Category Archives: Advice

The secret to sanity


I usually keep at least one candle lit in the house, saying a prayer when I light it. Candles definitely lend a romantic, mysterious ambiance to any interior. I also keep a candle on the porch; when I'm expecting a visitor or family member who's been traveling, I light the candle to welcome them.

Most parents’ lives aren’t packed with mystery. (“Honey, Baby Bobby’s poopie isn’t so green today!”) But I believe one path to happiness lies through mystery.

I studied Latin with a ballerina named Camille at Indiana University, and I was always amazed at her perfect grades. One day, I asked her how she did it so effortlessly. She confided that she lit candles, played Gregorian chants, and pretended she was a medieval monk translating texts.

Back then, I thought she was a weirdo. Now I think she was a total genius, a visionary. She was using her imagination and embracing humanity’s mysterious past.

The big-deal psychologist Carl Jung lends cred to the need for mystery. Jung said, “Show me a sane man, and I will cure him for you.”

There’s two lessons to take away from this: As a psychologist, Jung exhibited keen business sense by doubling his customer base to include the sane and insane. The second lesson is that it’s crazy to view life totally in factual, scientific terms.

I’ve felt more grounded since I increased my exposure to mystery. I volunteer at the Oriental Institute, a free (!!!) museum in the University of Chicago dealing with adventure and archaeology.

Indiana Jones would’ve studied there–in fact, the character is based on a real OI Egyptologist. At the OI you’ll see artifacts from the place many believe Armageddon will occur, and I’m always relieved to see the end of the world will not occur in a bathroom in my house.

With every artifact I see, I have the same reaction as Chris Farley in Tommy Boy: “That–was–awesome!” Seriously, I stand before a bit of Dead Sea Scroll with my hair blowing like I’m in a shampoo commercial.

If you’re stressed, you may feel you can’t escape an unpleasant situation, but there are many local ways to escape into mystery. Worship and meditation help. So might reading a mystery or ghostly book by Region authors Mark Marimen, Kate Collins, or Scarlett Dean. A drive along Red Arrow and Blue Star highways in Michigan can be mysterious as you wonder what’s beyond each bend.

Museums make you feel you’re investigating a mystery–I love how the fairy castle in the Museum of Science and Industry is deep in the basement, just as the most primitive part of your brain is deep inside.

Turn off the computer, and light a candle. I missed the last issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, but I doubt it featured the article “Kim Kardashian’s Seduction Secrets (Hint: Light-Emitting Diodes!).”

I also think it’s important to lend enchantment to children’s lives. At the OI, I found an Egyptian perfume bottle, where I keep fairy dust to sprinkle on my kids before lights out.


How to win a pickup game

Standard’s mix, above, is an awesome picking up song–and the bass solos are suh-weet!

Today’s topic is tidiness. In the countless conversations I’ve had with my girlfriend Gracia, I’ve felt the most profound sisterhood when we discuss keeping the house picked up. When the house is in order, I feel more well-being and control over life. But with four kids age 11 and younger and an aging Jack Russell Terrier, having a picked-up house is an elusive trophy. So here’s what works for me.

If you pick up throughout the day, you will at least keep up with the mess–over time, you’ll eventually conquer it. Many household managers advocate just picking up once or twice during the day, so you’re not constantly irritated by the repetitive, boring task. Either way, remember: We’re not trying to get your house perfect, just better than the day before.

If you schedule a pickup time, make it during your favorite TV show, so the task is done before you know it. You’ll get exercise while enjoying your show.

Pick times of the day when you have lots of physical energy, though you may not need much mental acuity. You’ll be happier and more productive, picking up more toys in less time and saving time for other chores.

Never go anywhere empty handed. I live in a quad-level house, and my kids drag toys and socks and underwear from one level to another. So when I go downstairs, I take diapers to the garbage. When I go upstairs, I take dirty socks to the hamper. Baskets are a good way to collect items to take from one level to another.

