good friend that their kid is mean. Ironically people think that if you’re good friends, facing situations like these should be easier. But often the opposite is the case. We are usually more reluctant to bring it up, more disappointed, and we worry more about the outcome. The challenge is that these problems usually don’t just disappear;  even if they did, feelings can be hurt on both sides. So, to give you an idea of how I advise people in this situation, I want to share an email I recently received from a mom and my response.

 

 

Hi Rosalind,

Reaching out to get some advice regarding my daughter Rachel and a bully, Sophie, in her school. Sophie has been mean to her on and off the last few years.  Sophie is also on Rachel’s soccer team, so she sees her mostly at recess and then after school at soccer practice.  My husband and I are also friends with Sophie’s parents, which doesn’t help the situation much.  Sophie is now bullying Rachel daily, at recess and on occasion at soccer. We are not sure if we should talk to her parents first about the issue or go directly to her teacher and principal and bypass her parents?  We are concerned that if we tell her parents then Rachel will be blamed for telling on her and the parents may only ground Sophie for a few weeks and then leave it alone.

 

I would greatly appreciate your advice.

 

Thanks kindly,

Julie

 

Dear Julie,

The hard truth is that since you’re friends with Sophie’s parents, you have to talk to them. Here’s the reason, if they find out from the school that you complained about Sophie instead of reaching out to them first, they’ll feel betrayed and therefore much less likely to work with you to solve the problem. And frankly if they felt this way they’d be right. Good friends should be able to say difficult things to each other. Of course, having this conversation can be really challenging so you must be strategic. Your first step is to decide between you and your husband which of you is the calmer representative of the family. I know that mothers usually are the ones to step forward here, but I really want you to consider having your husband do it instead. But no matter who does it (or both of you can too) this conversation needs to be in person or on the phone.

Here’s what he can say, “Because we’re friends this is a little uncomfortable to bring up with you, but it’s really important. We need your help because Sophie is still being mean to Rachel. From what Rachel tells us, it happens during recess and soccer practice. Can you please talk to Sophie about this so this stops? Please know that I know these things can go both ways, so if Rachel ever does anything to Sophie that you want to bring to our attention, please don’t hesitate to tell us. Thanks so much! Hey so do you guys want to check out that movie we were talking about last week?

 

Of course, Sophie’s parents may get defensive or say something to push back. The important thing to remember is that once you have told them, you have done right by them and Rachel. If Sophie does continue to bully Rachel, then it makes sense to involve the school. I talk to many parents who are in similar situations and I am happy to report that more often than not, when the other parents are approached with respect, the situation improves. But even if it doesn’t, you still have to do this because Rachel needs to see that when she’s bullied you can effectively advocate for her.

 

Girls Showing Us the Way

Written on December 27, 2011 at 12:26 pm , by

Let’s look to girls to inspire all of us as we end this year and get ready for the new one! Check out four year-old Riley protesting to her dad in a toy store about the usual assortment of pink non-superhero toys for girls. Riley teaches all of us to never lose our passion for speaking out when things aren’t right. Even though I don’t have daughters, you can bet I’m showing this to my 8 and 11 year-old sons to show them how much I respect girls for speaking out against sexism.

The second video is a co-presentation at the TedXWomen conference by my colleague, Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and founder of the Girls’ Leadership Institute, and 8th grader Claire Sannini.

Again listening to girls is inspiring. Claire speaks so powerfully about being a girl in this culture and reminds us of what we all deserve. Claire describes the painful and damaging cycle of trying to please a peer group in spite of their constant rejection. When she realizes she’s sacrificing her self-esteem, she leaves those relationships and develops friendships that are more authentic and healthy for her.

For all of us, Claire’s story is an opportunity to ask ourselves about the quality of our own relationships with the people that are most important to us. Are they based on mutual respect and dignity? And like Claire, if we find ourselves in unhealthy patterns, what can we do to develop better relationships that bring us up instead of tear us down?

Riley and Claire should be our role models. I know they’re now some of mine. Happy new year!

