Book Review: Leading from the Roots-Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World by Dr. Kathleen E. Allen

61er30lziwl._sx331_bo1204203200_

“Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” – Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail

You know I like a book when I mark it up with post-its, write notes in the margins, highlight certain passages and nod my head along like one of those bobble-head figurines. Which is exactly what I did while reading Dr. Kathleen E. Allen’s fascinating, timely and revolutionary’s book Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World.

This book implores organizational leaders (and pretty much anyone else with a stake in the workplace) to look beyond the confines of the physical spaces where we toil to nature and how it can help us and our companies thrive.

Leading from the Roots is divided into 11 well-researched,  and finely-written chapters on concepts like cooperation, diversity, lack of waste, curbing excess, the power of limits and so much more.

Each chapter gives ample evidence on how nature can help worker’s productivity and commitment to their jobs and how simple it is to work these practices into the workplace that won’t break the bank, take up too much time, or distract us from our tasks at hand. Dr. Allen provides ample evidence through both her extensive end notes and bibliography. And each chapter concludes with a summary of the chapter’s main focus and points to ponder and discuss.

Simply put, Leading from the Roots inspired me. Dr. Allen’s lessons are doable, practical and very audience-friendly. It’s ideal for everyone-managers, workers, students and grads, religious leaders, politicians, activists, teachers, creative types, social workers, medical personal, entrepreneurs, and so on.

Leading from the Roots is a great addition to my book shelf. I highly suggest you add it to your book shelf.

Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

IMG_20181217_213923

Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

Bipolar Disorder Days: One Woman’s Experience by Jen Locke

I met Jen Locke when we were freshman in college. We both shared a love of books, pop culture, cats, political discussion and writing. You best know her as a guest writer whose reviews and various opinions have been published at this very blog.

There is another thing Jen and I share, battles with mental illness. Jen has chosen to share her battle with bipolar disorder by writing this essay. Thank you Jen for sharing your store. You are a very brave woman.

It’s a full-time job in itself. That’s why I’m not working. Bipolar disorder is tough. There’s no finding the right medicinal cocktail and just leaving it. Every day is another self-assessment.

Am I feeling happy? Am I thinking faster than I can keep up? I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s a unique, surreal experience. Am I talking fast? Jumping from topic to topic? Is it the normal topic jumping or excessive topic jumping? Am I being inappropriately boisterous? Am I confident that I’m invincible? Am I seeking out risky situations? Am I aggressive? Am I getting angry easily? Do I think I have an unrealistic amount of power? Am I scaring others? Yes? No? To what degree? Is this just a one-off? Should I be worried?

Truth is, if I’m cognizant enough to ask those questions, I’m not fully manic yet. Chances are, though, that it feels too good in this state to want to attempt to rein it in. So even if the answers come up as yes, I won’t bother doing anything about it. I want to feel this way. This is feeling good. This is the me that people like. This is the me I like to present to people.

If I’m truly manic, I won’t be able to even consider the idea that I’m manic. Good luck trying to get me to look at my behavior. It’s not going to work. You’re going to have to coax me from that state into being calmer without me knowing it. You’re going to have to trick me into mellowing out. And then I might consider your suggestion that I might have been manic. Most likely, though, I’ll just keep going until I crash. I’ll survive without much sleep for weeks and become productive in ways you don’t think I can. I’ll feel like, and perhaps claim that, I can do anything.

When my medications are right and I’m doing well, I’m pretty even-tempered. I can laugh, cry, and feel much of what ‘normal’ people can. There’s a limit, though. I can’t find that elation that used to make me do leprechaun leaps on the sidewalk. I can’t feel the deep sorrow appropriate in tragic situations. The intensity of those emotions is dampened. It’s probably for the best. Feeling intensely up or down, even fleetingly, may be enough to trigger a coinciding episode. No matter how good the cocktail of drugs is, it can’t prevent episodes being triggered.

Sometimes I’ll be tired all the time for no reason. Sleeping 9 or more hours a day. Feeling unmotivated when I’m alone. I’ll have to be like this for a while before I notice that it’s happening. I’ll skip work. Or volunteering. Or social events. Yet often, to everyone else I seem fine. Sometimes someone will tell me how I appear, and I might listen. Sometimes they’ll ask me if I’m okay. I’ll brush it off the first 700 times. Keep asking if my behavior doesn’t change or gets worse. Please keep asking until I realize and open up. If I catch myself here and get a medication change to help, I can recover fairly quickly from the slight depression. By fairly quickly, I mean a month or two. If this goes unchecked, it will only get worse.

