Get the Boot!

Writers Boot Camp

Click on our new website for info on writing boot camp in NYC. My first workshop was held on August 16, 2012 at the Elizabeth Seton Women’s Center… Get ready. Start working out.


Lose It!

According to this month’s cover Atlantic story, The Perfected Self, by David Freedman, people, including the author’s brother, have lost weight with the free app Lose It!

The application seems a perfect way to use social media to connect people around positive life goals. I know I have blogged (almost) every day because of the prodding of my online community of Catherine Flowers, Julie Jordan Scott, Kim Koning and Meredith Cardenas Weis at Post A Day (Week) Challenge at Postaday2012 on Facebook.

I have another friend who regularly documents the pounds she is losing on Facebook and she receives a ton of support (and a bit of unasked-for advice!)

The Freedman article is an homage to the psychologist B.F. Skinner who advised positive reinforcement as a route to changing individual behavior for the good of society. Alcoholics Anonymous does this for problem drinkers who seek sobriety.

I’m not sure if an app can replace a support group (or peer pressure). For me, one real-world application for this app is: Sure, I feel good when I work out — but I feel even better when I work out and other people compliment, encourage and admire me for doing so! (Or compete against me!)

I’m always bragging (complaining) to my kids — “I did Pilates and rode my bike to work today!” To which, they shrug!

I like praise for working out! I’m just not sure if an app will praise me enough. Will the app shrug at my efforts for health and fitness? I may try it and find out and document my attempt at: Running Aground, my health and fitness blog.

What I’m Reading

For mother-daughter book club, we are reading The River Between Us by Richard Peck. It is the story of the Civil War told from a girl’s point of view. I love the Civil War as a metaphor for families in conflict.

For my friends’ book club, we are reading Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (we had previously read March. Loved it!) For workplace book club, we’re reading What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn. All three of these have astute girl narrators, nice!


I wrote this a few weeks ago and never posted. So now I must update. In my workplace book club, we are reading Hanhunt: The 12 Day-Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson. And for friends’ group, we are reading The Hunger Games (though I’ve seen the movie!) by Suzanne Collins.

I am not very far in either of these books. But I know that they are quests. I love novels about a hero’s journey, especially when the hero is a spunky heroine!

Getting Rid of Stress

Stress has visited you like the devil in days of yore. It has caused your heart to race, your hands to dampen, your throat to dry. So let’s beat back stress with these 11 steps.

1. Do a daily act of kindness. You know you can’t think your way into good action, so you must act your way into good thinking. You must do one act of kindness and service daily. Open a door for a stranger. Donate to the subway musician. Anything.

2. Get up early every day and write in your journal. This private brain drain will add years to your life. Studies show people who write about their stressful moments boost their immune systems.

3. View your life as a hero’s journey. You have read about Joan of Arc and Odysseus. Now there is YOU. You are no less remarkable. You have fought your battles — an abusive spouse as fierce as a dragon? Look at your life as a quest. Your purpose is to complete your mission.

4. Find your mission. Mine is to parent three awesome children, to write, to teach and to make the world a kinder, better place than I found it through my words and actions.

5. Work out three or more times a week. Or just move your body more regularly from the sitting position. Yes, our ancestors were hunters but mostly they were gatherers. Get in touch with your inner gatherer. Get in touch with nature.

6. Pamper yourself. Manicure? Haircut? Massage? Once a month — is this too much to ask? Take care of the vessel you were given.

7. Get to bed early. Get a book. Get several. Get horizontal. Pull the covers up. Go to bed by 10 pm every night.

8. Have sex regularly. Sexuality is a gift from God. Why else does it feel so good? Because it is a beautiful part of the human, adult experience. Do it your own way but do it.

9. Listen without talking so much. You have a lot to say, a lot to share. But you will be remembered on this earth, not by how well you have said what you have to say, but by how well you compassionately listened.

10. Eat healthily. Okay, a bacon cheeseburger and a beer is okay once in a while. But do not use unhealthy food as a way to pamper yourself or indulge. Healthy tastes good.

11. Give seven hugs a day.

Thanks to Alicia Pitterson who provided the prompt at yesterday’s Wednesday Writers lunch time series. She asked us to create an agenda for an event called, “Don’t let stress get the best of you.”  

Where is utopia?

At the Arch Street Friends Meeting House, Dr. Emma Jones Lapsansky-Werner told us how William Penn’s vision of utopia led to the urban design of Philadelphia, city of brotherly, sisterly love. 

When asked where utopia can be found today, Dr. Lapsansky-Werner, a Quaker historian at Haverford College, said, God lives in:

  • public transportation
  • community parks
  • markets where people sell their own stuff
  • schools where parents participate in teaching

I would add:

  • grand old train stations

Unlike airports, which are made of glass, steel, sterility, full of uniformed personnel intent on efficiency and safety, train stations are grand dames, made of marble, wood, vast ceilings, wasted space, meandering Art Deco design, and welcome to all kinds of wandering characters.

My Amtrak train just pulled out of the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, passing Newark Station. We are on route to New York City.

I like that Amtrak conductors are characters. (I’ve written about this on another blog and on seeing nature from the windows, on Looking for Eagles on Amtrak).

In fact, train conductors have shared their cookies and fellow passengers have shared their chocolate cake with me on Amtrak excursions. Nobody really shares at airports or on airplanes.

I find utopia in places where people share. Where do you find utopia?

Dr. Lapsansky-Werner was a featured speaker at the Religion Communicators Council annual meeting.



Emotional Intelligence

Last night I saw the Diane Keaton movie, Darling Companion, which will open April 20th.  

It’s a dog lover’s movie. And that’s not me. The movie is also a valentine to the older, sensitive male, played by Richard Jenkins.

