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Featured in Grand Rapids Magazine, August 2014

Helping Widows Cope-

Kristin Meekhof was 33 when her husband, Roy, died in 2007, eight weeks after his diagnosis of cancer.

She expected the grief and the loneliness. But the young widow wasn’t prepared for the huge medical bills that began arriving shortly after the funeral.

“Even though we had the Cadillac of insurance policies, I had to appeal items that were denied,” said Meekhof, a Grand Rapids native now living in Oakland County.

“At one point I was told I couldn’t do something without my husband’s signature. It was very overwhelming.”

The worst part was the constant reminder of Roy’s illness.

“The documents force you to relive each procedure.”

Realizing other widows face the same issues, Meekhof decided to write “Just Widowed,” a book offering women practical advice as well as hope and inspiration.

“Women can learn from each other. Loss of a spouse is not the end of their lives.”

The project started very grass roots, explained Meekhof, a licensed social worker who majored in psychology at Kalamazoo College and completed the clinical Master in Social Work program at University of Michigan.

She reached out through social media and wrote about her own experience in a blog for The Huffington Post.

“People, not just widows, connected with it and wrote to me, she said. They said they found it helpful.”

As Meekhof interviewed dozens of widows, she learned that finances often were the No.1 concern for women who lost a spouse. “A lot of widows say they stop opening their mail.”

She was surprised to discover many women say they lost support from friends and acquaintances. “A few weeks after the funeral, they were left hanging.”

Women also talked about deep loneliness and lingering depression, and it didn’t seem to matter how long they’d been married or the type of relationship,” she said.

But perhaps most disconcerting, she said, were the women who told Meekhof they felt relief.

“Some widows were embarrassed to admit it, but they would say the marriage had not been good and they didn’t know how to get out of it.”

Meekhof and co-author Jim Windell, a psychologist and friend of her late husband, also write about widows who’ve turned their loss into something inspiring. In June, the authors were in the final stages of proofing the manuscript before publication.

In the meantime, Meekhof is working to bring awareness of adrenal cancer research at the University of  Michigan. She’s also traveled to Kenya to visit an organization that helps widows and children.

Follow Kristin Meekhof on her journey at kristinmeekhof.com or on Facebook. -by Marty Primeau

Finding Healing in Solo Travel

When Passport Health asked me to write about my travel journeys, I immediately said, “Yes”. I didn’t have to think twice. I loved the idea of talking about why I started to do more solo traveling after my life changing event. While this next paragraph may seem a little dark, I encourage you to read on. I share my tips for taking solo adventure.

I was 33 in 2007 when my husband of four years was diagnosed with adrenal cancer. About eight weeks after his first doctor’s appointment he died. We didn’t have any children together, so I was truly alone. He died in November a few weeks before Thanksgiving, and his birthday was in early December. I was anticipating a tsunami of loss with these two dates followed by the December holidays. I shared this with a dear friend. My friend sustained a personal loss as well, and I felt she understood my situation. She suggested that I “do something different” this December. She shared how following their family’s own devastating loss, she and her husband took their children on a holiday.

I lived in Michigan, and the thought of being in a warmer climate for an extended weekend seemed very attractive. I booked a trip to Florida and made certain that my trip had all of the necessary creature comforts. I didn’t want to rent a car, so I took a shuttle from the airport straight to the hotel.

Kristin-Meekhof-Northern-Michigan

Prior to being married I had traveled alone, but this trip was different. It was less than four weeks after the funeral, and I was feeling raw and vulnerable. I booked the trip online and when asked who my emergency contact was it gave me pause. I tried to skip that part; however, the website wouldn’t allow me to continue. I quickly entered my uncle’s contact information. I packed the essentials in my carry- on, tucked a snapshot of my husband in between the pages of a book, printed my boarding pass, and headed to the airport.

The first solo restaurant meal was difficult. Looking at the menu, I immediately thought of my husband. I noticed that they offered a dish of mussels prepared exactly how my husband loved. I started to question myself if this was a smart decision because now I was looking at the lobster, and remembering the time we were together in Maine eating lobster. However, these intense moments passed. The second and third meals were easier.

Since that first Florida trip, I’ve traveled solo on several occasions. I’ve literally taken planes, trains and an automobile to reach my destination. On multiple occasions, I’ve traveled by myself to northern Michigan, New York City, Boston, and Chicago.

While you may not have experienced a death of a loved one, you may have experienced a different type of loss: a job, a friendship, a relationship, or a divorce. These types of losses are often unexpected, unwanted, and unplanned, which makes it even more painful. Personally, my journey of healing began with that extended weekend to Florida. However, you don’t have to travel a great distance to move closer to your own transformation. If you are planning solo travel for the first time, and you find the task daunting, here are some suggestions:

1. If you’ve never traveled alone, you may want to plan a day trip before scheduling a week long solo vacation. This will get your feet wet so to speak. For example, you will experience dining for one. Getting to know a place through your own lens is a different experience than sharing it with others, but don’t be intimidated.

