We are not meant to be perfect

“We are not meant to be perfect. God is perfect. We are meant to be whole.” -Jane Fonda

Forgiveness and acceptance are the hardest lessons for many of us to learn. But look what forgiveness has done for Jane Fonda; she is balanced, healthy, and beautiful at 74! Watch Jane Fonda talk about her childhood and the healing power of exercise and forgiveness.

How often do we hide parts of who we are because we are afraid that we will not be accepted as a “whole?” How many times have we devalued others for what we perceive as their flaws?

We are whole and complete and good as we are right now. Although we should always strive for self-improvement, that doesn’t mean we should be overly-critical and disapproving of who we are today!



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Filed under Ethics, Self-improvement

Lesser-known Art

Image: Christine White

What I love about photography is the way it makes the photographer view the world. Art allows us to see things comprehensively, to see the beauty in the mundane, and to communicate universally. Photography can be funny and light (as in this intricate Barbie and Ken wedding photo-shoot), or evocative and thought-provoking (45 Most Powerful Images of 2011).

Inspiration for art is everywhere. And people are making art out of everything (The human body, Toothpicks, Street art, Underwater ink, and brown paper bags). I remember playing with beautiful interactive wood sculptures at the Technorama in Zurich, Switerzland when I was little.

Fashion is a source of inspiration and a creative outlet for many, although the art of the fashion industry is often sadly obscured by the many scandals in selling and producing garments. Alexander McQueen is an artist. Garance Dore, the famous fashion photographer and illustrator has been sharing her beautiful work in her blog since 2006. There are thousands of women who are devoting their lives to making other women look more beautiful with makeup art.

Artists live to share their creative gifts with the world. They are creating things that will educate and inspire for many years to come.

What has inspired you today?

Let Meryl Streep school you if you still think fashion is silly:

“‘This… stuff’? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.” -Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in the film The Devil Wears Prada

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How to Get Her What She Wants for Christmas (2011 Gift-Giving Guide)

Retailers have nicknamed the Saturday before Christmas “Father’s Day” for all the men who start their shopping that day.  So, men, if you haven’t started your Christmas shopping, do not despair. You are in the majority! However, it is December already, and if you are totally clueless about what to get the special women in your life, you need to get moving. So let’s get started!

What does she want?

We hope you’ve been paying attention in the past couple weeks, because most women (72%) have either “directly told” you or used “the power of suggestion” to tell you what they want. Many express that they trust you to choose something appropriate, but also know that you appreciate ubiquitous hints.

A woman (at least 68% in this survey) would like to be surprised by a gift instead of receiving something she has asked for. So your goal here is to demonstrate your listening skills while choosing something tangential. For example, if she has mentioned that she needs some new earrings, search for a beautiful necklace. You get the picture.

How much should I spend?

Let’s start with the good news. More than half of respondents would be happy to receive any gift. As one participant said, “As long as it’s thoughtful and from the heart, it doesn’t matter!” Most women think $100-$200 is an appropriate amount for a significant other to spend on a Christmas gift. Many women (31%) would be happy to receive a gift costing $35-$75 or $75-$100. The even better news? If you are shopping for a friend or acquaintance, most women hope for a gift in the $10-$35 range.

Can you be more specific?

Yes! Below, I review the top 6 types of gifts women would like to receive, along with giving specific suggestions within each category.

1. Experiences

The gift women would most like to receive is an experience-related gift. To women, this means: a trip, a nice dinner, a winter hike, or a night out with family or friends. The number one item on a woman’s wish list is a trip–to spend some time with you or to see her friends or family. Since a flight is a big item, most women would also love help with travel expenses. You can wrap up your “help” along with a homemade card explaining your gift.

In the “experiences” category, women would also appreciate “a nice dinner and a weekend alone” with you. Other options for experience-related gifts: dance classes (find a local ballet studio), yoga classes, and rock-climbing or other athletic pursuits. My top choice in the experiences category is a warm winter hat and an outdoor weekend away to hike or ski. Bonus points: fold up a letter describing your destination and slip it into the hat-box.

2. The Little Things

Accessories are a close second to experience-related gifts and are among the most sought-after Christmas gifts. Jewelry is the big one here, although women express a lot of understanding that men are trying to save this season. There are many jewelry options out there, but to stay in the $100-$200 range, you can start with Zales holiday sales, Macy’s, and Ann Taylor.

Also prominent in the accessories category are handbags. Try looking at Coach and Nordstrom. The reward: she can wear jewelry or a handbag every day, and she will think about you every time she puts on your gift.

