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Does Dad Have Alzheimer’s?

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11/8/10 | Dr. Cheryl Mathieu | 1 Comments

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Dr. Cheryl Mathieu





“I’m so worried about my Dad. He is forgetting things lately and seems confused. How can I find out if he has Alzheimer’s? And if he does have it, what do I do?”

As a geriatric care manager, I frequently receive calls just like this. Fear of the unknown can be the most troublesome part of caring for someone you love when they begin to demonstrate changes in behavior. The following information can decrease your stress and help you ensure that mom and dad get the best care possible.

Each year a million people start a mental decline called mild cognitive impairment (MCI) with memory loss somewhere between normal aging and Alzheimer’s. Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the U.S., there are many reasons why someone’s memory can decline. Some of these causes are treatable. Generally, Alzheimer’s disease has a gradual onset of symptoms over months to years and a worsening of cognition. If the memory loss or confusion comes on quickly, this could indicate that something other than Alzheimer’s is going on. You’ll want to ask for a thorough evaluation by someone who specializes in memory impairment as a first step – this could be a psychiatrist, neurologist or a geriatrician.

The evaluation will include testing for conditions that look similar to dementia – but aren’t, such as:

  • Delirium (sudden onset confusion due to infection, medication, acute illness)
  • Depression (which can sometimes include memory problems)
  • Thyroid problems, metabolic abnormalities (abnormal glucose and calcium, kidney and liver failure)
  • Vitamin B 12 deficiency, symptoms of a progressing chronic disease (low oxygenation due to lung disease, anemia or heart disease).
  • Urinary tract infection (the symptoms of which can appear like dementia).


Imaging the brain can also be helpful to check for a tumor, stroke, or increased pressure on the brain. These tests can help determine the cause of memory loss, and if it’s treatable.

Once dementia is confirmed, the next step is to determine whether it is Alzheimer’s. (There are different kinds of dementia, other causes of memory loss and then there are declines that are still considered “normal aging.”) If it is Alzheimer’s, there are medications that might be helpful in slowing the progress of the disease. People with Alzheimer’s may do better in the long term if they have early intervention. And do stay in touch with your loved one. If they exhibit any of the behaviors listed here, it may be time to consider getting them live-in help or moving them to an assisted living facility.

This will be a hard time, but there is information and loving support available for you and your loved ones. There are books, support groups, websites, geriatric care managers and others who have gone through this before you to guide you every step of the way.

Helpful Weblinks:

Cheryl Mathieu, Ph.D., M.S.W. is a geriatric care manager and Alzheimer’s specialist, founder and president of AgingPro.com, the nation’s most comprehensive eldercare resource. She is also the author of “The Essential Caregiver’s Toolbox.” Using education, compassion and humor, “Dr. Cheryl” assists caregivers to gracefully manage the many challenges of their aging loved ones.

More: Alzheimer's: Everything You Need to Know

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My Mother, Her Sisters & Alzheimer’s

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11/2/10 | Rose Russell | 0 Comments

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Rose Russell & family





I am watching the slow demise of my mother’s family. My mother, Irene, currently suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She is the middle child of a family of 6 children. She is one of only two still alive. Two of her sisters passed away this year (one also having suffered from Alzheimer’s disease). Even though my mother had not seen her sisters on a regular basis for years, and she is suffering from Alzheimer’s herself, she continues to grieve their absence.

I am fascinated by how this disease affects my mother’s memory. Many times she believes that my sisters and I are her sisters, as opposed to her daughters, and frequently calls us by her sisters’ names. But when we must tell her of the passing of one of her sisters, she is very clear on whom we are talking about, and she is determined to see her before it is too late (which it usually is…).

I see how the disease works on my mother’s mind and know what time of her life she is living – when she was young, when her sisters were healthy. To relate to mom we very often have to adjust to that time as best we can – let her think we’re her sisters, play the roles, not rock the boat. It’s an odd thing to have to do, but we find that it keeps her steady and comfortable in a way that constantly reminding her of reality doesn’t.

As I think of my mother’s family and my aunts (the women my sisters and I are now taken for), I think about who they were: strong women who had many children, the youngest having the fewest -- only 3 boys! Proud Irish Catholics! These women led their families to great growth and success - no failure was permitted. And I look at my sisters and see the same type of women: strong women who don’t accept failure.

While my generation has not had as many children as the previous had -- in fact, only two of us have kids, and one had her first at the age of 46! -- the children we have are strong, smart and successful. I watch the respect and love the children have for their mothers and aunts, and I see how these women impact their lives -- similar to the impact our aunts had on us!

I read the death notices of my aunts and am surprised to learn things about them I either did not know or forgot. They were all born during the early 20th century when women were meant to remain at home and raise children -- which they did and did very well, but they were also teachers, office staff, volunteers and homeroom moms. All continued education beyond high school. They were also very devoted to each other. Some of my cousins and sisters believe that my aunt Anita, who passed away earlier in the year, had something to do with my Aunt Kate passing away a few weeks ago -- the power of talking to God and convincing him to bring Aunt Kate home! Wow what influence!

The years pass – but even in the face of disease and death, my aunts’ legacy of strength, influence and devotion does not waiver. I am blessed to be a part of this legacy.

Rosemary Russell, daughter of Irene Russell (currently suffering from Alzheimer disease) is the owner and president of Business Women’s Advisory Council located outside Philadelphia, Pa. Rosemary is a retired Human Resources executive with the passion and  mission to help women succeed in business.

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The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's

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10/14/10 | Maria Shriver | 5 Comments

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Maria Shriver





I am a child of Alzheimer’s.

My father, Sargent Shriver, was the smartest person I ever knew. He was sharp and witty, a walking encyclopedia—his mind a beautifully tuned instrument that left people in awe and inspired. That was then. Today he doesn’t know I’m his daughter, and he doesn’t even know my name.

Every minute or so—in fact, before you get to the end of this page—someone in this country will develop Alzheimer’s. It’s an epidemic and a mind-blowing disease—not just for the people who get it, but for everyone around them. No matter who you are, how old you are, what you’ve accomplished, what your financial situation is—when you’re dealing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, you feel powerless.

A year ago, The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything explored the transformational moment in our nation’s history when women become the majority of the workforce—and the primary or co-breadwinners in almost two-thirds of American families.

Now, in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association, the second landmark study -- The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s -- finds that women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s epidemic. We make up 65 percent of the people with Alzheimer’s— and up to three-fifths of all Alzheimer caregivers. That’s 3.3 million American women with Alzheimer’s and another 6.7 million women providing care for a friend or loved one. Consider that by mid-century as many as 8 million women will have the disease. We are in the midst of a national emergency, and we’re woefully unprepared.

What we need is a new kind of national conversation about Alzheimer’s and growing old in America—just like the conversations heard around kitchen tables all over the country. My hope is that this Shriver Report triggers that conversation -- focused on this disease and its ramifications. It’s time. We must face up to some big questions: With Americans living longer and with the incidence of Alzheimer’s growing, what’s going to happen to our women, our families, our workplaces, our attitudes, our society, as the Alzheimer wave hits over the next few decades? We’re talking crisis.

My hope is also that as the veil is lifted, as information and funds and support programs are made available, families will see that they’re not alone. As more people, like the ones you’ll meet in The Shriver Report, speak out and share their personal journeys with Alzheimer’s, more families will see that there’s nothing to be ashamed of—that there’s hope out there because, together, we are finally making Alzheimer’s a national issue.