2. When you are setting your itinerary, be sure to have a back-up plan. Earlier this year I was in Boston when an extreme blizzard hit. The airport, museums, major highways, and some restaurants were closed. This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself snowbound to my hotel, but I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to meet my family. I ordered a few movies, instead of having a pity party. Also, plans can quickly change even on a sunny day, and if you have a few alternatives in mind, it is easier to adapt to a sudden schedule shift.

3. Don’t expect a major transforming moment to occur because you may be setting yourself up for a large disappointment. While you may be saying “goodbye” to something or someone, don’t set your expectations too high. It is often in the smaller, unplanned moments that give birth to something new. On the Florida trip I began meditation, and it is something that I still practice.

I am grateful for this opportunity to share with you a part of my journey post loss. I will be traveling this fall to Kenya. A part of the trip will be to visit organizations that service widows. The second part of the trip, I will be on a safari. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you when I return.

You can also read this article on Passport Health

Deepak Chopra’s Timeless You

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” This famous quote by Marcel Proust can easily be dismissed as a quirky thought, or one can view it as a piece of wisdom. I choose the latter. The lens through which we see our world impacts our thoughts, our decisions, and our overall well-being. Look around you and chances are you will see a product, an advertisement or an article about anti-aging. Someone wants to help you look better and younger. But what if the real voyage of discovery happens within you?

A new online series with Dr. Deepak Chopra called “Timeless You” offers you the opportunity to discover your own ability to view things through a new lens. This six-week online series offers practical steps for starting a new approach to your life. There are opportunities for participants to interact with each other as well as Dr. Chopra. Jennifer Fragale, director of alliance partnerships at Grandparents.com, described “Timeless You” as this: “It takes a comprehensive approach to what you can do to feel your best, and includes advice and tips for creating healthy relationships, exercise, eating well and lowering stress.”

Our forethoughts often cause us anxiety. We tax our lives with fret over things we can’t control, but we can control our thoughts, and that is where you will find peace of mind. In other words, our landscape, our own world will change once we alter the way we approach every situation. This means that we will be able to see our life through a lens of opportunity instead of stagnation.

Age is not a deficit. Our culture is hyper-sensitive to age, and often we make harsh judgments with ourselves and others based on it. We assume that persons of a certain age have nothing to offer. No matter what your age is, you have something to offer. You have something to give yourself and others. For some of you this means exercising, volunteering, or teaching.

For full-time architect, Lee Mamola, age 62, this means coaching. About five years ago he becamse a coach within the Brooks Running ID program. In addition to running, he does yoga and meditation. “I run for mental clarity, for the sense of achievement, to stay young, to learn and to have fun. I am ‘running happy.'” When Mamola’s own father died of a heart attack at age 52, Mamola vowed, “to stick to running. While there is this family history that now cannot be ignored, I also recognize significant differences between our lifestyles that separate our health history.”

It is this lifestyle that Dr. Deepak Chopra talked with Ellen Breslau, editor-in-chief at Grandparents.com about. He said:

Your biological age does not have to match your chronological age. Your chronological age is the day you were born, your biological age is influenced by how fit you are, your immune function, your cardio-vascular system. We now know that we can reverse biological age.
Ms. Breslau explained the need for the program this way: “People over 50 today are more active and connected than ever before and we wanted to give them a wellness program to match who they are.”

A perfect example of someone who is active is my distance running group coach, Doug Goodhue. Following a mid-life crisis at age 41, he began distance running. Now at age 72, he’s still competing and winning distance running national titles. Some runners call him, “The Silver Bullet.” He humbly says, “Everything that I am today and my healthy lifestyle is due to my love and passion for long distance running.” His wife, Cindy Goodhue, who started distance running around age 35 says, “My claim to fame is qualifying for Boston (marathon) twice in one week when I was 58.” She ran two marathons. They were one week apart, and both were qualifying times for the Boston marathon.

Ms. Breslau also says, “‘Timeless You’ is about taking everything you’ve learned and know — the wisdom of your experiences, and combining that inner knowledge with feeling your best. It’s about appreciating who you are and taking care of yourself.”

A perfect example of someone who takes care of himself and lives a heathy life is Dr. Deepak Chopra. Last month, I had the honor of meeting him at his office in New York City. This meeting was not for purposes of an interview. However, I can share with you my initial impressions. Dr. Chopra is genuine and brilliant in every sense of these words. He observes and listens before he talks. He is with you in the present moment, free from worry, and graces you with his authenticity.

