No Means No, Or Does It?

No means no. Not anymore!

Recent events regarding perceived rejection have left me frankly, very scared and well worried for my life.

Maren Sanchez,16-year-old, Milford, Connecticut high school student was stabbed in the neck and killed in April after refusing a prom invitation. The accused attacker, her middle school ex-boyfriend Chris Plaskton was said to be a cutter and tried to kill himself.  People said “He just wasnʼt right … he had depression.”

Maren was set to go to prom with her boyfriend Jarrod Butts, who was hit hard by her death. He created a YouTube tribute in her honor. And, on the night of their canceled prom, approximately 200 friends and classmates went to a beach, dressed in prom attire, to release purple star-shaped balloons in Marenʼs honor.

Just this past weekend there was another rejected youth  on a rampage.

Elliot Rodger, 22, a Santa Barbara City college student, shot and killed 6 people including his roommates, who he stabbed to death and others in a drive-by shooting near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus. He went on to kill himself making a total of 7 killed and several others injured.

Elliot Rodger was the son of well known Hollywood assistant director Peter Rodger. He has issued a statement saying he believes his son is responsible for the mass murder of six people in Isla Vista.

Prior to the shooting, Elliot released a bone chilling video to YouTube titled Elliot Rodgerʼs retribution. In the video, the alleged shooter said “I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut I see inside of there. ” He was referring to the number 1 sorority on the UCSB campus.

He continued talking about how he was the “supreme gentleman,” and how he didnʼt understand how girls, the girls he desired so much, could reject him.

Elliot Rodger said women made him feel like the “inferior man.” That they would throw themselves at “obnoxious brutes.” He stated that on the day of his retribution they would finally see who was superior, who was the true “alpha male.”

Reports have shown that Elliot Rodger had long concealed mental health problems. On April 30th deputies even interacted with him to make sure he wasnʼt a harm to himself or to anyone else. He convinced them he was fine.

Feminism is bullsh*t.

I hear people constantly say this … feminism is bullsh*t. When shootings like this happen, we are reminded that collectively, women and men need to speak up against injustice in order to help prevent these kind of horrors from recurring. I mean, a woman rejects you, sexually or otherwise, and it makes it okay for you to kill her? How does one reconcile this in their mind?

Maren was an honors student, manager of her swim team, class president. She had big plans. She was my age, 16 years old—stabbed to death for saying no.

Elliot Rodger allegedly killed innocent people because they said no, because, as he claimed, they didnʼt give him his “right” to sex, fun, and pleasure. Is this what college is all about?

Elliot Rodger is not alone in his feelings of entitlement. This is a greater problem. Remember Mark Berndt, the 61-year-old, Los Angeles elementary school teacher, who spoon fed his students his own semen in 2012?

Did you know that the number 1 most violent crime on American college campuses today is rape. Fewer than 5 percent of college women who are victims of this crime report it. Note that 90 percent of college rapes are by an acquaintance, i.e. at parties or on dates and rape in non-party and non-date situations (e.g., while studying). Rape on college campuses are so rampant the White House just issued guidelines to combat rape on college campuses this month.

Every 2 minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. It happens everywhere, amongst all ages. As a teenage girl, I still vividly remember my elementary and middle school years, and the themes boys would assign to days of the week, “Titty tap Tuesday” and “Slap ass Friday.” Not surprisingly, these were my least favorite days of the week.

In my opinion, it’s hard to tell the difference between a serial killer such as Ted Bundy, and shooters who kill mass amounts of people without any warning. I mean it took Bundy 4 years to kill 30 people, while it only took 20 minutes for Rodger to kill 6 and wound 13. Bundy certainly wasn’t the only cold-hearted son of a b*tch to come along and I’m sure there will be others.

