Instant America

March 28, 2012

Instant gratification, high-speed Internet access, speed dating. Now, now, yesterday!

We live in a culture of speed. This infographic proves it. Yet we get more accomplished (the real reason for why we want to go so fast) if we slow down.

How will you slow down today?

If you’re like me, you get the natural urge to purge at the first spring tweet you hear. No, I’m not talking about Twitter tweets. I’m talking about the birds that signal it’s time to sift, cull and throw out all that junk you’ve been harboring all winter.

The Chotchky Challenge author Barry Dennis offered up this guest blog post on decluttering that I just couldn’t resist publishing here. Having just undergone ‘the hurl and toss’ of old stuff myself, I invite you to declutter so you’re heart can be a’flutter with the newness of the season instead of caught up in the soul-sucking drain of a home filled with useless junk.

7 Decluttering Tips to Feed Your Soul

by Barry A. Dennis

Adapted from his new book, “The Chotchky Challenge”


The more junk you continue to tolerate in your life, the more stressed out, irritable, and burdened you will feel. I call this junk we accumulate “Chotchky.” Chotchky is anything that crowds, intrudes, clutters, or in any way distracts from our soul’s highest purpose.

Be aware, Chotchky is a shape shifter. It can be anything. There is a fuzzy line and as soon as something crosses it, it has become Chotchky. I call it the “line of excess.” Anything in excess is a hindrance to our life. Like wearing a lead coat all day and wondering why were so tired. In this way, were all wearing lead-lined coats and don’t even know it.

Take the Chotchky Challenge. Start to become aware of everything in your life that has crossed the line, release it, and feel just how light and free it’s possible to be.

Here are some of the easiest places to start decluttering and clearing away Chotchky:

Your bathroom. What percentage of your hair spray, hair gel, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair colors, soap, makeup, lotions, shampoos, over-the-counter medicines, prescriptions, and vitamins have crossed the line? It’s bathroomotchky! Go through your drawers and cabinets and get rid of everything that’s collected dust. Empty and recycle the glass and plastic containers.

Your closet. It is not uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed by their bulging closet and actually say, “I have nothing to wear.” Crazy, huh? That’s how confused we have become. I call it “apparelyzation.” Use this rule of thumb: your closet should never be filled to more than 80% capacity. Put all those clothes, shoes, socks, and accessories you haven’t worn in the past year in a bag and deposit them into the nearest Goodwill or Salvation Army bin.

Your cupboards. How much food do you feel is truly empowering you, and what percentage is “foodotchky?” Get a big “glad bag” and throw away everything that doesn’t contribute to making you feel happy, healthy, and energized. If the junk isn’t there, you soon won’t miss it.

Your storage spaces. Do you have corners of your garage or basement that are filled with things you haven’t used for years? Drawers that overflow?  Or worse, do you have a storage unit somewhere else that you actually pay for each month? It’s time for a sale. Sell it all, and if there’s anything unsold you can put on it your curb with a sign that reads “FREE.”

Your media. Be careful what you allow onto your Internet menu. Every website is an affirmation, every search is a meditation, every chat a prayer. All of the information you feed to your brain through TV, movies, YouTube, and such seems normal. But is it soulful? We are bombarded by excess information. If Mozart, Da Vinci, and Thomas Edison had been distracted by Facebook 5 hours a day, would they have found time to express their genius? Informotchky is insidious and clutters the most precious storage space we have, our mind!

Your calendar or ecalendar. Are you wasting your time with peopleotchky–humans who don’t support you, believe in you, and may actually encourage destructive behavior? Life is short and your time is precious. Make sure you surround yourself with true “Soul-Mates,” friends who support your very soul. Anyone who doesn’t has become excess!

Your consumption. Finally, start to be more conscious about the things you acquire. When you are at a store and you want something, or you’re offered a piece of cake after a large meal, ask yourself, “Do I really need this? How will this feed my soul?” The more conscious you are about what you purchase and consume, the happier and less encumbered you will feel.

As you begin to get rid of the Chotchky surrounding you, you will start to notice that your heart feels lighter, and your mood is brighter. You will find you have become more focused and clear. Your priorities rise to the surface and you suddenly have the time and energy that was always missing to channel into your heart’s true desires. It is truly liberating.

Besides, at this stage in the game, the less we consume the healthier we become in body, mind, spirit, and earth. As we take this challenge we reach what may be the highest state of consciousness possible, that of “liberotchky,” the complete and total freedom from all things Chotchky! (Any similarity with the former flamboyant pianist is unintended. Although he did wear a lot of blingotchky. Coincidence? I think not!)