3. Apparel

My top pick in this category is something cozy, warm, and beautiful that she can wear around the holidays to show off how awesome her significant other is. Think: sweaters, vests, a coat, a scarf, or gloves. There are some beautiful options at Ann Taylor, which is my number-one pick for an item in the apparel category. Other options include JCrew favorites and Banana Republic gifts under $100. Two great lesser-known options: Velvet tees and Asos.com’s dresses.

Is she outdoorsy? She could benefit from new hiking shoes, a fleece, or running shoes. Does she wear nice shoes? If you’re not sure, does she wear different shoes sometimes? Especially shoes with a heel? If so, take a look at: High-end Ballet Flats and holiday shoes at Zappos.com. Several women expressed special interest in boots to wear this winter.

4. Beauty Products

Also ranking high on wish lists are beauty products. Buying a woman perfume gives you a chance to show off your knowledge of what she has and likes or to give her some adorable reasoning behind why you chose a new scent. Many sites make lists of top-rated scents, but if she has something she already loves, women say they would appreciate a refill. Here are some top-rated scents or you can search through your local Macy’s or Bloomingdales to see what you like. Always classic are DKNY and Michael Kors (Michael by Michael Kors was gifted to me 4 years ago and became my signature scent).

Makeup is a highly requested item, as well. If you know where she shops, that’s enough (see number 5). My number-one item in this category is a an item from or gift certificate for MAC or Sephora. Many women love the Beautyblender, and at $20-$25 it’s a great option for a stocking-stuffer.

If you want to get major bonus-points, try SK-II’s brightening line or their facial treatment essence. This is one of women’s most-loved beauty products (and is also one of the most expensive lines in the world–see how much work we go through to look good for you?) and has been dubbed “holy water” by regular users. I know some of you are rolling your eyes right now. That’s ok! Check it out anyway. Other favorite brands are Clarins and Clinique. Go for something moisturizing, nothing “spot-correcting” or anything like that; we all want to have a pleasant Christmas, after all.

5. Gift certificates

This doesn’t mean we don’t trust you to choose something nice! Many women enjoy the process of picking out their own items (crazy, right?). A gift certificate to a store she loves is a great option for a Christmas gift.  Specific stores women would like gift certificates for include: Sephora, MAC, and Amazon.com.

Many women also say they would love a relaxing spa day or salon gift certificate. This could mean a massage, facial, or products. Ask her what salon she goes to or look in her shower (not creepy if you’re doing gift-reconnaissance, just make sure you don’t get caught) and see what products she uses. My top pick in the gift certificate category is a cut and color at a local Aveda or Bumble and Bumble salon.

6. Electronics and Books

My number-one pick in this category is the FitBit Activity and Sleep Tracker. It is an awesome little gadget that any woman who works out would love to have. Women are also excited about the Kindle, the iPod Touch, and computers. A computer is a big-ticket items, so assistance toward purchasing one is also a good option. Books are a bit more tricky, but any animal-lover would enjoy Paul Nicklen’s stunning arctic photography and everyone loves a good novel. If you’re really stumped, try a beautiful journal from Smythson or the famous Moleskine notebooks.

So what is the bottom line here? The special woman in your life will be happy with anything that is special and from-the heart (Aww!). Family, time off work, time with friends, decorations, and warm fuzzy holiday feelings are most important to women during the holiday season.

As one woman put it, “anything that falls in line with my interests is always good (like he remembered that I said I like this, or wanted that, and he got it).” This is your chance to get her something she wouldn’t get for herself. The best gift is knowing that you listened.

Good luck!

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Filed under Love, Women

Why We Love Zombies

Zombies shuffled back into my life this year with the new television series Walking Dead. Although zombies date back to Haitian and African legends, they have experiencing an exciting revival in recent years. Zombies have infiltrated films, television, novels, and our hearts.

So, why do humans love zombies?

The zombie market fits neatly into our endless enchantment with the human mind. We are fascinated by humans deprived of their faculties for reason. We also have a morbid fascination with human failing. Zombies bring up important philosophical questions: What makes us more than meat? What is it about the mind that makes us human?

But what makes a zombie most interesting is, ultimately, not the zombie. We don’t care how the zombie apocalypse started. In fact, the origin of infection part is conveniently left out of most movies and television shows. We are more curious about how we are going to react to the zombies.

