Tuesday, July 21, 2015

10 Life Lessons I've Learned from the Real Housewives

Ahhhhh, The Real Housewives. Watching them are among my most shameful guilty pleasures. But hey, I'm not the only one. Julia Roberts, Anderson Cooper and Brad Pitt are fans. And for all I know, Jane Goodall, Mike Huckabee, Hillary Clinton and the Pope himself are closet watchers. It's hard to say, because most people who watch aren't as brave as me by admitting they're fans. They keep it to themselves.

The creator, Andy Cohen says that watching their antics should earn us college credits in psychology, sociology and human behavior. I completely agree, and after months and months of donning my lab coat and taking feverish notes, I've learned some things.

Let's just call them "cautionary tales..."

                                   1) When in a conflict, shut your mouth for 
                                             once and listen to the other person

                Ramona: "You're not listening to me!" 
             Sonja: "YOU'RE not listening to ME!" 
  Both break down crying. 

This scenario happens every week amongst the housewives.  These ladies spend a lot of time talking and expressing their feelings. Only problem is, they're not so big on listening to someone else's long, drawn out problems. Hey, they're busy ladies! They don't have hours to just sit and listen. They have a massage they need to get to, and that blowout party to prepare for.  

                                                            2) Don't be a "firestarter"

The Countess Luann loves spreading that piece of juicy gossip

Gossip is fun. I get it. It makes us feel instantly better about ourselves in two ways: a) talking about other people's embarrassing foibles diverts attention away from our own faults; and b) people love it when you share that tantalizing tidbit about someone else.  By having access to the secret information, it makes you look like you're "in the know." It's interesting. It's slightly scandalous. It's something other than the boring daily grind of kids, jobs, work. 

But some of the Housewives turn it into a high art form -- they're the firestarters. They love the power of lighting that match and watching the fire spread. 

Look, some spiritual leaders actually say that gossip, rendered fairly and in limited doses, can actually be spiritual -- because we can learn from other people's pain or failures. 

But to not pass on the tasty morsel takes character. It takes self-control, self-esteem and compassion for the subject of the gossip. These are traits that are in short supply in many of these women. But they ignore this at their peril, because one of the painful side effects of being a chronic firestarter is eventually nobody trusts you anymore. And who wants that?

                                               3) Don't live beyond your means

In a painful moment on the show, Real Housewife Lynn's teenage daughter receives family eviction papers on national television

 Oy vey, over the years many, many of these women have gone bankrupt and lost their mansions, which it turns out were way, way beyond their means. Of course, living the "simple life" is not exactly conducive to $100,000 shopping sprees and vacation mansions in East Hampton. And I'm sure living that jet-setting lifestyle is intoxicating and even kick-ass fun a lot of the time. But to get to their top tier world -- and to stay in it -- requires a certain style. Expensive style. And once you're up there on the tightrope, the view is grand, and most people don't want to go back down to be with us minions. So they take out second and third mortgages. They keep up appearances. Until it all inevitably comes crashing down.

                                     4) Crying "I was just being honest!" after saying 
                                          something impossibly cruel is not an excuse

Ramona is prone to saying things like: "I've got hundreds of friends, and you don't have any!" She tends say these things after several glasses of her favorite, Pinot Grigio.

And then, when called on her cruelty, she throws up her hands defensively and says: "I was just being honest!"  Sigh. Really? Lordy -- don't they teach basic manners in boarding school anymore? 

                                                          5) Don't be a 'record keeper' 

The Beverly Hills housewives say: "Who did what to whom again? Who am I supposed to be mad at? Whose side am I on in this one? I can't keep it straight..."

Lordy, these ladies are notorious record keepers. Sometimes it feels like during the rare times they actually listen to one another speak, they've got their feelers out for something -- anything -- to take personally. What follows is weeks and weeks of righteous indignation on steroids. 

What's missing here is basic, simple communication. Things like "Think before you speak." Or fixing miscommunications in the early stages. These ladies really seem to get off on the drama. 

It's almost as if, since they have few "regular problems," being as rich and famous as they are, that they have to create drama where none need exist. It's really frustrating to watch, and it's gotta be exhausting. 

                                            6) When you've wronged someone, 
                            take ownership of it right away and sincerely apologize

"I called her to apologize, but SHE wouldn't apologize for what SHE said!"