Play mind games. When I look around, often so much needs to be picked up, it’d be easy to get frustrated and give up. So when I pass through the area, my rule is to only pick up three items. I know this sounds a little obsessive-compulsive, but bear with me. Three items takes 15 seconds, gives you a feeling of control–and soon, the clutter is all picked up, which reduces your frustration.

Before you let your kids watch TV or play video games, have them do their homework and pick up. If they made a huge mess, have them just pick up five or twenty items each, depending on their ages.

Don’t forget to reward yourself for all your picking up throughout the day–maybe a cup of green tea at night or a bubble bath.

Write me with your strategies for keeping a picked-up house. That way, we know we’re not alone.

Taking time for you when you have no time at all


It only takes a split second to renew yourself.

(Blogger’s note: I received a request today for a column printed in 2009 in The Times; indeed, it does seem relevant as ever, given that we’re in a season in which parents are getting bogged down with work, requests for fund-raisers, fall sports, and the like.)

Today’s column is about taking time out for you. With the advent of beautiful weather, I get outside when I can and take the kids with me. Outdoors, I don’t worry about them watching too much TV or getting too little exercise. I get my workout and keep the mess out of the house.

Last column I discussed making goals. To minimize burnout and maximize your wellness, take a few minutes to determine if your life is balanced as possible. Do you take time for your intellectual development? This can be as simple as picking up the newspaper and reading one article you normally wouldn’t.

Practice your spiritual wellness. Take five minutes to read about faith, pray, or meditate.

Do something today for your physical well-being. Substitute a healthy snack for that candy bar. If you can’t spare the time today, plan to wake early tomorrow to walk around the block before your kids awaken.

Most moms have no problem fulfilling the interpersonal side of life. So think about ways to improve. Start by giving everybody in your family an extra hug today.

Satisfy the vocational element of your life. If you work outside the home, solve a problem at work or join a professional group. If you work inside the home, connect with another home manager to make yourself the best you can be.

Most moms don’t have lots of time to ponder their wholeness. But almost everybody can spare 15 minutes a day, if only after your kids go to bed. And 15 minutes is all it takes to turn around how you feel about your life.

Graduating? You need your sorority more than ever


My legacy

Graduating? You need your sorority more than ever.

Sister, I was a senior too, finding excuses to miss chapter meetings, rolling my eyes and wincing as we clapped and cheered during rush. Twenty years later, I realized the clapping and cheering were seriously awesome.

I was one of 125 women who colonized Indiana University for Tri Sigma in the late ‘80s. Many did burn out—while finding our way, we often had five-hour chapter meetings. (Now I have four small kids, and I call the chance to sit for five hours “the spa.”)

After graduation, I moved thirteen hours from home to St. Paul, Minnesota. I didn’t know the grocery store’s name, let alone how to get there. The five parties a week I took for granted in college dwindled to none a year. Those clusters of purple-and-white balloons I didn’t glance at in senior year would’ve looked incredibly festive to me.

I endured depression for two years until my mother suggested I connect with Tri-Sigma’s St. Paul alumnae chapter; I also joined the Junior League of St. Paul. Suddenly, I had an instant anchor, women whose family had lived in the area for 150 years—women who knew how to show a newcomer a good time.

The same thing that drove me crazy three years before—women expecting me to show up—brought me career satisfaction and personal happiness. When jobs returned me to Indiana, I missed—and still do—those women and the Minnesota they taught me to love.

After graduation, you might move thousands of miles to someplace you know nobody. You will be a blank slate. Few will know your name; nobody will know your values. Some things you take for granted—money, perhaps, or the emotional support of family and friends—will disappear as you learn some people aren’t good at long-distance relationships.

Even if you return home, people will only know the old you, whereas you know your sorority sisters better than you think. Recently, I had drinks with a pledge sister two years older than I—so I didn’t know her well—and I heard her laugh for the first time in two decades. I was stunned to recognize the same laugh and the same whimsical sense of humor.

The moment you graduate, the carrots-on-sticks stop: no more honors, awards, or grants. If you marry or have children immediately, you will be taken for granted. Babies can’t talk, and the most ardent boyfriend turns into a husband who comes home at night too exhausted to talk.

