Archives for June 2008

The Journey of Ambition


The first section of Pillars of the Earth has already begun to delve into one of the overall themes that I have heard relates significantly to this book, ambition. Ambition is a wonderful and powerful quality. It is respected among men and admired in women. In the book, Tom Builder, has so much ambition to become a builder of great cathedrals, “once he tasted that wine, Tom was never satisfied with anything less.” His strong desire to build these cathedrals was of great concern to his wife. She respected his life’s passion and his ambitious pursuit of success, even if it was to the detriment of their financial stability. She could not understand the decision but she respected her husband because he was a good man.

However, ambition can turn ugly when the person driving that ambition does not respect the people in his life. This fall from grace is not a charming or gracious quality. It turns quickly from ambition to greed and selfishness. Pursuing your life’s passion with great abandon is about creating a path towards fulfillment, but if you arrive there alone, knowing you have hurt everyone who tried to stand beside you, your path to ambition will have been unsuccessful and your life’s journey will have been a failure.

Be ambitious, but also be gracious, caring, loving and kind. Be sensitive and inspired and devoted. As the picture says, the world makes way for those who know where they are going. Where ever you are going, go there with love in your heart.


About a year ago I made an ambitious decision. I decided that I would read every book selected by Oprah’s Book Club. Unfortunately, life got in the way, as it tends to do, and I continuously put off my goal.

Well, now I’m back …and more motivated then ever. Because here’s the difference, not only am I going to read every book on Oprah’s list…but I’m going to see how each book relates to my life at the time I am reading it. I am going to see how much I learn about myself, my life, my surroundings and my own thoughts while exploring the lives of others in Oprah’s selections. Something has to be said for books that have sold millions of copies and a woman who has changed the face of reading. We all know how hard it is to get a book chosen by Oprah, so what is it that makes these books different and life changing?

I have started with what I thought to be the most ambitious of the list…and also one of the most recent, THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett. THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH is a book written about the building of a church in medieval times. If I can find a way to learn something about myself from this book, then I will believe in miracles and the power of pursuing the unattainable. The book also happens to fill up nearly 1,000 pages. I chose to start my Oprah Project with this particular book, at this particular time (beginning of summer) for a reason. It is now up to me to determine what that reason was and how it will affect my life.

I am looking forward to this journey for no other reason than I will get to explore books I would not normally have read and learn something about myself along the way.

Here is the breathless description of PILLARS OF THE EARTH from Oprah’s website; In the quest to build the greatest Gothic cathedral ever known, a struggle between good and evil erupts – turning church against state and brother against brother.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett


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Here’s another fascinating post from Gretchen’s Happiness Project…about friendship.

Here are eight psychological terms and principles that I’ve found helpful as I’ve been trying to build and strengthen my friendships.

1. Triadic closure. In a phenomenon called “triadic closure,” people tend to befriend the friends of their friends – and this is very satisfying. Friendships thrive on inter-connection, and it’s both energizing and comforting to feel that you’re building not just friendships, but a social network. I now make much more of an effort to help my friends become friends with each other, and to befriend friends’ friends. (Total non sequitur: “befriend friends’ friends” is quite a phrase! Bad writing, but I couldn’t resist.)

2. Emotional contagion. “Emotional contagion” is a strong psychological effect in which we “catch” the happy, sad, or angry moods of others. Someone in a happy, energetic mood will help boost the moods of others, and obviously, this creates a very pleasant atmosphere. Unfortunately, negative moods are more contagious than positive moods; if I’m crabby, I can trigger a wave of crabbiness in my friends. I’m trying to do a better job of living up to my duty to be happy.

3. The mere exposure effect. Familiarity breeds affection. The “mere exposure effect” describes the fact that repeated exposure makes people like music, faces — even nonsense syllables — better. Because of the “exposure principle,” the more often a person sees another person, the more intelligent and attractive that person will be ranked. So I try to put myself in situations where I’m going to see a lot of the same people over and over.

4. Fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error is a psychological phenomenon in which we tend to view other people’s actions as reflections of their characters, and to overlook the power of the situation to influence their action. In other words, we over-emphasize the role that personality plays in shaping others’ behavior, and under-emphasize the role of outside forces. I assume that the guy in the drugstore is an inconsiderate jerk because he rushed ahead of me to get to the counter, when in fact, he’s very considerate, and he’s rushing to get home with the medicine for his sick girlfriend.

5. Warmth. Attraction is reciprocal; we tend to like people more when we think the like us. So if I’m friendly and openly pleased to see someone person, that person is more likely to feel friendly toward me. Instead of playing it cool, I try to show a lot of warmth.

6. Smiling. As obvious as it seems, studies do show that we’re perceived as more friendly when we smile more (it also helps to have an expressive face, to nod, to lean forward, to have a warm tone). The sheer amount of time smiling makes a very big difference on perceived friendliness.

7. Subliminal touching. Studies show that subliminal touching – that is, touching touching a person so unobtrusively that it’s not noticed – dramatically increases that person’s sense of well-being and positive feelings toward the toucher. And vice versa. This fleeting touching might be something like touching a person’s back as you walk through a door, or touching his or her arm for emphasis.

8. Situation evocation. In situation evocation, we spark a response from people that reinforces a tendency we already have — for example, if I act irritable all the time, the people around me are probably going to treat me with less patience and helpfulness, which will, in turn, stoke my irritability. If I can manage to joke around, I’ll evoke a situation in which the people around me were more likely to joke around, too. In other words, I make my own weather.

As with many aspects of happiness, people often assume that friendship should flow easily and naturally, and that trying to “work” on it is forced and inauthentic. But in the bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to forget to take time for our real priorities. Since I’ve started trying to keep my happiness-project resolutions, I’ve found that my friendships have expanded and deepened. It’s worth the effort.

My Happiness

I have been following Gretchen Rubin’s blog, THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, for quite some time now. She is incredibly inspiring and offers great advice on a very regular basis. Gretchen believes that two of the most important activities that help bring happiness into your life is getting plenty of sleep and exercising on a daily basis. Here are her tips for incorporating exercise in your daily life.
11 tips for sticking to a schedule of regular exercise.

Exercise is a KEY to happiness. Research shows that people who exercise are healthier, more energetic, think more clearly, sleep better, and have delayed onset of dementia. They get relief from anxiety and mild depression, comparable to medication and therapy. They perform better at work.

Also, although it’s tempting to flop down on the couch when you’re feeling exhausted, exercise is actually a great way to boost energy levels. Feeling tired is a reason to exercise, not a reason to skip exercise.

But even when you admit that you’d feel better if you exercised, it can be very hard to adopt the habit. My idea of fun has always been to lie in bed, reading, preferably while also eating a snack – but I’ve managed to keep myself exercising by using all these tricks on myself:

1. Always exercise on Monday. This sets the psychological pattern for the week. Along the same lines…

2. If at all possible, exercise first thing in the morning. As the day wears on, you’ll find more excuses to skip exercising. Get it checked off your list, first thing.

3. Never skip exercising for two days in a row. You can skip a day, but the next day, you must exercise, no matter how inconvenient.

4. Give yourself credit for the smallest effort. My father always said that all he had to do was put on his running shoes and close the door behind him. Many times, by promising myself I could quit ten minues after I’d started, I got myself to start – and then found that I didn’t want to quit, after all.

5. Think about context. I thought I disliked weight-training, but in fact, I disliked the guys who hung out in the weight-training area. Are you distressed about the grubby showers in your gym? Do you try to run in the mornings, but recoil from going out in the cold? Examine the factors that might be discouraging you from exercising.

6. Exercise several times a week. If your idea of exercise is to join games of pick-up basketball, you should be playing practically every day. Twice a month isn’t enough.