Our thoughts can hold us emotionally hostage. We tend to limit ourselves based on these thoughts and consequently live in fear. Dr. Chopra told Ms. Breslau, “If you do three things — change the way you think about yourself, change the way you think about time and change the way you think about aging, you can reverse the aging process and feel younger.”

To Learn More about Timeless You, go here.

To Read More about Mr. Lee Mamola’s running happy adventures go here.

You can follow Dr. Deepak Chopra on Twitter @DeepakChopra.

You can follow Timless You on Twitter @Timeless_You.

You can also read this article on The Huffington Post.

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe today. Join now and receive your complimentary download-Tips for practicing gratitude today!

7 Things I Learned in Trying a New Career

A little over a year ago, I decided to pursue a freelance writing career. I started to write a book and wanted to expand my reach by writing blogs for The Huffington Post and the like. I continue to maintain my full time job as a clinical social worker, and write during my evenings and weekends. It is nice in the sense, that I don’t feel pressure to write all the time. However, there are moments, I feel pressure to leave my social work job and give everything I have to my writing career. Then logic weighs in to remind me that I need a steady paycheck and health insurance. In the past year, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting some very lovely people, even famous ones. At times, I feel like I am in an ultra-marathon, with no clear finish line. I stop here and there to take breaks, refuel, share my joys and woes, but I continue. It is surprising who along the way continues to cheer me on and who, to my disappointment departed from my cheering section. Some of the departures were unexpected. They came after I refused to compromise my integrity and do professional favors or when I simply didn’t feel endorsing their child’s work was the right thing to do. I am new to this type of “ultra-marathon” within the publishing industry.

I’ve learned many lessons by trial and error, and I’ve discovered that growth makes you vulnerable. This sounds obvious, but I was surprised that the growing pains I’ve experienced often came as a result of being raw and open. Early on, I knew virtually no one within the business, and had very little guidance. I sought out others who I thought could provide direction. I didn’t need handholding 24/7, but checking in to bounce off ideas turned into uncomfortable conversations. I sensed jealously on their part, and later it was often confirmed. I know what you are thinking, that is their issue, not mine, but still it caused deep disappointment. I began to withdraw and follow my gut and pursue whatever opportunities I sensed were right. It ended up paying off. Long story short, I was personally introduced to Dr. Deepak Chopra. This was my version of a “runner’s high.” He is just as genuine and authentic as appears in his work.

Weeks later, after my meeting with Dr. Chopra, I had a series of conversations with another very successful business man. I met this individual through a writing assignment, which I did free of charge. Others criticized me for working for free, for cheapening “my craft,” and their comments gave me pause. Yet, something deep inside me told me it was the right thing to do. I was curious about the subject matter and pursued it. It ended up that I was introduced to this wildly successful and gentle soul. His guidance and friendship is priceless. During our conversations, I shared with him some of my earlier highs and lows. I knew he understood. He looked straight at me and said with all seriousness, “You should only be around people who lift you up and only let a few people into your inner (professional) circle.”

I knew that I needed to recheck my approach. My attitude towards my professional race so to speak mattered. This wasn’t anyone else’s ‘race,’ but mine. In many ways we all have our own races. We each have a goal line, a finish line that we strive to cross. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from journey:

1. Growth can make you vulnerable both emotionally and financially. People you know will offer you suggestions which in turn benefits them, and disguise it as help. This sounds severe, but I wish someone had told me. Don’t get me wrong, there are growth spurts which are exciting and helpful.

2. Re-examine your game plan. You may feel that your plan is solid and able to withstand the test of time, but as new challenges arise, you may need to readjust things. I’ve learned to have Plan B formulated as I am pursing Plan A. This helps because it won’t leave you feeling disorganized when things seem to fall apart.

3. Be aware of social poachers. Before this may have been someone that you invited to the party and next thing you know your babysitter is at their home every Saturday evening. The risks at this level were minimal. However, when it comes to your career, social poachers can do damage. They will scan your network, zone in on who they want to target and go after it. They may be even so slick as to have you introduce them to their target. You won’t know what happened until after the fact, and this will leave you feeling emotionally drained.

4. Be careful who you listen to especially if they can benefit from you in any financial aspect. We all have blind spots and when money is involved. We may think that person may be giving you genuine advice. However, these nuggets of wisdom can be tainted with dollar signs.

5. Don’t take things personally. This is very difficult for me at times because I want to believe that everyone has my best interest at hear,t and I want to believe their comments are constructive criticism. People will judge you and offer unsolicited advice. Follow your gut.