Watching this story unfold has contributed to my fear of men. I do fear men. Should I have to? No. I don’t think so. I shouldnʼt have to walk out of my house and worry that the guy who whistled at me from the car window might shoot me if I ignore him. Or that my “guy friend” who offers me a ride home will pressure me for sex because heʼs spending gas.

Since when did a man being nice to a woman mean that a woman had to give them sex in return? When did saying no become something to fear. A reason to fear for your life even.

No means no.

It always has meant no. With these issues beginning to surface, it’s time to do something. Where does the change have to start? The home front? The education system? Society? Our government?

You tell me.

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How to Create the Best Smoky Eye Ever: No Exaggeration

My friends say that I exaggerate.

“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.’

“This is the best chocolate in the world. Seriously, the very best.”

“This is the fastest and the easiest way ever to _____”

You get the drill. But I’m not exaggerating. Honestly. In that moment it is absolutely the most beautiful/best chocolate/fastest and easiest. And it’s going to stay that way until I come across the next most beautiful/best chocolate/fastest and easiest thing. Seriously. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. At least for now.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, here are my tips for the best smoky eye ever. No exaggerations.

4,442 TO 4

I’ve definitely taken 4,442 steps to get to the perfect, smoky eye. (Sometimes a few more. But who’s counting?) But I’ve also nailed it in 4. The truth is that most of the time I don’t have the rest of my life to finish one eye. Sometimes, I don’t even have 4 minutes.

So here’s my 4 Step Method using just one tool.

A little fine print, by the way. … Sorry, but none of this works unless you follow the steps in my previous post.  So, yes, it’s a few more than 4 steps but way better than 4,442.


Eye paints are the latest and greatest product for quick and smoky eyes.  All of the big brands have them.  They come in tiny, glass jars and can be applied with a stiff, short-bristled brush or your finger.  (That’s one tool if you’re paying attention.) They’re foolproof and have great staying power.

Some of my favorite eye paints:


The key to a smoky eye is to create a subtle gradation by pairing two shades, one at the deepest end of the spectrum and one at the lightest end. The deepest shade goes at your lash line, the lightest on your brow bone. The two meet in the middle to create a medium tone, adding definition in the crease of your eye. You can choose your own pairings in any brand, but here are some that I love.

For a classic smoky eye in silver and black:

For a modern nude and navy look:

For a soft and subtle effect in bone and bronze:


  1. Start with an eyeshadow primer.  It’s an extra step I’ve tried to avoid, but it always ends badly.  There’s no use spending time applying shadow and seeing it melt away. Use your ring finger to evenly smooth the primer from lash to brow bone.
  1. Apply the lightest shade that you’ve selected from the lash line and all the way to the brow bone using your ring finger, creating a shaded ‘base’ for the smoky eye.
  1. Now use the deepest shade that you’ve selected. Apply it starting at the lash line and over your lid with a patting motion. Blend inward and soften the edge and any lines. Moving toward the natural crease, create a soft and blurred effect.
  1. Dip your finger in the pot of the deepest shade and sweep across your lower lash line. Curl your lashes. Add mascara. Done.


Smoky eyes (like so many other things in life) can be complicated. But they don’t have to be. And, let’s face it, that is time that could be spent seeking out the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen or finding the best chocolate ever, even if it takes trying 4,442 different kinds to get to 4. And … I’m not exaggerating.


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Incredible India: Rhinos, Rats, Potholes and the Taj Mahal

I have never been so happy to survive a vacation as I was my first trip to India.

The roads of this enormous country should be classified as the 8th Wonder of the World—because it is a miracle that anything arrives at its destination in one piece.  This is due to the combination of extremely poor road conditions (massive potholes) with the nature of the traffic that clogs every artery in this crazy country.  It is no exaggeration when I tell you that all of the following share the same tiny, terrible roads:  Indian trucks that make 18-wheelers look diminutive, regular trucks, cars, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, touk-touks, overloaded animal-drawn carts, overloaded tractor-drawn carts, pedestrians, cows that walk wherever they want/whenever they want, bands of monkeys, wild boar … did I forget anything?  To navigate these roads is to play a game of Frogger the entire way, while continually praying not to kill someone or be killed along the way.