I’ve written before in my blog at that our culture is based on discontent. So after you cook a five-course, gourmet meal, your partner says, “That was good.”

Good? Some people in this world only eat a handful of rice a day. That meal was great!

But still I didn’t understand the value of cheering until I took my toddlers to Kindermusik. After every activity, we adults cheered, even if our child spent the whole time in the bathroom. We were celebrating progress, however small.

I’ve learned support, encouragement, and cheer are the underpinnings of every sorority relationship. No matter your walk of life, you need that: The world is full of people who tear down others, perhaps because of their own unhappiness, perhaps because they don’t know any better.

Because of our consciousness, every human has an identity, and after you leave your university, you’ll re-establish yours, whether you realize it or not. Now you need your sorority most: One inescapable part of your identity is your sisters once saw and accepted the unfinished you and realized your potential and how special you are. If they saw it, you must see it.

If you uphold the bonds of sisterhood you promised to uphold forever, you’ll cement your confidence to uphold other forever bonds, like marriage and children, and you’ll have access to women who can help you.

Contact your national office, and find your closest alumnae chapter. If you can’t find one, start one—I am, and it takes an average of five minutes a day, every day. (And yes, this is a shameless plug for Northwest Indiana Alumnae Chapter of Sigma Sigma Sigma.)

I’ll be cheering for you.

Conquer your mind, conquer your run


Ramesses resting after another bitchin' run.

 When you first start training, you’re often so busy counting minutes, your mind may not affect your performance. But before long, the messages you send yourself make the difference between running and giving up.

I taught interpersonal communication full time at Valparaiso University for 12 years, and students always had difficulty understanding a positive attitude isn’t enough, though it helps. To develop a mindset that’ll enable you to conquer running and other challenges, you often must confront unhappy relationships and patterns and work through them to positivity.

Before we confront mental barriers, we must first establish one understanding: Running is a badass sport. I love the saying that “My sport is your sport’s punishment.” The mere fact you’re running makes you a badass. That aside, here are common concerns No Boundaries runners express—and here are some solutions.

Concern: Running feels wrong or uncomfortable.

I came to the No Boundaries program a true beginner—I ran my first mile at age 41. At first, after a few strides, running felt unnatural. Raising my legs felt like raising concrete—seriously, they were numb.

Solution: Be assured that, as long as you’re running or jogging, what you’re doing is natural, and soon, you’ll realize, “Hey, this feels right.” Maybe running isn’t comfortable for you. That’s normal. Even—especially—veteran runners don’t feel comfortable while they run. They have good days and bad days, just like you.

I’d wanted to run long before my first NoBo team. I’d jog from one mailbox to the next, to the next—then give up because it felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know I’d quit just before my body started warming up.

When I first felt my heart thumping wildly in my chest, I stopped running for the day because I was afraid I was overexerting myself. Turns out I was so out of shape, I’d never felt my heart really work. I didn’t know my heart was supposed to do that. Now, feeling my heart pump and my lungs expand feels really good, and after a run, I often feel like I’ve had an hour-long massage.

When you run a 5K, here’s a pattern you might expect. For me, the first mile feels icky, but veteran runners reassure me this is because my body is warming up and shifting gears, just like a car. During the second mile, I’m thinking, “OK, I can do this.” The third mile is the payoff, the euphoria. This is when I think, “I could go two more miles”—but I remind myself I have dogs to walk and kids to cook for when I get home. I don’t have the luxury of napping.

Incidentally, when I run six miles, for example, this pattern remains, but it lengthens with the distance.

Concern: I can’t run as far as my coaches want me to run today.

Solution: Guaranteed, you can run longer than you think. Remind yourself that one day, you’ll look back and say, “Wow, I never would’ve thought it’d be so easy to run five minutes/five miles.”

It helps me to follow our training schedule during the week, then show up for group run on Saturday without looking at the schedule so I don’t know exactly how far we’ll run. I figure I’ll just do what everybody else is doing so by the time I learn how many supersets we’ll do, I can tell myself, “I’ve come this far. What’s running one more minute?”

