Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

All of us at The Women's Mosaic and CHICKS ROCK! wish you a very Happy New Year! Let's celebrate 2009 and look forward to 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Relief Through Ayurvedic Massage*

The following was originally posted on Oct. 14, 2009. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

I don’t have the luxury of going to the spa very often. In the past, I considered myself lucky if I went three times a year. Now that I don’t receive regular massages as I did when I was abroad, I make sure to go spas that are highly recommended. If the service exceeds my expectations, I am more than happy to return to the place, and pass on recommendations to people I know.

My recent trip to an Ayurvedic spa is perhaps the best I have ever had. I first learned of the facility at a TWM event this past spring. At the Health & Nutrition: Perspectives from Around the World Panel Discussion, the panelists and some audience members made the evening a pleasant and informative one. Dr. Priyatarssini Balamurugen was one of the six panelists who particularly caught my attention, because she spoke specifically about the Ayurvedic approach to health, nutrition, and life as a whole. I have been interested in this particular branch of alternative medicine, because it focuses on multi-faceted treatments for a variety of problems: Yoga, massage, and herbs are just a few of these. When we received our “swag bags” at the close of the event, I noticed a coupon for the Santhigram Kerala Ayurvedic Health Spa and knew I had to visit the New Jersey location before the offer expired at the end of the year.

During the massage and steam bath, I felt the pressures of everyday life slip away. For a person who finds it difficult to meditate because of mental restlessness, I felt surprisingly free during the session. Ayurveda is centuries old, so I am not surprised at how effective it was for me during the hour and fifteen minutes I was there. I think my transcendental experience also had to do with the desire to purify myself, both inside and out. This, coupled with the expert hands and herbal oils used during the session, made me feel relaxed and relieved for the rest of the day.

Have any of you tried Ayurvedic massage or similar treatments? What was your experience?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Personal Responsibility*

The following was originally posted on May 26, 2009. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

When I think about the responsibilities we have to each other and to ourselves, I start to think a lot about what is more important. Selfishness is something frowned upon in our society, and yet we are often described as a very selfish culture. We want what we want, when we want it, and regardless of how it might affect others.

Perhaps this is why my friends and I get such a positive reaction from people when we say we work for non-profit organizations. We seem to have a higher purpose and goal, and we are commended for taking home a smaller paycheck in return. In reality, I think a lot of young non-profit professionals get frustrated about different aspects of non-profit work. I see a lot of my peers and colleagues become disgruntled and complain about the limitations of the work and the pay.

But even still, there is certainly a commitment to serve that I don't see in many people outside of the non-profit world. Despite the frustrations, everyone has at least one cause they are passionate about and put above almost everything else -- including themselves. Most of the activists I know work so hard that they often neglect their own health and well-being, myself included. By putting the work, the cause, the justice ahead of our own needs, are we doing more harm than good? Most activists would say of course not! We do what we need to do, when we need to do it, regardless of how it might affect us.

I'm coming to realize, however, that this just can't be an option anymore. A few other activists have been expressing similar sentiments for a while now, and I have no choice anymore but to agree with them. If the good we do for others is harming us, it is our responsibility to ourselves to step back, and hope that somebody else takes the wheel. If they do, we can be back in action when they need to step back. If they don't, then at least we'll be re-energized and ready to work even harder.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Little Leaps*

The following was originally posted on Sep. 21, 2009. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

I stumbled upon a magazine feature in which celebrities responded to questions about faith. They each offered sound bites about a spiritual experience, or moment when faith came alive for them. I was intrigued by this conversation, as it’s something that’s often on my mind. I hear many practitioners of religion say that faith is about trusting in something that cannot be seen or proven. Yet, somehow that unproveable, intangible thing must be felt, right? Otherwise, how do we, as people, keep throwing ourselves toward beliefs that can’t be proven, and what is it that makes us feel that we’re believing in the right direction?

This quote from Faith Adiele, author of Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun, struck a chord with me. “Every time I act without knowing the outcome, with the risk of failure looming before me, I try to see that as a spiritual moment. Every time I transcend my limitations or touch something larger than myself: one step closer.”

I never articulated it this way, but lately I’m making such acts all the time. Leaving a steady job to pursue writing, sticking with it despite the bleak economy, writing what I care about over what will earn the most. I recently commented to a friend that I feel validated in this pursuit when the world answers me in small ways, whether it be a good review, or a letter from a reader, or an invitation to speak. Sometimes I need those small tokens of approval to know I’m on the right track. But my friend seemed distressed by this, saying that I shouldn’t need to be validated by the outside world, as long as I know in my heart that I’m doing what I love. Conceptually, that sounded right to me, and I worried about it. Do I not have enough faith in myself?

In reality, though, every time I take one of these little leaps I am putting faith in myself, but also in God or the universe or the world around me, to catch me before I fall.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Friday Forum on Thursday: Year in Review

There won't be any post tomorrow because we'll be off for Christmas, so we wanted to post this Friday Forum question today.

As everyone gets ready to say goodbye to 2009, we're looking back at the things we've learned and done this year.

What are some of your favorite moments from 2009? What are some lessons you've learned about yourself?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Of Fashion, Fairness, and Friendship*

The following was originally posted on Jul. 29, 2009. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

It is a gift when people can hold it together in stressful situations and be pleasant to people around them at the same time. My friend Catherine reminded me of this as she prepared for a fashion show she designed for last week, in honor of Bastille Day.

When I visited Catherine backstage as she got ready for the Planete Chic & Naturally Couture Fashion Show, she, her models, hair and makeup stylists, and her assistant were decidedly calm and composed. I was impressed by the professionalism and civility they had towards one another. I mostly observed and stayed out of everyone’s way as the tension slowly began to mount. Even when some of models had not arrived yet, and their walking order on the runway had to be changed because of these delays, Catherine and her assistant never broke a sweat as they kept re-arranging their plans. In spite of all of this, she maintained her composure, which was a good influence on everyone else in her team.

In Catherine’s case, I think it has to do with her self-confidence. Like many small business owners, she has been affected financially and emotionally by the recession. At the same time, she loves what she does and is really good at it. We met at the CHICKS ROCK! Launch Party last September, where she first impressed me with her intelligence and kindness. Our friendship really began when she told me how she uses recyclable items (such as discarded umbrellas and other fabrics from clothes and furniture) to create bags and clothes. While things haven’t been easy for Catherine and Himane Inc., she has always demonstrated admirable leadership skills. As a friend and advisor, I hope to learn more from her in the future.

Is there a friend/colleague/family member you admire, especially during these difficult times?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Friends & Family*

The following was originally posted on Sept. 29, 2009. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

A while back, a group of friends started talking about how great it would be to road trip across the country in the next year. As our excitement grew, we realized that in order to make this happen, we would need to do actual planning. We started with the most obvious question: who was going on this trip? I don't remember what names were thrown around, but I do remember what somebody said: "this is just for friends, so don't bring your sisters."

It's not that I felt they were picking on me, or that I was insulted at the idea that they wouldn't want my sisters there... it's the way the sentence itself was structured. Apparently "just friends" means "no sisters," but why?

My sisters are my friends. They are not just people I talk to from time to time and see on holidays. We know our personalities better than anybody else and we know how to give each other support when nobody else can. We talk about family, friends, relationships, careers, sex, etc. I don't know about you, but that seems like the definition of a great friendship to me.

Perhaps I'm bothered by this because my sisters and I haven't always been friends. For the better part of our lives, we were not close at all. I might even go so far as to say that we didn't really like one another all that much. Sure, we enjoyed spending time together and we certainly loved each other. But we did not confide in each other, nor did we spend hours upon hours talking about everything and nothing at all. It wasn't until fairly recently that the three of us really started to develop a friendship to go along with our sisterhood.

So I don't know if my sisters will end up going on this trip (or if the trip is even happening), but I'm happy I realized that my sisters are my best friends. It took a while to get here, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reflecting My Vision*

The following was originally posted on Mar. 30, 2009. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Holiday series.