This is another common scenario amongst these ladies: Housewife #1 says something slightly mean to Housewife #2; Housewife #2 is shocked and offended, stomps off and proceeds to gossip all over town about "what SHE said." Housewife #1 is now upset that housewife #2 was so oversensitive and told everybody about the kerfuffle. Housewife #1 calls #2 to try to fix the problem. Housewife #2 is happy that Housewife #1 is finally going to apologise. But Housewife #1 says: "I don't have anything to apologize for -- I was expecting YOU to apologize!" More tears, more ridiculous drama about nothing, more gossiping to everyone about how each felt she was wronged.

I swear, sometimes you need charts and graphs to keep all of the stupid miscommunications that were blown up unnecessarily, spreading collateral damage far and wide -- and all happening at once.

It's such a pathetic waste of energy. 

                                           7) Learn what "age appropriate" dress means

Vicki, the self-crowned Queen of Coto de Caza, Orange County

New Jersey housewife Theresa showing questionable taste in this outfit. By the way, she got thrown into the slammer for tax evasion (again, living beyond her means), and I'm assuming her outfits are a bit more modest now (in jail). 

                                     8) Don't constantly correct others and tell them 
                                                how they should live their lives

Orange County housewife Heather has a great life. She's smart, beautiful, has a rich plastic surgeon husband and two lovely kids. But she's VEEEEERY self-satisfied, and she tends to point her finger across the table and say very intensely: "You need to do (fill in the blank." She may very well be right. But that's not the point. 

Wise teachers point out that unsolicited advice can sometimes be interpreted as an act of aggression. 

This is an issue that can be a problem for me as well. I just want to "help" so I can tend to hand out advice when none was requested. I'm working on it.

One more thing about Heather: she and her husband are building a dozens-of-millions-of-dollars custom mansion overlooking the ocean in Newport Coast. It will have 15 bathrooms. FIFTEEN BATHROOMS. 

Um, OK, hope everything turns out for you lovebirds, Heather (see #3 above).

                                                              9) Be good to the help

The pampered, rich housewife says to the exhausted, overworked Mexican immigrant woman giving her the massage: "You have NO idea how much I need this..." 

Oh, Lord.  Needless to say, the exhausted, overworked Mexican immigrant woman giving the massage has never RECEIVED a massage in her life -- and she has little hope of ever receiving one. 

And we don't really need to say which woman REALLY needs a good massage, now, do we?

I've actually seen a couple of the housewives say the exact same thing to a different exhausted, overworked Mexican immigrant woman lovingly giving her the massage. There are no words to describe how inappropriate, laughable, insensitive and just classless this is. Ladies, if you're lucky enough to be in the position to receive a luxurious massage from a hard working member of the working classes, just shut your trap, count your blessings and give her a gigantic tip. 

                                        10) If you want a long, happy marriage,
                                                        don't go on a reality show

OC housewife Tamra and her (now ex) husband Simon 

          These two actually seemed pretty happy when they first joined the cast. They seemed truly in love. But Simon, introverted by nature, was never comfortable with the cameras. Two years later, we actually saw the moment when the marriage ended with a flurry of curse words in the back of a limo. It was quite sad.

Which leads me to the saddest story of all: Bethenny and Jason.  Bethenny Frankel is a strong personality but she let her guard down and fell in love with Jason -- a good man. They married on TV, had a baby on TV, built their new life together on TV.

Jason supports Bethenny after she gave birth. A sweet, tender moment...but it IS on TV.

Their divorce only 2 years later was catastrophic and humiliating for Bethenny. And there have been countless other divorces on the show.

It's not rocket science. 

Sharing your life? Good.

Oversharing at the expense of privacy and your marriage, seeking fame and fortune ABOVE the dignity of your family relationship? Not so good.

Marriage is hard enough if you're just one of the regular people.

So, I admit it...as long as Bravo continues to lift the curtain and let us peek into the living rooms of people who willingly let us in with a smile -- I don't have the willpower NOT to watch.

Having said that, I don't think anyone should air all of their dirty laundry in this way. 

It's not healthy. 

But how can I NOT tune in, if they're willing to do it?

 As long as they're lifting the veil, I'll be watching.

But I still hope for a happy ending for all of them. 

Maybe they'll trip upon this list and heed my advice...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

20 Famous Women Aging Gracefully



Well, we're all getting older, aren't we? Even if you're still young, trust me -- even YOU are aging, just a little bit, every hour of every day. Now that I'm "of a certain age" I'm looking to women who have blazed  the silver trail ahead of me to be my example...both how to age gracefully...and sadly, sometimes as cautionary tales.

What's considered "normal" aging is constantly changing. 