Duking it out in a survival situation—and winning—is a scenario that appeals to many of us. Secretly, a lot of us think we would be the last one standing in a fight-to-the death situation, and at least want the chance to see how long we would last.

Life in the post-zombie-apocalyptic world means living out a collective, and largely secret, fantasy that many men share: surviving in the wild. Men get to be men, shooting zombies in the face and roughing it on an even playing field. Protecting the tribe in the zombie apocalypse also means men attain the respect that they deserve, respect they are often sadly denied in the modern world.

A post-zombie-apocalyptic world holds a special charm for romantics, as well. The post-zombie-apocalyptic world represents a return to how things used to be. The threat of deprivation is why Beethoven’s love letters to his Immortal Beloved are so poignant. When our spouse leaves the house every day and we are unsure he or she will ever come back, we experience a profound appreciation for his return. Just as we have been deprived of the special joy in eating the first strawberry of spring by factory farming, we have largely forgotten the purity that accompanies a true reunion.

Plus, zombies play into our innate fear of dead, gross things.

That zombiehood is transmissible by biting gets at our fear of dirty things. Exterminating zombies taps into a deep, human desire to expunge the defective from the human race (People of Walmart, anyone?). We like to see zombies killed. It is like a modern-day eugenics movement within a world of black-and-white moral decisions (It’s a zombie? Kill it!). Zombies have no morality. They want our brains, and our brains are what make us uniquely human.

What are your thoughts on zombies? Do you agree that the Christian bible is the first real zombie story?

Fun, zombie-related links:

1. Zombie-proof house.

2. What would you look like as a zombie? Find out here.

3. How long would you survive in a zombie apocalypse?

4. Incredible zombie makeup tutorial.

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Filed under Ethics, Humor, Psychology, The environment and nonhuman creatures

The Habit of Leaving

She read Charles Bukowski hungover, across two months, when her life was gritty and dirty. Routine and unimportant and transient. She was accountable to no one. She took her hangover north of the river each morning and sat in coffee shops, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.  Transience–detachment from people and things–put her in a steady habit of leaving.

She had a creepily acute sense of smell and a child-like excitement for identifying scents. It surprised her to discover that this was not an endearing habit. When she moved into her flat, she correctly identified the conditioner her leasing agent used; the woman looked at her like she was a pervert. On her third day in the city, she noticed her unwashed hair smelled like her mother. After that, she spent most of her time in the shower trying desperately to scrub her mother out of her hair.

She found herself endlessly fascinated by the drunks floundering through expatriate existence in the city. She met people trying to find themselves and people no longer interested in feeling or thinking or producing. She attracted damaged people with a consistency that astounded her and vexed her mother.

At parties she sought out men who smelled like him. Everything about these new people was informed by scent. Once, at a party, she buried her face in a stranger’s neck and breathed him in. She crossed and re-crossed the line between alcoholism and social drinking. She used drinking as a vehicle for people and people as a vehicle for drinking.

She found a hole with no bottom and sought to fill it with people, with him. She sought him out in dark bars, where she learned to drink whiskey alone and mask the chaotic thoughts flailing across her consciousness. I am perpetually one night of binge-drinking away from becoming Charles Bukowski. She thought and smoked and smelled and flailed.

She filled all clichés. All activity begets a desire to engage in more of that activity. This is especially true of her. She found herself addicted to everything. A former recluse, she found herself unable to do anything alone. She craved the company of people. She did nothing of substance and consoled herself by thinking the failure of pursuits is really caused by reminders that you would be happy doing many other things.

Sometimes she enjoyed her life as a teacher. Children were pure, innocent, interesting. She could see the results of her actions as words fell out of her mouth and across her chalkboard. Becoming a teacher is a pleasant enough excuse for my life. She felt the disparity between activity and action. She poured herself into her job; she was respected as hard-working and driven. This made her feel cheap and broken.

Always, she felt the desire to degrade herself, to slip through the kind of self-destruction that excuses people when responsibility piles up. Leaving always seemed the most alluring and appropriate option.

She kept looking for him. She thought and smelled and drank and read. She worked.

She moved herself slowly out of control. She smoked every day, then every hour. She found herself drinking with a homeless man at nine in the morning on a Sunday. When other people showed weakness, she lashed out at them. Her expectations were impossibly high. She found herself irate when her hair fell across her face. She yelled out in a quiet café at a fly buzzing past her.

And then she found him.

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Filed under Short Stories

Motivation, Knowledge, Convenience, and the Environment

My blog has disappeared! I may be doing some re-posting across the next couple weeks before I start with fresh things.

