Monday, August 31, 2009


When I was a little girl, I remember negotiating with the universe for rainbows. I loved rainbows - a sign of hope, a beautiful display of colors, an unexpected gift after tumultuous storms. I bargained with the gods (Jesus/Allah/Yahweh/Ganesha/Anthony Bourdain, etc.) that if he/she/they gave me a rainbow, I would sacrifice the ultimate and clean my room. As was the case with negotiations with my parents, sometimes I got my way, sometimes not so much.

Wishing is a powerful tool for us, even beyond youth. In some ways, it is the bouncer standing at the door of our most exclusive dreams. Candidly, I'm a huge fan. Wishing brought Dorothy to Oz, and then brought her back, and who would not want that flexibility in travels.

Yet, it is surprising what we bargain for. Regardless of your religion or lackthereof, everyone invariably encounters moments in life where they find themselves negotiating with God, logic, the Universe (you can select more than one response in this blogger's world.) What are we asking for? What do we get? Questions and answers range from as shallow as a one night stand in college to as deep as a 60 year long love affair (Hi, Grandma and Grandpa!)

Many years, many science classes later, I must admit that rainbows are not the first things I would ask for divine or universal intervention on, at the end of the day. Their replacement, ironically, is not so far away from the general concept of a rainbow. Peace. I wish for peace in my life, peace in the the lives of loved ones, peace in the world. Putting your priorities in order should be your number one priority. Once you do that, well, feel free to make a wish.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Losing Your Way on the Ride to a Fabulous Life

Recently, a friend called to tell me he had made a mistake in choosing his current job role. In the same week, a female friend of many years shared a multiple-martini conversation about how she felt unhappy and unsure of her relationship of many years, despite being on the cusp of signing a mortgage with her partner. Another friend discussed frustration with her current job situation but feels trapped due to economic conditions. The brown spots on the banana of life continue to reveal themselves to us, ironically without a knife handy to slice them off.

Yogis repeat a common mantra from Sanskrit: "Satnam." It translates (generally) to "Truth is My Identity." What that means for each individual of practice is different, as truth is, well, a matter of perspective. Basically, what you feel, what you do, what you believe - these are the important factors that define you, which you might find, at some point, find to be in direct opposition to your current career path, lover of choice, or lifestyle. Satnam is a respite, a way for a person to vacation from the perfectionist tendencies, 3-5 year plans, or pressured obligations from those we love. It is, in essence, a "Get Real" moment of Yogic practice that can be incorporated into even the most Capitalist, Ambitionist, Western sort of lifestyle.

Sometimes, I have found myself reading novels, quickly anticipating the ending, or how I would expect the novel and its characters to reveal themselves. When they fail to follow the course I have charted, I have found myself less impressed, but more disappointed. Why, oh why, would the author have deviated down a path I never saw. I am educated, a critical reader, and emotionally intelligent. It seems counter intuitive - should not I, as a Westerner, so immersed in that which follows the formulaic course, revel in the art of surprise or deviation from the norm?

The truth is more basist than I'd like to admit. We like to control. Actually, we thrive on control, on the art of feeling like we are gods of our own lives, masters of our own universes. Rather than delight in a large surprise or unexpected turn of events, it makes us uncomfortable, irritable, dismissive of new pathways. We feel that our internal GPS has led us astray.

Yet, the truth of our lives is defined solely by us. A literary hero of mine, Salman Rushdie, recently spoke of memory and its importance to our lives. To grossly paraphrase, we recall things, not as they were, but as we choose to recall them, making history a scrapbook fuzzy photos and clever annotations, but not ever really a scientific book of truth. Yet, and yet, that is as it should be. Everyone, especially during difficult times (economic or otherwise), will eventually airbrush the experience to a Sophia Patrillo, "Picture this, Sicily, 1925..." type of story.

Regardless of the degree that you feel you have veered off-course, reconnecting with yourself can be the best way to re-navigate the path of life. Take a breath, take a moment, take all the time you need, in fact, because we have only one life, and, as it happens, it is an open road.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Art of Negotiation

The economy continues to struggle, and the cost of items of need continues to feel overwhelming and more than you can afford (forget the items of desire, which feel about as attainable as the Powerball winning ticket numbers these days.) The good news is that the economy continues to be friendly to the spirit of negotiating, finding a way to access products and services of need (well, and sometimes those of desire), even if you are a neophyte at the art of negotiation. Remember a simple acronym, and you will find yourself as compelling as an attorney for AIG in the art of negotiation, saving yourself much more than A BUCK.

1. Always Ask: Deals are not always published to the masses, and often times you can save the most money just speaking with someone one on one. Recently, on a shopping trip, I left a store with 8 deluxe samples of cosmetics, having made zero purchases, just by chatting with the sales associate, engaging in a knowledge-seeking conversation, and developing a vendor-client relationship that will continue to pay off for both the associate and I. Though this example is small, the same principle applies to your auto insurance provider, your credit card or bank of choice, and so forth.

2. Be Decent. For many years, I worked in a customer-service capacity. When I served as a Pharmacy Technician, and people were less than civil to me because of the cost of their drugs (not that they did not have a right to be infuriated regarding the cost of prescription meds, but that is a theme for a different entry), I closed down and was less inclined to go above and beyond to help them. As egalitarian as we all like to think we are, occasionally our human sides take over. If you are on the consumer front, recognize that there is an actual person on the other side of the negotiating table, and both parties are better served by decency in dealings.

3. Understand the Party You are Negotiating With. As an extension of #2, empathy is an imperative component in the art of negotiation. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are bargaining with. What do they really want from you? What is the best case scenario, from their perspective? What is the worst? Most importantly, what agreement could be reached that they would view as symbiotic, where perhaps you would feel you had the upper hand or walked away with more than you expected.