When travelers write about their experiences and share their photographs, it all looks and sounds so neat and tidy.  But that isn’t real life.  In order to get in front of the Taj Mahal and take those perfect photographs, you have to endure danger and discomfort.Traveling in places like India is not for the faint of heart.  A visit to the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve by the India/Nepal border required a harrowing eight-hour drive.  No bathroom stops unless you feel like courting disease or throwing up because the sanitation is subhuman, which means (especially for girls) very little eating or drinking along the way.  I prefer to starve thank you very much.

But once at our destination, we had a once-in-a-lifetime experience:  We explored lush jungles, a place teeming with wildlife: exotic birds, spotted deer, wild boar, fresh tiger tracks, elephants, and more monkeys.  The next day, we got on the back of an elephant for a rhino safari—Miraculously, we saw five rhinos in their natural habitat.  The whole experience was out of this world.  I kept forgetting whether I was in Africa or Asia—it could have been either one.

Because we hadn’t stared death in the face enough, we endured another hair-raising adventure, a 10-hour drive from Nepal to Agra where we planned to see the Taj Mahal. On the way, we saw funeral pyres carrying the dead and two baraats—wedding processions that stop traffic as they wind through the busy streets.  In the midst of the brightest lights, loudest horns, and chaotic but joyful music was a bejeweled groom on a steed riding in the grandest Maharaja style to his beautiful bride.  It was like they had jumped off the pages of my National Geographic magazine where the images had not just come to life but exploded all around us.

India is so much more than you expect–from the white sandy beaches of Goa to the inhospitable Thar desert, the foothills of the Himalayas, and pristine national parks.  Serving as way-station on the infamous Silk Road, India has all of the delights that sent Europeans in a desperate search for a quicker route to this land:  spices, gorgeous fabrics, and semi-precious stones.  India also features some of the strangest things in the world, such as the Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan that houses nearly 20,000 rats revered by worshippers as their ancestors incarnate.

The variation of experience in India doesn’t stop when you talk about the population:  There is a massive gulf between rich and poor; approximately 50% of India’s population does not have a toilet at home (public defecation is a huge problem), while some of India’s richest families live in their own skyscrapers and wear $230,000 gold-weave shirts.

The contradictions are vast:  India is one of the largest democracies in the world.  But at the same time, they have a rigid class system that governs all life and keeps people tightly organized within their social groups.  On the most unfortunate end of the spectrum are the untouchables (the dalit) who perform the worst jobs you can imagine, including the collection and disposal of dead animals from the streets, the collection of human body parts from train tracks (many destitute farmers commit suicide on train tracks), and the washing of those awful toilets.  They are pariahs because they made the mistake of being born into the wrong caste.  Furthermore, women are still fighting for better treatment in India where rape, physical abuse, and murder are all too common and perpetrators regularly evade justice.  India has come so far economically but has a long way to go in the social and human rights categories. It will take a major, grass-roots movement to change these things.

India is a place that tickles all of your senses and leaves you strangely wanting for more.  You manage to experience hope and misery at the same time as you witness the best and the worst that India has to offer.  Getting off the well-worn path is what makes the difference.  Find ways to dance off the pages of your National Geographic magazine—That kind of travel is life-changing.

Photo: ©Michele Rigby Assad

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Two Comedians, One Stage

Quite often improviser and stand-up comics are grouped within each other’s categories of comedy. Now I know what you’re thinking, “shut up and make me laugh.” Trust me, we’ll do our best to make that happen, but for those of us who are making waves or trying to get noticed in the comedy, we typically find two flavors: improvisers and stand-up comics.  We are all comedians, but we take distinctively different paths to achieving success.

I’m not here to make a claim that one is better than the other, but for the record I am an Improviser.