About two months into your training program, if you’ve been faithful to the run/walk schedule, if somebody asks you to run an extra minute, you can. No big deal. In fact, you might try running through some walk minutes—having no brain of its own, your heart will pump just as fast as if you were walking, so you might as well.

Concern: My mind keeps telling me that I shouldn’t or can’t do this.

Solution: How do you know you can’t? Have you tried today? Keep your mind so busy, you don’t have time for negative messages. Run on a treadmill while you watch TV or read. Run with a buddy; I’m happy to run with any of you in the early morning—just facebook me, or e-mail me at, if you don’t mind my slowness. Take your pet. Take your cell phone—you should do this anyway, for safety—and call your mom/friend/somebody whose ear you’d like to breathe heavily into.

Of course, you may already have an MP3 player; keep it plugged in to your computer so it’s always charged when you need it. Play motivational music. When I get bored during a workout, I sing along and challenge myself to stay in tune.

Here’s some songs from my playlist—just suggestions, but enough to convince you I’m a weirdo. Whatever—it’s gotten me through four FleetFeet teams. I present these to you in the order I’d listen to them.

*A nice start is the Smiths’ Rubber Ring. The whole thing sounds so eerie, I know you’ll wonder why I’m recommending it. It’s worth listening to the entire song to hear the ending—an actual EVP, or recording of a ghost, with an extremely convincing message.

*Philadelphia Freedom—Elton John—a great singalong.

*Wichita Lineman—Glen Campbell—a palate cleanser.

*The Kinks—Do It Again. A great message: If you’re gonna change your life, do it now, or you never will. A must.

*Local H’s Bound for the Floor—Use your anger to inspire you to action—and everybody’s angry about something. A must.

*Lit—My Own Worst Enemy. I defy you not to howl along with the backup singers’ “A—ooo.”

*LL Cool J’s Mama Say Knock You Out. Silly, but a must if you’re a mama.

*Luscious Jackson’s Naked Eye. If you need to go slowly, fast-forward to this.

*Mike Posner’s Cooler Than Me. If you’re running, you are cooler than he.

*They Might Be Giants—Birdhouse in Your Soul. Triumphant.

Post your own inspirational soundtrack on the NoBo facebook page, or leave your suggestions in a comment on my blog.

Concern: I’m embarrassed about how I look when I run.

Solution:  Wear your team T-shirt, or wear a shirt from a race you’ve run. Passersby won’t mess with a fact—that you’re wearing evidence you’re an athlete. I’ve never gotten jeers other than the rare honking everybody gets. When somebody honks at you, make sure you wave back. After all, our state’s reputation for Hoosier hospitality is at stake.

Many NoBos worry about the jiggle factor. I weighed 270 pounds when I first started running, and when friends and neighbors saw me run by, they were always encouraging and usually said, “I wish I could do that” or “I should do that.” Frankly, I’m proud that I’m plus-size and a runner. We plus-size runners are stronger than the regular-size athlete—let’s see them carry the equivalent of a 150-pound person for three miles. My body has brought four incredible people into the world—including the Region’s largest twins, who together weighed 17 pounds—and I’m proud of it.

Look around at the next group run, and you’ll see curves and cellulite on even the thinnest runners. So, feel comfortable to wear sleeveless shirts and shorts to the next group run. How will you look? Gorgeous. Just ask me; I’ll tell you.

You may want to invest in cute running clothes; FleetFeet does carry plus sizes. But if you’re going to wear mascara and makeup, make it waterproof. You may get teary-eyed from the wind and because you can’t believe how fabulous you are.

Remember: The average person still perceives running as a mysterious activity only the thin and fit can accomplish, so when passersby see you, they’re not thinking, “That person looks stupid”; they’re thinking, “Man, I could never do that, though I should try—someday.”

I’ve spent years in health clubs, so I assure you that true athletes don’t look down on the beginner; they think, “Good for that person. They’re trying to change their lives.” True athletes love their sport or game so much, they want to evangelize and share it with everyone. That’s the awesome thing about FleetFeet: The moment you join a NoBo team, you belong. You’re officially an athlete.