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Barry Dennis is an internationally known inspirational speaker and spiritual teacher. His new book is The Chotchky Challenge: Clear the Clutter from Your Home, Heart, and Mind…and Discover the True Treasure of Your Soul (Hay House, April 2012). Learn more at

On Following Your Dreams

March 23, 2012

Kevin Clash, a young African-American puppeteer growing up in the 1970s, didn’t let the obstacles of poverty stand in the way of his dream to work with Jim Henson. His passion for bringing characters to life can be seen in everything he does. You may not know Kevin’s name, but you do know the embodiment of him: Elmo.

In a new documentary about Kevin’s life, Being Elmo is a moving tribute to the human spirit. As we the viewers watch Kevin’s journey unfold, we are able to relate to the obstacles that life affords us all. In Kevin’s case, he didn’t listen to the naysayers. He had one vision: to work on Sesame Street. Lucky for us, his dream came true. But also at a personal cost.

Meeting the demands of being Elmo is not always easy, and Kevin spent most of his time away from his family to make millions of other kids happy. At one point in the documentary, we are shown a scene from his daughter’s Sweet 16 birthday party. He gets several celebrities to wish his daughter, Shannon, a happy birthday on film. We watch as he sheds a tear or two and we are confronted with his sense of loss at the years he wasn’t there for her. For a brief moment in time, we are invited into the fantasy world of puppetry and the sacrifice of being in such demand. It is an incredibly moving film that the entire family can enjoy. I highly recommend it!

Ever since I was a kid, lying feverishly on the couch watching episodes of the Price is Right during a mid-week cold, I’ve wanted to be on a game show. Just once. To stand behind the glittery podium, hopping up and down with my name tag flapping to the beat of my own excitement.

Call me crazy, but it’s really been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember.

Today I’m going to a casting for a quiz show. It took a bit of effort to get my team of three together. One team member is coming as far as four hours away by train. A complete stranger who is staying at my house so we can earn the chance to stand tall in the contestant’s circle.  Another is a good actor friend of mine who said she’d do it if I do it. Our other friend didn’t get casted for it so we aren’t hopeful we will be either.

But who cares, you know? The question isn’t why we are doing it. We simply are. And that’s enough.

Oftentimes we overanalyze things, press ourselves for answers, demand a rational response to a feeling, an intuition, an inner voice whisper. There is no why. It just is.

It’s a liberating thought to accept our impulses as equally worthy of our attention as a carefully thought-out plan. We needn’t control every last detail of our day. Sometimes allowing for the unfolding of things is what is necessary. And it takes courage to let go and let be and let live.

Place yourself in a situation in which you needn’t ask why. Allow the answer to be “Just Because”. How does it feel?


The coolness of solar energy is not to be underestimated. In the spirit of less is more, I have always admired folks who turn to the sun to serve their power needs. A heavily subsidized industry in Germany, solar power has cropped up on the roofs of many a neighbor over the past nine years we have lived in our tiny town north of Munich.

You could say I’ve experienced slight solar power envy, watching those bluish slabs appear, as if by the hand of magical nocturnal elves, atop the finest constructions across the entire area. Gas stations, clothing stores and even a bathroom fixture company recently raised their panels to the sky. I wanted in. And so did Husband.

Then we purchased a house with East-West roof exposure. It occurred to us (rather late) that most people with solar power had South-facing roofs. Just when I thought our future as fellow solar power users had ended, we learned that we’d only acquire 20% less energy than those positioned to the  South. With a few more panels, we’d even out the difference. And so we signed on the bottom line for 14 panels altogether.

The surplus energy we create gets fed into the power grid. We are rewarded not only financially (we only pay for the night-time electricity), but also emotionally. How noble it feels to see those lovely collectors drinking in the sun rays, even on cloudy days! I am astounded by its beauty and the sudden urge to feel kissed by the sun.

Whilst in the Southwest of the United States last year, I was surprised to see that virtually no one used the power of the sun to generate electricity. In a place like Yuma, Arizona, for instance, where the sun shines 242 days out of the year, it would make sense to generate power  from the sun for all those air conditioners that help you take leave of the very thing that’s keeping you cool in your adobe home. My friend, located in the Northeast, tells me she has plans to place panels on the barn roof…once they have a barn to put it on. Slowly but surely we’re creeping toward a smarter vision in which we use what we have.