7. If you don’t have time both to exercise and take a shower, find a way to exercise that doesn’t require you to shower afterward. Twice a week, I have a very challenging weight-training session, but the format I follow doesn’t make me sweat. (Some of you are saying, “It can’t be challenging if you don’t sweat!” Oh yes, believe me, it is.)

8. Look for affordable ways to make exercising more pleasant or satisfying. Could you upgrade to a nicer or more convenient gym? Buy yourself a new iPod? Work with a trainer? Get a pedometer to keep track of your walking distances? Exercise is a high life priority, so this a worthwhile place to spend some money if that helps.

9. Think of exercise as part of your essential preparation for times you want to be in especially fine form — whether in performance (to be sharp for an important presentation) or appearance (to look good for a wedding) or mood (to deal with a stressful situation). Studies show that exercise does help.

10. Remember one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood, courtesy of Voltaire: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t decide it’s only worth exercising if you can run five miles or if you can bike for an hour. I have a friend who scorns exercise unless she’s training for a marathon — so she never exercises. Even going for a ten-minute walk is worthwhile. Do what you can.

11. Don’t kid yourself. Belonging to a gym doesn’t mean you go to the gym. Having been in shape in high school or college doesn’t mean you’re in shape now. Saying that you don’t have time to exercise doesn’t make it true.


My sister is a writer. I am surrounded by writers because of my career. I read obsessively and come from a family of voracious readers. I have entertained thoughts of being a writer. But then fear creeps in. Fear of failure grabs hold of the jugular and doesn’t let go. The minute you make the daring decision to become a writer, the pleasure of reading may become a little bit more of a pressure. You will find yourself critiquing other writers, looking for themes, recognizing pace and beats and timing. You will deconstruct everything you read.  What once before had been an enjoyable story will now become a practice test, something to be studied, understood and learned from.

If I ever write that great American novel (I would even settle for good American novel), I would want it to be honest and real, true to my heart and authentic. These are the qualities that make up great fiction. But the problem is, these are usually the subjects that sit close to your heart, in that unmarked spot that when visited can bring a person to tears. Do I want to bring all of these emotions that already sit too close to the surface out into my writing? If I don’t aren’t I cheating myself from creating the strongest and most compelling work that I am capable of writing? They say that most author’s debut work is strongly autobiographical. Am I ready to explore those topics that can bring me to my knees? Where does the strength come from that can allow an author to explore that part of themselves that is most fragile and vulnerable? Someday I will tap into my own inner well and let the words flow like water straight from my heart. For now, I will champion the works of others and continue living the journey that can someday be explored on the page.

Pregnancy is the New Black

Angelina is pregnant with twins, Jessica Alba is glowing down every red carpet, Ashlee Simpson has finally come out of the closet with her pregnancy and Kelly Ripa is considering adding another baby to her bunch. The sleek and stylish are now adding new bumps to their fashion statements. More and more fashion-obsessed young women are finding that pregnancy can mean changing their wardrobe without losing their style. has just acquired and, two sites targeted to young mothers preoccupied with style and pop culture.

Editor Kim Gundy of CelebrityPregnancy said celebs in gestation draw “an entirely new fan base of expectants and mothers.”

“Women are obsessed with wanting to know everything about celebrity pregnancy,” she spouted. “Pregnancy is the new black!” The network purportedly draws 12 million unique visitors and 100 million page views per month.

Considering that less than two decades ago, pregnancy on television (and especially unwed pregnancy) was virtually a taboo, now it’s become the hot statement to make. Is this safe or are we promoting pregnancy as the new fashion accessory? Are we sending younger and younger girls into motherhood far too soon? Or is this a healthy way to celebrate the beauty of pregnancy and motherhood?

Demi Moore posed pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair before it was the “cool” thing to do. Now it seems famous people are celebrating their pregnancy with great fan fair, regardless of age, marital status or maturity. Pregnancy is an absolutely beautiful and amazing event, it should be celebrated. But is their a downside to its growing popularity?