A Peek Under The Covers …

unmade-bedI was a tween spending a quiet summer afternoon over my best friend Cathy’s house. Cathy’s mother was outside gardening, and we had the house temporarily to ourselves.

Taking advantage of the lull, Cathy led me into her parents bedroom on tiptoe. Cathy had discovered something top-secret in her mother’s lingerie drawer and wanted to show me. She didn’t tell me WHAT the something was which, of course, heightened the sense of danger in our covert mission.

Cathy opened her mother’s dresser drawer, pushed aside a few articles of clothing, and carefully pulled out a thick, paperback book titled, “The Joy of Sex.” She quickly flipped open the book and let me see the simple yet explicit illustrations of a man and a woman in various positions having sex.

Standing next to Cathy, I turned beet red from embarrassment as she turned the pages to reveal more and more pictures. And, yet despite my discomfort and mortal fear of being discovered, I was strangely fascinated by the content. A number of thoughts and questions raced through my mind. Why does that man in the pictures have a beard? Does this mean Cathy’s parents (and by extension MY parents) still have sex? How exactly do people get their bodies into those positions? How can that be comfortable?

This memory surfaced yesterday as I heard that the results from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. Researchers from Indiana University questioned almost 6,000 men and women between the ages of 14 and 94 about their sexual behaviors, patterns of condom use and the percentage of Americans participating in same-sex encounters.

One interesting “When Harry Met Sally” finding:

“Men and women also perceive each others’ level of arousal differently. Eighty-five percent of men reported that their partner experienced orgasm during their most recent sex event compared to only 64 percent of women who reported experiencing orgasm.”

If you decide to check out the findings, be advised that the link consists of a series of journal articles which are written from a scholarly viewpoint. But, if you’re like me and your curiosity exceeds your willingness to plow through lots of text, just search for the various tables to see a snapshot of the info.

Self-Righteousness: 1; Tolerance: 0

skunk-2I had my chance, and I blew it!

Remember how I wanted to try engaging people who had different viewpoints than my own (versus my current strategy of avoiding conflict at all costs?) “Tell me your story,” I was to ask them and then listen with genuine curiosity and without judgment.

I had a golden opportunity to use that approach over the weekend. But, after a few minutes, I grew too incensed to even THINK of building bridges over the political divide. I wanted to crush the other person and her condescending opinions with a vicious stomp, the kind you use to obliterate an old, forgotten sand castle.

Clearly, I need remedial training in Diversity 101.

We were having dinner with cousins from our extended family, and we were talking about the frightful weather from last winter – an innocuous enough topic, don’t you think? A female cousin (a lovely and personable woman who is my age) segued the conversation to politics by saying, “Too bad the weather wasn’t bad enough to drive Obama out of Washington.” The other people around us chuckled, and I just turned my head and gazed into the distance, waiting for the unwelcome turn of conversation to pass by.

This cousin (whom I like – did I mention that already?) then proceeded to talk about the “crazy” policies coming out of DC, and who would be “crazy enough” to vote for this guy again, and she can’t wait for the next election, and what was wrong with people who supported Obama, and he’s ruining the country and blah, blah, blah.

Picture me still staring off in the distance, taking a sip of my wine. Forgetting all good intentions to be open-minded when confronted with opposing viewpoints. I heard someone say in a low, cautious voice, “You know, Cousin, we have Democrats sitting around the table.”

“Who?” she demanded, looking around and inquiring about people at the other end of the table.

At which point, I’m in. All in.

“Actually, Cousin, I’m a Democrat,” I said, turning my head to focus my irritated gaze on her.

“What? You’re married to a lawyer. How can that be?” she responded. (Don’t even ask me what one has to do with the other.)

“Well, I am. Card-carrying as a matter of fact. And I’m a big fan of Obama,” I said still staring at her - almost daring her to continue her rant in front of me.

Her response? She began to pick up the empty plates and mutter something about helping to clean up. She left the table within 15 seconds. As did the other person sitting on the other side of me, who must have decided that was the ideal moment to help clean up, too.