The truth is that we simply must put Alzheimer’s on the front burner because if we don’t, Alzheimer’s will not just devour our memories, it will also break our women, cripple our families, devastate our healthcare system and decimate the legacy of our generation. But if we do, I’m convinced that this Woman’s Nation will be able to say that, believe it or not, there once was a time when there was no cure for Alzheimer’s.

If you want to help defeat this mind-blowing disease, I invite you to join me and thousands of people on Sunday, October 24 for my March on Alzheimer’s to kick off The Women’s Conference 2010 in Long Beach.  If you can’t attend, please consider making a donation.  The march will benefit the Alzheimer's Association, the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research.  You can learn more about the event and sign up or donate here.

Please join us. We are the hope.
You can read the full report at The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s at http://www.shriverreport.com/.

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Healthy Change Is a Family Affair

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09/28/10 | Latisha Lawson | 0 Comments

Latisha Lawson
Latisha Lawson & Family





By Latisha Lawson, Champion Mom, Sacramento, CA

Today is Family Day in California, and First Lady Maria Shriver has asked families to celebrate by sitting down and sharing a meal together. She’s a mom, and she gets it. Moms know that many important life lessons are learned at the dinner table.

My family’s dinner table is the centerpiece of our home. Eating together is as much about connecting with my kids as it is about teaching them healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Meal time is my chance to learn about their day and share about mine – all over delicious, nutritious food.

Of course, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes things that are good for kids are things they don’t want to eat. But I’ve learned that when kids help choose and cook food, they are more likely to eat it. Younger ones can tear lettuce for salads or rinse fruits and vegetables, and my older kids help me chop and slice.

My kids are also more likely to eat healthy foods when they see my husband and I eat them. That’s why I make a point of eating all kinds of fruits and vegetables. In my house we’ve learned that what we eat affects our health, so every bite counts.

I know all too well what can happen if you don’t take care of yourself and your family – my father died from diabetes at the age of 33. While it’s hard to get loved ones to make healthy choices, it’s much harder to watch them deal with the consequences.

Nothing is more important than the health of my family, and I am doing everything I can to prevent this disease from impacting my children. Even small steps – like having a healthy family dinner at home – can lead to big health improvements. So I changed the way I prepare and serve my family’s food. I make it easy for my kids to snack on fruits and vegetables and to drink plenty of water.  In fact, sugary drinks aren’t allowed.  

Working multiple jobs in a tough economy, I know how hard it is to make ends meet, keep my kids active and put healthy food on the table. But I have the power to make healthy choices for my family.

With the rising prices on just about everything these days, I have learned that eating healthy doesn’t have to cost a lot. You just need to be resourceful. I make a shopping list whenever I go to the store so I don’t buy things we don’t need, and I visit my local farmer’s market to buy produce in season when it costs less.

Lots of families like mine are living on a tight budget and facing issues like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer that are linked to the growing obesity epidemic in California. I believe everyone deserves a healthier future, so I am speaking up for healthy changes in my community. I even helped bring a farmer’s market to a neighborhood where there were few places to buy produce, and too many places to buy unhealthy foods.  That success inspired me to think about the future.  My vision includes communities where sugary drinks aren’t allowed in schools, where schools provide kids with free drinking water and a place where kids have safe places to play.

I see a future filled with healthy communities where it’s easy for kids and moms to make healthy choices, and where eating more fruits and vegetables and being more physically active will help kids concentrate and do better in school, feel good about themselves, grow and develop strong bodies and live longer, healthier lives. I think that’s something every mom wants for her children. But moms need the support and encouragement of other moms who are overcoming challenges, especially when times are tough.

That’s why I’m thankful for the First Lady’s support of Family Day and this opportunity to share my story with you. If I can do it, you can do it.

Please join the First Lady Maria Shriver, me and millions of other moms to celebrate Family Day.  Healthy change is a family affair so gather your family together tonight. Sit down with your children and connect. Share a healthy meal. You’ll be glad you did.

Latisha Lawson lives in Sacramento with her husband and three children. As a Champion Mom with the Network for a Healthy California, she empowers other moms to be Champions for Change.

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Announcing The Great August Giveaway Winner

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09/15/10 | The Women's Conference | 2 Comments

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Food can be a symbol of love. It can create togetherness and warmth. In our Great August Giveaway, we asked you to tell us,

What’s your favorite memory of a meal with friends or family?

Your responses shed light on the power of food – as well as on the power we have to make simple things – like ramen or freezer-burned ice cream sandwiches -- seem like delicious meals.

Below is our winning response, as well as our three honorable mentions. The range in responses reflects the range in how we can approach food, and what food means to us.


Queen Esther

It was just another meal; actually it was the best meal of my life. Ironically, I’m not even sure I remember what I ate. Truth is this meal was what I feasted on the day I said, “No More!” No more starving myself to be thin. No more missing a meal just to fit in. No more hating the image in the mirror. No more!

Soup’n’salad, a hamburger, or spaghetti – it really doesn’t matter what I ate that day. What does matter is that I ate.

Little did I know the meal would represent my launch into years of healing and looking in the mirror and finally loving the woman looking back at me. Little did I know my experiences would be shared with thousands of little girls, teens and young adults as I conduct workshops across the nation about high self-esteem and healthy lifestyle choices. Little did I know that I would break bread with many workshop attendees while sharing both my test of once having low self-esteem and an eating disorder as well as my testimony and platform as a Quintessential Faith-Filled Fabulously-Fierce Full -Figured Female and the reigning Ms. Plus America 2010.

Honorable Mentions

Marissa, 33

Freezer-burned ice cream sandwiches.

Perhaps it’s an unusual choice, but my grandmother’s stash of these chilly treats is a childhood memory so vivid I can almost taste it. On a hot summer day in L.A. (which, in our neck of the woods, stands for “Lower Alabama”), my siblings and cousins and I would run inside, throw open the freezer, and work diligently on peeling the wrappers from the warped bars.

Unlike the stereotypical Southern grandmother, Edwina Morgan Murphy couldn’t cook. At all. She burned rice. “Orange juice” at Grandmama’s house was a glass of water mixed with a spoonful of frozen orange concentrate. She once served my sister cold pizza she’d ordered the night before because Grandmama had heard that’s what college kids eat for breakfast.

Some grandmothers teach how to cook, bake and sew. Grandmama Edwina, on the other hand, taught me to overcome weakness, laugh off mistakes, and make a meal less about the food and more about the company.

Grandmama lost her battle with Alzheimer’s last night. Today, her legacy lives on through those of us whom she publicly and proudly proclaimed as the “best family in the world.”

We miss you, Grandmama.
folsom10, 30s

My favorite memory of a family meal happened over 15 years ago when we celebrated my mother's graduation from nursing school. I do not remember what we ate, or even who helped prepare it. What I do remember was the sense of pride and admiration I had for the woman who not only survived, but who flourished against all odds. I watched after 18 years of marriage, 4 children, zero job skills, my mother pack up her children and leave her abusive husband. We had come full circle from a shelter for abused women and children, to night school, and finally graduation. I am not sure if she knows how her strength and choices have fueled many of my steps into adulthood and a family of my own. She could have done nothing, but she chose to fight. By doing so she set an example that will endure generations. At that very "celebration" dinner I saw not only victory in my mother's eyes...I saw peace. Thanks mom, for all you have done and continue to do. Your actions nourish my soul in so many ways. Oh and your pot roast ROCKS!