6. You are your own cheerleader. People often ask, “What is your brand — your label?” You are the best to decide this. It is you who is running this race. It is you who is having to stop, readjust, make decisions on the spot. You know your body, your brand the best. Only run each mile at a time. In other words, don’t try to live tomorrow today. “Listen to your body” is a phrase athletes are familiar with and it means that only you truly know when it it time to rest. Remember, rest prevents injuries.

7. Gratitude is the answer to nearly every question. I haven’t had a situation yet where I couldn’t apply gratitude. It is the great equalizer of the heart. It allows you remember what matters.

I’m running on, literally and figuratively. Like all runners those who continue to work on their core strength, they do the best. I’m pressing on and looking at this ultra-marathon as a gift. I’m in the best race of my life. I’m not competing with anyone but myself, and I’m even learning to dance along the way.

You can also read this story on The Huffington Post

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Why Women Need Mentors

Women need mentors. We all need that loving cheerleader saying, “Don’t give up. Stay the course.” More importantly, we need someone who offers wisdom and insight. This goes beyond the Facebook thumbs up you receive when you announce a recent accomplishment. Mentors provide guideposts and their own stories offer hope and inspiration. Yes, instruction books offer valuable facts, often provide detailed steps on how to complete a challenging task, but nothing can top an in-depth, no nonsense conversation. The mentor is someone you can have a frank conversation with, and your tough questions are met with honest answers. The mentor’s only agenda is to help you reach your full potential.

Mentors know what is close to your heart. They may be a someone with the title “coach” or they can have a less formal role. I found my mentors when I least expected it. In January 2012, like thousands of other Americans, I was trying to figure out a plan to achieve my New Year’s Day goal: run my first marathon. Let me preface this by saying I’m not a natural athlete. In elementary school gym class, when students were picking others to be on their team, I was the last one chosen. Then in high school, the assistant junior varsity track coach made it clear to the other students that I was “slow.” In other words, running a marathon was a stretch.

After hearing about my goal, a friend suggested I join the 501 Novi, MI running group. Reluctant yet wiling to try anything to help reach my goal, I emailed the coach. Within minutes, Coach Suzi replied. Three days later, on a 12 degree Michigan winter morning, I was at a metro park meeting other runners. Before my first group run, I heard other runners talk about training for Boston (Marathon), running multiple times a week, and I felt then that I was out of my league. Recognizing that I was new to the group, Coach Doug guided myself and another new group runner through the snowy run. While running, he proudly announced that he was turning 70 next month and set various national race records. At this point, the only record I was setting was running in the winter.

The marathon regimen was intense. By July, I completed my first 20 mile run and the group cheered. This was a major training milestone. In late August, I was running over 50 miles a week. That month, I was injured. I could hardly walk and the panic set in. I sought three different medical opinions, and each expert had the same diagnosis: hip / groin injury. I was crushed. Sure, it wasn’t the end of my world, but not running a month before a marathon shook my confidence.

Immediately, Coach Suzi and others without prompting emailed me offering words of encouragement. They shared their own injury stories. My new focus was to complete the 26.2 miles without getting injured. On that October marathon Sunday, two miles from the finish line, I thought I was near death. I looked around and saw others walking. I seriously thought about doing the same until I heard my two friends and Coach Suzi yell my name. Surprisingly, they were standing there waiting to run me in. Just as I was trying to say “thank you,” I heard Coach Suzi yell, “you’re not slowing down here.” The three of them ran with me until I could see the finish line. I’ll never forget that moment when I conquered that marathon.

While you may not be running a literal marathon and aren’t searching for a “running” mentor, note that a mentor can also guide you in the right professional direction. Women tend to become emotionally involved when rejection occurs, wondering, Why don’t they like me? What did I do wrong? Women assume they made a big mistake, then fear and anxiety rises. These emotions can get in the way of rational thoughts. A mentor can bring you back to practical thinking. When you face an obstacle, the mentor provides an alternate plan to help you still reach the same goal.

Currently, I’m in uncharted professional territory. I’m cowriting my first book while learning firsthand how the writing world meets the business world. These are two worlds I’m completely foreign to. Lack of experience in both of these areas leads to a lack of confidence, and it shows. Recently, I was visiting with a lovely woman, who knew nothing about me, and my aunt, who introduced me by saying this, “This is my niece Kristin. She is writing her first book and writes for the Huffington Post.” The woman asked me about it and I felt my voice begin to go softer. She looked right at me and said, “You have to self-promote. It’s not about ego here. Tell me everything”.

This invitation led to a deep discussion about women in business. Recently, she started her own business and said, “women wear a lot of different shoes, literally, but we need help.”. She went on to talk being stretched in different directions, and feeling the growing pains of a new business. She underscored the importance of asking for what you want.