I took another sip of wine and just sat there – alone at my end of the table. Who knew I could clear out a place so quickly?!?!

Although I was happy that Cousin’s diatribe was halted, what did I really accomplish with my squashing the conversation? How could I have handled this differently, Wise Women?

Yawn-Fest: Behind The Scenes

yawnI was driving my 15-year old to his afternoon orthodontist appointment last week, and he yawned throughout the ten-minute trip.

“Wow, am I tired,” he said.

“Tired?” I questioned incredulously. “What do you have to be tired about?!? You’ve lounged around all day.”

Jackson shrugged his shoulders. Perhaps giving me a full-sentence answer would have been too taxing.

Wouldn’t you know, I found myself yawning the rest of the trip, too. It was like dueling yawning. Jackson asked why yawns were so “contagious,” and I had to reply that I had no idea.

After a little research, I have only a slightly better idea.

According to Wikipedia, one hypothesis as to why we “sympathy” yawn is that the mirror neurons in our frontal cortex, the neurons that are behind our drive to imitate others (the same neurons that are behind are ability to acquire language at early ages), are activated and result in an imitative impulse to yawn.

Another evolution-related theory is that yawns serve to synchronize mood in animals, similar to the howl of a wolf pack. It signals tiredness to the group in order to synchronize sleep patterns and periods.

OK, those are possible explanations as to why we yawn when others do. But why do we yawn in the first place?

The most common theory is that we yawn when our blood contains increased amounts of carbon dioxide and we need the influx of oxygen that a yawn can provide. However, studies have disputed this notion. Another idea is that yawning is a way to control the temperature of the brain; yawning cools the brain. Yawning may also be caused by a desire to stretch one’s muscles, or be due to nervousness, or be a way to increase alertness.

So, the next time you see someone yawning, don’t get your nose out of joint like I did. Just think about the complexity behind the simple act of yawning and realize we really have no definitive idea why we yawn.

P.S. I yawned seven times during the writing of this post. Oops, there’s another one. Eight. How many times did you yawn while reading it?

Peeking Behind The Relationship Curtain

holding-handsI just learned this week that a friend from a former job (a person whom I hadn’t talked to in almost 10 years) had left the helping profession and started a small business in the construction industry — with her husband!

I’m not sure what shocked me more: the new career path or the fact that she spends close to 24/7 with her partner.

Actually, I do know – I can’t ever imagine working with my significant other. (And I know Wise Hubby can’t imagine it either.) Whenever I hear about such partnerships, it makes me curious about others’ relationships.

  • For couples who don’t work together, I wonder how often/long do they talk to each other on the phone during the work day?  (And is it bad that a five-minute call at the end of the day to coordinate evening plans is our norm?)
  • For couples that seem to get along great, I wonder, “Do they EVER fight?” And, if so, what’s that look like? Are they yellers? Cold-shoulder people? Or, are do they engage in “fair fighting” and trouble blows by quickly?
  • For couples that bicker, I question whether the back-and-forth is just their normal communication pattern that masks their deep love – or is it a sign that the relationship is crumbling? If there’s tension in public, is there more or less behind closed doors?

While my conversations with girlfriends may include mentions of our SO’s, rarely do we get to talking about the nitty-gritty of our relationships (perhaps in times of marital crisis).

Is this reluctance to pull back the relationship curtain a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. But, I’ll confess, I am curious about what goes down in other people’s relationships. What about you?

Wishing On A Starfish

starfishLast night I was cruising around the Internet to find something that would get my blogging juices flowing. Unfortunately, every item I clicked on was either a depressing news story or a sensationalistic account of something that isn’t newsworthy in the first place. (A controversy over basketball great Michael Jordan growing a Hitler mustache? Really?!?!)

Needing to center myself and remember that there’s good in the world if I only look in the right places, I went to Values.com to read a few inspiring quotes. This one in particular caught my eye.

“A little kindness from person to person is better than a vast love for all humankind.”