On we go     

One of my weekly chores as a little girl was to set the dinner table for my family. There was six of us. My mother every night would make me set an extra place setting. Being only seven I never questioned or understood why. One day a girl from our neighborhood needed some help with math. She was in one of my older sister's classes. She had stopped by for help just minutes before our family was about to sit down for dinner. Without any hesitation my mother said to this little girl "We have been waiting for you, go wash your hands and come sit down for dinner with us". The neighbor girl hurried off and then returned with the biggest smile. We had our dinner that night with even more chatter and laughter. Five little girls all under the age of 12.

When I was helping clear the dinner table, I said to my mom "Were we really waiting for her so we could start dinner?". "Yes" she replied. She then whispered to me, "God knew too. That is why we always set an extra plate at our table. We must always be ready for someone that may need to share a meal and some company. We must not let our guest know that we really had no idea that they were coming. We always want that person to feel welcomed and wanted in our home". I really didn't fully understand until years later. When my father passed in 2005 I heard from the neighbor girl. She told me how grateful she was that my family always invited her to have dinner. She was more amazed that the seventh place setting was always set before she ever showed up. She shared with me that her parents were hardly ever home and she was on her own for dinner most nights. She wanted me to know that she would never forget the kindness my family showed her. My mother taught fourth grade until she was 72. She is now 81. She always knew when a child needed just a little more. Whether it was a meal, a hug, or just a ear to listen. She knew. In my mind, my mother has demonstrated Minerva qualities my entire life. Thanks Mom!

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Making Movies That Matter

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08/23/10 | Penelope Ann Miller | 2 Comments

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Penelope Ann Miller





I feel we need to support films that send powerful messages to kids about courage, values, and being true to yourself.

If we don’t get behind them and support them Hollywood won’t make them.

Last summer I had the incredible opportunity to be a part of Rob Reiner’s new film, Flipped. It’s a story about two 13 year-olds in the early 1960s  – Bryce and Juli – who live across the street from each other and how they find themselves and each other through the trials of love and friendship.

The story “flips” between the viewpoints of these young characters and, as they grow, their perceptions of each other “flip” as well.

I play Juli’s mom in the film, alongside a fantastic ensemble of actors: Madeleine Carol & Callan McAuliffe (the kids), Aidan Quinn, John Mahoney, Rebecca De Mornay, and Anthony Edwards.

Flipped is not just about first love, but about how a young girl teaches a young boy about what’s important in life.  It’s a movie about courage, character, and standing up for what you believe in. 

Juli comes from a warm, tight-knit family that’s low on money but rich on love while Bryce’s family is wealthy but repressed. Bryce learns over time from Juli that life is not about where you come from but what you do and the choices that you make define who you are. Bryce really starts to grow into a young man of character because of Juli and her family.

Based on the beautiful novel of the same title by Wendelin Van Draanen, the film stays true to the story, humor, morals, and life lessons that made the book such a huge hit with adolescents. While the book takes place in present day, Rob chose to set the movie in the early 60’s to capture that pre-Vietnam, pre-Twitter/Facebook time of innocence.  It makes the film a very nostalgic experience for those who grew up in that period, as Rob did, remembering your first love and how it changed your life. It’s also relatable to kids today who are experiencing that now.

Flipped was a real passion project for Rob and he was the perfect man to bring this story to the screen. He tells stories about human beings. You won’t find explosions, aliens, or vampires in this movie.

From my experience working with him and counting him as a friend, Rob is a man that really appreciates and respects women and values the immense impact they have on men’s lives.

I wanted to reach out through Maria’s amazing network to all the mothers and grandmothers who want to take their children and grandchildren to see a movie this summer with a message that will surely inspire.

And if you love it, tweet about it!
Flipped is playing now in Los Angeles, Austin and Sacramento. On August 27th it will open in New York, Chicago, Boston, Toronto, and San Francisco. And then, hopefully, in theaters across the country.

Penelope Ann Miller has shared the screen with some of the most notable and renowned leading men and directors in Hollywood. The list includes Al Pacino and Sean Penn in director Brian de Palma’s Carlito’s Way for which she received a Golden Globe nomination; Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick in The Freshman directed by Andrew Bergman; Robert De Niro and Robin Williams in Penny Marshall’s Awakenings; Robert Downey Jr. in Sir Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin;  Danny DeVito and Gregory Peck in Norman Jewison’s Other People's Money; Matthew Broderick & Christopher Walken in Mike Nichols’ Biloxi Blues; and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Ivan Reitman’s Kindergarten Cop.

And now to add to that distinguished list, Rob Reiner in his latest film Flipped.  She can next be seen reprising her role as Ray Romano’s recently separated wife in the critically acclaimed drama Men of a Certain Age on TNT.

Share your story: How did you meet your first love?

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My First Mini-Van

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08/3/10 | Liberty Bradford | 5 Comments

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Liberty Bradford





The time had come.  My beloved VW Passat, the car I’d bought with the last vestiges of my trust fund, was dead.  After nine years, her charming Windsor Blue exterior (with just a hint of eggplant) belied the fact that she was no longer a smooth ride. And with two kids, a persistent influx of visiting relatives to ferry about, not to mention play dates, I simply needed a bigger vehicle.

My husband released his inner price-gouger along with our neighbor who worked for a dealership and trawled for a screamin’ deal to meet our family-of-four-plus needs. He returned with a sardonic glint in his Irish eyes.

“You’re getting a mini-van.” I gasped. No! Never! Mini-vans are just so… Un-sexy. Boorishly maternal. Fat. Not that the Passat was all that cool, but getting a mini-van felt akin to a form of female castration. A talisman that my disco shoes would be hung up forever.  Let’s slap on some wood paneling and get me a polyester pantsuit while we’re at it.

In the end, the fact that I didn’t have a working car rendered my protests lackluster.  If a mini-van was my destiny, then I wanted it fully loaded – leather interior (to help with the inevitable food and drink spill clean-up) and a DVD player for long journeys (family bonding could wait until the rest stops). And it was a screamin’ deal. Thus, I surrendered.

The borderline hostile reaction from my bourgeois formerly punker-than-thou mommy friends surprised me.  A self-righteous, “I’m sorry,” was quipped repeatedly. This even came from my friend Mieke, who rolls in a Subaru wagon (hot!). When I wanted to get a studded license plate holder as an ironic joke, my friend Elizabeth peered at me from behind her Betty Page bangs and sniffed, “That’d just be pathetic.” Don’t hate me because I drive a mini-van, ladies. You know they all lined up to pile into the grocery-getter when it was time to hit the pumpkin patch.

A couple weeks after I lost my mini-van virginity, some rocker buddies from my Seattle days had a reunion gig at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. Defiantly I pulled the White Whale into the valet, grabbed my backstage pass and headed up to the Foundation Room like I owned it. Mini-van neutering stigma be damned.

Liberty Bradford is many things, including a grateful member of The Women's Conference team.

Read Liberty Bradford's earlier post Mommy's Dreams

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Her Real Face

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07/16/10 | Yancy Jack Berns | 5 Comments

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Yancy Jack Berns





I don’t know about anyone else, but I love “no-makeup” time.  I have nothing against makeup in and of itself, and I can see how going to the opera or the White House might require a little fancying up of even the most objectively beautiful face.  (In such instances, I would have to wear cufflinks to insure that my cuffs don’t flap open embarrassingly, I suppose.)  I don’t know if this is tradition, pageant, or kabuki, but there’s no reason the human race can’t be seen once in a while promenading in its finery.