Improvisers work in teams. They train together and are always collaborating on skits and show ideas. They look for “the game” in a scene and walk an unscripted tight rope. Stand up comedians work alone (with a few exceptions). They, often times, carry a notepad that they frantically write in when they feel they tapped into a joke (as I’m constantly witnessing with my stand up friends), and they recite those jokes on stage. Improvisers create interactions, emotional exchanges and relationships with each other on the fly, while stand up comics work on improving timing and their relationship and banter with the audience.

The rewards each receives are similarly different as well. Experienced stand up comedians get paid individually while Improv teams are rarely ever paid. Typically for an Improv team, a contract is required for continual performances at the venue for payment.  Fame for improvisers is shared among the troupe. Improvisers avoid giving individual praise, comics bathe in it. They are very aware that It was their joke, and their presence that got the laughs, and they push the fanfare as high as it can go. Improvisers come to the shows early to touch in with the other players. Comics typically show up 30 minutes before they are about to perform their set and leave shortly thereafter. My observation dictates that this is truer the more famous the comic becomes.

Backstage the energies are very different. Improv troupes perform warm-ups that generate lots of energy to be shared among the group. Stand ups bring with them a lone wolf mentality. Some are gregarious backstage, but many are focused on the set they will be performing.

So many different roads leading to the same result. So many unique comedians achieving the same outcome, laughs. The old adage holds true: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

These differences don’t divide us, on the contrary, they inspire us. To an improviser, stand-ups can be a refreshing take on comedy. They show tremendous amount of confidence in practicing their art. We love to hear jokes, and we love to see others take huge risks.

Just like in many social, or work environments, I like to believe that we come together over shared interests. I don’t need to fully understand my peers methods and philosophies to appreciate the end result. We’re both working passionately toward similar goals, using different tools, and somehow, we both make it work.  We are in this together, and our differences add to the spice of life. How boring would it be if ice cream came in only one flavor? I think I’ll sample the Wasabi Ginger… yum.


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The Rules of Gender Bending

I invited a male client out for a lunch to talk about business (I’m a woman) but the waiter gave him the bill, which he insisted on paying!!  What should I have done?

What a great lesson learned!  It’s still possible to do some damage control by sending an apology with your thank you note and if you can, provide a discount on his next order or send a gift on behalf of your company.

As far as what should have been done, well … if you waited until the bill came to worry about it, you were much too late.

We are all agreed that in principle, the fact that you are a woman has very little to do with business, correct?

In practice, however, you will find that some gentlemen will be tempted to exercise some degree of chivalry outside the office walls.  Because you are gracious, you will follow their lead and interpret their actions as a sign of respect, as was intended.

But when it comes down to it, you want to chair a business meeting with no awkward moments, right?  So, you might have to anticipate each possible scenario and come up with some workarounds to common gender-related hiccups.  The best plan of attack is to use the 6P rule: Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

To put your plan in motion, begin by choosing a venue at which the staff can be trusted to open doors and pour wine.  When on the telephone to book the table, mention that you are the host.  If the restaurant provides ‘ladies menus’ (without the prices), this would be the time to ask that your client be presented with one.  [We’ll campaign for a name change to ‘Guest menus’ some other time].  Don’t forget to specify that you wish to be given the bill.  If you can, it is ideal to leave your credit card with the Maître d’ so that you can avoid having the bill delivered directly to the table altogether.  I don’t need to point out that this technique is not to be used in a dive where the bored staff will be booking their next trip to the Seychelles with your card while you work your way through the cheese soufflé.

When it comes to seating, your client should be honoured with a view onto the dining room, facing the door, or on the banquette, back against a wall.  If you feel this configuration makes him uncomfortable then fall into step by switching back to ‘traditional’ seating arrangements. Don’t go so far as to pull out the chair for him but do point out what seat you would like him to occupy in your best Vannah White palm show.  I’m sure ‘palm show‘ is an expression.  It must be.