In the meantime, I’m starting in with a green article I wrote for Yahooo! Associated Content. Hope you enjoy!

Most of us want to feel like we are part of the solution, many of us
are concerned about maintaining public spaces, and we care about
ensuring the preservation of worldwide plant and animal diversity.

So why is green living so hard? Maintaining an environmentally
sustainable lifestyle creates three problems: a problem of motivation
(we don’t ‘remember’ to make green choices), a problem of convenience (we would like to live ethically, but it’s hard), and a problem of knowledge (we don’t—and maybe
can’t—know which choice is the ‘greenest’). Proactive environmentalism
is about overcoming these problems.

1. Find daily reminders to live sustainably. Seeking out constant
reminders of why you should be living an environmentally sound
lifestyle can ameliorate the problems of motivation and convenience.
Find your niche: if you’re concerned about endangered species, a
desktop background featuring polar bears can serve as a salient
reminder of why the environment needs to be protected.

2. Eat less meat. Peter Singer and Jim Mason, in ‘The Way We Eat: Why
Our Food Choices Matter,’ advance daily problems in living an
optimally-ethical green lifestyle. Does eating organic foods really
prevent the use of pesticides? Would eating non-organic, local oranges
result in the burning of less fossil fuels than eating organic oranges
that were shipped from another country? The answers to these questions
can be more complicated than expected. One thing we do know is that
industrial farming of livestock often results in unregulated animal
cruelty, excessive methane production, and waste. Reducing meat
consumption is a big step in the direction of environmental
conservation. If you are still struggling with the problem of
motivation, Goveg.com provides (sometimes graphic) video motivation
for maintaining a lifestyle free of cruelty.

3. Connect yourself to readily-available resources that you can access
when you have a question about ethical and green choices. Even if you
can overcome the seduction of convenience and you keep up your
green-living motivation, educating yourself about environmental ethics can become
a full-time job. Calculators such as the Center for Science in the
Public Interest’s ‘Eating Green Calculator’ can aid in assessing your
environmental impact.

4. Eat locally. You don’t have to become a hermit to eat ‘locally.’
Many cities are now host to local establishments that specialize in
local foods and drinks. Another great resource for those more skilled
in the kitchen: farmer’s markets. Winter markets are held in most
cities, and a list of markets in your area can be found online through
LocalHarvest. Eating locally really means educating yourself about
your community, which can also connect you to people with similar
interests in green living.

5. Cook as many meals at home as possible. Preparing your own meals
helps keep you connected to the ingredients you are using. Touching
plastic and placing it in the trash, for example, is a very salient
reminder that you are putting something non-biodegradable in a
landfill where it will sit for years. You have much more control over
the ingredients when you purchase them yourselves, including choice of
environmentally-friendly vendors.

6. Buy a travel coffee mug. According to ‘The Recycler’s Handbook,’
Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups every year.
Preventing the waste of containers requires a bit of insistence on
your part: starting your order with “I have my own cup,” or asking for
a mug if you plan on an extended coffee-shop stay. Most major coffee
chains, and even independent coffee shops, offer a discount for
bringing your own cup. If you are willing to be really intense, bring
your own containers if you anticipate restaurant leftovers.

7. Exercise outside. There is a new movement among health specialists
touting the benefits of a return to nature, recently represented by
studies touting barefoot running. Exercising outside allows you to
breathe unfiltered air, and also saves on energy that would be spent
pumping heated or cooled air around a gym.

8. Walk. In addition to breathing fresh air, walking allows you to
look around at everything there is to loose if we don’t work together
to slow global climate change.

9. Avoid shipping unnecessarily. There are numerous hidden
environmental costs in online purchasing: the item has likely been
shipped multiple times, the product may be produced overseas, the
materials could be produced in countries with low environmental standards, etc. If at all
possible, buy items locally and choose slower shipping methods (that
often utilize boats and trains, instead of air traffic).

10. Make green friends. Befriending other people who care about the
environment is the first step in building a community of change.
Sharing information and local green establishment finds is mutually
beneficial. And at the very least, a green friend will be able to hold
you accountable to your pro-environmental lifestyle.

Living a sustainable life can lead to exhaustion in self-regulation or
it can lead to a positively reinforcing cycle of self-awareness and
community support. Keep up motivation, learn, make the right choices,
then spread the word.

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Filed under Ethics, Self-improvement, The environment and nonhuman creatures