About Us

Written on March 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm , by

Amanda Flores, Associate Beauty & Fashion Editor
Favorite book read in high school:
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
3 things I can’t live without: I’m (unfortunately!) attached to my cell phone, my before-bed book and mascara.
Most memorable vacation: Visiting my grandparents’ farm in the Dominican Republic
Biggest guilty pleasure: Vampire Diaries every Thursday night
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Mean Girls. Rachel McAdams is incredible.
Caren Oppenheim, Assistant Editor
Favorite book read in high school:
The Great Gatsby
Early bird or night owl? Night owl
No-fail get-happy song: “Raise Your Glass” by Pink
Biggest guilty pleasure: 90210 (the original!) reruns on SoapNet. Love those ’90s fashions and hair styles!
Sweet or salty? Usually chocolate, but I LOVE chocolate covered pretzels or potato chips. They’re the perfect combination of sweet and salty.
Cassie Kreitner, Editorial Assistant
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Welsh Farms Birthday Cake
Favorite book read in high school: The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling or The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Most memorable vacation: Skipping school during my senior year of college for ten days in Costa Rica
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Anything with “Wedding” in the title (i.e. The Wedding Date, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Wedding Planner, Wedding Crashers)
No-fail get-happy song: “What a Feeling” by Peter Luts & Dominico
Celia Shatzman, Associate Editor
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Birthday cake, because you get cake and sprinkles and ice cream
Favorite book read in high school: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole—it’s still my favorite book!
3 things I can’t live without: puns, hyperbole, irony
No-fail get-happy song: “Gigantic” by the Pixies
TV show I can’t miss: 30 Rock—Liz Lemon is my alter ego.
Cheryl Grant, Research Editor
Early bird or night owl?
Night owl—it’s the best time of the day.
Biggest guilty pleasure: Crepes with Nutella, bananas and whipped cream with a glass of Baileys on the rocks.
No-fail get-happy song: “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince
Character trait I most value in others: Loyalty
The last thing I lost: Does my sanity count? What I have actually lost that I think is important is the need to try and control every aspect of my life.
Christine Mattheis, Associate Health Editor
Favorite book read in high school:
To Kill a Mockingbird
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise: I hit the gym three times a week, but my real love is cycling! I spend most Saturdays and Sundays pedaling my bike during the warmer months.
Early bird or night owl? Neither! I struggle to get up early, but also love going to bed early.
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Clueless
Most memorable vacation: Last summer, I rented a big house in the Outer Banks with a group of friends. We spent the week surfing, riding cruiser bicycles, grilling seafood and playing board games.
Darcy Jacobs, Executive Editor
Favorite book read in high school:
Choosing one is impossible—have you seen my office?!
3 things I can’t live without: Now if I don’t say husband and kids what kind of mom/wife would I be—and then do they count as 1 or 3?
Biggest guilty pleasure: Chocolate layer cake. In fact, almost any cake or chocolate item.
Character trait I most value in others: Can-do
No-fail get-happy song: “Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads
Dori Katz, Beauty Editor
Early bird or night owl?
Night owl—early mornings are tough!
Biggest guilty pleasure: Definitely shopping. I confess to being a complete shopaholic, but am pretty good at finding sales/bargains!
Character trait I most value in others: Honesty
TV show I can’t miss: Friday Night Lights and The Good Wife
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: Run a half marathon at a cool, fun destination.
Gay Norton Edelman, Senior Editor
Early bird or night owl?
I chirp with the early birds, much to the consternation of the sleepy heads I live with.
3 things I can’t live without: Fresh fruits and veggies; hugs; long, heart-felt chats with people I love.
Most memorable vacation: OMG! The summer after we got married, my husband and I took a 500-mile bicycle trip through Vermont and New Hampshire.
Biggest guilty pleasure: Romance novels
How I hope people describe me when I’m gone: She listened more than she talked.
Heather Eng, Web Editor
Favorite book read in high school:
Candide by Voltaire
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise: Ballet, several times a week
Most memorable vacation: Nicaragua with my sister, especially our 9-hour climb up and down a muddy volcano in running sneakers. (We invested in hiking boots after that!)
No-fail get-happy song: “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: Become proficient in Spanish—I’ve already taken a few lessons and picked up a little while traveling in South and Central America.
Irina Gonzalez, Web Assistant
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie (or any other mint chocolate chip)
3 things I can’t live without: My trusty iPhone, cute shoes and my cat (Capt. Jack Sparrow)
Most memorable vacation: I went on a 10-day cruise with my family, including stops in Aruba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Jamaica and the Panama Canal.
No-fail get-happy song: “Loser Like Me” (from Glee)
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Pretty Woman (or any chick flick)
Jennifer Ash Taylor, Managing Editor
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Can’t choose just one. Strawberry, pistachio and cookies and cream are just a few.
Most memorable vacation: Paris in April
Character trait I most value in others: Honesty
The last time I was surprised: My baby shower
The last thing I lost: One gold earring
Jonna Gallo Weppler, Articles Director
Favorite book read in high school:
Catcher in the Rye
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise: ZUMBA!!!!!
Biggest guilty pleasure: Watching Storage Wars on A+E
No-fail get-happy song: “Modern Love” by David Bowie
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Dirty Dancing
Judy Prouty, Home Style Director
3 things I can’t live without:
A TV in the bedroom, a Swiffer floor duster and Ciao Bello Passion Fruit sorbet.
Sweet or salty? I’m a spoon-in-the-ice-cream-carton-at-midnight kind of person and I’m hooked on Haagen-Dazs coffee.
Character trait I most value in others: I’m not inherently funny so I love anyone who makes me laugh.
Most memorable vacation: Istanbul for the exotic interiors at Topkapi Palace.
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Rear Window—for the quintessential New York apartment view and glamorous Grace Kelly.
Julie Miltenberger, Senior Food Editor
Favorite book read in high school:
Anything by Stephen King
Most memorable vacation: Visiting friends in Australia
Biggest guilty pleasure: Jalapeño poppers
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Better Off Dead (or anything with John Cusack)
Sweet or salty? Salty