I am often happiest, though, in the no make-up zone.  This would be in the evening hours that are backed up against bedtime, when the woman in my vicinity has closed the door to the pressures of the outside world and lets her hair, both figuratively and literally, down.

This evening place is one of trust, a sacred cove where the woman allows her armor to slip away, where she is out of range of the arrows of body- and beauty-worries that rain down everywhere she goes, from other women, from other men, from television screens, magazines, billboards, mud flaps, and album covers.

Here she can laugh as she would really laugh, however goofy or braying.  Here she does not have to preen, but can let her limbs go lazily where they please. I wonder how these peaceful home hours feel to a woman.  Maybe it is something akin to a faint tingle of childhood, for it was from a moment in her youth that the path diverged in front of her, where she realized that she was expected to come up with that second face for certain times, the one that fights the shadows better, the one she washes off with alcohol and hot water as her day winds down and she expects no more guests to call.  The face that needs no love, that she can dispose of nightly, that ends up wrapped around Kleenex in the waste basket.

Oh, the next day, she’ll be back on the beat, eyes flitting at every other woman’s figure, like a man’s, never knowing when the gods of fashion will dictate a new paradigm shift, from thin to curvy, from this hairstyle to that.  As a guy, I can only (faintly) imagine the pressure.  Men only have to remember to zip their flies, and they’re ready for the world.

I am reminded of those fantastic beasts one sees on BBC documentaries, the ones where one of the sexes, often the dudes, has to put on great displays of plumage, fin, or tusk in order to attract a mate.  These are truly respectable creatures, but many of them have smallish brains that are in constant danger of tumbling out their nose or ears.  For what it’s worth, we humans have big meaty brains, and it’s a little surprising that we still force women through the physical ringer, as if we didn’t have conversation and eyebrows to communicate our appeal to each other.  We’re still suckers for a pretty face, and perhaps that’s hard-wired, and perhaps that’s the way it’s always going to be out there.

But behind closed doors and as the day cools down into dark, we can both be actual human beings.  Myself, forever grateful to be trusted enough to share that safe zone with her, and as a man no less: let’s face it, I’m part of the sex that is at least somewhat responsible for certain physical issues that have been deeply ingrained into women like tics (or ticks, for that matter).  The fact that any woman can relax in this world of men, aimed forever at them with fingers on triggers, is good to know.  The fact that I can sometimes still chance to see her real face curve into a smile, however, is a kind of absolution. 

Yancy Jack Berns is a screenwriter and freelance television producer living in Los Angeles.

More by Yancy Jack Berns: Surround Yourself with Women

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When My Husband Became A Hero

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  • Life Balance

07/12/10 | Lorrie Sullenberger | 2 Comments

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Lorrie Sullenberger



As the wife of Captain Sullenberger, the pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River and saved the lives of 155 people, my life has, since that day, ricocheted from one emotion to another. The nation seemed to be celebrating in the aftermath of the events, but we were in shock.

The personal letters and well wishes that started to pour into our house helped us start processing our emotions. We have personally received over 20,000 emails, as well as thousands of personal cards, letters and packages. I joked with Sully that he has achieved Santa Claus status as many of the letters come without our personal address. They simply state Captain Sullenberger, or “Sully” hero pilot USA. And like Santa at the North Pole they show up at our door. One of my favorites was from Europe and was addressed to “Hero Pilot USA.” Then in a side note it said, “Dear Postmaster, I don’t know his address but I think you can find him. Please help me and forward to him.”

The letters are funny, sad and profound, but mostly they express an overwhelming gratitude -- that just when our country needed it most we had a collective feel good moment. And not just for the United States, but the world. We even received a recent letter from a young woman in Iran. Many of the letters stated that while Sully did not ask for this and is not seeking the limelight, we need a hero to feel good about, so please don’t turn away. And with that we feel a certain responsibility. As Sully likes to say, gratitude is a two way street. As the outpouring of support and gratitude came our way, it helped us to give back as well.

One young man wrote us early on and said his family had to cut back on gifts this year and were trying to be creative in gift giving. His dad was a huge fan -- could we possibly visit them? While that was not possible, Sully placed a call to their home, where the young boy answered the phone. I could hear the boy’s shrieks all the way across the room. After talking with him for a few minutes, Sully asked to speak to his dad. He told him what a thoughtful young son he had, a son who obviously loved him very much. I remember crying that night thinking how such a simple act on our part had made them so happy.

In all these months since the accident I can only recall three days when we had no mail regarding the accident. Just today we received a wedding invitation from an engaged couple who were on Flight 1549. Included in the invitation was a note that said, “Words cannot express how much we thank you. We now look forward to our marriage and starting a family.”

And so as I reflect on what my personal gratitude letter should include this year, I hardly know where to begin. But to those many people who wrote to us, my heartfelt thanks. And like so many letters say to us, thank you hardly seems enough.

Before January 15, 2009, Lorrie Sullenberger led a quiet—yet accomplished—life as a fitness expert, local television personality and suburban mom. With infectious enthusiasm, strength and candor, Sullenberger shows that the only way to make it through trauma is to point yourself in the right direction and take one step at a time. Currently working on a book on preparing for and making it through life’s challenges, Sullenberger empowers audiences by showing what skills are necessary to make yourself ready for whatever life throws your way.

A longer version of this post was first published in Woman’s Day November 2009 issue.

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Announcing The Great June Giveaway Winner

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07/6/10 | The Women's Conference | 0 Comments

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Guys We Love: Who do you love & why?

At The Women’s Conference, we focus on women and women’s issues – covering everything from women entrepreneurs to women’s health to women Architects of Change. But we know that – as men need women, we women need men – to make a difference in the world, to inspire us, and to give us moral and emotional support.

Our Great June Giveaway offered The Women’s Conference community the chance to reflect on the great “guys” in their lives – and to share those guys with the rest of us.

We received many thoughtful, heartfelt responses from you. An overwhelming number of women chose husbands, partners, sons & fathers -- those who gave them love, respect, encouragement and affirmation. The winning response and two honorable mentions are below. Visit The XX Effect: Generation to Generation for more Guys We Love.


Cynthia Harty:

I love the guy at the auto dealership who talks to me like he would any man who walks through the door. I love the guy who installs or repairs something in my home and initiates a conversation with me as to what he is doing and accepts critique or suggestions. I love the man who defers to a woman in the room when she is an expert. I love my Internal Medicine Doctor whose first words when he met me were "Okay lets start from the beginning, tell me everything that happened", and then he listened. He then followed that up with "I'd like to get a second opinion". I love and admire the respect and will return it always.

Honorable Mentions


The man I love passed away over 20 years ago. That man was my father. He adopted me when I was four years old and was never anything but my "real" Dad. I only discovered that he was my stepfather when I was 12 years old. However, I never once questioned his love for me as his daughter. If someone made a comment about how much I looked like him considering I was not his biological child, he would immediately correct him or her and say, “of course she looks like me, she is my daughter”. He was the gentlest, kind, and loving person I have ever known. I never heard him raise his voice at me when he often had cause. He did not have to... all he had to say was how disappointed he was in my actions. And, then state that he was certain that I was more disappointed in myself.

I made a decision that the only way I could ever repay my Dad for accepting me as his daughter was to do the same for another child. My husband and I are now in our 60's and have three grown children. One child is adopted; I just cannot remember which one.

Kay Presto:

Who is the man I love?