I’ll stop showering. I’ll stay home from everything. I’ll stop reading, knitting, playing with the pets, talking to people, listening to music, and doing anything that makes me feel good. I’ll skip cooking and only eat things I can eat straight out of the cabinet or fridge. I’ll stop going to bed and just sleep on the couch night after night, or day after day. Or I’ll stop getting out of bed and just spend all day, every day, in bed. I’ll think about how I’m a drain on everyone I know, that no one would really want to be associated with me if they knew who I really am. I’ll see my existence as a negative splotch on the Earth. I’ll consider different ways of dying. Ways to make it look accidental. Ways to be sure it won’t fail. Absurd ways that might at least make people laugh. Devastating ways to make other people understand the pain I feel every day. If I feel this bad, why shouldn’t everyone? I’ll hate myself, my life, and everything in existence. Ultimately, after contemplating all of this, I’ll be too depressed to kill myself. Suicide would be too much effort. But I’ll stop doing everything, so if left alone I’ll die of starvation or be forced into some sort of action. Luckily, I have people around me forcing me to stay alive when I’m in this state. As much as I may hate them when they’re doing that job.

I must keep tabs on my emotional state every day. Morning and night. Checking in with myself. Others asking about how I’m doing. If I notice something, keeping mental track of whether it continues (and for how long) or whether it changes. Trying to pinpoint a cause or trigger for a change. Trying to notice if there’s a pattern. If something is getting better. Or worse. Trying to figure out how to fix it. This takes up so much time. And sometimes the mental effort is overwhelming. And I want to do anything other than think about my mental state.

These states have cost me jobs. I’ve been fired and walked off jobs more than I can count. I’ve quit classes. I’ve lost friends because I say no too much. I’ve lost friends because they can’t take the rollercoaster. I don’t blame them.

The cycle happens. Treatment is reactive. It will keep happening. Coming out of a depression I won’t realize I’m getting better and keep taking the same meds. Then I’ll start heading into mania. And at first it feels good, so I won’t do anything about it. Sometimes it’ll break on its own. Sometimes it’ll escalate and send me into a full-blown episode. Then my meds change, and I’ll come down to normal. Maybe adjust my meds again. Then a trigger. Or the meds are heavy on downers and not heavy enough on antidepressants. And down I’ll go, into the deep tunnel of depression. And round and round we go. I’ll quit another job. And get fired from another. I’ll burn bridges like no tomorrow. Yet I will try oh so hard to keep those bridges intact. And balancing all of this becomes a full-time job. And it follows me around. It’s not something I can leave in the office. And then there are all the psychiatrist visits and the therapy sessions. And sorting through causes, learning to deal with them, learning new coping methods, creating new coping methods.

I think the biggest falsehood I have believed about it is that it can be controlled. That if I just learn enough techniques to cope and keep my medicine right, I’ll never have an episode again. But that’s not how it works. Again, treatment is reactive. And living with this is a full-time job. Everything else is a hobby. Maybe someday dealing with bipolar disorder will be a part-time job.

Maybe.

Someday.

Book Review: Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community

I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with self-help books, whether it comes to the personal, professional, romantic, and so on. I’ve read my share of self-help books in my life time and I’ve acquired quite a list of the good, bad, and downright ugly.

I can happily proclaim C. Paul Schroeder’s Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community belongs in the good category.

In Practice Makes Purpose, Schroeder takes six ancient ideas and updates for our modern age, which let’s face it, my readers, is often confusing, frightening and downright overwhelming.

What are the six practices you ask? Quite simply they break down to the following:

  1. Compassionate Seeing
  2. Heartfelt Listening
  3. Intentional Welcoming
  4. Joyful Sharing
  5. Grateful Receiving
  6. Cooperative Building

Each of these six spiritual practices starts with a singular issue and ends with an actual practice. Between these two points includes steps Schroeder lays out at as the fix, the deep dive, the mantra, and the challenge, which are fully described in all six of these practices.

For instance, in compassionate seeing, Schroeder asks the reader to view ourselves and others with complete and unconditional acceptance. Now, this does not mean you condone someone’s behavior. Some people are just awful but get the “story behind the story” to find out why they are awful before you completely write them off. Compassionate seeing helps us connect with others and realize how we are all interconnected in various ways. Without compassionate seeing we are in danger of unraveling, which depletes us as individuals and depletes our communities.

As Practice Makes Purpose goes through all its parts, Schroeder describes in full the barriers we may face as well as the triumphs we can achieve. He does this with a clear and concise writing style that is practical, empathetic and audience-friendly. Once a Greek Orthodox Priest, Schroeder is wise enough to realize not every reader is a Christian, so he refrains from strict religious terms that may be off-putting. Nor is this book some odd bit of new age fluff that may turn off readers of more traditional religious orders.

While reading Practice Makes Purpose, I was struck how practical and easy I could use this advice in my own life when dealing with challenging people and predicaments. His advice is healthy in it respects our need to be open to others (his advice when it comes to heartfelt listening, “Tell me more” appeals to the writer in me and I also appreciate how he discusses the boundaries we may need to use in other situations. Yes, be open but don’t get steamrolled by others. I also deserve compassion.

What else do I like Practice Makes Purpose? This book is less than two hundred pages. It can be read in day during a binge read. It can be read piecemeal if you are dealing with a situation or person that requires reflection on only one or two of the six practices. You can easily carry this book in a handbag or knapsack, and its practices can be interwoven in one’s home and workplace. I would love to see all six practices used in our children’s schooling (especially in the wake of the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida).