I am fortunate to have a mentor who also believes you should ask for what you want. She is best selling author Laura Munson. Over the past two months, we bonded over a few phone conversations, and several emails about the process of writing and publishing. I kept thinking, Why is she being so kind to me? I can’t do a thing for her.

Laura understands that my co-author, psychologist James Windell, and I took on the difficult task of transforming the way widows respond to grief. Part of the book research involves my co-author and I talking with widows who lost their husbands to difficult circumstances, and writing about how they overcame this tragic loss. Although in many ways, these are stories of inspirartion, I told Laura more than once, that I struggled with hearing about a death caused by suicide or substance abuse. Laura continues to encourage me to write about the stories that matter.

Eventually, I was led to a book agent. Last week, when the book proposal got rejected, I took it personally. She reassured me that there are plenty of wonderful agents. Her words of wisdom were, “Take heart. Believe in yourself.”

Within two days of these words, an agent contacted James and I. While nothing is set in stone with an agent, I know this much is certain, mentors all carry that same message, “Take heart. Believe in yourself.”

You can also read this article on The Huffington Post

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe today. Join now and receive your complimentary download-Tips for practicing gratitude today!

Gretta Monahan’s Smart, Successful Style

I meet Ms. Gretta Monahan at a small New York City restaurant, and she greets me with a hug. She’s wearing a causal jacket, scarf, leggings and ankle boots, but it doesn’t appear that she’s trying to impress anyone. Instead, she quickly settles in to talk. Cradling her cup of tea, she is at ease and looks content. Cleary, she has done several interviews to promote her new book, Style And The Successful Girl, and could easily come across with a superficial smile and polished answers, but instead Ms. Monahan is very serious and focused. During the 90 minute interview, she never checks her phone and seldom loses eye contact. A few times, she looks away as if to catch her thoughts, but not in a way to edit them, only to provide clarity. What is also surprising is how genuine she presents herself. The first thing she does is offer gratitude. “Thank you so much for meeting me here. I know you had other meetings. I know you are busy.”

Busy doesn’t begin to describe Ms. Monahan, who is mother to a three-year-old son, and makes frequent appearances on the Rachael Ray Showand Good Morning America. Now, she is hard at work promoting her new book. For years, she says, “I helped celebrities discover their own style,” but she is keenly aware that all women “have the same issues.”

Ms. Monahan says she spent over two years writing the book, and selecting just the right approach. After she completed the book, the editor was getting ready to submit it for publication when Ms. Monahan halted the project. She says others advised against it because she is a first time author. However, Ms. Monahan said she followed her gut: “I knew I could give more. I started over. I also wanted to feature women (who are not celebrities) who inspire me.”

When a woman starts to look at their own style, Ms. Monahan suggests that she first examine her own taste and needs, and be honest about what garments work with their silhouette. So before you rush out to buy a new wardrobe, Ms. Monahan suggests you look at yourself and your own wardrobe. While snapshots of famous women are scattered throughout the book, Ms. Monahan hopes women will see this as a guide rather than an intimidation factor. She writes, “Let the photos do the work of a consultation with a personal shopper or stylist.” During the interview, Ms. Monahan said, “Celebrities are consistent with their style. That’s why it works for them.”

After 20 years in the styling and beauty business, Ms. Monahan has developed her own styling formula. She says women fit into one of four categories: Weekend Girl, Girly Girl, Sophisticated Girl or Sexy Girl. In her book, there are plenty of examples for each type. She says while each woman can experiment with a little of each, selecting one style type eliminates frustration. “Women who tell me that they have nothing to wear are usually women who don’t know their style and have too much. I tell women to start with their closet. Don’t rush out and buy something,” says Ms. Monahan.

Ms. Monahan’s book also recommends that women be honest about their silhouette. There are beauty tips as well as her own product choice suggestions for those who are curious or confused. The products listed are everything from the ones you will find at your drugstore, to those behind the counter at a high-end department store. Rest assured, not only has Ms. Monahan worn each product, she has carefully scrutinized it as well. She clarifies: “I take it very seriously who I recommend. The costumer is investing in a product to solve a problem. I give people specific recommendations, and you can put my name on it.”

The first time author is well aware that many women have only a handful of minutes each day to read a book, and may go directly to the chapter that speaks to them. She adds: “That’s why it’s set up this way — in sections.” She also advises for those who want to know where to put their money — it is in a good haircut. “Hair is the most important cosmetic. You should be getting compliments on your haircut.”

Some may call Ms. Monahan’s beauty approach superficial because it focuses on outward appearance, but her philosophy offers more. She explains: “When you go to an interview or connect with a potential client, you make a first impression. People judge you. If you feel great in your appearance, it can help you feel confident. I help with that.”