 Concern: I’m too old.

Solution: Go to any race, and you’ll see tons of older runners. Running is a natural activity; pharaohs in ancient Egypt had to prove they could rule every year, and they did this by hunting hippopotami—pro hunters claim they’re the hardest animal to kill—and by running in the desert (best features: crazy-hot temperatures, scorpions, and sand). Pharaohs were understandably not pumped to lose all their sweet pyramids, so there are many records of pharaohs accomplishing remarkable runs into their 90s.

Concern: I’m so slow. It drives me crazy to start running with the team and see them vanish over the hills and leave me alone.

Solution: As you’ve probably seen, I’m an excruciatingly slow runner—I’ve heard my speed described as a “shamble”—though I’m sure it was meant in the sexiest possible way–so I know how disheartening and depressing this is.

When everyone vanishes is a good time to make cell phone calls and listen to your favorite music. Again, feel free to call me and train with me—if I’m not too slow for you! This situation is also a great chance to pay attention to form, something you wouldn’t necessarily do if you were gabbing with a bunch of people.

Multitasking is another fantastic way to make the miles melt under your feet. I carry a palm-sized notepad with meditation prompts. Thinking through these prompts usually occupies a couple miles for me. The beauty of meditating while running is that, when you’re done, you can feel doubly proud of everything you’ve accomplished.

Here are some meditation prompts; feel welcome to add your own—and let me know. I’ll add them to my blog, where they can inspire future runners.

Sunset over rural Tuscany--time is the element that makes many things great.

To answer the below questions, I sometimes bring a cell phone with me and record my answers. Then, when I return, I play back the recording and write down the answers.

Feel free to add your own positive thoughts as a comment.

  1. Count your blessings.
  2. Now, thank God for your blessings.
  3. Pray for people who need help. (Note to readers: In your notepad, you can write a list of prayer intentions so you can remember them day after day.)
  4. What will you eat the rest of the day? Make it healthy.
  5. What will you accomplish the rest of the day? Make it positive.
  6. What do you need to accomplish tomorrow?
  7. Check your body. What parts of your body are unnecessarily tense? Relax them.
  8. Focus on your form and breathing.
  9. Notice the world around you. Are the birds singing? Trees budding? What’s beautiful? Enjoy the silence.
  10. (Note to readers: On my notepad, I write my goals. Reviewing them daily keeps me accountable. I ask myself how I can improve them and how I’ve already accomplished them.)
  11. How can I be compassionate to everyone I meet? Who particularly needs my compassion?
  12. What is my mission in life? How can I accomplish it?
  13. If the timing is appropriate, do stretches while you run.
  14. Do I harbor negative feelings about a person or event that can be dealt with more constructively? How?

Guest post for


Folks, I was honored that the fabulous people at prettycity invited me to do a guest post.

In junior high, I was mercilessly bullied because I had acne and wore braces and glasses with near-coke-bottle lenses. It was torture just to walk on the bus or walk down the hall because of the cruel things kids would say to me. (They would bark, too. I mean–seriously?)

I was fortunate to undergo a dramatic physical transformation, but I still definitely believe everyone is beautiful and deserves to feel that way. Besides, as you know by now, I’m as girly girl as can be!

So, I’m excited about the mission of everybody at Check out my guest blog at, and look around while you’re there. I guarantee you’ll brighten your day!

Controlling your thoughts can lead to a happier, more productive life


This guy is either worrying about the bathroom habits of the bird or whether that fabric will fall.

When I was little, I could be alone in a crowded car. I’d stare out the window, dream of Tarzan, and be happy.

Today, I’m driving my four kids to Southlake Children’s Choir rehearsal. On the radio is classical music—what tiny Max calls “kitty running music” because it reminds him of a cat running on piano keys.

But I can’t hear that cat. The kids are too loud. Silence doesn’t compute for them: Born less than four years apart, none knows what it means to be alone.

I clear my throat. “Everybody, I’m not mad, but it’s important to be your own best friend. Sometimes it’s nice just to be quiet and think.”