As for my life? I am now using Practice Makes Purpose when it comes to my self-care, especially when it comes to my mental health issues. I recently took up meditation and six one-sentence mantras Schroeder provide within this book is now part of my meditation practice.

At this point, Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community are thee right words, in the right book, at the right time.

 

 

 

How to Be a Redhead by Adrienne and Stephanie Vendetti

How to be a redheadWritten by the founders of the redhead related website, How to Be a Redhead, focuses on fashion, beauty, hair and skin advice aimed at those of us with fiery-toned locks (both natural and by choice), How to Be Redhead is a primer on how redheads from strawberry blondes to those with dark auburn hair can make themselves look their best.

Naturally a brunette, I decided to become a redhead back in the 1990s, and I haven’t looked back since. I may not have been born a redhead but I really do think I was born to be a redhead. It suits my fair coloring and people tell me my redhead makes my baby blues just “pop.” When I found How to Be a Redhead at my local library I just knew I had to read it.

How to Be a Redhead is divided into several redhead-related topics. First the sisters tell their personal stories on being natural redheads, the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly. Often teased for their fiery tresses, he Vendetti sisters are having the last laugh with their successful website filled with ginger-related gems like hair accessories, fashionable graphic t-shirts and tank tops, and beauty boxes filled with redhead-friendly goodies like sunscreen, hand cream, and cosmetics, and of course, their book How to Be a Redhead.

The next chapter focuses on how redheads can gain confidence in a world where redheads are quite rare and most beauty-related companies, websites and books focus mostly on blondes and brunettes. And let’s not forget some of the bullying redheads face even today when the public face of many redheads include beauties like Julianne Moore, Jessica Chastain, Eddie Redmayne and Prince Harry.

Chapter three focuses on the beauty of red hair and why it should be celebrated, especially by those of us who have red hair. Preach! In this chapter the Vendetti sisters include five steps for finding redhead friendly products.

The following chapters focus on various beauty and fashion issues most redheads face, including hair, skin, nails, make-up, famous redheads, and finally, fashion.

Hair tells us the different red hair colors. Cool tones include strawberry blonde and copper. Warm tones include classic red, deep red, auburn, deep auburn and red violet, complete with photos of various celebrities like Emma Watson and Isla Fischer. My hair is a hybrid of deep red and auburn, which features two of my favorite redheads, the aforementioned Julianne Moore and Debra Messing.

Included in the hair chapter tells us how to figure out if our hair is fine, coarse, or frizzy or normal. This chapter also tells of the best shampoos, conditioners, sprays, gels, styling tools and home treatments for redheads. I like the home remedies because they can be made with simple products found at any grocery store like olive oil, eggs and bananas, are wallet-friendly and easy to make.

There is one part of the hair chapter I do have a quibble with, the hair styles. The Vendetti sisters have gorgeous Rapunzel-like locks and the hairstyles shown in this book reveal this. My hair is long but just past my shoulders. Sure, I can rock a chignon or a bun, but I do wish we could see some hairstyles featuring redheads with shorter hair whether a swinging bob or a cute pixie cut.

Redheads often have sensitive skin, and even though I’m a redhead by choice, I also have sensitive skin, so especially appreciated How to Be a Redhead’s chapter on how to best take care of my skin. This chapter tells us how to recognize our skin types, redhead friendly products and treatments, seasonal skin care and the beauty of freckles.

I’ve recently gotten more interested in giving myself manicures and I liked the chapter on nails including hand and nail treatments,

The chapter on make-up informs the reader of the best utensils every redhead should have in her make-up kit, brushes, eyelash curlers, sponges, tweezers, mirrors and pencil sharpeners. My favorite part of the make-up is the focus on cosmetics from foundations to lipsticks to eye shadows. This chapter includes make-up tutorials. While reading this chapter I also found out that rarest hair color/eye color combination is red hair and blue eyes…

Damn straight!

I usually cringe when a book or magazine tells us “how to get the celebrity look,” so I was ready to dismiss How to Be Redhead’s chapter named just that. But this chapter includes make tips from make-up artists who work with Reba McEntire, Julianne Moore and the hairstylist from Mad Men who gave one of my favorite one of my televised redhead, Joan Holloway-Harris, her notable bouffant.

How to Be a Redhead closes with fashion tips including the most redhead friendly colors, including emerald green, plum purple, ruby red (yes, redheads can rock the red) and various shades of blue, including sapphire, peacock and navy blue. As a hybrid of deep red and auburn hair colors like cranberry red, turquoise, and pink mist are great colors for me. Actually, this chapter tells redheads there is a rainbow of redhead-friendly colors including fuchsia, mustard yellow, black and pumpkin orange. Redheads should also ignore silly myths like don’t wear green (too Christmassy), white, or neutrals. Hey, if you’re a redhead and love a certain color, wear it and rock it!!!!