If there are any mishaps during the meal, it’s your job to handle them by dealing with the waiter: “My guest would like some more water please, and I would love some more bread.”  It’s very important to look as casual as possible when doing this and read the signs you get in return … you don’t want to appear bossy!  Some men will be flattered by the attention, others might be embarrassed. It’s your job to know which type of man you have before you.

As long as you have made all the arrangements beforehand, there is no reason that your meeting won’t run smoothly, providing the best possible environment to discuss all the advantages your company can offer your client.  Don’t underestimate the effect that this extra bit of legwork will have on your reputation — the fact that you have taken care of all the details will bear its fruits when you close the deal!


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When you’re not just “The Wife”

My husband and I had a recent debate about whether to admit to the clients that we were married and not just colleagues.

This might sound like a strange discussion except that the meeting was with two South Asian businessmen in the Middle East. If we let on too soon that I was also ‘the wife,’ they would not take me seriously as a consultant.  They would immediately assume that I was not in the meeting because of my expertise, but because my husband allowed me in that door. They would assume I was a secretary and direct their comments and queries to the man in charge.

It sounds strange, but we have this conversation before every new introduction, followed by the question, “What shall we tell them about our background and experience?” In the latest meeting, we decided to put it all on the table.  I cringed waiting for the big question after handing out our business cards. The two men read the cards carefully, looked confused, and then stuttered, “Ummm … you have the same last name—why?”  They wanted to ask but were not sure how to do so appropriately.

In my travels, I have learned that people view marriage in very different ways whether in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  Most of our male friends and business contacts have a wife and girlfriend(s)—the wife is for childbearing and rearing (rarely ever leaves the home) and the girlfriend is for fun.  How do I know?  I often meet both (at different times) and have to act quite casual about the whole thing.  Meanwhile, I wonder whether “the wives” have any idea what’s going on.

These guys can’t imagine working with their wives because it would really cramp their style.  It’s hard to lie about your location and activities when you are together much of the time. These men shake their heads and look at my husband with pity—feeling very sorry for him.  I pretend that I don’t understand what they are suggesting. My husband–who is one of my biggest champions and promoters–laughs and moves right onto business.  He probably takes a respectability “hit” by doing so, but he doesn’t care … and I really appreciate that.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

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Top 10 Improv Tips to Combat FEAR in Every Day Life

Improv is the dumbest thing you will ever do, and also the coolest thing you will ever do. There is nothing like walking onto a stage, just yourself and your scene partner, without a preconceived direction, with no clue how your scene will unfold. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve all landed a few eggs on stage, but when it works, it’s like fireworks.

Beginning improvisers approach the stage embracing the relationship with fear. Fear is a powerful emotion. You can see fear effecting our choices, our physicality. Only with time, training and repetition do we eventually come to terms with it. So much so that it disappears, and for a short while we live in the absence of fear. And that absence of fear also effects our choices and physicality.

Mike Nato’s Top 10 Improv Mantras

  1. Follow your fear
  2. Once you define it, it exists
  3. You are enough
  4. Don’t invent, discover
  5. Get out of your head and into your heart
  6. Hold on to your shit
  7. Your EGO is an Asshole, leave it
  8. Truth in comedy
  9. Be present
  10. Trust and Listen

(in addition, a touch on fear)

LOL’s and screams from the audience … that’s the payoff. It’s as if the improv gods, from up above, looked down and smiled at you. You know it and so does the audience. Something was created from nothing, and the energy in the room becomes electric. And you come to realize you miss your old friend. So you pick up the phone and reconnect once again.


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Makeup Lesson: Tips to Achieve Your Best Look

Tonya Riner is a professional makeup artist and a Principal Partner at Beauty For Real. Her long list of celebrity clients includes Heidi Klum, Erin Wasson, Julie Anderson, Rachel Hunter, Chandra North, and Lauren Bush. Her work has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and she was included in Allure Magazine’s Directory, as one of the best makeup artists in the United States.