~ Richard Dehmel, (1863-1920); Poet, Playwright

The words made me recall a favorite story:

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”

Here’s to all you Wise Women whose kindness (big and small) makes a difference – one person at a time.

And for those of you who aren’t feeling overly kind this week (and, Lord knows, we’ve ALL had those days), I wish that some one’s small act of kindness brings a smile to your face and to your heart.

You Just Never Know …

Al-and-Tipper-GoreYou just never know what makes a marriage tick.

Or, makes a marriage tick for a while (say, 40 years) and then just stop ticking for no apparent reason.

You want to think that, with Tipper and Al Gore together for so long, the “work” of their marriage – work that’s needed for any lasting marriage/partnership – had become effortless and second-nature.

At what point did one or both of them decide the work was just too much? That the benefit did not outweigh the cost? What – short of a very public and humiliating scandal – could make people in a seemingly happy relationship just decide “no mas?”

Bottom line – you just never know … how long a relationship will last … whether that job (or company!) will still exist … how long that body will remain healthy.

I guess the real bottom line is enjoy everyone and everything in your life today, because you just never know …

Don’t Come Knockin’ When The Mini-Van’s Rockin’

porn-for-womenFemale Viagra – or Flibanserin – is on the near horizon. An FDA advisory committee meets in mid-June and will consider endorsing the little pink pill manufactured by a German pharmaceutical company.

Here’s the question: Is this latest development around women’s sexual health …

(a) Earth-shattering (so to speak) good news? Do you give it a Thumbs Up?

OR

(b) a marketing conspiracy to get us to buy yet another product in the never-ending quest to be sexy? Does it deserve a Thumbs Down?

P.S. Has anyone told the male executives that what really turns women on is “choreplay,” as featured above and in the book Porn for Women?!?!

A Human Pastime As Old As Time

biplaneCollege reunion season is upon us, and teaser “class notes” containing updates from former classmates show up in our mailbox. Clearly an effort to entice us to attend the reunion, I sometimes wonder if class notes have the opposite effect.

You see, I read the personal summaries submitted by other, incredibly talented alums and ask, “What do I have in common with these people anymore?” Or, on hormone-enriched days, I think, “How did my life get to be so boring when everyone else is clearly living in the more exciting, fast lane?!?”

I know that comparing one’s self to others is simply part of the human condition, almost a pastime for some. Freedictionary.com tells us that a pastime is “an activity that occupies one’s spare time pleasantly.” For me, the “comparison game” is not a pleasant activity and something I’m able to side step most of the time.

But, reunions (or weddings or graduations) have a way of sucking you into that black hole of comparing yourself to the other guy/gal.

Case in point – here’s an update from one classmate:

I definitely plan to attend the reunion, but in the meantime … it has been a great year! I climbed Kilimanjaro in January … traveled to Paris in July to work for the French government on the search for the black boxes from the Air France flight that crashed over the Atlantic Ocean … in September, I bought and flew home my second airplane, an experimental sport biplane (fully acrobatic!) … then shoulder surgery in December. See you all in June!

What do I say to this person when I bump into them at the reunion cocktail party (because I certainly would not seek them out)? “How was the view from the top of  that mountain you climbed?” … “Were you able to solve the airline mystery that’s baffled the world?” …”Any turbulence on the way to the U.S. as you piloted your own plane home?”

This post may come off as written by a whiny, insecure and PMSing Elaine. That may be true. (What’s also true is that I’m genuinely satisfied with my life 11.5 months out of the year.)

Yet, I’m genuinely perplexed about why we (cause I know I’m not alone in this) have a need to compare/contrast and find ourselves on the losing end. It’s true in the sandbox (“Hey – your bucket is bigger than mine. No fair!”); in school (“What’s your SAT score? Oh, mine? It’s 1600″); at work (“Why does Samantha get the bigger office when we both have the same job?”); and in retirement (“My little grandson is SO smart, he was elected president of his nursery school class.”) And don’t even get me started on how women compare/contrast about our appearances!!

Anyone else fall victim to the comparison game? Advice on how to get out of this lose-lose activity?