How to Be a Redhead is a fun read, while also being informative and charming. I just know I’m going to make some of the home treatments found in this book and take a gander at the Vendetti’s website more often.

 

 

Book Review: Girls and Sex-Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein

girlsexWriter, author and all-around cultural critic, Peggy Orenstein, has pretty much focused her career on the complex worlds of girls and women. She wrote about adopting her daughter Daisy in her memoir Waiting for Daisy. She wrote about the girls and their sense of self-confidence in Schoolgirls and the current state of women’s lives in Flux. And her last book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Orenstein took a hard look at the marketing of “Princess Culture” and how it affects little girls.

Now we are at the next phase, and it is a doozy, Girls and Sex. Our little girls are now in high school and college and they are dressing provocatively, waxing their nether regions, hooking up, having sex and doing all kinds of titillating things. But are they actually experiencing any joy, any pleasure? Are they having orgasms? In Girls and Sex, Orenstein does her homework, and what she finds out is at turns shocking, depressing, intriguing, heartbreaking, but in the end proves there is hope.

Girls and Sex is divided into several well-researched and well-written chapters. In the first chapter, Orenstein examines how girls willingly choose to be sex objects, often via their outfits, instead of being fully-actualized sexual individuals. In chapter two Orenstein asks if girls are enjoying sex as much as they should. Sadly, the answer is no, not exactly. But they make sure the boys are enjoying themselves. Chapter three wonders “what exactly is a virgin these days?” The answers the girls give you will surprise you…or maybe not. Chapter four examines the world of hook ups and hang ups. Chapter five takes a look at sex and all of its complexities especially when it comes to girls and boys, both online and in real life. Chapter six tackles the thorny topics of drugs, alcohol and rape, especially on school campuses. And finally, in chapter seven, things get real when girls and boys are finally given the straight dope on sex and can fully embrace who they are as sexual beings.

Orenstein interviewed over 70 girls and women about their hopes and dreams, and about their sex lives, both literally and figuratively. A majority of these young women are bright, educated, have promising futures and often consider themselves to be strong feminists (or at least, feminist-minded). Some are virgins, some are not, and some are everything but “that kind of virgin” (I think you get the gist). Most of them are straight, but a few identify as lesbians or question their sexual preferences.

A majority of these young women want to look sexually alluring, which includes provocative outfits, plastic surgery and waxing one’s private parts. Yes, today, young women feel the pressure to look like porn stars. Unlike ages ago, porn easily invades our lives via the Internet. And though there is some women-positive porn out there, most of porn found on-line is very exploitive of women (Orenstein describes certain acts that nearly made me sick to my stomach, and I am no prude). And it is the latter porn that shapes both young women and men and how they should be sexually.

At the same time, the abstinence-only educational curriculum, which includes purity balls and shaming seminars, gives our young people mostly false information when it comes to sex. This false information does nothing to deter sexual activity. And it often leads people to make bad sexual choices, which leads to unintended pregnancies and STDs.

In other words, thanks to both porn culture and abstinence, girls are either seen as “sluts” or “prudes,” and neither words are very apt descriptions to describe the intricate landscape of female desire.

What’s that, female desire? Sadly, so many of our young women feel it is necessary to be sexually desirable but feel no sexual desire. Many women admitted to never masturbating or being strangers with their clits, a fact I find hugely depressing. Ladies, you have this wonderful bundle of nerves between your legs that is made solely for pleasure. Embrace it!!!

But I digress…

Orenstein also goes into length about everything from casual (and often unsatisfying) sexual hook ups. She examines the culture of rape on our college campuses and on how alcohol abuse often leaves both boys and girls at horrific sexual risk. She is also quick to point out, how far too many girls think if they are raped or sexually assaulted they asked for it and how young men often find these sexual violations entertaining, using social media to further exploit the violation of these women. It is these passages that truly made my blood boil.

However, not is all lost for our nation’s young women, and this is explored in the final chapter. Fortunately, there are educators who want to tell our young people the truth when it comes to sex, and their lessons are done with wisdom, compassion, the facts and a dose of good humor. In this chapter, girls realize it is okay, in fact, it is wonderful to both feel and fulfill one’s sexual desire. And many boys realize it is okay not to treat girls as sexual objects and it is also okay to want to find meaning in sex, not be the mindless horndogs they are often encouraged to be. I believe this chapter will be of comfort to girls, boys, parents, and educators. I know I found it comforting, and though I’m not a mom, I’m glad this book was written.

Book Review: $2.00 A Day -Living On Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J Edin and H Luke Shaefer

2.00 dayAmerica is supposed to be the richest nation in the world, right? No way do we have people living in strict poverty, trying to survive on the barest of bones, right? America isn’t some “primitive” third world country, right?

Well, not exactly. In America we have citizens from the largest of metropolises to the most rural of communities struggling to live on a mere two bucks a day. And their lives are fully explained in Kathryn J Edin and H Luke Shaefer’s eye-opening and maddening book $2.00 A Day: Living On Almost Nothing in America.