The question I get most often: Do you always eat chocolate the entire time you’re doing someone’s makeup? To which I answer, “Yes.”

The second question I get most often:  How do I do a smoky eye? My answer: Buckle up and hold on for the ride, you may need a shift in thinking.

Glorious things come to women with smoky eyes, and, of course, we believe those things will come our way if we just get our smoky eyes right. After all, it works for the cover girls.

Before I talk about the art of the smoky eye, first things first. Your favorite cover girl wears those lovely, smoky eyes so well because a makeup artist smoothes and perfects her skin before applying the color. Pairing smoky eyes with dark circles and a dull skin tone won’t get you the look you’re after. The best makeup strategy is to get enough rest and adopt healthy habits. You’ll find the more rested you look, the less makeup you’ll need. But you can enhance your look and define your features if you follow these steps:

How to Apply Makeup 101

Prep: Improve your skin texture by exfoliating 2-3 times per week.  I start every makeup application with Aveda’s Botanical Kinetics liquid exfoliant. You need a cotton ball and less than a minute to remove surface cells.  Stay hydrated and protect your skin with a moisturizer that includes SPF. Organics Pomegranate Protection Shade boosting moisturizer is one of my favorites.

Cover: Start with dime-sized drops of foundation on your forehead, the tips and sides of your nose, and your chin. Blend the liquid toward the perimeter of your face, making the coverage sheer as you get to your hairline and jaw, smoothing any harsh lines. Use a foundation brush or your fingers. If areas of redness or blotchiness remain, use extra foundation over just those areas by patting it on. Patting builds coverage.

Conceal: After your foundation, use a slight patting motion with your ring finger to blend concealer under your eyes. Use only on the inner corners near your nose where you still see darkness. Your goal is to make the product imperceptible, and patting it in with the pad of your finger will help you accomplish this. Less really is more. Don’t add product where it isn’t needed—excess product will draw attention to your makeup, and not in a good way. For blemishes, use a fine-tipped brush to dot concealer right on top of the blemish. Then diffuse the edges with feather strokes. The tiny tip of the brush is key, distributing the product only where you need it. Focus on making the product invisible to the casual eye.For a muti-tasker, Stila’s Stay All Day is a foundation with a concealer in the lid. I love the formula, and they’ve made it so easy by combining the products and including a mirror and brush.

Powder: Use a large, fluffy brush and dust powder only where you tend to get shiny. New technology takes away all of the drawbacks that powders had in the past. Nars Light Reflecting Powder gives a beautiful finish and keeps makeup fresh all day.

Blush: You’re blushing! Keep this in mind while applying. Blush tones should only be used where you naturally blush. Smile and add to the apples of your cheeks. Cream blushes are best applied by – you guessed it – patting them into the skin with your fingertips. Powder blushes are best applied in a circular motion with a blush brush. Tarte makes beautiful powder blushes that work on all skin types. Their blush color that I use endlessly is Blissful.

Highlighting and Contouring: This is a big one. Little effort yields big results. Bronzers go on the areas of your face where the sun hits. Blend them around your hairline, the bridge of your nose, your cheekbones, and chin. If you want a bit of contour, push the bronzer under your cheekbone for a chiseled look.  Use a cream or powder highlighter in the inner corners of your eyes, your brow bone, and your Cupid’s bow. Nothing looks as youthful as healthy skin. Bronzers add a sun-kissed glow and highlighters illuminate. I can’t live without Beauty For Real’s Get Glowing. Multi-tasking products are always at the top of my list, and this one has blush, bronzer with complimenting highlighters together in one package. The creamy formula of this product is a skin perfecter, giving your skin and look an immediate boost.