Dr. Srinivasan Pillay, CEO of NeuroBusiness Group and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and friend of Ms. Monahan, agrees with her approach. He says: “Beauty shines through when what we wear is in sync with who we are. I think Gretta is an inspiration to women. She recognizes that intelligence and style go hand in hand. And that when you feel great, you inevitably look great to the world.”

In the entertainment world, Ms. Monahan encountered people who underestimated her talent and potential. In the beginning, there were times when she wanted to style someone well known, and no one would call her back. She recalls: “I wanted to say, ‘Give me a chance.’ You have to be diligent.” She has no hard feelings for those who quickly dismissed her. “Everyone has something to offer as a life lesson.”

Ms. Monahan’s life lessons came from her own family. When she was an infant, her parents got divorced, and her own mother moved in with family. It is clear that Ms. Monahan wasn’t born with a silver spoon, either. “My family were immigrants. I come from a working class family, and they worked very hard, that meant having two jobs.”

This hard work ethic rubbed off on Ms. Monahan. She says she turned to other women for business advice and met the ultra-successful beauty expert, Trish McEvoy. Ms. Monahan recalls, “I met Trish early on (in my career) and I learned from her.”

Ms. Monahan has moved beyond conversations with Ms. McEvoy, and is now the owner of one resort at Foxwoods in Connecticut, three salons and one boutique. She describes, Foxwoods as “a full service, absolute luxury spa.” In addition, she completed an executive MBA program at Harvard Business School, and continues to seek opportunities to expand her brand.

In front of the camera, she worked with fashion genius, Mr. Tim Gunn on his Bravo show,Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style. She describes working with Mr. Gunn as “a dream — I loved it.” In her book, Ms. Monahan writes about her work with him.

Backstage at the Rachael Ray Show is where I met Ms. Monahan for the second time. She warmly greeted me, and introduced me to the show’s staff. It is clear that she respects their work and she is easy to work with. However, she works hard at developing her own descriptions for the travel products, which she will cover for the upcoming segment. While waiting to go onstage, she discusses her son’s toilet training dilemma with a staff manager, and asks about another staff member’s father. It is apparent that she had prior conversations with both staff personnel, and isn’t trying to impress anyone.

Despite this phenomenal success, Ms. Monahan focuses the conversation back on her family. She credits her late maternal Aunt Kathy for giving her inspiration and hope. Ms. Monahan dedicates the book to her, writing: “In loving memory to the original Successful Girl of my life, my beloved Aunt Kathy, whose love, strength, lessons and spirit continue to guide and inspire me.” In person, Ms. Monahan gets misty eyed when describing her aunt.

The last conversation I have with Ms. Monahan is on the telephone. She puts the phone down, and is trying to soothe her son. “Sorry, about that. He usually isn’t up this late. Ricky is getting him settled in.”

For the past six years she’s been with actor/ producer Ricky Paull Goldin. He’s equally as busy. Not only is he the father to their son, but he has an impressive resume. He’s been the host of an HGTV show, acted in Guiding Light and recently completed filming The Humbling with Al Pacino and Barry Levinson. While they could easily be overwhelmed by the entertainment business, Ms. Monahan says family is their focus. She maintains: “My greatest accomplishment is my son, Kai Rei, who I had with my soulmate Ricky.”

You can view Gretta Monahan’s website here.

You can follow Ms. Monahan on Twitter: @Grettamonahan.

You can also read this blog on The Huffington Post.

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From Sea to Table

I admit I am a bit challenged when it comes to cooking, so the thought of cooking fish from Melinda Fager’s new cookbook, Living Off the Sea, put me in a mild frenzy. Then I stopped to actually read the cookbook, and I realized that it was written in a language that even I could understand. The ingredients and preparation work appeared simple. Melinda was very sweet and assured me that I wasn’t the only one with this fear. She suggested I try the pan seared bass recipe. I wasn’t as challenged as I assumed I would be and the preparation time was minimal, and it tasted delicious. I was so encouraged that I tried the same recipe with bluefish, and had the same satisfying results. Melinda normalized my worries. She explained, “I’ve learned a lot of people are afraid to cook fish, so I hope this book dispels some of that fear.”

Melinda has been married for 30 years to the highly regarded producer of 60 Minutes and Chairman of CBS, Jeff Fager. In this book, however, it is clear Jeff is all fisherman. The book reflects life on the island of Chappaquiddick and brings together family recipes, essays and her photographs. They have spent over 30 summers as a couple on this island, raising their three children, who are now adults. The children also contributed to the book.

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Aside from cooking, Melinda also loves being behind the camera lens and has taken photos for years. She explains her passion for this art grew while participating in Alison Shaw’s photography workshop. “I followed Alison for years. At the end of the workshop, she (Alison) said you should have a project to keep up with everything.”