He‘s a special person who has opened up a whole new life for me. He's explained things that I never had explained before, made me feel safe in my own body, helped me understand many mysteries, and so much more.

He has explained terms I’ve never heard before, has shown me eye-opening things I’ve never seen before, and taught me how to live a long and happy life.
And he does it all with a jolly smile and makes all these mysteries fun.

Who is this man? Of course, it’s Dr. Mehmet Oz himself!

Here’s a man who has shared with us the beauty and strength of our human bodies, showed us the bad effects of poor eating, smoking, and other bad habits, and makes it fun to live a good healthy life.

I’ve watched him ardently on television, even before he had his own show, and have marveled at his knowledge of our bodies, and how clearly he presents every single fact.

And why do I love him so much? Because he has demystified our bodies, and taught us to be proud and happy with the one God gave us.

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In Celebration of Moms

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05/13/10 | The Women's Conference | 60 Comments

The Women's Conference Celebrates Moms

Maria Shriver on the profound power of motherhood and her own experience of being both a mother and a daughter.


We invited you to share your own personal stories about motherhood -- what your mom means to you or what it means to be a mom. The winners receive --

We've chosen the 3 winning comments. They are --

Kristy Campbell:

I’ve never felt as powerful as a mother as when I was 8 months pregnant sitting outside of the drug-testing lab with my teenage daughter. I had suspected something was going on with her and was adamant about finding out exactly what. As she screamed at me in the car about how much she hated me, I heard a voice come out of me that said… “Fine. Hate me. You'll hate me when you are 20, you'll hate me when you are 30, and you may hate me for the rest of your life. But, at least you will have a life from which to hate me. I am your mother. I am not your friend. And if you are doing drugs, I’m going to find out and deal with it.”

Our story has a drug-free happy ending and now 2 years later, my daughter is off to college and we are starting to evolve the mom/daughter relationship into a friendship. I love and value the current relationship I have with her, however, I know that if I hadn’t been a mother first to her, we would never be on this path to friendship.


I Love all the wonderful stories of 'Mommie and me,' by people who had warm milk by their bedsides and a fairytale told to them until their eye's were sealed with a loving kiss from Mom. At one time i couldn't stand to hear them. Mothers day was such a difficult time. It use to be, "Bah Hum-bug", on mothers day.

Mothers Day has always been a day of feeling guilty for giving Mom cards that didn't bare an ounce of truth of who we were. If i hadn't had such a great relationship with my own son, the yearly greiving over the relationship i never had with my Mom and achingly longed for, would have been unbearable. Yet as i go and grow through life i become more understanding of Mom's hurt and pain of never being loved by her own Mom. The suicide of my Dad, the loss of my oldest son, didn't help either one of us at all. But, when i tell you how much strength, courage, and love has risen in the midst of this family. Once i decided this generational abusive behavior would stop with me, It did. I was a single parent and my son who is now in law enforcement with a beautiful family. I was determined he would know without a doubt, he is loved. Now, i'm very passionate about leading others to a place of a 'Loving Reality'. I Love my Mom very much and now i know, she couldn't give what she never had.

Have a blessed Mother's Day and know, Love never fails.
May 2010


I and even more so my sisters are now my mother's mother. As my mother of 8 children in 10 years having just celebrated her 89th birthday is suffering from the early stages of alzheimers disease and her daughters have stepped up to care for her as she spent many years caring for us. I think how ironic this care is as we bath our mother in the same blue cast iron tub she use to bath us....was her hair as she use to wash ours, dress her as she use to dress us and feed her as she to feed us. But the one thing she still does for herself is to apply her make-up. Growing up I will always remember how mom taught us how to use make-up and to never leave the house without lipstick....needless to say my sisters and I always look fabulous when we leave our homes. 

Care for our parents comes full cycle. Many questions why we would do this instead of just putting mom in a 'home', but the choice my sisters and I have made is to care for mom as long as possible even as we care for our own families and self. Mom made room for us as we grew and now we are making room for mom. Happy Mothers Day..mom!

Explore the rest of the inspiring motherhood comments below:

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Back Unit Guys & The Non-Existent Back Unit Gal

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04/23/10 | Ande Dagan | 0 Comments

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Ande Dagan





There’s a certain prototype of male that is portrayed in movies - the adorable slacker. This under-employed guy with the quick wit and the high score on Wii bowling marks the passage of time by how long it takes him to go through a bag of weed. With his happy-to-be-exactly-where-I’m-at attitude and complete lack of ambition, we’re led to believe that this guy has it all – well, except for clean clothes, a girlfriend, a healthy body type, a second towel, access to a vegetable and a checking account. 

This slacker guy also exists in real life. My colleague, Matthew DiGirolamo, has cleverly branded this breed of male -- “Back Unit Guy.” He’s the late 20s/early 30s dude who lives in someone’s guest house and spends his unshowered days scouring the Internet for funny cat videos, and, ahem, other provocative entertainment. The real life version of the slacker, however, is not as lovable as his movie counterpart. We all know this guy and none of us wants to date him (for long), hire him, or admit we’re related to him. He’s given up on being a contributing member of society and as long as he’s not hurting anyone, or in need of a clean pair of matching socks, he’s free to be as he is.

Back Unit Guy’s free pass to slack got me wondering two things. Is there an equivalent Back Unit Gal? And if there is, would she be given the same leeway to exist as her male counterpart? 

I’ve known women in their late 20s and early 30s who don’t fully have their acts together. They can’t keep a steady job or commit to a meaningful relationship. They make bad decisions. But the one thing these women do have is ambition. They aspire to own furniture that didn’t come from their parents’ house, find a partner in life, and have a career oriented job that allows them to pay their bills and buy a vacuum cleaner. Sure some of them are lazy, but none of these women has accepted this lifestyle as their fate and is willing to live like this for the long run (unlike the Back Unit Guy who has cultivated this way of living on purpose). 

Is it because women are caretakers by nature that they have goals and aspirations? Or is it because women simply aren’t allowed to be this way? 

From an early age, our subconscious is stimulated by images of petite, physically attractive women. Rarely do you see a woman who is 15 pounds overweight on TV (reality shows exempted), let alone a woman who hasn’t showered in days and has a ketchup stain on her shirt (Britney Spears doesn’t count – that’s a whole other post). But for men, such deficiencies are just part of the "charm" of being a Back Unit Guy.

Are there fewer Back Unit Gals because women hold hygiene in a higher regard? Would we find ourselves simply grossed out by living that way of life? Why is it not acceptable or charming for women to be Back Unit Gals? What do you think?

Ande Dagan is the web producer for The Women's Conference.

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The Great February Giveaway Winner

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03/4/10 | The Women's Conference | 5 Comments

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Announcing The Great February Giveaway Winner

Over the last month, more than 1000 members of The Women’s Conference community responded to The Great February Giveaway question “Who would you most like to have over for brunch?” The Women’s Conference team was struck by the breadth of creativity, wisdom and humor of the responses. The intended guests ranged from “myself when I was 20 years younger,” to religious and historical figures, favorite authors, beloved mothers, fathers and grandparents both living and deceased, artists and celebrities. The responses came from women across generations. Who knew brunch could be so interesting and informative? Choosing our finalist and six honorable mentions was no easy task.

Below is the winning response. We selected it because her story demonstrates courage, confidence and commitment to creating positive change in the world. Her response is joined by those we selected for honorable mentions. We invite you to read them. We think you’ll find them as inspiring as we do.