Karmen Lizzul
Favorite book read in high school:
Oh boy. Ok I am going to be honest here: Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise: I bike to work on my new Brompton folding bike.
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: 13 Going on 30
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: Publish my novel; Get a major motion picture made out of it; Marry John Hamm (hey stranger things have happened!)
3 adjectives that describe me: Creative, fun, spirited

LindaEvansLinda Moran Evans, Beauty & Fashion Director
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Chocolate peanut butter
Favorite book read in high school:
Pride and Prejudice
No-fail get-happy song:
“SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake
Most memorable vacation:
Bareboat charter in the British Virgin Islands with my husband and 3 kids. Best ever.
The last thing I lost:
Favorite sunglasses
Lisa Kelsey, Art Director
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise:
Swimming, preferably open water
Most memorable vacation: A two-month tour of the great museums of Europe after I graduated from college.
No-fail get-happy song: “Superfast Jellyfish” by Gorillaz
How I hope people describe me when I’m gone: A good mother, wife and friend
3 adjectives that describe me: Curious, passionate, zaftig
Lisa Mandel, Digital Director
Favorite book read in high school:
Jane Eyre
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise: Pilates reformer classes changed my life! Love ‘em.
Most memorable vacation: Trip to Israel with extended family to Bar Mitzvah my sons.
No-fail get-happy song: “Hey Jude” by the Beatles
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Sleepless in Seattle
Megan Bingham, Editorial Assistant
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise:
I’ve never met an elliptical I didn’t like (can’t say the same for treadmills).
3 things I can’t live without: Family gatherings, homemade pie and any excuse to wear high heels
No-fail get-happy song: “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Ray
Biggest guilty pleasure: Eating French fries with a hearty helping of fry sauce—an indulgence that reminds me of home.
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Return to Me. It’s a love story set in an Irish Italian restaurant. Who could resist?
Melissa Knific, Assistant Food Editor
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Salty Caramel from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio
3 things I can’t live without: Burgers, books and Burt’s Bees lip balm
No-fail get-happy song: “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard
TV show I can’t miss: No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: Expand my knowledge of bread making
MichaelMichael Tyrrell, Associate Food Editor
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Cookies and cream
Early bird or night owl?
Early bird
Most memorable vacation:
Positano, Italy
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable:
Moonstruck
Sweet or salty?
Salty
Nicole Zigmont, Assistant Designer
3 things I can’t live without:
Coffee, my computer, art
No-fail get-happy song: “Kids” by MGMT
Character trait I most value in others: Ambition
TV show I can’t miss: Chuck
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: To grow substantially in my career
Paula Chin, Senior Editor
Early bird or night owl?
Both—I love naps!
TV show I can’t miss: Mad Men—love that hunka hunka Don Draper.
Favorite ice cream flavor: Haagen-Dazs Mango Sorbet (does that count?). More mango-y than mango!
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: Snorkel and swim in the Galapagos with my daughter (she’s now 10).
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise: Outside, on earth not pavement, no ear buds!
Regina Ragone, Food Director
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise:
Yoga
Early bird or night owl? Early bird
3 things I can’t live without: Bread, cheese and wine
Biggest guilty pleasure: Cuddling with my cats
Character trait I most value in others: Authenticity
Robb Riedel
Favorite ice cream flavor: Rum raisin (I know it’s such an old-man flavor, but I love it.)
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise: I co-captain an ice hockey team (Go Wizards!) and run in Central Park
No-fail get-happy song: “Our Lips Sealed” by the Go-Go’s
Most memorable vacation: Renting a house on the beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico with eight of my friends
Biggest guilty pleasure: Drinking coffee in bed on weekend mornings
Samantha Bednarek, Associate Art Director
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise:
Running and Bikram Yoga
3 things I can’t live without: My iMac, the beach and french fries!
No-fail get-happy song: “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: The Notebook—can’t resist an evening with Ryan Gosling!
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: Travel cross country
Siobahn Treanor, Art Production Manager
Favorite book read in high school:
The Godfather
Character trait I most value in others: A good sense of humor.
Most memorable vacation: Iceland. No joke, I saw Bjork and met the lead singer from Sigur Ros!
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: To look like I’ve only aged by two years!
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Not Another Teen Movie
Stephanie Emma Pfeffer, Senior Associate Editor
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise:
Running to boxing class
Early bird or night owl? I like the nightlife, baby.
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: Write a book. Or three.
3 adjectives that describe me: Inquisitive, indecisive, insatiable
Sweet or salty? Salty. And cheesey. And crunchy!
Susan Hennessey, Assistant Photo Editor
No-fail get-happy song:
“Beating Heart Baby” by Head Automatica
TV show I can’t miss: True Blood, Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Army Wives and most recently Dexter. I can’t just pick one!
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: I hope to live in the same place for more than 2 years. Even though I have lived in the same city for 8 years (college included), I have moved 9 (NINE!) times.
How I hope people describe me when I’m gone: Vivacious
3 adjectives that describe me: loud, creative, impatient
Tina Anderson, Photo Director
Favorite book read in high school:
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Biggest guilty pleasure: Real Housewives of [Anywhere] on Bravo
3 things I can’t live without: Chocolate, coffee, wine
3 adjectives that describe me: Decisive, independent, enigmatic
One thing I’d like to accomplish in the next five years: Play classical guitar
Tracy Fiske, Copy Chief
Preferred MO when it comes to exercise:
Catching an episode of King of Queens on the elliptical, working out while watching it, running back to work.
No-fail get-happy song: Shonen Knife’s “On the Top of the World”; the all-female Japanese punk band’s take on the Carpenters’ classic manages to be hardcore and hilarious at the same time.
Character trait I most value in others: Consistency; I’d rather someone be crotchety and mean all the time than supersweet sometimes and nasty and short-tempered once in a while. I need to know what I’m dealing with!
Movie I can’t resist when I stumble across it on cable: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I think he pretty much captures it with, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Sweet or salty? Salty! I have amazing willpower over dessert, zero over French fries.

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