On Saturday, I attended The Women’s Mosaic’s spring Visioning Workshop. Visioning is an intensive personal collage-making process that inspires people to use creativity and intuition to tap into their subconscious dreams and desires. The goal is to capture images – abstract or literal – that represent the life you want; by interpreting and embracing those images, you empower yourself to make the choices that will lead you there.

I’ve participated in quite a few visioning workshops over the past five years, and each time, the collage process seems to have something different to offer. Sometimes it manages to invigorate or refresh me. Other times, it leaves me feeling reflective. Or inspired. Or challenged by the thoughts that surface when I really give myself time to be alone with what I feel.

The magic of visioning, for me, lies partly in its familiarity, but just as much in the fact that you never can know exactly what to expect. The point, of course, is to reach inside yourself and grapple with questions like “What do I want?” and “How do I get it?” without allowing yourself to pre-judge or discredit the answers based on so-called logic or practicality. When I’m able to enter the visioning space with a truly open mind, I never cease to be surprised by what emerges. At times it can almost be as powerful as seeing yourself through new eyes.

When I look at my latest collage, I see spaces of beauty. I see strangeness, and passion, and promise. I see adventure – not the reckless kind, but the kind that unfolds slowly and fills you with richness. I see myself at a moment in time where there are many possibilities, but many uncertainties. Where there’s a delicate balance between things hoped for and things earned, between embracing the things that truly define me and recognizing the things I allow to represent me that are merely shadows.

It seems these images are telling me to get out in the world and just be me.

Do you have a Visioning Workshop story? Even if you haven’t done the workshop, what do you see when you picture the future?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays

From everyone here at The Women's Mosaic and CHICKS ROCK!, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season. Stay warm and enjoy the time with your friends and family.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Just like we did last year, we'll be giving the bloggers here at CHICKS ROCK! some time off to spend time with their family and friends. We've chosen some of our favorite posts from the past year to re-post.

We hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane!

In the meantime, be sure to check out TWM's online auction. Some great items ending tomorrow and a few more ending on Tuesday.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

End Of The Year Realizations

I know I am not the only one who becomes reflective this time of year. It isn’t the holiday season; it has more to do with the end of the year and thinking back at what I have done and what has happened to me. There are many people who judge themselves (and others) too harshly by having regrets. I say they are a waste of time. Can we get in a time machine and go back to reverse our previous choices? Of course not! When others I know start ruminating about the past, I encourage them to focus on the present and future instead. It’s what I tell myself, and it works for me.

This becomes difficult when someone you love is mired in regrets and disappointments about themselves and others. I think we all know at least one person who falls into that category, and in my case it is an individual who I am currently estranged from. I used to get upset when this person shared his uninformed opinions about my life with me, but I have slowly come to the realization that these negative criticisms actually come from a good place. I also know that he is harder on himself than anyone could ever be on him, so I pity his “black and white only” views on life.

Honestly, I can’t worry about what the naysayers have to say: I used to want to save those in my life who fell into this category, but I have given up on this thankless quest after realizing that they were resistant or unable to change for the better. I also know that I definitely don’t have all the answers, and I am focusing more on my own life than ever before. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and it has helped me in my writing and in other volunteer projects I consider to be worthy of my time.

Do you have any realizations to share as we approach the end of the decade?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Countdown Is On

I woke up this morning, anxious to get the day started because I have tons of work to get done. I open up my email and find 5 are from the same place: My first thought was "uh oh, did something happen to their server? Why so many emails?" But then I opened them and saw they were all reminders to get gifts for each of my family members because Christmas is only 10 days away! Eek!

Of course, that made me panic. So far I've only gotten one person their gift (thanks to TWM's silent auction), so I have at least another 4 to buy and no clue what to get anybody. Suddenly all that mocking I did of people who were done with their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving has come back around to me.

Shopping for gifts wouldn't be all that stressful except I really hate giving people generic gifts. I like their gifts to mean something to them, and make it something they'll remember. But I also don't like spending very much money on gifts. As it turns out, these two very simple rules are not so simple when they are put together. I always end up finding either very inexpensive stuff that nobody will actually want or need, or gifts that would be perfect but are completely out of my price range.

So it seems that now I have to spend the entire day trying to brainstorm gift ideas on top of everything else I need to do. It's moments like these that it's easy to forget why we do this in the first place. And while the cynic in me does think that the holiday season is driven by major companies who want us to spend every penny we have, I do love giving people gifts. I love seeing their reactions and realizing I've gotten them something great. It's the one thing I like about Christmas.

Well, that, and Christmas music. I LOVE Christmas music!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Peeking into the Baby Life

A friend of mine had a baby about a year ago. She’s stayed home with him, and I go out to their place to visit them about every month or so. He’s a super cute little guy, and I’m hard pressed to think of any other baby who I’ve gotten to watch grow up this closely.

It’s not like I’m part of his life everyday, but he seems to recognize me, and he knows I like books, because when I visit he sometimes brings me books from his shelf and we read them. Ah, how my little heart melts….

I listen to my friend talk about the struggles that they go through, and the progress that he makes. I get excited about his new teeth, and his words. I feel like a part of his extended family, somehow.

It’s been really meaningful to me to be a support system for my friend as she wades the uncharted waters of parenthood. We’re also lucky in that it’s brought us closer instead of tearing us apart, or making it too hard to relate to one another. Sure, I can’t relate to 3 a.m. feedings, and she rolls her eyes if I complain about not getting enough sleep, but on a deeper level, we’re closer friends than we were a year ago.

It’s so easy to fall out of touch when people have kids, especially here in the city, where single life, couple life, and family life are totally separate spheres that barely intersect. It’s happened to me several times, growing apart from people after they have kids. I can see that parenthood can be quite isolating.

To be honest, I don’t always make the effort. I don’t truly know why I decided to work harder this time, but I’m definitely glad I didn’t let this friendship slip away. I hope I can do as well the next time a friend makes the leap to a new sphere of life!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Shop til You Drop

If you've been looking for a way to get all your holiday shopping done at once and from the comfort of your own home, look no further than TWM's 2009 Virtual Holiday Bazaar and Silent Auction! This online shopping event is creating such a buzz that we wanted to share it all with you.

The vendors TWM lined up offer a great variety of products. Browse through their sites and start shopping.

Eco Africa Social Ventures sells products produced by artisans and other artists and craftspeople of Zimbabwe.

Terry Ross Jewelry has handcrafted jewelry made with semiprecious stones and wire.

Ardyss International lets you drop 2 or 3 sizes in 10 minutes. Check them out!

Passion for Silver gives you the chance to shop the globe with jewelry from Italy, Mexico, Thailand, China, Bali and Indonesia.

Himane turns trash into treasures by using discarded clothing to make unique handbags, dresses and jackets.

Wendy Mink Jewelry is a great place to shop for handmade quality costume jewelry made in NYC.

Center for Skin Care and Wellness lets you take the spa home for a natural alternative anti-aging solution.

Rogue Confections has tasty treats - handmade Belgian chocolates inspired by vintage designs.

BONUS: New York Racquet & Health Club is offering TWM members at the $100-level or higher a 1-year membership for only $71 a month, with NO activation fee! This offer is only available for a limited time, so be sure you join TWM today and sign up for NYHRC.

In addition to these vendors, don't forget to stop by TWM's online auction. Here are the items currently up for grabs:

One hour of general office cleaning services

A $50 Gift Card to Eve's Addiction.

Your choice of a Swedish Massage OR Mineral Green Facial.

A set of three 'COLORME' black & white prints.

Two nutrition products from Ardyss International.

A nutritional counseling session.

A career counseling session & follow-up.

One hour of full body therapy.

A one-hour holistic health counseling session.

A one-hour deep tissue massage.

A comprehensive technology evaluation for your home or office.

A handmade designer necklace.

And the services of a children's party planner.

More auction items will be added on Tuesday, so be sure to check it out again then.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Link Love for 12/10

Browsing through the blogosphere lately, we've found enough good pieces to put together a link live post. Enjoy the pieces linked to below and don't forget to add your own.

Girl w/Pen informs us of a group of mothers in Iran who were arrested for organizing against government violence.

Global Sister posted an interview with a campus journalist and activist that is certainly worth checking out.