4. Culpa in Contrahendo. Latin for "obligations in negotiations," this expression implies a need for care in negotiations. You do not want to be a swindler. You do not want to be a person who isn't fair, or the person who play Bernie Madoff to the person on the other side of the negotiating table. Put aside the morality of this position, my House-ian friends. Logic and rational thinking should guide you to the same path. The world is small, your reputation matters...if you have learned nothing from this season's Gossip Girl*, you should have learned that.

5. Know thy Ally (if you are bargaining with enemies, you haven't been paying attention or you nominated yourself the new Secretary of State). If you lack skill in the art of empathy, as, not to mention names, some of us do (ahem, like a couple of superficial exes of my...friends), you may find this skill will develop further if you spend more time in conversation with the party you are negotiating with. A few weekends ago, a telemarketer called me, and before we both knew it, we were discussing our dating histories and she was offering me a smartphone cell package 50% lower than she was allowed (I know this to be true because I checked online...four times.) Spend time getting to know the people you are negotiating with, pay attention to their names, ask how their day has been going and MEAN IT! You think they like spending Saturday afternoon haggling with strangers?

*Note: The author of this blog entry does NOT profess to watch Gossip Girl, but has watched several episodes...enough to deduce the analogy holds true. However, if loyal fans rebel, the author will gladly substitute Sex and the City, Dallas, or Sesame Street (hello?! what if people referred to your surname as "the Grouch.")

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ten Wines Under Ten Dollars

Recently, I shared a bottle of champagne with a generous friend...generous, because the bottle cost about $350, and while it was delicious, I would probably have been just as content with a glass of my favorite Prosecco. Before you take out a small loan in order to buy your next bottle of vino, try out a few of my favorite wines around $10 a piece. Oh, and of course, drink responsibly.


1. Santa Christina, Sangiovese, Tuscany.

2. Alamo, Malbec, Argentina.

3. Menage a Trois, Red, California.

4. 14 Hands, Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington

5. Harrow Road, Cabernet Sauvignon, California.


6. Little Penguin, Chardonnay, New Zealand.

7. Fat Bastard, Chardonnay, France.

8. Firestone Sauvignon Blanc, California.

9. Smoking Loon, Chardonnay, California.


10. Riondo Prosecco, Italy.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

10 (Free or Cheap) Paths to Zen

Life can be tough. Finding that proverbial work-life balance seems less likely for you than the US Government finding Osama Bin Laden. Plus, dealing with "Empty-Pocket Syndrome" only makes it worse. For your consideration, Recessionista, here are 10 ways to find a little peace in your life without spending the money to hire on a personal guru. Enjoy!

1. Write an Open, Honest, Seething Letter to Your Ex. Go ahead, say all of the horrible things you wanted to say face to face but never did. Use as many four letter words as you like. Bring up issues you had "forgiven" him or her for. Bring up the issues you never made into issues. You even can have carte blanche to go below the belt and tell him/her that you have never smelled feet so stinky. Once you sign off the letter with "Have a nice life," count to ten, and tear the letter to shreds. Exorcism complete. Repeat as desired.

2. Call in to the Local Radio and Request A Song Dedicated to You. Because you deserve it - you are fabulous! Who needs to wait for a romantic gesture to come from someone else, you owe it to you to romance yourself a bit! Caveat: You might want to stay away from requesting tunes such as "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera, the musical equivalent of a self-help book.

3. Turn Off Everything. Power-off your iPhones and Blackberries. Shutdown you laptops. Turn off the television, the DVD player, and the stereo. Turn off your lights (light a candle before you do this, of course.) Now, sit. Ignore the immediate wave of panic that comes with device separation. Think and breathe. Notice and be aware of where your mind travels to. Okay, your time out is can now turn House, M.D.back on.

4. Create Your Own Cocktail and Name it After Yourself. I have had the good fortune to have a Master Mixologist in New York City, Mark Noonan., create a cocktail and name it in my honor (and, personal bias aside, it is AMAZING!) If you have neither the geographical nor financial means to find yourself in similar good fortune, fear not! Put your amateur mixologist hat on and stir away. Bonus: No judgement if the "Amy X" cocktail consists of Vitamin Water and Vodka; it's your signature, after all.

5. Take 48 hrs. to Detox from the News. No CNN, no NY Times, no Drudge Report. Give yourself a break from taking the weight of the world on your shoulders and spend the time catching up with news of equal importance - the news of your friends, family, and acquaintances.

6. Listen to the Dustiest CD in your Collection. Hey, you bought it for a reason. While the thought of listening to Don Henley's Greatest Hits might evoke an initial wave of nausea, one round of "The Boys of Summer" will bring you back to brighter times.

7. Take a Picture. Regardless of your location, the camera forces you to see the world (literally and figuratively) through a different lens. Take an afternoon, pretend you are Annie Leibovitz, and start shooting. You might be surprised at what you start to see around you.

8. Schedule One Hour of "Me Time" per Day. Whether you devote the time to knitting, skateboarding, or playing on your Wii, it is important to spend time with and for yourself. (Note: this should also involve powering down the iPhones and Blackberries. You don't want to be a rude date to yourself.)

9. Start a Gratitude Diary. I have recommended this before, but it is worth reinforcing because often times we forget how lucky we truly are. Pick three things daily to document, and you will soon discover how blessed you really are.

10. Find a Mantra. It does not need to be something from Sanskrit, but rather choose a phrase, quote, or expression to repeat to yourself when stress finds you. One of my favorites is "I can always move back in with my parents." I'm sure you will find yours. Namaste.