The Great February Giveaway winning response:

“TMS”, 42 years old

I would invite my birth mother to brunch. My mother and father lost their lives trying to protect my brother, my baby sister, and myself during a bombing raid on our village in Vietnam. My parents and baby sister were killed, and I wound up in an orphanage. I was adopted by an incredible family in America. I have lived, been educated, worked, married, and now have two amazing children of my own. I run a domestic violence shelter agency, and every day, I see amazing stories of survival and hope. I would like to tell my birth mother that I MADE IT, and that the sacrifice of her life made mine possible. I am who I am because she and my father loved me.


Honorable mentions:

Jackie Greer, 26 years old

Maya Angelo, Mother Teresa, Maria Shriver, Oprah…these remarkable women cannot answer the questions I have as an insecure, hesitant 26-year-old, who is constantly worried and unsure of which direction her life is going to take. I would instead invite my future self to brunch. My self twenty years from now, successful in her career, happily married, and surrounded by loving family and friends, would reassure apprehensive 26-year-old me that a positive attitude and hard work will inevitably lead to success in all facets of my life. My older self will warn me of hardships I will face and tell me everything’s going to be OK. She will let me know which career path I chose, and she will tell me that I have made a difference in the world. She will urge me to embrace the fear of the unknown because I will persevere.

Realistically though, none of us can invite our future selves to describe to us how our lives will unfold over eggs Benedict and cantaloupe. I would alternately invite Jillian Michaels to brunch, who would give me this advice and reassurance, as well as a lecture for eating eggs Benedict instead of healthy oatmeal.

Brandi Tocci, 23 years old
I would love the opportunity to sit down with my older sister Lauren, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. On April 20, 1999, Eric and Dylan invaded my high school and opened fire against their peers, killing 13 people during the worst school shooting in history. I’m fortunate Lauren can call herself a survivor, but some of our friends and classmates weren’t as lucky. I would ask them all the questions my sister has wanted answers to for years. If they could see the pain they caused not only the Columbine High School students, but their friends, family and community, why would they want to hurt people? Why would they open fire at my sister and friends? The community has ‘researched answers’ and questioned their parents, but no one would ever know the reasons behind their rage unless they were asked directly. So, ‘brunch’ might turn into shots of tequila with this intense, yet civilized conversation, but I’d still like to know their side of the story. Women exemplify power, and I’d like to hear their side, while telling them that they may have hurt my family, myself and thousands others, but they didn’t take the power from the school like they hoped. We will always be Rebels and “WE ARE COLUMBINE”…

Betsy, 52 years old
I think I will jump into fantasyland to answer this question. I have a 16-year-old beautiful daughter named Rachael. There are 36 years between us, and I think for my fantasy brunch date I would want to be with my daughter 36 years in the future, putting her at the age I am today -- 52. In my fantasy we are both the same age. I would love to hear about all the cool things she has seen and done with her life during those years. To be the same age and learn from her how her life at 52 is different from my life at 52. What technology is she using-how has the world changed-what dreams has she accomplished- how have I impacted her life as a woman-mother-wife? I know the future rests with our children. My daughter has a strong sense of herself and how important family and friends are. I would love to see what she has done with her life as I am now versus being 88 years old when she is 52. That would be a wonderful fantasy brunch.

Mia Ogletree, 45 years old
The first day the question was posted, I read each one, at the time 132 by early morning. Oh, what brilliant people that others wanted to have brunch with, I was a bit overwhelmed at the idea of narrowing my choices. I put the task aside, as I had to go to my son's kindergarten class for my weekly volunteering. It was during this next two hours, that I found the one person that I wanted to have brunch with, a five-year-old boy name "C."

This child had problems all year. He was always in trouble for one thing or the next. But this week, due to a substitute teacher, I took him aside to work with him. In the hours I spent with him, I found out he had never met his father. He longed for a home to call his own. He drew the same perfect house in every picture he has ever been asked to draw. His mother was "away" for a while and he was terrified. This is a person I want to have brunch with on a Sunday afternoon. This child, though not filled with experience, years of service or exciting adventures in politics or world peace, is the perfect person for me to engage with over a meal. I would love to talk to him about his dreams, his hopes and his fears. It would be my pleasure and joy to be with him and show him that the world is on his side and is rooting for him to succeed. I want him to enjoy an afternoon filled with great food, conversation and a feeling of safety and love. All children should have this opportunity.

Alissa Grinenko, 28 years old
The group that I would like to have over for brunch would be my online buddy group (we call ourselves The K Krew). We're a group of women that met online over two years ago, with common interests and have continued to form an online friendship as we continue to make our journeys. There are eight of us, all from different parts of the US, each with our own experiences that continue to share our daily ups and downs with each other.

One of the members is part of the Love 146 task group, a group devoted to ending child sex slavery and exploitation. In the eight of us, we have teachers, students, mentors, professionals, mothers, soon-to-be mothers, and those working towards being a mother, each making a difference in her own community. We all met through a common interest, but I feel so blessed to be among such a group of women.

Though we have chatted, online only, I have not met any of these women. Originally we didn't know each other's real name. Now that we know each other's actual names, two of us went to the same elementary school (a few years apart). We go from talking daily, to monthly, to weekly, supporting each other in moments of joy and moments of hardship. It would be a wonderful experience to meet these women that have journeyed with me these past two years. It would be an amazing brunch, and amazing to finally connect in person. Though we're "average" women, not famous for anything, its an amazing group where we have all taken steps in our own lives to make this world, and the future of this world, a better place.

Lydia Leeds, 55 years old
I would invite every hungry person on the planet, feed them and ask them how I could help – no one should be hungry but a lot of people are. I’d want to invite every lonely person on the planet and wrap them in warmth and kindness and ask them how I could help. I’d also invite Anne Frank because she deserves to be there, Nelson Mandela because of his smile and the sparkle in his eyes, Wanda Sykes because she's the funniest woman alive, my mother because she'd love it and she'd kill me if I didn't, my maternal grandmother because she was a pioneer, my paternal grandmother because I never met her and my two brilliant, beautiful nieces because they are the very best of our future. I’d ask Anne and Nelson to solve world hunger, I’d ask my mother if they were right - my grandmothers to cook and coddle, I’d ask Wanda to make the world laugh. I’d ask my nieces to never let anyone forget. And I’d ask myself how much more can we do right now to help our friends, neighbors, strangers and each other…

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When (Almost) Everything Changed

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10/15/09 | Gail Collins | 3 Comments

Gail Collins, New York Times Op Ed Columnist

When I was in college, people talked a lot about the "revolution," although I'm not entirely sure we would have recognized one if it happened in the front yard. This was back in the late 60s and early 70s, when everybody wanted to be a revolutionary, including the kids who were majoring in investment banking.

When we failed to actually create a political and social utopia, it didn't truly come as a big surprise. And some things worked out just the way we hoped -- maybe even better. I don't know if we would have dared imagine an African-American president who won his nomination after a hard primary battle against a woman.

And we would have been pleased to know that the United States of the 21st century would be a place where women worked as routinely as men did, and where young couples automatically assumed they would share the role of family breadwinner.

It really was a revolution. And we would never have imagined that that the country was going to charge right into it without ever asking who was going to take care of the kids.       

Back in the day, we were totally confident -- so confident that we hardly even bothered to discuss it -- that our futures would involve flexible jobs that allowed both husbands and wives to take time off or reduce their workweek without ruining their career opportunities. And that early childhood education would be available to everybody just the way elementary school education is.       