In Good Company remembers that just because Thanksgiving passed doesn't mean it's too late to give thanks.

Lindsey Pollak's blog examines why it is very important to pay your interns, particularly in this economy.

One Writeous Chick takes a look at the myth of having it all... and Janet Jackson.

Savvy Ladies has a piece for all of you who might be dealing with remarriage, children, and inheritance.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Unconventional Me

My annual birthday tradition is to take the day off to do whatever I want to do. I personally believe that a birthday should be a personal holiday, but that is just my opinion. With my own special day approaching, I am looking forward to taking on some mountain trails and breathing in fresh mountain air. Previous birthdays involved me skydiving at 14,000 feet, spending a leisurely day at a spa, visiting several art museums in one day, having a family get-together in India, and just wasting time doing nothing. If I am lucky to have more birthdays (you never know how long you have, after all) I would like to try spending them in foreign and domestic locales I have never visited before.

I can never understand why people show up to work on their birthdays, and are content to have people they may or may not like sing “Happy Birthday” to them before blowing out candles on a cake that was bought with company money. As a child it was fun to go to school, armed with cupcakes or other sweet treats for my fellow students, but as an adult I am compelled to avoid being with people who only show interest in me just to get some free food and drinks for their trouble.

I feel the same way about weddings. I never understand why brides and grooms (more the former than the latter, stereotypically) spend more time and money buying flowers, dresses, and organizing the ceremony and reception rather than preparing for the rest of their lives after the party is over. I actually know a couple who are still paying off the expense of their wedding four years and two children later. They are separated now, which makes the situation even sadder, I think. For me, the idea of spending tens of thousands of dollars and more on one day is enough to recommend elopement as a more than ideal arrangement.

What about you? Do have any unconventional ideas you'd like to share?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gee, Thanks

Something I always hear from people is that I don't know how to take compliments well. Criticism I'm great at because it's usually something I've already considered about myself, but compliments... not so much. I've been thinking a lot about this lately as I look back on the last couple of years and think about what I've accomplished and the work I've done.

Of course, I know that part of the reason I am this way is because this is how I was brought up. I learned to be very critical of myself and the work I did and never settle for anything less than perfection. Of course, perfection is not only subjective, it is also pretty much impossible. But that doesn't really matter in the day-to-day when I am not satisfied with the work I've done on a particular project.

And there's also the fact that, generally speaking, as women we don't know how to take compliments. We can't just say "thank you!" and move on. We have to find somebody else to thank ("oh, I couldn't have done it without so and so") or somebody else to give all the credit to ("thanks, but really it was all so and so's doing"). We think that humility is more attractive than gloating, and it is, but a simple "thank you" and acceptance of the work you've done comes with the territory of doing a good job. You're not gloating, you're merely recognizing that something you did worked out well.

I know all of this on an intellectual level, but it's still hard for me to internalize. But that's what I'll be working on from now on, in fact I think I might make it one of my New Year's resolutions.

So if you catch me brushing off a compliment rather than saying "thank you," please remind me to accept it and take it all in, and I'll do the same for you all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday Cheer

Christmastime has totally snuck up on me this year. It was mid-fall, then I blinked and it was Thanksgiving. Now, seemingly overnight, the weather has turned, and the season along with it. Holiday windows went up in all the storefronts. My friends have bought Christmas trees and are talking about having finished their gift-buying. (Yikes.) Everyone has booked a plane ticket home. Except me.

This year, so far, I've been rather grinchy; not feeling all that festive. It just hasn't felt like it's time yet, when normally I'm eager for Christmas to come.

Magically, all that has changed in a matter of hours. This morning I volunteered to help pack Christmas Angel gifts, a holiday project at my church. The Angel gifts are bought on behalf of an incarcerated person and are given to his or her children, so they can have a Christmas surprise. I didn't volunteer to buy a gift myself this year; it came and went before I was ready.

I attended the gift packing out of obligation, not excitement, but the group of ladies who were helping out managed to turn me around. They were so into it that I couldn't help be excited. One of them commented, "I really look forward to doing this. Now, I feel like it's okay to have my own Christmas." I loved that she said that, and I discovered a decidedly Christmasy smile on my face for the rest of our morning.

When I stepped outside afterwards, it just got better. A tiny elderly couple was standing waiting for the bus, bundled up in their winter finest. Her long coat was holiday red, and she was grinning. He hugged and kissed her, very sweetly, but rather dramatically, right there on the street. I'm sure he thought no one was looking. My heart melted.

I'm suddenly feeling altogether too Christmasy for words.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Forum: Gift of Holidays Past

All this talk of holidays and giving got us thinking about holiday gifts. What's the best gift you've ever received during the holiday season? What's the best gift you've ever given? Can't wait to hear the responses!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Season for Giving

A couple of weeks ago, we told you about an opportunity to be a vendor or donor to TWM's 2009 Virtual Holiday Bazaar and Silent Auction. We're happy to announce that the bazaar and silent auction have begun.

Check out the vendors TWM has lined up for your shopping pleasure so far. Want a handmade craft from Zimbabwe? Sterling silver jewelry? An eco-friendly handbag? Shop for that and more through the virtual holiday bazaar.

But if you want a more unique gift, something personalized that is just what somebody needs, be sure to take a look at the items in our auction. The items will change each week in December so you can find the perfect gift for yourself or someone you love. This week there are items for the Christmas loving, somewhat lost, somewhat messy, food-conscious, health-conscious, body-conscious, Feng Shui curious people in your life.

And don't forget there's still time to participate by being a vendor or donating to the silent auction.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lessons of Addiction Endure

I recently heard news about a family member who drove drunk and crashed his car. Thankfully he (and no one else) was injured, but he is in trouble with the authorities and will probably have his license suspended, at the very least. Initially, I was shocked, but then I realized that this horrific accident was a long time in the making. We all know someone who is an addictive personality, and either they have been exposed through their actions, or it is just a matter of time before they are. When I think back, I always had a feeling that something like this would happen to him, if he didn’t change his ways. We are not close and haven’t seen or spoken to each other in a long time, but from what I understand, he still believes he doesn’t have a problem. While I am very concerned for him and his immediate family, I know that the only thing I can do is pray and hope for the best.

Some may argue that I am being too passive about this troubling situation, but I’m not. In my parents’ culture and many other traditional cultures, one must always respect his or her elders, even if they do not return the sentiment. Addictions like drug and alcohol abuse are still vehemently denied by many people my family and I have known from the cultural, ethnic and religious communities we have associated with, so I am familiar with how addictive behaviors have been too often ignored (or even enabled) since childhood. I’ve seen how strong denial is, so much so that it causes long term and even permanent estrangement. The shame of having an addict in the family is also very powerful, so secrecy is still easier than honesty for many. But living in blissful denial can only last so long.

Even though we live in the twenty-first century, I realize that we will continue to be reminded of the detrimental effects of addiction for the foreseeable future. I know that the lessons are not lost on me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Bookworm's Challenge

It's really no secret by this point that I love to read. It's always been one of my favorite hobbies, even though I let it slip for a while during and right after college. Always up for a challenge, I took my mission to read more to a new level. I belong to one "real life" and two online book clubs, each group reading different types of books over a month or two months. I've also been reviewing books each month, which gives me a chance to read new works of fiction and non-fiction. These are all probably very tame, albeit ambitious, ways to increase the number of books I read, but the most fun I'm having is with reading challenges.

When I joined Goodreads a while back, I was excited to have a place to live up to my full bibliophile potential and I discovered that some groups participate in reading challenges. For example, one challenge is to read books mentioned in the t.v. show Lost, another is reading the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, etc. But my personal favorites are the shelf-a-thon and the seasonal reading challenge.

The point of the shelf-a-thon is to read at least one book from all the popular categories and genres listed in Goodreads. This means that during the course of the challenge, which lasts a few months, you need to read historical fiction, books published in 2009, children's lit, erotica... the list goes on and on. The seasonal reading challenge is a bit harder to explain, but the idea is to read a book that fits a specific task. For example, Walt Disney's birthday is in December, so one of the winter tasks is to read a book related to your favorite Disney film.