In the 1990s, politicians, including President Clinton, figured the “War on Poverty” from the 1960s had quite worked out. Far too many families were living on public assistance. Thusly, welfare reform was implemented thrusting many families (often helmed by single mothers) off the welfare rolls. Now, this was deemed a success during the 1990s because of a strong economy and a tight labor market.

But as we know, the economy fell to pieces in 2007/2008, countless people lost their jobs and finding work became hugely difficult. Hence, many people fell into poverty (including those had been living comfortable middle class lives).

But these people weren’t mere statistics we heard about and read about. They were real people living on very little, and using methods, some legal, some not so legal to survive.

In 2012 Edin and Shaefer traveled around the country interviewing various families who were living on very little money. They interviewed families in Chicago, Cleveland and rural areas in the Mississippi Delta. These people’s stories were both unique and similar, and I hope are listened to with an open mind.

Why do we have so many people living on so little? Now part of it is due to the nature of low-wage work, much of it in the service sector. And even in the service sector, many of these jobs have countless applicants. I know this to be a fact; several years ago I applied for a job at a small marketing agency. This agency had over 250 applicants apply for this position. I can only imagine how many applicants apply for positions at much bigger organizations.

And because employers receive so many applications, they can easily move onto another candidate if they can’t reach another. Some of the poor in this book live in homeless shelters and therefore have difficulty being reached by would be employers.

But even those who aren’t in homeless shelters, lived in substandard homes and apartments. Many of the families lived in cramped spaces with many relatives. Some told horror stories of crumbling abodes that slumlord’s ignored. And some even mentioned dealing with various forms of abuse they dealt within their homes

When employed, those profiled spoke of altered schedules (often at the last moment) and employers concerned with the bottom line cutting workers’ hours. Some of these people also worked more than one job, which cut into time they could spend with their families. The poor also had to deal with wage theft and truly awful bosses. And then there were people who had physical and mental issues that made being employed nearly impossible. Some of them were on disability but even disability checks didn’t stretch far.

Many of these people had SNAP (often called food stamps), which was pretty much the only access they had to a public safety net. And many spoke of relying of charity and food pantries. But in rural places, it was difficult to find these places.

So how do these people survive? Selling one’s plasma is a popular tactic, as is selling one’s food stamps. And some mentioned selling sex to make a few bucks to live on.

Many of them live with family members and friends and pooling their various resources. One woman with a car offers her services to help people get around.

And yes, far too many go without. People mentioned skipping meals and not purchasing the basic necessities like buying underwear or having electricity or running water.

But there were places where those profiled could find comfort, libraries being named as one. Some found comfort in their churches or amongst family, friends and their communities. And those who could find good charities, also felt comfort.

Now what can be done? Well, making others aware of these people’s plights is key and this slim volume helps do that. On a personal note, I think it’s important to not see these people as “others” but as our fellow human beings, showing empathy, not scorn. Yes, we could say they shouldn’t have kids if they are so poor and why didn’t they get an education? Sure, but not having children and getting an education is no guarantee that one won’t fall into poverty. Even those of us who “did everything right”-had children when established and in a good relationships, received an education, developed skills and worked hard, may have to worry about falling on hard times. These people are not lazy, most want to work and contribute to society, and $2.00 mentions how both the public and private sectors can do join efforts to make this happen.

$2.00 is an important book at a very crucial time, especially as we get closer to the 2016 Presidential election, and a book I highly recommend.

Book Review: The Princess Guide to Life by Rosie Blythe

25071062Just like a lot of people, I often feel a bit out of sorts in our mixed-up world. I can’t seem to get it together personally, professionally and romantically. So in these moments of confusion I make the decision to peruse self-help section of my favorite book store. I hope to find a nugget of wisdom to help me improve my lackluster life. But after a while, I fail to be inspired, and my romp in the self-help section turns to self-hate.

Women are constantly getting the message “Girl, You’re Doing it Wrong.” We fail to “act like a lady and think like a man.” We don’t follow the “rules, girl.” And Dr. Laura is not shy of telling us of the ten stupid things we’re doing to mess up our lives. Interestingly enough, dropping the N-word nearly a dozen times while talking to a black caller is not on the demented doctor’s list.

But I digress…

So after leaving the book shop, throwing my dainty hands in disgust, I shout to the heavens, “Is there a book that will truly help me without me ending up a petite ball of self-hate? Am I destined to be an utter failure as a woman?”

Well, thank goodness for Rosie Blythe and the kindness, decency and gentle “you go, girl” spirit she conveys in her book, The Princess Guide to Life. The Princess Guide is like having your best friend in your corner, and Ms. Blythe’s advice is comforting, not shaming and scolding.