Solar power is so hot, and yet sooooo cool!

Interested in solar power? This infographic gives you an idea of how much it would cost, how much you’d save and where you’d get the most bang for your solar buck.

Healthy eating is a big part of the Slow Movement. You are what you eat, and how you do it, too.

Smart cooking doesn’t come naturally to all of us so that’s why I breathed a sigh of relief when Camilla V. Saulsbury’s 5 Steps to Healthy Cooking: 500 Recipes for Lifelong Wellness arrived in my mailbox (You remember her, don’t you? I blogged about her fabu Piece of Cake cookbook that has been my baker’s secret ever since!). I tore open the envelope and started reading right away.

The neat thing about her recipe book is how it’s organized. Unlike many cookbooks that ignore breakfast altogether, she actually starts there. As we all know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So why do most cookbooks avoid it?

The truth is Camilla takes a holistic approach. So while you might be perusing the cookbook for some in-law impressing meals, you’re actually getting health tips along the way too. Did you know that mushrooms contain potassium, a mineral that can actually lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of a stroke? Or that cherries (much like blueberries) contain antioxidants to help prevent many diseases related to aging? Who knew?

Instead of having to get that information elsewhere, it’s right there while you make your shopping list.

Every recipe includes a nutrients section so you know how many calories, amounts of fat, protein, etc. you’re ingesting. Along with the enticing recipe names (I mean who can resist the sound of “Southeast Asian Roast Beef Wraps” or “Whole-Grain Blueberry Maple Muffins”?), she sprinkles in a few great images too.

The cheery front cover gives you the sense that you can do this. You really can. There is nothing intimidating or condescending about her book. If anything, it offers just the right array of amazing meals to make your mother-in-law wonder “Just how does s/he do it?”

With mindful shopping, cooking and a touch of Camilla’s grace! But that’ll be our little secret, okay?

Now, what’s on your meal plan today?

The kitchen emitted an eardrum-splicing pitch.

“The fridge is making weird sounds,” I said to Husband. He grunted. It was early.

Fretting about yet another household item that required repair, I set about my morning in the attempt to surpress the feeling that everything was going on the fritz simultaneously. I trudged the moutain of worry until I put my ear to the fridge door a few hours later.

It sounded like metal vibrating. Taking a deep breath, I entertained the idea that perhaps the sound was coming from a nearby cabinet instead.

It was.

The “fridge sound” was a metal drying rack atop a metal cake form. The refrigerator motor hummed soundlessly. The metal forms did not.

It was nothing really. A mountain that turned into a molehill.

How often do we fret, relentlessly perhaps, about things that are easily prevented? When we rush around without thought, we forget that perhaps the noise we are hearing isn’t what we think. Perhaps it is quite the opposite.

This morning was a lesson in slow. When we take a moment to view the Big Picture, we sometimes find things aren’t always what they seem!

Have you had a mountain-turned-molehill moment lately? Please share!

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 8 out of the 10 million Americans who are estimated to have osteoporosis are women. Almost 34 million more people are estimated to have low bone density, increasing their risk of osteoporosis and broken bones.  National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

As I mentioned earlier this month, National Nutrition Month focuses on the importance of developing healthy eating and physical activity habits, including meeting daily calcium requirements and performing various exercises to build strong bones, which is imperative in the fight against osteoporosis.

Nutritionist Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, author of the newly released book Bread is the Devil (from my publisher, St. Martin’s Press), offers tips for people who are trying to change their eating routines to drop the pounds in celebration of National Nutrition Month this March.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, carbs in moderation are all good. Even if bread is not your personal devil, Bauer’s book offers advice on how to build sensible, healthy meals, high in protein with complex carbs and how avoid other food demons – from ice cream and chips to sweet treats.

While taking a mindful view of our eating habits, it’s also important, especially for women, not to skimp on calcium. On average, women  fall short on calcium by at least 20%, getting only 500-700 mg per day – that’s significantly less than the recommended amount—putting them at risk of osteoporosis.