In starting the new year, I'm participating in these challenges as a way to push myself to keep reading books I wouldn't normally read. There is also a certain level of competitive spirit, but mostly I'm competing with myself. The fun is in completing something I didn't think I could actually accomplish.

Monday, November 30, 2009

One Road, Unfinished

I'm having trouble believing that it is almost December! These past few months have simply flown by for me. It's now clear that I haven't accomplished all (or even most) of the things I've been working toward this fall, which leaves me feeling discouraged.

For one thing, while I attempted NaNoWriMo, I didn't quite make it to the 50,000 word goal. I made a lot of progress, but just couldn't cross that finish line for a variety of reasons, none of which make me feel any better about not getting it done. Today, though, I have no choice but to smile and recognize that there's always next year. Which got me thinking....

With only one month left until the new year arrives, I figure it's time again to start thinking about what I need to do to kick myself into gear. Over the years, I've found that spontaneous New Year's Eve proclamations about what needs to change in my life have a tendency to stay in effect for about... a week.

I'm hoping to hit 2010 with a running start. Which means that now is the time to start planning, and beginning to build the routines that I want to stick to in the new year, and beyond. I've read that it takes at least twenty one consecutive days of repetition before a new behavior becomes a habit. Yikes!

One good byproduct of NaNo, for me, was getting in the habit of writing a certain number of words every day. Clearly, I didn't fully succeed in the endeavor, but every morning that I hopped out of bed and put fingers to keyboard marked another step toward a new great habit. I may not be destined to be a sprint writer, but those were someone else's rules to begin with. I'm not giving up on the marathon. I can't think of my NaNo attempt as a failure. It's just a road I started down, but haven't yet finished walking.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

We wish a safe, healthy, and happy Thanksgiving to all of our American readers. We'll be on vacation for the long weekend, but we'll be back again on Monday with our regularly-scheduled blogging. Enjoy the weekend everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

TWM Book Club: A Retrospective

I am fortunate enough to have been a part of The Women's Mosaic Book Club, which began this past summer. I started attending because I had never been a part of a book club before, and wanted to experience what it was like to discuss a selected book, its themes, characters, plot, and so much more. Christianna, TWM's Program Coordinator Extraordinaire, did a great job organizing the event, which included inviting participants, securing the location, and posing the specific questions in our discussion to ensure that we did not drift too far away from the book itself. I was one of the interested participants who came up with the idea of a theme for each book club meeting, and then choosing a selection that corresponds with it.

Each month this summer, my fellow bibliophiles and I came together to sip beverages and nibble on some Italian cookies and pastries, while discussing books written by women. I have enjoyed every meeting I've attended because my fellow attendees have always been respectful and good-natured with one another; there never was anyone who acted like they were too smart for the room.

When the summer was over and I learned that there would be no meetings until next year, I was curious to see what power (if any) I had to resurrect the book club before the holidays began. After speaking with fellow TWM member Julie at September's TWM Visioning Workshop, I was relieved to see that I was not alone. After discussing the matter with Christianna, Julie agreed to use her apartment on November 18 to discuss Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson. In my humble opinion, it was the best book club meeting we ever had, even though the group was smaller than before. The same spirit of freedom to discuss the book’s controversial themes candidly and constructively, combined with our new, intimate setting, contributed to a thoroughly successful, end-of-the-year TWM Book Club Meeting.

I hope to meet more TWM members (and those who are interested) at next year’s meetings.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Holiday Stress

The holiday season is all about being thankful, giving back, and spending time with the people you love. But it can also be very stressful. Where are you going to go? How are you going to spend your time? What are you going to make for dessert? What are you going to buy your pick for Secret Santa? How much weight will the holiday feasts make you gain this year?

Now, I don't know about you, but between work, family, and my extra-curricular activities, I have more than enough stress as it is!

Lately I've been trying to focus more on my physical and mental health. Going to Europe was a great way to leave my worries behind, but I've felt overwhelmed by them since I got back. One thing that has always worked for me during a time like this is physical activity. There is nothing like a good long run, even in the bitter cold, to clear my head and get focused. So I've been making use of my gym membership and taking the great classes they have to offer or simply using the treadmill.

But what's really been helping me lately are the hot Vinyasa yoga classes I've been taking. Vinyasa yoga is already my all-time favorite workout, but doing it in a 100-degree room just makes it that much more intense. By the end of the class, I feel like I can take on anything I put my mind to.

Of course, the added bonus to doing all of this working out is that I can feel a little less guilty about having an extra slice of pie at dinner. I'll just burn it off with an extra 30 minutes at the gym.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Going Back in Time

This fall, I had the pleasure of participating in an informal reunion with some old friends in a place that was quite dear to me as a child. We spent a fantastic weekend together, catching up and reminiscing, and I left the gathering feeling fuller than when I'd arrived.

All in all, a pretty lucky outcome. Perhaps even an unlikely one.

Returning to a place of childhood memories seems simple enough. But gazing with new eyes upon a place that was once so familiar, well, it's not for the faint of heart. No matter how well you prepare yourself, the air quickly becomes loaded with the substance of those memories. Expectations are always too high.

There was nothing I could do to dim my expectations. I walked into this place, for the first time in over ten years, incredibly excited, but nervous that it was going to let me down. It never had before, but still. Nothing stays the same forever, even our memories evolve, leaving out things we'd prefer to forget, or changing details to make the picture more rosy all around.

In the moment, in that place, my memories won. Big time. It all came rushing back, the good, the bad, the ugly, the unbelievably beautiful, the life-changing. Being surrounded by these friends made it seem as if no time had passed. The world rewound and all that was outside faded away.

Driving home, though, it finally struck me, all the things that had changed. How these friends had all grown up, grown apart. Our coming together was like a snapshot, dug out of an old dusty photo album, then put back away. But could what we once had be so easily dismissed?

Somehow, then, I made peace with something I'd been holding on to for a while. An irrational hope for something long past. A season of our lives that had risen bright then faded, and all we're left with is the memories. We can't get it back, no matter how hard we try. Letting go is right. Moving on is okay. Moving on is good. It's just another season.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Forum: A Novel Idea

You all know how much we love reading and writing here at CHICKS ROCK! and sometimes it's fun to think about life as if it's a novel. Today's question comes from that spirit: what would the title of your life would be, if it were a novel?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Promote Your Work & Do Good

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and we wanted to share with you what TWM has got planned. Instead of doing a traditional bazaar, TWM is hosting an online holiday bazaar and silent auction for the month of December.

We'll post more details on the bazaar and auction itself as we get closer, but for now we wanted to post the information relevant to potential vendors and donors. Check out the info below and get in touch.

If you or someone you know has a product, service or organization you would like to promote, then we'd love for you to be a part of our upcoming TWM 2009 Virtual Holiday Bazaar & Silent Auction happening from December 1-24, 2009.

By participating in the bazaar and/or silent auction you will not only be supporting our work to provide educational, inspirational and motivational opportunities for women to connect to themselves, each other and the world around them, but you can reach a targetted audience of over 5000 for less than $25 per week!

Your vendor investment is a flat fee of just $99 for up to five blasts, so the earlier you submit your registration/payment, the better rate you pay per week! Contact Program Coordinator Christianna at for more details on being a vendor.

Silent Auction items donated with a value of $75 or more will be accepted by Sally at and will receive the same amount of exposure for you, as the link will be included in the minimum five blasts that are sent - this is free advertising!

Please note that we are accepting vendors and donors on a rolling basis, so the earlier you submit your information and payment, the more exposure you will receive.

Feel free to contact us should you have any questions, require further information or are interested in additional sponsorship/advertising opportunities with TWM.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Colorblind Love

I am not a big fan of Hollywood films today; I’m usually the last one to know what the top box-office hits are in the movie theaters at any given time. Still, when I saw the trailer for The Blind Side, which opens this Friday, I was truly moved. The film is based on the life of Michael Oher, a young African American man who rose from homelessness and abuse with the support of a well-to-do family, and how their love, encouragement, and his determination led him to the NFL. It is one of the movies I will see in a theater, and I’m hoping it will be worth the money.