Now at first, I bristled a bit at the Princess in the title. I couldn’t help think of spoiled, entitled and vapid divas-in-training who are obsessed with material items and think success should just be handed to them. Or misguided women who think taking selfies of their bottoms and posting them on Instagram should lead to fame and fortune instead of developing a talent or a skill.

And then I thought of Princess Leia from the iconic film series Star Wars, which shaped so many girls of my generation in positive way.

Fortunately, The Princess Guide to Life is more of the latter…and so much more.
The Princess Guide to Life is divided into several chapters on how to navigate our often befuddling and sometimes cruel world—personally, professionally and romantically. At the root at all of this is compassion; but just as all princesses exude compassion towards others, princesses most also show compassion towards themselves. Self-care, The Princess Guide to Life, reminds us is not selfish. It is anything but selfish.

After a brief introduction, Blythe offers sound, and often fun, advice, on how to Princess-up our lives whether it’s our personal fashion style, decorating our homes, nourishing our bodies or keeping our bodies fit. Blythe tells us Princesses follow their own instincts and preferences when honing our own unique style. Don’t blindly follow trends that don’t suit you. Yellow may be the on-trend color of the year, but if you’re more drawn to emerald green, then buy that emerald green clutch bag if that’s what you want.

A princess’s home is her castle, and we should also bring a unique sense of style to our abodes. Princesses make decorating choices that truly make their house a home, and also make visitors feel welcome.

When making food choices, princesses make smart, healthy and nutritious food choices, but an occasional indulgence is every princess’s right. And when it comes to exercise, princesses eschew the fitness regime du jour and choose workouts that suit their budget and bodies. For instance, if God intended me to run marathons, he’s put a TSE cashmere sweater at the finish line. I hate to run, but I could spend over an hour walking along Lake Michigan (fortunately I live only a few blocks away from the shores of Lake Michigan). I also love to dance, and a few years ago I discovered belly dancing. Belly dancing is truly empowering, and all women are beautiful when they belly dance.

Okay, the princess has taken care of her style, body and home. Now it’s time to craft the persona. Princesses never fail to remember their prestige as woman, being a lady is a good thing, the importance of maintaining a veil of mystery in a time of TMI, and how to network without being an obnoxious pain the arse. Princesses also know that one can be both a feminist and fully feminine. In the slightly altered words of the Helen Reddy classic, “I am woman ; hear me roar…now enjoy these sugar mint cookies I just made.”

In the stereotypical idea of a princess, awaits to be saved by Prince Charming. Well, in Blythe’s book a Princess adores a charming prince (or princess if that’s how she rolls) and saves her own damn self. A princess maintains her independence by honing her education, skills and experience via her career and strives to keep her finances fit as a fiddle.

But being a princess isn’t all work and no play. One of the most fun parts of The Princess Guide to Life is how we can use pop culture to further shape our lives. Blythe offers songs, movies, and books to suit every mood. Of course, Blythe’s picks are merely suggestions; they are not set in stone.

Finally, The Princess Guide to Life tells us of one particular day in the life of a princess and other princess-like ideas, advice, and suggestions to help us be the best we can be.

Not once while reading The Princess Guide did I feel like I was an ugly, stupid, lazy loser like most self-help books make me feel. Blythe’s book is fun, joyful and conveys a genuine sense of warmth and empathy for its reader. My copy is now dog-eared and covered in post-it notes so I can easily refer to Blythe’s comforting words of wisdom.

The Princess Guide to Life is the perfect tome and a very welcome addition to my book shelf. From the shores of Lake Michigan all the way to London, England, I’m sending Rosie Blythe royal wave of approval for writing a truly majestic labor of love.

Retro Review: Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown

sex and the single girlNot so long ago, if a gal wasn’t married by the time she was in her early twenties she considered a pitiful, washed-up spinster. Helen Gurley Brown thought this was a load of hogwash, and told young women to embrace single hood and have the time of their lives. And she wrote all about it in her ground-breaking, and back in the early sixties, quite scandalous book Sex and the Single Girl.

There is a chance you aren’t familiar with Helen Gurley Brown. However, you are probably aware of the magazine she ran for several decades—Cosmopolitan. She was highly responsible for making Cosmopolitan the huge success it is to this day. And she did it by convincing readers there is more to life than getting a wedding ring on your finger and changing poopy diapers.

I’m not the biggest Cosmopolitan fan. On my coffee table are magazines like Bust, Martha Stewart Living, and The Nation. But I always appreciated how Ms. Gurley Brown (who didn’t marry til later in life and never had children of her own) told readers that men are wonderful, but not all that life to offers. Women should have fulfilling lives that include careers, entertaining, hobbies, and a fun social life.

Now in 2015 this advice is hardly earth-shattering, but in the pre-feminist days, when the Pill was in its infancy (yes, pun intended) and women thought college was a way to get an MRS degree, Gurley Brown’s outrageous talk was truly revolutionary.