Kevin Kline plays a know-it-all doctor who lacks the Jenkins character’s smooth ease with people. (Jenkins is, also, according to Dianne Wiest’s character, a “generous lover.” I love Wiest’s and Jenkins’ sexy-ness!)

At one point, Kline is chastised for his lack of emotional intelligence. And I think emotional intelligence is underrated.

My daughters and I are still reaping the rewards of a girl empowerment weekend, where we were able to talk freely about our feelings. We learned how to navigate conflict — an awesome learning experience through the Girls Leadership Institute.

A February opinion piece in the New York Times, Building Self-Control, the American Way by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, offered this: “programs to enhance social and emotional development accelerate school achievement.”

So emotional intelligence helps with school intelligence. I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of helping our kids handle their emotions — it’s just smart to be aware of and articulate our feelings well.

In the Times article, the authors prescribe imaginative play, aerobic exercise, and studying language as tools to help children succeed emotionally and intellectually.

As for ageing adults, like Kevin Kline’s character, how do they (we) become more emotionally intelligent? In Darling Companion, the advice was to:

  • value our pets more than our cell phones;
  • define ourselves in ways beyond our work;
  • get lost in nature;
  • and be open to prophetic wisdom from people we consider marginal or flaky.

This Month’s Book Club Picks

For book club we are reading Diane Keaton’s Then Again.

I can’t find the passage but at one point she says we mustn’t blame mothers for all of our adult unhappiness. Mothers do their best. I agree. The book is a collage of memories, a collage like the kind Diane’s mother created –  scrapbooks and journals.

I am having trouble staying focused on my reading. Fortunately, occasionally, the choices from my work book club and my other book club coincide, like when we read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls in both.

At my work book club, we are reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Catch-22 and for Mother-Daughter Book Club, we are reading the Robin Benway’s The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June. The girls and I recommended that book; we’ve already read it. Very funny. (But if you don’t like it, don’t blame me, a mother.) Phew. I have one less book to read.

I’d like to blog more on this topic, but yes, you guessed it, I have to get back to the Diane Keaton memoir. Book club is Tuesday night and I have hundreds of pages to go. I might just skip ahead to the Warren Beatty part.


Time Management

I want to get my kids off the internet and focus on their homework. I want to be a beacon of light for them, teaching my darlings the ancient art of self-discipline.

My brother J. says that in work styles, we are either woodpeckers of hummingbirds. And I think we can agree that the Coudals are hummingbirds, whirring, darting, tasting, moving, buzzing. I would like to try life as a woodpecker, hammering away, dull, obedient, effective.

I actually have a lot of down time, like the other night, here, I was double parked, waiting to drive my daughters to book club.

I believe breathing has to do with focus. I would like to teach my kids to take deep breaths into the depths of their beings to improve their ability to focus.

Or at least guide my children in the art of becoming effective managers of their limited time. We are all given the same amount time per day. It’s not like money; it is an equitable resource.

And I’d like to write more about this, but first let me dart off and tell you that last night, I read this interesting article, Are You As Busy As You Think? by Laura Vanderkam for the Wall Street Journal.

The article reminded me that when I hear people complain about how busy they are, I think they’re trying to tell me, “I’m important.” It’s anathema in this culture to say, “Yup, I’ve got the right balance of work and life. I’m doing just fine, thank you.”

No, we must be martyrs on the pyre of overwork. And if someone tells me, “Mary Beth, you seem to have the work/life balance down. You’re good at self-care,” I think, “Ummm, are you telling me I’m lazy?” I don’t know where I got this paradigm that I should act extremely busy and overworked at all times.

I’d like to write more, but I’ve got to get to work (but first, check my Facebook) because I am sooooooooo busy. No, wait, let me first take a few deep, cleansing breaths. And focus!

ughs for UGGS

When C. wanted a pair of boots for winter, I thought a $20 pair of rain boots would be nice. No. She wanted UGGs. Of course, she did. Everyone wants them. So Santa brought her a pair of $165 boots. Yes. That’s right, I spent more on her boots than I did for either of my wedding dresses.

A week or two after Christmas, I was invited to a fancy cocktail party and realized, due to all my dashing around the city, I wouldn’t have time to stop home to change out of my sneakers into my one pair of stylish (Aerosoles) boots, so I ducked into a store and bought myself a pair of boots. The store I went into was K-Mart and those boots cost $18.

What happened to me? I wondered then. And I’m wondering now. How did I get in this rut of spending so much on my children and so little on myself? I think I am not unusual.

All parents want better for their children than they have themselves. Parents sacrifice for their children.

Basically, I realize, too, I’m jealous. My kids are more stylish and have nicer stuff than me. By being aware of this, maybe I can change it.

And I do have one consolation: C. will grow out of those boots and then I can have them. I miss getting those nice sneakers from my son.

Write Your Spiritual Autobiography

I am proud (and a little embarrassed) to be the guest speaker at the Resource Center for Women in Ministry at New York Theological Seminary next Tuesday, February 21, 2012 from 4 pm to 6 pm in Suite 500 at the Interchurch Center. Please join me. It’s free.

We will be talking about and practicing Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography. The workshop is inspired by Dan Wakefield’s book, The Story of Your Life.

Here is the sign in the elevator at work promoting the event!

I have led this workshop a dozen time and every single time, it’s different and the stories are brilliant. Seriously.

We write about and share how small, quiet, ordinary events shape our lives in unexpected ways.

Yes, the big events — the weddings, births, divorces, funerals — are important, but so too, are the ordinary days when nothing really seems to happen. The extraordinary is found in the ordinary. And we discover a pattern, a meaning — our own awesome-ness. We just need to take a moment to write down our stories and share them.

I am always blown away by the stories that I hear. There is a magical and healing power to writing and sharing your story. Just come to the workshop. You’ll see what I mean.