When I read some online reactions to the trailer and Oher’s story, I was floored. The fact is that he was taken in and adopted by a white family, and this really angers many people. I just don’t get the racial negativity; with all my heart, I believe that love can be colorblind, especially when it comes to parents and children. I hope to adopt in the future, and no one is going to stop me from adopting a child because of race.

Even though attitudes about race and adoption have changed, there are those who still believe that adopted children are loved less than biological ones. Many people are also dubious when discussing how celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna have popularized international adoptions, which I can understand to a certain extent. There are many American children in the foster care system who need homes, but they have familial and emotional baggage (depending on their ages and circumstances) that many can't (or won't) handle. Those who do adopt want an infant or small child; older children are usually overlooked. With these prevailing attitudes, it’s hard for many to comprehend how Oher’s adoptive family could have considered including an older African American teenager in their lives, especially one with a troubled family history. I am not one of those people.

What are your thoughts on interracial adoption?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where Are You From?

Living in the U.S., particularly New York, it's very common to hear the question "where are you from?" This, of course, can mean anything: What state or city do you live in? Where did you grow up? What country were you or your parents born in? It's up to us to decipher which one they might mean and hope the answer satisfies them, but in my experience they usually mean, what is your cultural background?

A lot of people don't bother to ask me "where are you from?," they assume they already know. Even though I'm very open with people about my cultural background, I've found that whenever somebody doesn't know me, they can't seem to figure out where I'm from. This makes for some interesting scenarios, like the time I went to a deli and the man behind the counter started speaking to me in Urdu. When I stared blankly at him and simply asked how much my items came to, he was shocked -- "You are not from Pakistan?!" I smiled politely and said no, but he insisted "You look like you're from Pakistan!"

Things like this seem to happen to me all the time, just with different languages and different countries. Off the top of my head, I can recount being identified as being from: Pakistan, Mexico, India, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Bangladesh, etc.

I know people who get upset when their ethnicity is incorrectly assumed. They're suddenly filled with a cultural pride and insist that, no, they are most certainly NOT from whatever country you think they're from. I react rather differently, and instead of expressing anger or discomfort, I simply laugh it off and think about how arbitrary it all is. We attach such value to physical characteristics and personality traits that a Dominican with brown skin, dark eyes, dark hair, and a quiet demeanor can be mistaken as being from half a dozen different countries.

I think from now on when people ask "where are you from?" I'll just smile and tell them to guess. Let's see what they come up with!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mood Music

My iPod is among my best purchases ever. Four years ago, it seemed such a drastic, expensive, indulgent item, but my excitement over it still holds up. Yet, as I reached for my little friend this weekend, and found its headphones all tangled up around it in the bottom of my purse, I realized I haven't been using it much lately.

For over a year, I listened to it daily during my commute--an hour each way. When I started working at home, I still used it. I'd bring it to the library or the coffeehouse, to help me tune out surroundings while I worked. Any time I took the subway, in went the earbuds. Long distance travel? You'd never find me without it. Its music, organized into my own mixes, helped me cultivate certain moods. On the way to work, a buck-up: You can do this. One day at a time. On the way home, calming: You did your best, time to rest. If I was on edge, there was a mix to match or soothe the mood. If I was sad, I could allow myself to wallow, or draw myself back up with the push of a few buttons. Music for every mood.

I still love my iPod, but I just don't need it the way I once did. Like books or TV, I've always treated music as a form of escape, something to lose myself in for a while. I don't know exactly when it happened, but my relationship with music has changed. I no longer rely on my iPod for comfort because I wake up knowing that I get to spend the day in my own space doing what I love.

Sure, I still listen to the occasional ballad if I'm feeling melodramatic, or angry chick music when I'm in a funk, or indie pop when I feel the need to just bop around, but it's not as automatic. It's not about fixing something that's wrong. I enjoy it more. The iPod will always have a place in my heart, and a place in my purse, but finally she's taking a backseat!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Forum: Regrettable

Today we want to talk about something everyone asks themselves at least a few times in their lives.

Looking back on your life so far, is there anything you regret? If so, do you regret something you did or is it a regret of not having done something?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Your Words

We really want to thank everyone who's been commenting on the blog lately. We love hearing from you and we want you to keep it coming! This space is for all of us to learn from and interact with each other, and we certainly can't do it without your participation.

But this space is also for you all to really make your voice heard. The best way to do that is to shift from reader to writer from time to time by being one of our guest bloggers. What are you passionate about? Have you recently learned something new about yourself or the world around you? Got a great story to tell? We'd love to hear from you!

Check out our guest blogger guidelines and posts from our previous guest bloggers. Maybe next Thursday it'll be your words on the screen!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More or Less Gun Control?

Last week’s back-to-back shootings in Fort Hood, Texas and Orlando, Florida left me shocked, saddened, and angry. The reasons why the perpetrators went on their respective rampages may be very different, but the way they committed their attacks is the same: they used guns on unsuspecting, innocent people. I know the news media is concentrating on the killers’ motivations, but I can’t help thinking about how they both had unrestricted access to firearms and were able to use them with devastating results.

I know the Second Amendment has been a point of contention for Americans in all fifty states, and I know that the right to bear arms will not be taken away any time soon. But I also know that something has to change with the gun control laws in this country. For example, when I saw a news report about people going to gun shows in certain states and buying a variety of firearms without background checks, I was horrified. If I was ever compelled to buy a gun, I would expect to go through an extensive security check and be monitored periodically as long as I had one in my possession. Since we are often monitored by the police for speeding and parking violations, I believe we should have stronger checks on us as gun owners. I personally don’t see any other way to curtail the violence; banning the use of firearms will probably not work, just like it didn’t when alcohol was made illegal during Prohibition. But with these rights should come great responsibility, maturity, and sanity, and there are people who are in possession of weapons they wish to use for negative reasons. I don’t think this statement is unrealistic or far-fetched in nature.

Do you think we should have stricter gun control laws? Why or why not?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Making Friends

One thing my friends and I have noticed in the past couple of years is that it's really hard to make new friends. High school is all about making friends and socializing, so it's really easy to do it there. College becomes a bit more challenging, but you've got roommates and joining a club or organization helps. But once you're out of college, the opportunities to meet new people become scarce. You can make some friends at work, but that's not always a sure thing -- co-workers might not be in the same age group, or you might not have much in common.

I've kept in touch with my sorority sisters and some of my friends from college, but it's been hard to make new friends. I was fortunate enough to become friends with one of my co-workers and we've gotten close over the past few months. As I've written before, blogging has also given me the opportunity to interact with like-minded people and develop relationships with some of them. What starts over a series of blog posts and comments, continues through Twitter and Tumblr, and then we meet and a friendship is solidified. (I can't wait until the next conference so we can all spend more time hanging out together.)

Hmm... I guess when I write it all out like that, I've actually been pretty lucky so far.

But still, it makes me curious to learn how other people make and maintain friendships once they've left school. Do you also find that it's hard to do?

Of course, I can't really complain too much. I have a lot of people I can turn to for anything I need, whether it's good conversation, a night out, or a way to waste a few hours online. I guess more friends would really just be icing on the cake at this point.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Women's Words

I consider myself a feminist, but honestly, gender discrimination isn't something I think deeply about on a daily basis. I'm not so naïve as to believe it's a non-issue, just one that I'm not confronted with too overtly anymore. Turns out, I may need to rethink my position.

I was one of many people upset by Publishers Weekly's recent announcement of their "Top Ten Books of 2009." A list that included no female authors.

Knowing nothing beyond that, my initial reaction was lukewarm. All things being equal, the odds are strongly against an all male list occurring by coincidence, but... it could happen. And they didn't completely ignore women--there were 29 included in their "Top 100." Still, a low total. As I considered it, the less lukewarm I became. A little steamed. A lot steamed. Hot.

I spent several days in dialogue with other women writers, collectively bent on responding. After all, who else was going to spotlight this oversight? As articles were written, and the conversation unfolded online, the range of public opinion stretched far and wide. From the overtly sexist ("Women just can't write as well as men."), to the inane ("It was a bad year for women writers."), to the delusional ("We're in a post-gender America. Quality trumps quotas."), arguments abounded. Few people seemed willing to accept our critique and move on.