I picked up Sex and the Single Girl at my local library not knowing what to expect. Would it be salacious and dirty or would it offer some smart and useful advice? Well, Sex and the Single Girl was probably considered pretty darn salacious and dirty when it was published in 1962. But today it offers pretty darn good advice that wouldn’t look out of place in any current lady mag or any self-help book endorsed by Oprah.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In Sex and the Single Girl, Ms. Gurley Brown still thinks it’s very important the ladies get a man. Marriage is a good goal for any girl. She even has no qualms about girls dating married men or having affairs with one’s male co-workers. Needless to say, I’m not exactly thrilled with this advice. And I’m not exactly thrilled with how she views other women as competition and adversaries, not as a much needed support system. I know I couldn’t make it without my girlfriends.

On men, Ms. Gurley Brown discusses several types, the dreamboat (aka Mr. Right or maybe Mr. Right Now), the eligibles but who needs them type of men (guys who are dull, creepy or just completely hopeless), and the Don Juan, who today we’d call a Man Whore (guys who are exciting, but will tear your heart to shreds). Other types of men Ms. Gurley Brown discusses are the homosexuals, the divorcees, the younger men and the married men. Ms. Gurley Brown is a bit offensive when she refers to homosexual men as basically “girls” and I didn’t like how she encouraged readers to date married men. Plus, nothing wrong with guys who are divorced or younger than you. You can find Mr. Right in these demographics.

Beyond that, I actually liked a lot of what Ms. Gurley Brown advises in Sex and the Single Girl. She told women that having a job is a good thing and to embrace financial independence. She told women to get passionate about work for everything from the sense of accomplishment it could give you to the access of the men you could meet.

She told women to be financially savvy, discover what works for you fashion-wise, decorate your apartment to suit your taste and budget, learn how to entertain (and the book includes recipes), and to travel the world. She also told women to embrace fitness and good eating habits, even extolling the virtues of health food stores. You don’t have to wait until Mrs. is in front of your name. Do these things now!

And guess what ladies? Ms. Gurley Brown also told women you don’t need Mrs. in front of your name to embrace your sexuality and have an enriching erotic love life. Now this is hardly controversial today, but in the early sixties is was quite shocking. I’m sure some uptight pearl clutchers claimed, “Why should a man buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?” To which I’m sure Ms. Gurley Brown thought, “Why buy the pig when all you want is a little sausage?”

Certain aspects of Sex and the Single Girl are quite out-dated (and some of it offensive), and at times I found Ms. Gurley Brown’s writing style to verge on total purple prose (however, I do want to insert “pippy-poo” into my every day vernancular). However, like with any self-help book, Sex and the Single Girl is one to take with a grain of salt (and a bit of tequila). A lot of Ms. Gurley Brown’s advice is spot-on, which makes Sex and the Single Girl a fun and vital read even in 2015.

 

Book Review: Hand to Mouth-Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

Hand to mouthIn the fall of 2013 an online message board asked its members why are so many poor people so self-destructive? Why do they make such crappy decisions? One such member, a self-described poor person named Linda Tirado decided to answer this question in an essay called “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or Poverty Thoughts.”

Tirado’s brutally honest essay went viral and kicked up a storm of thoughts (some not so nice) about poor people’s moral fiber, work ethic, family values and even their sex lives. Tirado caught the attention of online publications like the Huffington Post and people like Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote about going undercover as a member of the working poor and documented her experiences in the seminal book Nickel and Dimed. Tirado became both a celebrated and derided Internet celebrity. Her notoriety helped her raise funds so she could write further about her experiences as a member of the working poor. The result is her brutally honest book: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.

It’s not exactly a shock that people have their opinions, ideas and misconceptions about the poor in America. For some conservatives, the poor are lazy, uneducated, and amoral. They have lots of out-of-wedlock babies with multiple partners, and often continue to have children so they can get more benefits. They spend their welfare checks on designer clothes and expensive electronics; and their food stamps on steak, lobster, cigarettes and booze. The poor would rather sit on their butts watching “Jerry Springer” than get a job.

And to be honest, some liberals aren’t much better when it comes to viewing the poor. They might not view their less-than-privileged brothers and sisters as welfare scum out the cheat hard-working, tax paying American citizens. But far too many liberals view the poor in ways that are both paternalistic and condescending. They think they know what is best to help the poor, not realizing that there is not one size fits all solution.

To these conservatives and liberals, Linda Tirado would probably like to say, “Fuck you.”

In Hand to Mouth, Tirado doesn’t claim to speak for every other poor person out there. However, she does speak and boy, does she have a story to tell.

Tirado didn’t grow up poor. Her family was middle class and she even attended a pricy boarding school on scholarship. After high school graduation, she went to college, later dropping out because at the time she didn’t have the maturity to handle college life. However, she did return to her studies when she was older. She also admits to being estranged from her family for a while.

Tirado has always worked, often working more than one job at a time. She worked a lot of restaurant jobs, mostly waiting on tables, bartending, and at times managing restaurants. With an interest in politics Tirado also worked on various political campaigns. Sadly, these jobs, despite requiring a strong work ethic, experience, skill, smarts and talent, didn’t exactly bring in the money and benefits. Tirado often worked at these jobs because at times they were the only gigs she could get and she needed jobs that worked with her college studies.