Melinda took this suggestion to heart, and decided to put a cookbook together with photographs and essays. In order to photograph all the stages of the island, this meant that she lived on Chappaquiddick for eight months. When she tired of writing she would grab her camera and go to the sea. During the off months, she focused on the essays, book design, and layout. “I lived like a monk for a year,” she jokes.

The photographs tell a simply beautiful story. Not only do they capture a day in the life of a fisherman, but Melinda also captures moments of the island that many may overlook. With her camera she brings to life wisps of delicate sand angels, clusters of berries cradled in a branch, and whistling bent sea grass. On another page, Melinda gives you the sight of birds stepping on the shore and if you pay close attention, you can see they are conversing with one another. It is as if they know they are stepping on protected shore.

Jeff and Melinda have appreciated and followed the writings of Vineyard Gazettecolumnist Brad Woodger for years. Melinda adds, “My husband and I would read it out loud to each other. Brad has a beautiful way with words.” They decided his contribution would provide the perfect complement to Living Off The Sea.

Melinda is especially fond of Brad’s essay, “A Fishing Affair,” written for her book, in which he describes the intimate relationship between man and the fish. Brad writes, “I think if we held everything before we ate, we might be considerably more reverent of our place in life, and the gift of each meal.”

It is with this reverence for the sea that Melinda and Jeff raised their three children. They built their family life here, Melinda says, with simple pleasures: fishing, reading, playing games and eating together. She explains, “Raising kids in a fishing culture gave them a chance to master skills while they thought they were having fun.”

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In an equally collaborative effort, Jeff and Melinda put together these seafood recipes. The main course of each meal is Jeff’s daily fresh catch. Typically, this means bluefish, and then local fresh ingredients, from the farmer’s market, are added to bring out the flavor. “I don’t want to camouflage. I want to bring out the best flavor. The key ingredient is freshness… All of our recipes have evolved from making the most of the abundance of fish and shellfish coming directly from the waters surrounding us.”

The recipes are inspired by many local chefs. Melinda is quick to point out that she looks to others for inspiration and she admires chefs like Chris Fisher. Both bring a farm- to- table experience with every meal. She also looks to Vineyard chef and author Suzy Middleton for her presentation and use of fresh foods.

With recipes for blueberry pancakes, skunked pasta, stuffed quahogs, and blueberry vodka tonic, the cookbook can easily move you from breakfast to after dinner dessert. All the recipes are simple, involve minimal prep work and contain a handful of ingredients. Over this summer, Melinda says she has created additional recipes that will be added to her online blog.

Melinda’s blog, website, and book also contain stories and essays about the island. A recent blog entry profiles Chappy local Dana Gaines. He is the talented illustrator for the book, and delivered the sketches for her book in true Chappy form. Melinda says on her blog, “Jeff and I were boating in Edgartown Harbor and we heard our names being called out by someone in a passing sailboat. It was Dana and he was waving a packet. We pulled up alongside him and he handed over the latest illustrations.”

With her blog, Melinda plans to feature other recipes, photographs and stories that all part of the island. I’ve been happily surprised that the stories and essays have drawn as much interest as the recipes.”

You can read an excerpt of the book here, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Below you will find a recipe for the Fish Marinade — I made this. It is simple and delicious.
“This is my basic marinade for bluefish, bonito, and striped bass, and it can extend to almost any fish you have available. I tend not to use as much basil with striped bass, so that I don’t take away from its subtle flavor.”

What you need:
2-3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons chopped basil leaves.
Melt butter in saucepan and add all other ingredients.
Spoon this mixture over fish fillets that have been placed skin side down on a platter.
Refridgerate for an hour
Near the end of cooking the fish, either on the grill or on the stove, use the leftover marinade to top off your fish.

You can also read this article on The Huffington Post

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Maintain Your Sanity In the Face of Loss: 6 Tools

I was 33 in 2007 when my husband was diagnosed with adrenal cancer; he died eight weeks later. From my own experience and in my research for my upcoming book, I know that dealing with a medical crisis, caregiving and the days following the death of a loved one can be very stressful. I also know that we’ve all experienced some sort of suffering or loss. This loss may be a job, divorce, friendship or significant relationship. These are the situations that cause us to weep and question everything. We all have these deep emotional wounds complete with crusty scabs and faded scars.

In our suffering, we feel completely undone and are often searching for an honest conversation. In truth, we want to feel loved and accepted. Yet, after a loss or traumatic event, things can be very confusing. Often, we are seeking a quick solution. We are emotionally fragile and obsessed with seeking inner peace. While vulnerability may be good, it can also be our tender and weak spot. I think about that soft spot on a newborn’s head, and as adults our hearts all have that same soft spot. Yet, our “soft spot” is seldom exposed because we cover it, both literally and figuratively. Others may not know how to appropriately interact with you during this time, so in all your interactions during this time, keep these six suggestions in mind:

1. Don’t try to be a people pleaser. Sounds simple, right? But you may be on the receiving end of odd requests, bizarre questions, impractical demands, and unwanted advice. Be polite, but say no when necessary and save yourself some stress.