All in all, I observed more anger directed at the women who were protesting the PW list, than at the list itself. Many people seem to believe that PW should be allowed to have their opinion about the best books of the year, without anyone second-guessing them, yet women writers aren't allowed to disagree without being pegged as reverse-sexist, or worse, a special-interest minority group vying for an unearned piece of the recognition pie.

In the end, does any of it matter? The PW editors and their sexism--whether intentional or subconscious--matter very little in the long run. It is just one list, one moment, one group's opinion. The true value of this experience, for me, was watching women writers come together to say something important. It's unfortunate to realize that we still have reason to unite in protest, but it's good to know that we still can.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Forum: Challenge Yourself

Thinking of NaNoWriMo and things like the Julie & Julia Project and 50 Jobs in 50 States made us wonder, what's one thing you would challenge yourself to accomplish in a certain period of time?

Whether it's based on a hobby or something you've always been curious about but never tried, what would you want to do and why?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Link Love for 11/5

Not much time has passed since our last link love post, but there can never be enough, right?! Here's another round of links for your reading pleasure.

Girl w/Pen takes a look at the current debate about paid sick days and reminds us why it's important to have all the facts.

In Good Company wants us to see the benefit of sharing our ideas with others, and gives us tips on how to do it.

Lindsey Pollak explains the value of building a career pyramid, and breaks down just what that means.

Work + Life Fit stresses that the battle for work/life balance is not unique to women.

Those are the links for today, but please share some more in the comments. Link to what you've been reading and writing on the web lately.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

There's Reason to Stay Informed

When I learned the details of the recent gang rape of a high school student in Richmond, California, I felt nauseous. The victim is only 15 years old, the attack happened on school property, she knew some of her attackers, and people actually watched it happen but did nothing to help. The feelings of anger I feel help me make sense of senseless acts human beings inflict on one another. This particular case also re-affirms my belief that women and young girls must be more vigilant about their protection. Here are some things I’ve done, and will continue to do, to protect myself and others as much as possible.

• In the past when my instincts told me that the place I was in or the people I was with were not right, I immediately took action. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t suffer in silence. Who cares if others think you are being uptight? We as women have to stop being nice all the time in favor of our personal safety.

• Watching out for friends, especially when their judgment is impaired, is an absolute must. I’m proud of the fact that I have prevented certain people (they know who they are) from being in situations where they were unprotected. I wasn’t popular during these incidents, but I have no regrets.

• There is still so much ignorance when it comes to rape and rape prevention, particularly with younger women and girls. Without becoming excessively paranoid, we should discuss these issues with family and friends more often. I was horrified to hear that some students at Richmond High School actually blame the victim for the attack. This tells me that more must be done to dispel these negative and untrue beliefs, and I have done so with my younger relatives as tactfully as possible.

Do you have any further thoughts to share about this extremely important issue?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Days of Yore

Today is Election Day here in the U.S. and it's got me thinking about Election Days of years past. I think Election Day should be a holiday that everyone has off from work, so in lieu of that, I celebrate it by reflecting.

American flag with a button that says VoteWhen I became a U.S. citizen a few years ago, the privilege I was most excited about was voting. The first time I voted, the elections were local, but I was no less excited. I knew that local elections are probably the most important because it is the local officials who have power over our daily quality of life. I researched each candidate, waited in line for hours, cast my vote, and picked up my bright green "I Voted" sticker.

Fast forward to the election we all remember well, Nov. 4, 2008. The anticipation leading up to that date was incredible, and the electricity in the air for those 24 hours was even more amazing. I got up early to cast my vote, I checked the polls all day, and waited at home with wine and snacks until it was official and Obama made his speech. It's hard to imagine that it's only been a year since that day -- a year of some becoming more active, while others, like me, took a mental break from politics.

But Election Day is here, and my brain is sparked all over again.

The atmosphere this year is nowhere near the level it was at last year -- I've already gotten a lot of "oh, it's Election Day?!" reactions. There are still some races to look out for. Many are pointing to elections in New Jersey and Virginia as ones to watch. And, of course, my own home state of New York is attracting a lot of attention.

So there's much to keep political junkies busy for the day, but what will you be doing? Will you get out there and vote? I sure hope so!

(Need some help at the polls? Check out last year's voting guide.)

Monday, November 2, 2009


A few years ago, I discovered an online literary phenomenon called National Novel Writing Month, uniquely abbreviated NaNoWriMo. Each November, people all over the country (all over the world, really) sit down to write a 50,000-word novel, from scratch, over the course of 30 days. This probably sounds impossible to the average person, and it's definitely not easy, yet tens of thousands of people line up to try. Many of them succeed.

I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, but I always thought it sounded like a fun adventure. Since I'm a novelist, though, it never seemed like something I should try to get in on. It would almost be unfair, because I know I can write 50,000 words in a month. I do it regularly, though all those words never go into one single novel.

Yes, there's the rub. Can I write a whole novel in a month? It takes me much longer than that to draft anything, let alone something good. NaNoWriMo's goal isn't to make anything good. They're out to get words down on paper, fast and frantic, and see what emerges. This inspires me. I'm giving it a try. One blank document. Thirty days. No plotting, prodding, structuring. No use of "delete." Two days into the task, I know I have my work cut out for me. But maybe there's something to this frenzied style, some way of cutting to the heart of things.

The best part is, I'm not doing it alone. One challenge of writing is that it's simultaneously about solitude and communication, being alone with your thoughts and connecting your ideas with others. After all, why tell a story if there's no one around to hear it?

I suspect most people get into NaNoWriMo for the fun and festivity of it. Or maybe to indulge secret longings that don't get played out in their everyday lives. So they can stand up in triumph, having written a novel. One less dream left un-pursued. For me, it's more about the chance to write in concert with others, and to approach my work from a new angle. It's already making me more excited to get started in the morning.

Bring it on, NaNoWriMo! 29 days and counting...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Forum: A Little Magic

It's time to let the cobwebs hang and the broomsticks fly! We can all use a little bit of magic in our lives from time to time.

What are your plans for Halloween this year? Do you usually dress up and go to parties with your friends? Do you take the children in your life trick or treating? Or is this a regular weekend for you?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Read Along this Fall

It's been a few months since the last book club selection of TWM's summer book club, but now the fun is continuing this fall. Check out the details below and be sure to pick up a copy of the next book club selection. Hope you can make it to the meet-up!

Wednesday, November 18th 6:30pm-8pm

Our Sizzling Summer Book Club was such a success that we decided to keep it going with one book in the Fall and one for the Spring. So for this month enjoy reading our most recent selection and then join TWM Members and guests to discuss it over in the intimate setting in the home of one of TWM's Members!

COST: $20; $15 for TWM Members
LOCATION: Lower East Side address available upon RSVP
Includes refreshments, hospitality and great conversation!