While working in these low wage jobs, Tirado was merely a cog in the machine, and she writes eloquently and with biting candor about some of the humiliation she and her co-workers faced on a daily basis. They included being harassed by upper management, denied raises and promotions unless they provided sexual favors, having to ask permission to go use the bathroom and having their bags and purses searched for any stolen goods they may want to take home. Tirado was often forced to change shifts on very short notice, which sometimes conflicted with school and any other job she might be working.

Going to school? Working more than one job? So much for the no work ethic the poor are supposed to have.

Tirado laments about the low pay, the crappy hours, the day-to-day drudgery and the bad management she had to endure, but what really got under her skin was how devalued she felt as a human being. Or as she puts it: “Nobody is interested in our thoughts, opinions or the contributions we might be able to make—they want robots.” When dealing with people working in the service industry, Tirado behooves the reader to be nice to them, treat them with respect, and ask them intelligent questions. This can really go a long way of making service workers feel valued.

Other than her time in the survival jobs trenches, Tirado writes about her experiences as a wife and mother of two children. Yes, a lot of poor women have spouses and their children are born in holy wedlock. Tirado’s husband is a former member of the military. They did not have children to get more benefits; they had their children because they desired to have children, just like any well-to-do couple. And just like a lot of parents out there, Tirado makes sure her kids know their manners, are educated and eat their veggies. Yes, poor people are good parents, too.

However, Tirado doesn’t fail to mention how the poor live is scrutinized and judged much more harshly than those of more considerable means. Not surprisingly, it is the poor people’s sex lives that are the most scrutinized the most. Sure, some Wall Street titan can frequent high-priced call girls and a millionaire rock star can bang a bunch of groupies, but Heaven forbid someone who isn’t flush with cash enjoy a little horizontal sweaty. Tirado admits she often had sex simply because she wanted to feel close to someone and sex feels good. What a harlot!

And Tirado is quite honest on other ways where she doesn’t exactly measure up to virtuous standards. For one, thing, she smokes. Yes, a filthy and disgusting habit that may end up killing her. And how dare she waste her money on those cancer sticks! Tirado knows fully well how bad smoking is for her health and her wallet, But sometimes a quick drag on a cigarette is what gave Tirado an extra bolt of energy to keep on working.

Tirado admits she sometimes she other bad decisions, too. She has often bought crappy items that soon fall apart because they are cheaper and at the time she can’t invest in better quality items. She often ate horrid processed foods, not because she was too lazy to cook, but because her apartment at the time lacked the amenities to cook a good, nutritious meal. And instead of saving money, she often spent it because she thought she might not have access to extra cash ever again.

Now besides having casual sex, smoking and bad spending habits, what else did Tirado do inspire derision? Well, she also spent some time on WIC and food stamps. WIC made sure she got the nutrients she needed when pregnant and food stamps helped keep her family got fed. Tirado makes no apology for needing these benefits, and she shouldn’t have to. We spend a lot less of our tax dollars on individual welfare than corporate welfare, but that’s another book.

Tirado also had her share of unfortunate events that suck for any well-off person, but were absolutely devastating to someone of Tirado’s economic station. She was in a horrible car accident in her younger years, which knocked out a bunch of her teeth. And while pregnant, her apartment was completely damaged by a flood; she lost nearly all of her possessions. It’s hard enough to deal with these when you make good money, but when you’re poor, these things can destroy you.

And then there people who should have helped Tirado the most, but were often the most dismissive and condescending like the dentist who accused her of being on crystal meth because of her messed up teeth or various social works who treated her rudely or ignored her plight. The section of the book where Tirado explains the frustration of trying to get the state of Ohio to stop her food stamp benefits because her family was moving to Utah was especially exasperating.

At the end of Hand to Mouth, Tirado writes an open letter to rich people where she snarks on them for their expensive titanium strollers, their insane drive to make sure their kids get into the right pre-school and their obsession with anti-bacterial hand gels. Sure, she stereotypes the rich a bit, but it’s only fair considering poor people get stereotyped all the time.

Hand to Mouth is a provocative read, and at times, very difficult. Tirado isn’t necessarily likable. Some readers will find her whiny and obstinate. And many others will be put off by the many swear words Tirado drops in the pages of this book. There are also naysayers out there who are questioning Tirado’s story, thinking a lot of it is made up.

Do I believe Tirado? Do I believe the naysayers? Right now I’m holding my judgment. I do think the stories of the working poor need to be known and considered without derision and with more a little more compassion. I’m sure there are members of the working poor who can relate to Hand to Mouth, but perhaps so can the professional class, especially in an era of stagnant and falling wages, at-will employment, excessive CEO pay and out-sourcing of jobs.

Hand to Mouth is not a perfect book, but it is needed and will probably be a book that will be read and debated for a long time.