In the rearview mirror, four puzzled blond heads stared at me. I tried again. “For the next five minutes, we’re not going to say anything. Got it?”

The heads nodded. “Great,” I said. “Ready? Go.”

Madeline’s hand shot up.

“Madeline, you’re not even supposed to ask questions,” I said.

Max tapped my shoulder. “Un, deux, trois,” he proclaimed, knowing he couldn’t get in trouble for practicing his French.

“Good job,” I said. “OK, everybody. Look out the windows at the budding trees; make up an imaginary world. But don’t talk.”

Again, the four heads nodded. And–silence.

Ten seconds passed. Twenty, thirty. Triumph.

And then. “Did I win the game?” Madeline asked.

I know I didn’t.

Americans don’t like silence, alone or in groups. On first dates, if quiet happens, we panic and figure the night’s a disaster. But silence could be a compliment that the other person is so comfortable, he doesn’t need to talk.

I thought I understood the power of the mind until I started running. On my first No Boundaries team at FleetFeet in Schererville, our beginning session consisted of running one minute and walking three. That first minute running was the longest of my life.

My second team started practicing about four months later. Now I couldn’t run one minute—I could run an hour. I started the run one/walk three sequence with my original mentor, Tracy Govert of Crown Point. She blew the whistle to start the minute, and then, seconds later, she blew the whistle to end it. The whole time, we were chatting.

“I’m sorry for distracting you,” I said. “That wasn’t a minute.”

Tracy showed me her running watch. “Yes, it was. It’s all in your head.”

She’d often said that, but I’d always dismissed it as rah-rah coach-y talk. Finally, I got it, and the statement’s reality stunned me: My attitude could deeply distort my perception of time. Now, whenever I run or drive a long distance, I bring a palm-sized notepad with lists of thoughts to examine, like counting my blessings. If I don’t, there’s danger my thoughts will turn negative.

The List

I spent 12 years teaching Interpersonal Communication—full time—at Valparaiso University, and I often used a textbook that cited a statistic that 90 percent of our thoughts are negative. The first time I read this, I considered this the hugest pile of poop, the biggest generalization—until I started monitoring my self-talk, which consisted of items like:

Can the driver in front of me go any slower? I’m so tired. I’ll never get the house picked up by the end of the day.

Stuff like that. I realized I was lucky if only 90 percent of my thoughts were negative. Now I listen to the messages I send myself and talk back. My all-purpose response is to remind myself that dwelling on the negative won’t make the day any easier: Negativity sucks away your energy, and I need all the energy I can get.

Anyway, I’m a very slooooow runner, and it’s tough to see everybody else taking off and leaving me behind. It might take me an hour to cover a distance that another runner would cover in fifteen minutes.

To keep my mind from working against me, I developed this list. I wrote it into a palm-sized notepad, and I carry it with me while I run to keep my mind busy. If you think the run will seem fast, it will; if you think it’ll seem slow, it’ll be slow.

To answer the below questions, I sometimes bring a cell phone with me and record my answers. Then, when I return, I play back the recording and write down the answers.

Feel free to add your own positive thoughts as a comment.

  1. Count your blessings.
  2. Now, thank God for your blessings.
  3. Pray for people who need help. (Note to readers: In your notepad, you can write a list of prayer intentions so you can remember them day after day.)
  4. What will you eat the rest of the day? Make it healthy.
  5. What will you accomplish the rest of the day? Make it positive.
  6. What do you need to accomplish tomorrow?
  7. Check your body. What parts of your body are unnecessarily tense? Relax them.
  8. Focus on your form and breathing.
  9. Notice the world around you. Are the birds singing? Trees budding? What’s beautiful? Enjoy the silence.
  10. (Note to readers: On my notepad, I write my goals. Reviewing them daily keeps me accountable. I ask myself how I can improve them and how I’ve already accomplished them.)
  11. How can I be compassionate to everyone I meet? Who particularly needs my compassion?
  12. What is my mission in life? How can I accomplish it?
  13. If the timing is appropriate, do stretches while you run.
  14. Do I harbor negative feelings about a person or event that can be dealt with more constructively? How?