RSVP on Meetup, Facebook, or by email to


book cover artPrincess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson
Publisher: Windsor-Brooke Books
ISBN-13: 978-0967673745

Sultana is a Saudi Arabian princess, a woman born to fabulous, uncountable wealth. She has four mansions on three continents, her own private jet, glittering jewels, designer dresses galore. But in reality she lives in a gilded cage. She has no freedom, no vote, no control over her own life, no value but as a bearer of sons. Hidden behind her black floor-length veil, she is a prisoner, jailed by her father, her husband, her sons, and her country. Sultana is a member of the Saudi royal family, closely related to the king. For the sake of her daughters, she has decided to take the risk of speaking out about the life of women in her country, regardless of their rank. She must hide her identity for fear that the religious leaders in her country would call for her death to punish her honesty. Only a woman in her position could possibly hope to escape from being revealed and punished, despite her cloak of anonymity. She tells of her own life, from her turbulent childhood to her arranged marriage - a happy one until her husband decided to displace her by taking a second wife - and of the lives of her sisters, her friends, and her servants. Although they share affection, confidences and an easy camaraderie within the confines of the women's quarters, they also share a history of appalling oppressions, everyday occurrences that in any other culture would be seen as shocking human rights violations: thirteen-year-old girls forced to marry men five times their age, young women killed by drowning, stoning, or isolation in the "woman's room," a padded, windowless cell where women are confined with neither light nor conversation until death claims them. Servants are forced into sexual servitude and severely beaten if they attempt escape. By speaking out, Sultana risks bringing the wrath of the Saudi establishment upon her head and the heads of her children. In the barren, hopeless wasteland that is the life of Saudi women today, free speech is punishable by death.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Musings

As Halloween approaches, I recall wonderful memories of childhood: my costumes, trick-or-treating in my old neighborhood with my siblings, fun houses and decorations that were more silly than scary, and watching the classic It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown every year. As an adult, I enjoy the weeks before the holiday when apples and pumpkins are in season, and I can visit local farms to buy them. It’s easy to find places where you can pick apples from the trees themselves, but surprisingly cutting a pumpkin of your choosing while it is still growing from the ground is not so common. There is something unsettling to me when I visit a harvested field of pumpkins, with all the vines and other greenery removed. I would rather go to a farmer’s market and choose my pumpkin there. I am very particular about the ones I choose, because I want the best ones for carving. A homemade jack-o'-lantern containing a lit candle never fails to evoke warm and fuzzy feelings for me about the season and my inner child.

I think the reasons I prefer the weeks preceding Halloween to any other time of the year are many. It begins with the transition from summer to fall, and the glorious colors the leaves in the trees turn into before they fall from the branches. In my opinion, this is also the most scenic time for road trips of all kinds in the Northeastern United States. I also think the whimsy of the holiday also appeals to me; I enjoy the lack of seriousness and the sense of escapism that Halloween evokes. I have observed many people becoming tense or nervous on or before Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The reasons may be due to unresolved family conflicts, strenuous holiday preparations, and/or the general inability to relax; the image of being in a pressure cooker comes to mind. Halloween, on the other hand, is just a breezy day with no pressure to speak of.

Which holiday is your favorite, and why?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lessons from Abroad

Now that I'm back from my trip and fully adjusted back to my life in NYC, I have some time to reflect on my trek through Europe. I took two weeks off from work and went to Paris, Barcelona, Marseille, Cinque Terre, and London. I had an incredible time and did not want to come back home -- a sentiment not shared by some of my travel companions. I'm sure I'll have other posts about specific moments and memories I have from each city I went to, but I wanted to put into words some of the general things I've been thinking about since I got back.

In no particular order, some valuable lessons I learned:

People are as nice to you as you are to them. (Most of the time anyway.) The stereotype is that people in Europe are arrogant and rude to tourists, but I didn't encounter that at all. I was polite and friendly, ate their food, tried to speak their language, and got nothing but friendliness in return.

Packing is a science. I didn't need half the shirts I brought. Could've done with a few more socks. Hiking shoes were my best purchase ever. Plastic bags, ziploc bags and duct tape became my best travel companions. Speaking of packing...

Always bring a bathing suit. Because the weather forecast is as unpredictable in Europe as it is back home. The forecast said partly cloudy and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but I found myself sweating profusely in the blazing sun and wanting nothing more than to work on my tan at the rocky beach near the hostel.

It's always possible to have fun on a budget. As long as I stayed flexible and figured out what mattered to me, I was fine. Suddenly the nutella sandwich meant to be a snack was the entire meal, but who cares because then I could buy awesome Beatles souvenirs instead!

I could probably keep going, but I'll leave it at that for now. What are some travel lessons you've got to share?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Lonely Holiday

Halloween is the loneliest holiday for me. I feel weird even putting that sentence in writing, because it sounds utterly absurd to me, but it's true. I know I'm very lucky to have always been surrounded by family and friends on the "big" holidays, which for me are Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. In my head, that's all that should matter. So, why do I always get myself bent out of shape about Halloween?

My childhood memories of Halloween are warm, but not earth shattering. My brother and I dressed up to trick-or-treat, but my mom never let us knock on strangers' doors, so the night was short and mostly spent at home. We often went to Halloween at the Zoo, which was awesome, but I know I can't hope to recapture that magic in adulthood. So, what am I looking for?

The thing is, it's not that hard to find stuff to do on Halloween in New York. People dress up and go out partying, but that's not exactly what I'm after. I went to the Greenwich Village parade alone one year, which was about the most depressing possible thing to do. I went another year with one friend, but we just stood on the sidelines and watched all the revelry. I always end up home early and inexplicably sad.

Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to a real Halloween party, costumes and everything, plus a screening of The Twilight Zone. People really came dressed up, and I finally felt like I was doing something to honor the holiday. I want to do that every year! I find, though, that I don't know how to plan a Halloween event, which is the obvious, proactive solution. Some element of shyness comes out in me, and I find it hard to go after what I want....which is just to dress up, eat candy and hang out with friends. Why is that so hard?

I don't know what the deal is with me and October 31, but I want to get in on it!

Any insights?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Forum: T.V. Junkies

With October comes the new t.v. programming for the fall season. We must have at least a few t.v. junkies in our readership!

What are some new shows you've discovered this season? What are your old favorites that are back this fall?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Link Love for 10/22

It's time to share some link love with everyone. Check out the posts below and don't forget to add your own links in the comments.

Girl w/Pen writes about a cool online show called Smart Girls at the Party that really celebrates girls. We can't wait to catch up on the episodes.

In Good Company has a great post about the simple idea of thinking big, but starting small -- something so many of us often forget.

One Writeous Chick shares the inspiration she got from a water bottle, and the life lessons we can all take away from it.

Lindsey Pollak worked on a series of posts to make us realize that we have more experience than we think. Be sure to read the full series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Career Conversations

It had been several months since I first met with Kristina and the other Thursdays at Three attendees, but not much had changed for me. Sure, another soul-crushing job came and went, but it was the same nonsense I’ve encountered these last two years. When I heard myself speak about my life goals for the future at last week’s meeting, I had a déjà-vu moment. Oh yes, I sat at that same table in April, and spouted similar sentiments. Perhaps the only difference between then and now is that I am determined to follow through with my plans for a career transition.

Mulling over my past, present, and future situations is mostly a solitary affair, but I wouldn’t say it's because I’m too sensitive. It has more to do with me drowning out other people’s well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) opinions, which can inadvertently affect me in negative ways. When I do receive unsolicited advice, I keep an open mind and listen. If what someone is saying is unproductive and insulting, I try to emerge from the encounter as unscathed as possible, and with the proper perspective. When I decided to re-join the Thursdays at Three meetings, I was surprised to discover I didn’t have reservations about expressing what I want in my life and career. I know the advice I receive from Kristina and the other attendees is as objective and as helpful as possible. I also hope that my limited input has been perceived as fair, honest, and constructive.

Every week the attendees are given assignments which are geared towards helping us realize our dreams and goals for the future. My homework addresses my desire to become more successful as a writer and to work overseas again in a humanitarian capacity, using my previous experiences as a foundation. While I am slightly intimidated by the tasks I’ve been given, I know I’m ready to take them on. The time is right for me.

Are you in a life and/or career transition? What are you doing to move yourself forward?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fall Back... to School

Ahhh, the fall. Leaves turn beautiful shades of color you only see for a short time each year. The air is nice and cool, finally rid of summer's oppressive humidity. Apples and pumpkins in season give you an excuse to make apple- and pumpkin-flavored everything... Oh, is that just me?

Well anyway, for so many people, the fall also means the start of the new school year. Probably more so than any other time of year, the fall makes me miss being in school. Buying text books and school supplies was the highlight of my end-of-summer days. By the time October rolled around, I was already well in the swing of things: having intense conversations with classmates, getting to know professors and delving deeper into their academic interests, and starting to think about what classes to take in the spring.

You can certainly say that I enjoyed being a student. I suppose that's why for so long I wanted to be a professor, which to me was basically the equivalent of getting paid to be a student. My career path has now veered off a bit from that, though I haven't completely written it off. Yet every fall, without fail, I start wondering again if and when I'll ever go back to school.