2. Don’t speak negatively about yourself. Your self-esteem may take a plunge when you become a widow, and we will explore why later. For now, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by being down on yourself. Stop the inner critic. Treat yourself as you would your best friend in a similar situation.

3. Trust your gut. You may know instinctively how to respond to a comment or request, but you may now be second-guessing yourself. Stop and listen to your instincts. Your gut is probably correct. This can relate to so many parts of your life at this stage: friends and acquaintances offering unsolicited advice, people making suggestions that don’t apply to you, salesmen trying to push a product on you, financial planners who get in touch with you and even things your children may think is best for you.

4. Breathe. There will be moments when you are scared, uncertain, and terrified of what lies ahead. Remember to take deep breaths. This will help ground you. This is your therapy for now.

5. Write. Get a notebook and each day write down what you did, to the best of your recollection. There will be unusual phone calls and conversations that you may need to reference later. If they are all in your notebook, you can easily go back to the page and recall the date and conversation.

6. Accept help. You may not be sure what you’re going to do with a pan of lasagna or a bag full of magazines, but saying yes to those who are reaching out is good for you. Maybe you like to think of yourself as Superwoman or Miss Independent, but this is one time when you need to give yourself a pass. Go ahead, say yes to that free haircut or the friend who wants to take you to dinner. In fact, don’t just accept help, get proactive about it.

While there may be no swift or simple answer to your situation, these steps are some things that you can do to take charge. You may not experience a spiritual awakening just yet; but moving through these steps will bring some light. Be gentle with yourself and remember to give yourself grace.

This article was originally featured on MariaShriver.com and you can read it here.

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Your Caloric Footprint

If you are like most people, there is a good chance that you recently set a wellness goal for yourself. To help you reach your goal, you will probably be engaging in some form of exercise. This means that some of you joined a gym or perhaps purchased a new piece of exercise equipment. Whatever your goal is, why not focus on giving while you burn calories? The Weightless Project allows you to do just this.

The Weightless Project partnered with charities, and established an easy to follow formula of giving and receiving. For every 1,000 calories you burn, a dollar goes to charity. This allows you to make your workout count in a meaningful way without having to open your wallet. Yes, that’s correct, the program is free. Your calories are held in reserve, and the dollar will not be released to the charity until you reach the 1,000 calorie mark. In other words, the more calories burned, the greater the gain for the charity.

Rest assured, this is a respectable project. Deepak Chopra and his foundation, The Chopra Foundation strongly encourages it. When asked about the project The Chopra Foundation said, “The Weightless Project is an example of how we can harness collection and creativity to move on the direction of a more peaceful, just, sustainable, and healthier world.”

Earlier in 2013, Mr. Poonacha Machaiah recalls asking himself these questions: “Can we equalize hunger in Africa with our own calorie footprint? How can we get people healthy? How do you transfer empathy? Can you create a habit of healthy living?”

In answering these questions, Mr. Machaiah thought about how those living in the United States of America are losing the fight againist obesity. At the same time, thousands of children and adults, all over the globe, are suffereing from hunger. Ironically, the common tread that is woven into both of these health related problems is weight. In the one situation, an indivdual’s weight is too much for their body, and the additional weight creates health problems, such as diabetes. In the other situation, the child is underweight due to malnutrition.

Mr. Machaiah wanted to restore the global weight balance, so he created the Weightless Project. He explains it this way. “This project uses calories as currency. I wanted to create a sense of empathy. I wanted (others) to see that you can move something with your actions. If I workout, it will impact the person down the road. It means something for me and for someone else if I am active.” He then approached Dr. Deepak Chopra with the idea, and found immediate support from him and the Chopra Foundation.

Technology is part of making this program a success. To make every step a smart step, you can register your fit device, such as the Jawbone or fitbit with the Weightless Project website. Once this is done, the calories will automatically be calculated. In the near future, Mr. Machaiah intends to enroll other similar devices. However, if you don’t own a device, you can still go online to register your calories burned.

Currently, all calories burned are converted into dollars going to The Chopra Foundation, who in turn sends it to the Red Cross. At this time, the money goes towards victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. In the near future the Weightless Project is hoping to add additional charities, so that participants can choose where they would like their donate their calories.

Reframing your wellness goals can offer hope to others. Each step matters. Your fitness resolution may not be grand, but adding the Weightless Project component can be life changing.

You can read this article on Huffington Post

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