In 1969, Anne Bancroft played the notorious older woman Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. She was a whopping 39 years old at the time.  Wow! Times, they are a changing' fast.

It's pretty confusing sometimes. What's appropriate behavior for older women? What's appropriate dress? 

Oh, Madonna. You look great, but...please...the words "age" and "appropriate" are evidently not in Madonna's vocabulary at all, let alone used together in the same sentence.

So, if not Madonna, who can we look to for guidance on how to maneuver this minefield?

 Here is my list, in order, of the 20 most beautiful famous women aging gracefully.  We know that they all watch what they eat, limit smoking and alcohol, take care of their skin and exercise. They probably get massages and maybe get facials and skin treatments. What they don't do is have too much botox or plastic surgery, and they don't try to look 25. 

But, there's something deeper. What is it? Watch and learn, ladies. Watch and learn...

20) Billie Jean King, tennis player, age 71

Billie Jean says: "Keep learning. Keep learning how to learn. Stay curious. Be resilient and engaged in life. Keep moving, or it's over. Reinvent yourself on a regular basis."

When I worked in an office, I was amazed how many of my colleagues just sat at their desks and never moved, practically all day. Of course, these ladies were also overweight, depressed and aging prematurely. What I did to prevent this was drink large amounts of water, tea and coffee, which necessitated me to get up and walk (you know where) every 30 minutes or so. Whatever works, baby! 

Billie Jean says: "The main thing is to care. Care very hard, even if it is just a game you are playing." 

19) Kathy Bates, actress, age 67

Kathy's health tip: "I cut Cokes out of my life. It's so easy to reach for one 
for the sugar, but I cut it out."

Her humility and lack of guile is what impresses me. When she showed her zaftig body, full frontal! -- in the movie About Schmidt -- without shame -- well, I was floored. To be so comfortable in ones own skin is, I think, a crucial aspect of aging gracefully.

Kathy doing what I would never -- could never -- do.

                                                    18) Martha Stewart, lifestyle icon, age 73

I used to think Martha was your typical Connecticut snob (and maybe she was) but she really impressed me when she handled the whole prison thing with so much grace. I think jail humbled her. Which, in turn, made her stronger. 

Martha's anti-aging tips: "Healthy living is an ongoing, ever-evolving project. If you try to overhaul too many aspects of your life at once, you'll find yourself overwhelmed. Instead, pick one small, healthy habit to start practicing today, whether it's drinking more water, walking at lunchtime or attending a weekly yoga class. My favorite workout is lifting weights. I like feeling strong."

17) Annie Liebowitz, photographer, age 65

Annie says: "There's something beautiful about not being in control all the time." She stays youthful and vibrant by using her lens to see the beauty and meaning in the world around her. And, oh yeah, she had a baby at age 51. 

I think the act of being a photographer (taking pictures of OTHERS -- not selfies!) is a great way to stay young and to keep perspective. It keeps the emphasis on others and the world around us rather than ourselves.

16) Annie Lennox, singer,  age 60

Annie says: "You've really got to have your wits about you. You have to be grounded. I don't aim to be perfect -- an 'icon.' I'm a human being. That's the most important thing."

She also says: "I go out of my way to avoid shopping crowds and extreme consumerism. I hate all that." 

15) Jane Goodall, anthropologist, age 81

Not surprisingly, the modest and humble Ms. Goodall does not talk about herself much in interviews. She's much more likely to use the microphone to promote environmentalism, conservation, respect for all life, etc. She has shared some spiritual wisdom, though.

About trees: "The two things I've learned from observing trees are patience and endurance."

On observing nature: "I always try to see the trees outside in any room that I am in, even if it means rearranging the furniture or sitting on the floor. There are always little snippets of nature to watch -- starlings playing in the wind, sparrows seizing crumbs. Even in the inner city, little plants push up bravely through little cracks in walkways or walls."

I've experienced this phenomenon myself. If I'm troubled, I've noticed that if I get out of myself and look UP, look around, take a deep breath and see that despite my trouble, the world continues to spin. The sun rises and falls. Somehow this eases my self-centered unease and helps me to shake off whatever is bothering me at the time, and become one with the earths continuing rhythms. 

14) Rosie Perez, actress, age 50

Rosie is especially inspiring because she was a foster child in Brooklyn and was mostly raised by nuns. Rosie says: "If we can't look at the good, bad and the ugly of who we really are, we are never going to progress as people -- ever."