But it didn't happen. And the tension between work and childcare is the one thing that restricts all the amazing progress that American women have made over the last 50 years.

It crops up all over. Girls outstrip boys all the way through college, yet they don't have the same earning power once they've been out in the world of work for a while. We still only have 17 women in a 100-member U.S. Senate, and one of the big reasons is that women who go into politics tend to wait until their children are older. They get a later start than men, and it's harder to make it to the top of the ladder.

I named my new book about what happened to American women since 1960 "When Everything Changed." But this, alas, is one thing that didn't.

Gail Collins, a New York Times op ed columnist, is the author of When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. She was previously the Times editorial page editor, the first woman ever to hold that position.

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What Do Women Want?

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10/15/09 | David Gregory | 4 Comments

David Gregory, Moderator, Meet the Press

What do women want?  I’m asking as a husband, as a father, as a professional who works closely with women.  I ask it in the context of all that we are learning about the changing role of women in America.  I ask because I still don’t think I have the answer.

I’m blessed to be married to a wonderful woman who is successfully negotiating a path as mother, prominent trial lawyer and former business executive.  Our life reflects many of the struggles of modern couples: We both have careers, requiring a great deal of negotiation about who does what, set against the backdrop of shared, 50-50 parenting.

And yet, our life is more marriage than merger.  It needs to be if we are going to stay connected to each other as a couple.  That gets to the point of asking my question.  As the role of women changes, some of their basic desires do not.  Yet, I think many men are having a hard time keeping up.  We get that the days of “Mad Men” are over (my wife reminds me of this when we are watching the show), but we sometimes lose the complete picture of what the women in our lives need.

In my experience, women expect flexibility from their partners as they negotiate their lives. They expect an openness to reexamine traditional roles.  But women, and particularly working mothers, also are seeking reassurance about their path.  Many professional women want to know that they are striking a good balance between work and home.

The other crucial factor to a good relationship is staying connected.  In the Bible, God asks of Adam, “Where are you?”  So, too, as men we need to pause to ask where our wives are: How are they, what do they need and want?  Are we making the space for each other as a couple – time spent separate from the business of our busy lives?

The key is making the time to ask.  I don’t think I have all the answers, but if I’m trying to be the best husband, or colleague or boss I can be, I’m asking, “What do women want?”

Good shoes.  Right, that part I get.

David Gregory is the moderator of NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” He is also a regular contributor for “Today” and serves as a back-up anchor for the broadcast.  He is a regular contributor and analyst on MSNBC, and lends his voice and reporting to all NBC News broadcasts including coverage of special events.

David Gregory will be speaking at The Women’s Conference 2009.

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Mixing Love & Money – Without Losing Either

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08/25/09 | Jean Chatzky | 2 Comments

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Jean Chatzky, Today Show Financial Editor

Jean Chatzky will be speaking at The Women's Conference 2009.

When it comes to life, knowing how to differentiate between the things you can control and the things that you can’t control can make everything a whole lot easier. Take, for example, your finances.  For the most part, you have the ability to be in control of them. But when you’re married or in a committed relationship, the line between yours and theirs tends to get a bit blurry.
Although it might seem right to share everything, a bit of financial independence is imperative in any healthy relationship. When it comes to my marriage, I need to be able to buy a cup of coffee without checking with him. He needs to be able to do the same. If you don’t have this sort of financial independence, one spouse starts feeling like a parent and the other like a child.
But how can couples manage finances together and still achieve the right balance of control? For me, what’s key is remembering that just because you tie the knot, you don’t all of a sudden become the same person. What you have to do, therefore, is understand HOW you are different and how those differences are going to worry or stress your partner. Then you need to keep lines of communications open so that you both understand what is happening with the family pie.
Talk About Your Finances Once a Week
To make discussing your finances an ongoing dialogue, set aside time to talk about money once a week. It should be a time when neither of you is overly tired nor overly cranky -- perhaps after a television show you always watch together. During the week, keep a list of items you want to make sure not to forget to discuss. This meeting is like a doctor’s visit -- you want to be sure to put the time to good use.
How much should you put in the FSA? Should you switch healthcare plans? Are you paying too much for cable? Should you re-allocate your 401(k), or should you start budgeting for a new flat-screen? All of these items are fair game. If you are feeling nervous, worried or angry over money, try to understand what is behind your own feelings before you air them with your spouse. If you can understand why you feel a certain way, your spouse will have a greater chance of understanding too.
Create a Household Budget
While it’s more than necessary to talk about finances with your significant other, you’re going to have to take some action.  There is a school of thought that says the more you merge your money, the more you trust each other and the marriage. I am not completely of that school — quite possibly because I’ve been divorced. I am a big fan of joint AND separate accounts. The way this works best is if you come up with a household budget that the joint account will cover. It must include the amount you want to save for your joint goals – like vacation, a house and retirement. Then figure out what equal percentage of both salaries will cover it, transfer that much in from the separate accounts, and leave the rest. NOTE: The bills covered by the joint accounts shouldn’t ALWAYS be paid by the same person. One will gravitate toward these tasks, but make sure you switch it up at least once a year.
I know that for most couples, money isn’t the most enjoyable thing to think about or discuss. However, if you start looking to the future and what it might hold for the both of you, it can be. One of the best parts about being a couple is dreaming together. Setting financial goals is a form of dreaming. Ask each other what do you want this year, next year, in 5 years, in 10. Then attach numbers to those dreams so you can figure out how you’ll get there.


Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for NBC’s Today, a contributing editor for Money, a columnist for The New York Daily News, a contributor to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and a featured money coach on Oprah's "Debt Diet" series.  She is the author of four books, including best sellers such as Pay It Down: From Debt to Wealth on $10 A Day and her latest book, The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper In Even the Toughest Times. Her website is JeanChatzky.com.

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My Grandmother's Lesson: Courage

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07/27/09 | Angella M. Nazarian, Author | 30 Comments

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Angella M. Nazarian, Author

I remember the first time I went to New York to pitch my book to a prospective publisher. I stood on the busy sidewalk two blocks from the office, tears streaming down my face, a scrap of paper clutched in my right hand. It was a chilly spring day and I’d slipped on the stylish 70’s black overcoat that was a keepsake from my maternal grandmother who had passed away eight years earlier. When I put my hands in its deep pockets to ward off the icy air, I discovered they weren’t empty. I pulled out a handkerchief, a small piece of the candy she always used to stash away, a note she had scribbled to herself. In her familiar quivering hand she’d written two words: Mint. Apricots. It was a grocery list. That’s when the tears came.

It took me back to the day, soon after her passing at the age of 84, when we’d gone to clean out her apartment. I’d asked my mother if I could keep two pieces of her clothing: the tailored black overcoat, and the green and burgundy checkered dress that she often wore to Friday night Shabbat dinners. She had been known as an impeccable dresser. She was petite like me and very spiritual. But the similarities stopped there -- or that’s what I thought at the time.

My grandmother was raised in a deeply patriarchal Iranian culture, where women were expected to be supportive wives and devoted mothers only. Having influence beyond the sphere of family life was uncommon and looked down upon. My grandmother rarely spoke up in front of people, and sat in what I jokingly called, “the Siberia,” or most peripheral corner of our family gatherings. Even so, she was regarded as a wise woman. If she were asked for her opinion in front of others, she would deflect the attention, giving elusive answers. “Only God knows,” she often replied.

