Self-Help Only Gets You So Far

Old Books_Hodgkin

In the years after my mother passed, my father never spoke of her death. Instead, he often gave me and my sister (14 and 16 at the time) self-help books for our birthday and Christmas presents. Titles included The Courage to Be Yourself: A Woman’s Guide to Growing Beyond Emotional Dependence, and See Jane Win: The Rimm Report on How 1,000 Girls Became Successful Women. I read all of them, along with How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Road Less Traveled, and countless others from this genre, which lined my father’s bookshelves, and he avidly read himself.

I read and absorbed the books, but mistook my father’s silence for a lack of understanding. Only years later did I realize that my father keenly observed and understood the struggles my sister and I faced as motherless teenagers, but he couldn’t speak to us directly about them. My father has always been painfully silent man, rarely communicating about the small details of our daily lives, let alone the overwhelming pain that created a huge chasm in our family. Instead, he relied on the wisdom of self-help authors to solve our problems for us. More–

“Alison, Rachel, Nicole, Elizabeth…”
First love and first loss

Turkey-Pond_Andrew Wyeth

Remember how exciting it was, when you were a kid, to like someone - like like them, that is – and find out that they liked you back? Steph and I have been talking a lot about podcasts ever since doing our last one, and one of the topics we both wanted to address was love. In this episode, I interview someone very close to me about it – my husband, Tim. Tim can remember the names all the girls he had crushes on, going grade by grade, from 1st to 12th. I wanted to know more about his memories of first crushes, and first love. When does infatuation turn in to love? What does love feel like? How does it change as you get older?

In talking about these topics over a series of conversations, though, we found ourselves drifting in to discussion about Tim’s mom, Jamien. Jamien, with whom Tim had a difficult relationship, died of breast cancer when he was 17 and she was 48. About a year after she died, Tim fell in love for the first time. Three years later, as he coped with the break up of this first real relationship, Tim realized that feelings he’d suppressed about his mom’s death were coming back to him powerfully. “It felt like going through mom’s death again, only way worse this time.”


Happiness Takes Work (Are you doing it?)

morning-sunWe treat happiness as passive, something that comes when we are lucky, that is somewhat out of our control.  We talk about “being” happy, not feeling it. Is this truly how happiness works? According to Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of positive psychology at UC Riverside, maybe not. In an interview with Dan Ariely, Lyubomirsky said “It takes ‘work’ to be happier.”

While we don’t have total control over how happy we are, we can influence a notable portion of it. Lyubomirsky explains that our happiness- that is, how happy we feel day-to-day- is 50% genetic, 10% determined by our life circumstances (these are both outside our immediate influence), and 40% our behavior and daily activities (which we do have control over). More–

Courage and Insecurity as a Professional Female Chef

Michele Urvater in the kitchen

I’ve always considered myself a shy and retiring person. I’m a rule follower, unobtrusive, hate to make a nuisance. I never considered myself successful or expert in anything. I just turned 68, though, and as I look back on my career as a professional chef and author, I can finally see all the things that I’ve accomplished, and I’m shocked and impressed when I think of the ways my ambition motivated me and made me courageous.

I’ve loved food – and eating – ever since I was a little girl. I spent much of my childhood in Antwerp. The most vivid early memory of food is not what I ate at home but when my uncle took my family out to dinner at a 3 star restaurant. I was 9 or 10 and I remember I had hare (rabbit) with two sauces: one cream and one dark; cranberries and a puree of chestnuts; a typical (then) fall menu. As a young woman I moved to New York and started cooking for myself, trying to replicate the food of my childhood. I was working as a school librarian, but I dreamt of a life in the kitchen.