To decrease your chance of osteoporosis, Heather Bauer suggests:

  1.  Think of your bones as living, breathing tissue.  They can be built up and broken down with certain determining factors. These factors include daily intake of at least 1,000mg of calcium supplemented with Vitamin D for optimal absorption and weight-bearing exercise.
  2.  Get your dose of calcium in whole foods such as broccoli or soy milk. (I’m told Adora Calcium Supplement discs are made from rich, all-natural premium chocolate – whatever floats your boat, but I’m thinking broccoli is the better, if not more fun, option).
  3. By the time we hit our 30s, we stop naturally building bone mass and start losing it. Counteract this with anything that forces your body to defy gravity.  Activities include dancing, jogging, tennis, even stair climbing.  Make sure to avoid escalators and elevators!
  4.  Lifting weights at the gym gives you muscle tone, right? Well, calcium acts in the same way to keep your blood vessels toned. Calcium rich foods like milk, cheese, sardines, figs, and dark leafy greens like spinach can be tough to eat a lot of, so consider a calcium supplement if you’re not meeting the recommended daily value.

Even a slow or vigorous walk can have positive effects on your bones. Have you been outside today? Natural sunlight increases your Vitamin D, a necessary component for calcium absorption.

Have you ever spent what felt like hours at the airport gate desk, trying to wrangle a new seat assignment because you discovered too late that your seat is right next to the lavatory on an overcrowded flight?

For those of you who travel long distances, I just found a great online site that shows you exact where your seat assignment is. has a database of every flight, airline and airplane imaginable so you can be assured the best seat in your price class. Once I discovered my Economy ticket couldn’t upgraded using frequent flyer miles, I referred to the site, then the travel agent, to ensure I don’t land with a crick in my neck eight hours later.

The best part? You’ll be guaranteed never to get that seat that doesn’t recline on your transcontinental journey because it tells you just about every seat feature it has. On top of a better flight overall, it will save you yet another trip to the chiropracter too!

Making Sense of MAD MEN

March 6, 2012

Right before Christmas I stumbled upon MAD MEN at the grocery store. No, Don Draper wasn’t casually smoking Lucky Strikes in the produce section, and Pete Campbell wasn’t chasing women down the frozen food aisle. It was a gift box of Season One DVDs. I grabbed it on an impulse, making a mental mark on my husband’s wish list. Giving in to my old speedaholic tendencies, I didn’t notice that the DVDs weren’t actually in the box, something I was supposed to pick up at the information desk after the purchase. Fast forward to early January when I discovered the faux pas just as my husband and I settled in to watch the very first episode. Luckily, there were only two boxes left at the store so by power of deduction, we were able to match the ‘missing’ DVDs with my set. Another night passed before we reconvened for another viewing attempt.

And we’ve been savoring every episode ever since. After just three shows I ordered the next season online. We were hooked. And we didn’t know why.

I mean honestly. I went to Smith College, alma mater to Gloria Steinem, the godmother of the feminist movement. Why on Earth would I like a show that exhibits sexism, racism and homophobia like none other?

To explain the attraction, fellow Psychology Today blogger Dr. Stephanie Newman just came out with her new release MAD MEN on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of Men and Women of the Hit TV Show. From her perspective as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Newman dissects every one of the main characters in a Freudian context. It’s amusing, if not revealing, that we appreciate watching people act badly.

It satisfies our inner bad boy or bad girl. We actually enjoy watching Betty Draper dismiss her daughter for possibly dropping the dry cleaning on the floor (and not minding that she’s actually wearing the plastic covering from it over her head). For 42 minutes, we’re allowed to be less than perfect parents, colleagues and lovers. We may be nauseated by all the alcohol and tobacco consumption, but we watch anyway because inside we’re collectively saying “I’m so glad that’s not me.”

It’s a bit like reality TV. We find pleasure in viewing others’ antics for the sake of our own entertainment. MAD MEN on the Couch may be repetitive in its driving home how much Don Draper misses his prostitute mother who died in childbirth, but it also explains a lot about the character himself. Why else would he self-sabotage if he didn’t think he deserved it?

We engage in self-harm on a subconscious level because we somehow think that we shouldn’t be rewarded, that our bad sides acted out and it’s our punishment. We see this in virtually every episode of MAD MEN too.

I embraced the book primarily because I wanted to understand why Peggy, the secretary turned junior copywriter, gets ahead professionally while Joan, the bombshell office manager, does not. They both sleep around. They both are seriously surpressed as women in the early 1960s and they both obviously possess higher than average intelligence. However, while Joan buys in to the role of nurturing maternal figure, Peggy does not. She shuns that societal expectation well before there were even role models to follow. She establishes herself in a man’s world by becoming a lot like them: harsh, critical and independent ~ without all the substance abuse to hide behind.

If you’re a fan of the show (and have seen most of the shows up to Season Four), I highly recommend giving MAD MEN on the Couch a read. You may not agree with everything the author writes, but then again, that might give you even more reason to read it!