Her behavior felt too passive to me, as if she could not break out of the feeling of being invisible. I had had a vastly different experience than she did. I immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eleven, right at the start of the Iranian Revolution. During my first five and a half years here, my parents were stuck in Iran, so I lived with my older siblings. This early experience encouraged me to be self-sufficient, determined, and independent, while being raised in the U.S. afforded me opportunities the women of past generations simply didn’t have.

I am the first woman in my family who not only graduated college, but who also went on to graduate school. In our traditional culture, it is not expected that women will work outside of the home, especially if there is no financial need. I worked because I wanted to, and much to my family’s surprise, continued teaching part-time at the university until four years ago, when I left to work on a memoir. It was when I started writing about our family experience of escape, exile, and our eventual adjustment in the U.S. that the old notions of self-censorship and self-repression surfaced in my life. Who would care about what I have to say? I wondered, finding it hard to believe that others would even be interested in my experiences. That’s when I realized that my grandmother and I had more in common than I originally thought.

But the similarity didn’t stop there. When she was forty years old and her children were grown, my grandmother, unhappy about her minimal education, asked my grandfather to get her a tutor. He did, and she worked diligently for years on her reading and writing, until she felt confident enough to write correspondence and reach out to others. She had a real zest for learning that seemed to grow and flourish. In her 80s, she hired a tutor who visited her twice a week to work on her Hebrew.

On that day in New York, wearing my grandmother’s overcoat, I felt fully embraced by her presence. As I walked toward my meeting, I somehow knew I was carrying her essence -- all her dreams, joys, loyalties, denials, doubts, and disappointments -- within me. It was astonishing to think that my grandmother began to fully read and write at the same age as I was hoping to publish a book. Mint, apricots, it meant so much to her to be able to write those words, just as it means so much to me to write about her. I knew then that others would be interested in her story, our story, and that maybe she wasn’t so invisible after all. That’s when I realized that writing our family memoir not only impacts future generations, it also has the power to bring honor and heal the unfulfilled dreams of women of generations past.

Angella M. Nazarian teaches psychology in local universities and facilitates adult personal development seminars for women. Her writing and poetry have appeared in the Hufffington Post, MO+TH and Milllenium Literary Journal. Her new book, Life as a Visitor, is due to be released in Oct. of 2009 by Assouline Publishers.

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This Memorial Day, Remember Our Military Families

  • Family and Friend

05/22/09 | Suzanne Hogan, Special Assistant to The Librarian of Congress; Military Wife & Daughter | 5 Comments

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The American Flag at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Photo from jcolman Flickr photostream.

Suzanne Hogan is a military wife and daughter. In this piece, she honors the families that have sacrificed their sons and daughters -- reminding us that it is because of their sacrifices that we can honor Memorial Day this Monday.

I saw a mom today, with her boy. There she stood letting go of his hand as he walked towards uncertainty. There he stood looking back at his life and all things familiar. I saw a mom today with her boy.

I saw a boy today with his mom. He moved forward, one small step at a time, turning every few seconds, to look at her. He offered her a smile that she most certainly has seen a thousand times before, yet this time…. that smile will be imprinted in her memory… forever.

I saw a mom today, with her boy. She waved to him as if to signal…see you later. Yet… there was a hesitation in the motion…a tremble in her hand. There is no confidence or exuberance within her grasp today. Her boy is leaving her behind, in the middle of an airport, at the rope line, with security and thousand of travelers; travelers who gripe and snarl and snipe at the added layers of questions and metal detectors and sentinels and interrogators and strangers that enter into their lives, requesting odd things like… remove your coat, take off your shoes, empty your pockets…. I saw a mom today with her boy.

I saw a boy today, with his mom. He is flying away to take care of the things that irritate us at airports. He is flying away to a life he most likely never dreamed of when he was a little boy, just five years younger ago; a boy who played Wii and Guitar Hero, and shot paintballs…a boy who listened to Kanye, Coldplay, and Green Day on his Ipod…and who dreamed of Britney and Beyonce and Giselle.

I saw a mom today, with her boy. She solemnly watched him fly away from his “souped-up” car and his PDA and his room with all of the posters, and that worn-out cozy comforter that she stitched for him three years ago…

I saw a mom today, with her boy. There she stood letting go of his hand and holding on to the last glimpse of him as he passed out of her sight, and out of her arms. There she stood, almost silent, trying to speak his name but the tears and pain would not release her words. Her boy is gone…to do a man’s job; yet, he will always be her boy.

* * *

…I saw a mom today, with her boy. She was leaving for work with a cup of coffee and a backward glance towards her boy asleep on the couch…home from his college books and last night’s party. My boy is home…and her boy is not. I do not know her name, but I will never forget her face.
Yes, I saw a mom today with her boy; there she stood, letting go of his hand...

Give her strength and keep him smart, give her hope and keep him safe, give her peace and keep him strong.

I saw a Mom today with her boy’s picture. Bring him safely home.

* * *

During this Memorial Day weekend, Moms will continue to take their sons and daughters to the airport to leave for distant and hostile sands. As we celebrate our freedoms and embrace a respite from our work week, let us never forget our troops and the families who helped to make this weekend possible.

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Taking Back the Power of Self-Worth

  • Family and Friend
  • Life Balance

05/1/09 | Dr. Cheryl Saban | 10 Comments

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Cheryl Saban is a writer and social commentator who holds a Ph.D. in psychology.

Does someone else need to acknowledge our worth to make it real?  Do we crave outside affirmation of our value because we are insecure by nature? 

If women are insecure as a gender, we’ve been given reason to be.

A woman’s culture – our upbringing, our environment, social cues, and our own strongly held beliefs that nuance our experience – defines female status.  And though it’s quite obvious that women have made enormous gains in terms of rights and participation, the global picture of the status of women and girls is not so rosy. When a governing power holds stubbornly to rigid stereotypes, cultural mores, and antiquated mindsets, there may not be much wiggle room for women to discover and express their worth. 

Imagine that you’re a woman living in a country and society which denies you freedom of travel, forbids you to possess your own passport, complicates or denies your access to education and female-centric healthcare, restricts your participation in government, your ownership of property, your ability to obtain loans, to work outside the home, drive a car, or have custody of your children.  Wow.  Seems to me that this lack of freedom and autonomy could easily impact a woman’s feelings of worth, could it not? 

And then there’s the prickly issue of how crime investigations – particularly in rape cases – have been handled in the U.S.  The recent outrage at the backlog of unprocessed rape kits is well deserved.  Rape kits can provide investigators with the evidence they need to find and prosecute rapists, but yet, for some inexplicable reason, many kits are languishing, unprocessed.  How could this be allowed to happen? Does this say something about how we are valued and respected?

Yet, perhaps it’s not that simple. 

Tough as it may seem, we need to realize our worth in order to actualize it.  And step-by-step, we are making changes.  Women are being called upon to take on even more challenges in the current economic environment, and we are clearly up to the task.  Now we need to build our community and support each other. Those of us who have rediscovered our voices, who can expose and express our self-worth, need to help clear the road for those among us who still struggle.

The Dalai Lama said, “According to Buddhism, individuals are masters of their own destiny.  And all living beings are believed to possess the nature of the Primordial Buddha, Samantabhadra -- the potential or seed of enlightenment, within them.  So.  Our future is in our own hands.  What greater free will do we need?”

Indeed.  Perhaps as young girls and women, we will be able to express that free will once more of us are able to model that behavior. 

What do you think about self-worth? We are all part of this important narrative. Share your thoughts with me.

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