A Woman’s Secret to Longevity? Friendship.

make_female_friendsI was recently forwarded a landmark study conducted at UCLA about the magic of friendships among women and the amazing ability these friendships have on our ability to deal with stress.  While most studies on stress have focused on males, a handful of scientists through observation decided that women’s relationship with stress and how to deal with it is far different from that of the typical male – which led them into an in-depth study focused on women.  This study purports that women respond to stress with brain chemicals that propel us to make and/or maintain relationships with other women.  It’s a study that turns decades of stress related research upside down.

“Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible,” explains Laura Cousino Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Bio-behavioral Health at Penn State University and one of the study’s authors.  In women, the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the normal reaction to stress, which buffers the “fight or flight” response and instead encourages women to seek out other women or exert a greater focus on their children.  When these actions are undertaken, more oxytocin is released, which counters stress and produces a calming effect.

Interestingly enough, this same calming response does not occur in men.  As Dr. Klein says “testosterone, which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress, seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin.  Estrogen seems to enhance it.”  The discovery that women respond differently to stress started by a simple observation:  a woman under stress tends to seek out others, go have a cup of coffee, and discuss the problem.  Men, on the other hand, tend to go off on their own, and hole up behind a closed door.

Study after study shows that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart disease and cholesterol.  ”There’s no doubt,” says Dr. Klein, “that friends are helping us live.”  A well known Nurse’s Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends a woman had, the less likely she was to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be living a joyful life.  The results were so significant in fact that the researchers concluded that not having close friends was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

Our primary watch-out?  When our lives seem crazy, when we’re busy with life, work and tending to our families, it’s our friendships that get put on the back burner.  As one researcher states:  ”That’s really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other.  We nurture one another.  And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they’re with other women.  It’s a very healing experience.”

So if anything, be cognizant of the power of our dear friendships with other women, and continue to find the time and space to connect with those who are dear to you.  It’s a proven life saver!

It’s All About the Small Things…

fs_985330It’s the forties curse.  I remember when I had just turned 40, a slightly older friend told me that I would not pass through this decade without the probable loss of a parent.  An eerie predicition, and I am sad to say, my wonderful mother passed away unexpectedly on January 28th.  While her health and ability to enjoy the simple pleasures in life were on the decline, her voice was still strong and cheerful on the other end of the phone line.  How awful to lose someone so dear, and to suppress the pain, I find myself rationalizing her passing:

  • She lived a full 75 years – touching and shaping many lives, full of smiles and wonderful experiences
  • Despite declining health, she had no pain and was quickly taken away from us in a peaceful passing; we were truly lucky to not witness suffering or the loss of independence that a nursing home would have subjected her to down the road
  • I feel grateful that she celebrated momentous milestones in her life – the marriage to a wonderful, “always fun around the corner” type husband, the birth of two daughters and six grandchildren, and the celebration of 50 years of marriage.

While she will be sorely missed, I am so grateful she lived a long, meaningful and giving life. Her posititive and loving imprint is on all of us that she knew.  In reflection, as a mother, it makes you think about what it is that your children will remember about you – what are the most meaningful imprints you can impart?

I find the imprints of the fabric my mother wove for me are comprised of many of the small things in life – whether it is the late night snacks of anchovies on butter and saltine crackers (yes, weird I know), her bravery to take teenage girls abroad on extended travel (I would never have the guts to do so), her ability to make everything so nice with her special little touches (even down to the way she folded the bath towels), making me steak and egg breakfasts on the days of my swim meets, the monthly package of newspaper clippings from our hometown paper that she sent my sister and I to keep us informed of local news and happenings after we left home, her meticulous way of writing thank you notes, mentioning every gift, how much she liked it, and how she was using it.

These memories are just the tip of the iceberg of the many small things that you can almost take for granted when they are happening, but upon reflection you realize that it’s the small things that make the big lasting imprint and tell the greatest story of love and caring.

Here’s to Nancy Garfield Rice – one truly fantastic lady.

Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King, Jr

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