13) Ellen DeGeneres, comedienne, age 57

Ellen on aging: "I don't pay attention to the number of birthdays. It's weird when I say I'm 57. It's just crazy that I'm 57. I feel like a kid!"

12) Jamie Lee Curtis, actress, age 56

Jamie Lee says: "We are all going to age and soften and mellow and transition. All of us, if we are lucky enough to make it through this hard life and into older adulthood. We are in the chain of our ancestors, like it or not. These are truths to be celebrated, and in other countries they are. The term "older and wiser" is actually in play in the world, everywhere but here."

11) Sharon Stone, actress, age 57

Sharon says: "Sometimes I literally have to force myself to sit down and look at myself in the mirror and say: 'You are a lot older, and you don't look the same as you did 30 years ago.' 
You can't keep on doing the same hair and makeup and dress the same as you did back then. You have to face the face that you have."

So I guess we can assume we won't see Sharon doing anything like THIS again:

Oh, dear...

10) Rita Moreno, actress, dancer, age 83

Rita says: "I do a lot of walking, every day.  The greatest lesson I ever learned is you don't die from not being liked. You have to be able to get back up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward. I'm a very happy person -- I'm jolly by nature."

9) Whoopie Goldberg, comedienne, age 59 

Whoopi says: "Listen, the best advice on aging is this: what's the alternative? The alternative, of course, is death. So I'm happy to deal with aging. I'll take it."

8) Betty White, actress, age 93

Betty advises: "Don't try to be young. Just open your mind. Stay interested in stuff. There are so many things I won't live long enough to find out about, but I'm still curious about them."

Betty's #1 beauty tip: "Get eight hours of sleep a night. Nine if you're ugly."

7) Diane Keaton, actress, age 69

Diane says: "Being over 50 humbles us. Life expands and we see the larger picture. It helps to be engaged and curious. Laughter is the best medicine." 

And if all else fails... 

"Well, la, di, da. Laaa diiiii da." 

6) Diane Sawyer, journalist, age 69

Diane says: "The one lesson I learned in life is there is no substitute for paying attention. I've always found a cure for the blues is wandering into something unknown, and resting there, before coming back to whatever weight you were carrying." 

5) Dara Torres, swimmer, age 48

When asked if it freaks her out that she's the oldest Olympic swimmer ever, she says: "Oh, no. It's an honor." 

In my current work as a camp nurse up here in the mountains, I'm often the oldest staff member. Like Dara, this doesn't depress me. It inspires me. Being around healthy, optimistic young people is a gift -- a privilege. They keep me young, and hopefully on occasion a bit of my hard earned wisdom might rub off on them. 

She also says: "I love challenges, and I love to have fun." 

4) Oprah Winfrey, lifestyle icon, age 61

Oprah says: "You CAN have it all. Just not all at once." 

What impresses me about Oprah is she's really gone through some humiliating weight yo-yo's under the glare of the public eye, yet she never gives up. She is willing to laugh at herself (or WITH herself), dust herself off and try again. She is committed to help to make the world a better place via her magazine and her amazingly inspirational and beautiful TV programs like Super Soul Sunday. 

Oprah also says: "Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher." And: "The right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it."

3) Halle Berry, actress, age 48

This beauty rubs pure Vitamin C onto her face before applying moisturizer, so...(CRASH! That's the sound of me dropping the laptop, jumping into the car, speeding to Whole foods to buy a giant jug of pure Vitamin C oil)...OK, I'm back. 

I'll have what she's having, is all I can say. 

2) Cheryl Crowe, musician, age 53

Cheryl says: "I don't spend a lot of time looking in the mirror.
 So, as far as I know, I look 24, which is how I feel." She adds: "I don't spend a lot of time thinking about regrets because there's nothing I can do about them."

1) Meryl Streep, actress,  age 66

Meryl, like most of the women on this list, exercises (she swims up to a mile 2-3 times a week), watches what she eats (mostly organic) and takes care of her skin. "At awards shows I get free creams in the gift bags and I usually just slather on one of those until it's gone," she says. 

"It is well that the earth is round and we can't see too far ahead," Meryl points out. But then she says: "It's impossible to be spoiled if you do your own ironing," and finally she admits that despite all of her success: "I'm all over the place."

What sets all of these women apart, I think, is their sense of joy and humility.  They make music and they dance and laugh and they never give up on love, or life. Their beauty goes way beyond skin deep. The most inspirational thing about all of this is you and I can age beautifully, no matter what we LOOK like. 

True beauty really does come from within. And that's something we can all aim for.