For the past few days, I've thought about taking some classes to fill this void I keep having. I won't go so far as to take graduate-level courses with no goal in mind, but I'm thinking that taking a writing class of some sort might be a good start. Since I've wanted to focus on my writing anyway, I think this might be a good way to fulfill both desires. Just a thought for now, but I'll let you know if it goes anywhere.

Do any of you get the same nostalgia about your school days in the fall?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Are Random Thoughts Allowed?

So, sometimes very random thoughts pass into my mind, with no place to go but right on through. I'm talking about questions with no possible solution, little nagging wonderings, and all kinds of creative fireworks that are probably meaningless to anyone but me. Heck, sometimes they're meaningless even to me!

I assume this sort of thing happens to everyone because I've discovered that when you get to be friends with people, they start saying these little things out loud. That's one of the best and funniest parts of friendship, I might add.

All of this is to say that I don't have a theme for my post today, beyond randomness. I suppose blogging, in some sense, offers a place to float one's random thoughts, so here are a few that have come to me recently:

  • Sometimes I look at M.C. Escher drawings and think that he probably would have understood my life.
  • I don't understand what the phrase "The Great American Novel" is supposed to signify, so I get annoyed when people use it in conversation.
  • I hate it when people talk in the movie theater. It makes me want to throw things. At them. So why, especially lately, am I always seated by the noisiest, talkiest people in the whole place? Grr.
  • Why do museum exhibits always have to have those little plaque things that tell you what the art is about, where it comes from and how it's supposed to be received? Do the collections have more, or less, meaning without the deconstruction? Can't art just be art?
  • Celebrities I'd like (or would have liked) to have dinner with: Muhammad Ali, Audre Lorde, Amelia Earhart, Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Elizabeth Blackwell, Whoopi Goldberg, and Wangari Maathai to name a (very) few.
  • The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The shortest distance between two people is an open-hearted conversation. Or a sharing of random thoughts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Forum: Fear Factor

Halloween is coming up soon, and it's got us thinking about fears - both real and imagined.

What are some things you're afraid of? The dark? Ghost stories? Failure? Losing the people you love? What is your own personal fear factor?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Power of Words, The Promise of Peace

CHICKS ROCK! is happy to have Kristina back as a guest blogger this week:

Kristina Leonardi is the founder of The Women’s Mosaic. She is a career/life path consultant, speaker, seminar leader and expert in the areas of women, diversity and personal growth.

When I was in high school my dream was to work for the United Nations – I excelled at foreign languages and loved learning about other cultures. I studied International Relations and worked extensively with the international student population of my university. I met people from around the globe and was fascinated by the ways we choose to speak, clothe and govern ourselves, the music we develop and myriad of ways we prepare food, how varied the physical geography we inhabit... But under the diversity, it was clear to me that we enjoy the same basic wants, needs and wishes for ourselves and those we love.

I knew I wanted to do work that took advantage of my passion for and understanding of this concept. The UN, in theory, seemed to be the place for me, but the reality was quite different, and so I ended up forming The Women’s Mosaic instead. However, I do live near the UN’s missions and delegates, have been invited to numerous events over the years, and am thrilled to be part of it in my own way.

Every September during the General Assembly, my neighborhood goes into lock-down and this year was no different, except for one extraordinary event. In a speech given by President Obama, the United States, for the first time in decades, actually expressed its commitment to the institution at its core: its ideals and what it represents. The vision of the UN is what we must aspire to and it cannot succeed without everyone's participation, especially a country as powerful as the U.S. I could not have been more proud that day and felt a sigh of relief that things were finally back on the right track.

They were "only words," but they caused a cosmic shift in the perception of who we are and what the UN is capable of. Words are powerful. They are the bridge between thought and action. They are a vital part of any great movement and are often transforming in and of themselves. For these and many more of his words, there is no doubt in my mind that President Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Words manifest change, internally and externally. And both kinds have value, as they are inexorably intertwined.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Relief Through Ayurvedic Massage

I don’t have the luxury of going to the spa very often. In the past, I considered myself lucky if I went three times a year. Now that I don’t receive regular massages as I did when I was abroad, I make sure to go spas that are highly recommended. If the service exceeds my expectations, I am more than happy to return to the place, and pass on recommendations to people I know.

My recent trip to an Ayurvedic spa is perhaps the best I have ever had. I first learned of the facility at a TWM event this past spring. At the Health & Nutrition: Perspectives from Around the World Panel Discussion, the panelists and some audience members made the evening a pleasant and informative one. Dr. Priyatarssini Balamurugen was one of the six panelists who particularly caught my attention, because she spoke specifically about the Ayurvedic approach to health, nutrition, and life as a whole. I have been interested in this particular branch of alternative medicine, because it focuses on multi-faceted treatments for a variety of problems: Yoga, massage, and herbs are just a few of these. When we received our “swag bags” at the close of the event, I noticed a coupon for the Santhigram Kerala Ayurvedic Health Spa and knew I had to visit the New Jersey location before the offer expired at the end of the year.

During the massage and steam bath, I felt the pressures of everyday life slip away. For a person who finds it difficult to meditate because of mental restlessness, I felt surprisingly free during the session. Ayurveda is centuries old, so I am not surprised at how effective it was for me during the hour and fifteen minutes I was there. I think my transcendental experience also had to do with the desire to purify myself, both inside and out. This, coupled with the expert hands and herbal oils used during the session, made me feel relaxed and relieved for the rest of the day.

Have any of you tried Ayurvedic massage or similar treatments? What was your experience?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Case of Over-Preparedness

I must say that simply planning this trip to Europe has been quite the learning experience. As I've mentioned before, I'll be going with my sisters, but will also at some point or another be in the company of my guy and a few friends.

Planning the trip has made us all communicate with each other in ways we never needed to before. Suddenly, we all need to rely on each other for some bit of information here and there, whether it be tips on where to buy a certain supply or ideas on how to spend a night in a certain city.

In doing all of this, I've come to realize that some people are planners, and some just aren't. I am definitely a planner. I want to know that I have thought of everything before we ever step foot onto an airplane or train. I realize that we can't actually think of everything, and that some things will just happen and we'll have to deal with them. But it brings me an incredible amount of comfort to know that there is some sort of plan.

An itinerary is drafted, city guides and maps are in hand, phrasebooks have been bought - check, check, check. Emergency contact numbers, duct tape, extra first aid supplies in every nook and cranny - check, check, check.

And that's when I hear the reactions that I am, perhaps, too prepared. But is there really such a thing? I've heard this from several people now and I look at them in amazement with crinkled nose and all. How can somebody be too prepared? I've never thought such a thing was possible.

Okay, perhaps I could have saved some space for souvenirs by packing a few less plastic bags and ziploc baggies, but too prepared? Surely not...

So what say you? Have you ever been accused of being over-prepared? Or maybe you're one of these folks I can't understand who are always under-prepared?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Yes, I want to be. So what?

Lately people have been asking me about relationships a lot. Am I looking for one? What do I want out of one? Can they set me up? Would I get up to speed with the internet matching thing already? What am I waiting for? Who am I interested in that they might know?


I did not used to get into this dialogue so much, and it leads me to wonder if something has changed about my demeanor or behavior that makes people think I'm suddenly "on the market." To be honest, I'm not sure if I am or not. My standard answer is that I'm not specifically looking for a relationship, but I'm open to it if it happens. I think that's pretty true.

People often say that single women are single because they want to be, but it's usually said in a tone of voice that suggests this is a character flaw, or a deep subconscious sabotaging of your chance at happiness. This frustrates me, especially when I feel myself falling into the same traps, thinking about the future in terms of "when I find someone..."

I know people are just trying to be friendly and helpful, but who says I have to be "looking?" Isn't it okay not to? Pauline thinks so. Taking a long term view, yeah, I hope it's out there for me. But in the meantime, I don't want to conduct myself as if I'm waiting indefinitely. I have things to do, dreams to pursue and to accomplish. So, I'm going for it! It's just me, and that's okay.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Forum: Mentors Matter

It's been a while since we talked about mentors on the blog, but we'd like to hear about your personal experiences.

Who have been your most important professional and/or personal mentors? What did they help you accomplish? What did they help you learn about yourself?

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