Hope you enjoyed the ride and reap the benefits of looking rested and ready. I promise we’ll play with eyeshadow and the smoky eye soon. Stay tuned. Wait! I almost forgot my most important recommendation of all: Godiva Chocolates Solid Dark Chocolate Bar will surely make you happy. Happiness gives a very natural glow. Trust me on that one!


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Recruited—How I Got Into the CIA

Everyone wants to know, “How do you get hired to work for the CIA?”  I remember looking at a large pile of resumes—there were hundreds of them—and throwing mine on the top.  I had never met a CIA agent, and I had no idea what they were looking for, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t me.  I desperately needed a job, so I threw my resume into every possible pile hoping something would work out.

I had just attended the CIA’s information session at Georgetown University, where I was working on my masters degree in Arab Studies.  Recruiters like to shock the students by reminding them that this is not Hollywood. It’s serious business.  They told us,  “The CIA steals secrets.”  “CIA Intelligence Officers talk people into committing espionage against their countries.”  Yikes.  This is hardcore.  Not sure I’m up for this, but they’ll never call me anyhow.  I was so sure I didn’t fit the bill. I slinked back to class and told no one about my little adventure.  I hoped no one had actually seen me at the recruiting venue.

But it turns out I was wrong.  I received a phone call two weeks later, and it shocked the heck out of me.  The woman on the other end of the phone confirmed that she was a recruiter for the CIA, and the Agency was interested in me.  Apparently, it was because I had knowledge of a hard language (I was learning Arabic) and extensive overseas experience. (I studied in the Middle East and had already spent time in six different countries.)  My resume indicated that I was a person who sought adventure and wasn’t scared by the small things.  While my friends were studying abroad in London, I went to Cairo and explored the back streets and alleyways of this fascinating city.  I was discovering the Sphinx, exploring the pyramids, climbing Mount Sinai, and diving in the Red Sea.

But, it’s not enough to catch the CIA’s attention.  You have to pass an extensive series of tests, a recruitment process that can last up to two years.  Pursuing a position as an intelligence officer requires a thick skin and considerable determination.  If you think that a smooth road equals success, then consider all of the bumps in the road I endured to get into the extremely selective Clandestine Service:

First Phone Interview:  My first phone interview went well. The nice lady on the other end of the line asked me about current events.  I answered all of her international affairs questions without a hiccup.

Second Phone Interview:  The second phone interview did not go so well.  The interviewer asked which part of the world I knew the most about.  Without hesitation, I proudly answered, “The Middle East!” “Great,” she said, “I’m going to ask you about Latin America.”  Oh crap.  I hardly knew a thing about that part of the world. I had tried to learn by reading newspaper articles on Central and South America, but quickly found myself bored and focused on Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. I deeply regretted doing so at that moment.  The interviewer asked me the name of the person who had just been elected the president of xxxx country.  She reminded me that it was a landmark election.  I was so embarrassed—I had no idea.  I stalled.  I hemmed and hawed.  Not knowing what else to do, I apologized and said, “I’m not really this uneducated.  I am so sorry, I just don’t focus so much on Latin America.” Total fail.  I thought I’d never hear back.

First Personal Interview:  Contrary to my assumption, I was asked to come in for the first series of personal interviews, which included three days of physical and psychological testing. The interview lasted a very long time (several hours).  Everything was going smoothly until the woman told me we were going to do some role-playing.  Knowing my specialization was the Middle East, she asked me to pick a country.  From out of nowhere and for reasons I am completely unaware, I chose Saudi Arabia—a place I had never been to and knew the least about in the Middle East.  What?  What did I just say?  Where did that come from?  Turns out my role player just happened to be an expert on Saudi Arabia’s history and culture.  Just my luck.  I said to myself: Nice effort Michele, but I think you’re finished here …

Meeting with Psychologist:  After completing several days of personality and psychological testing, I was seated in front of a psychologist who opened the conversation in a very unorthodox manner. (Mind you, I’m terrified, I think the CIA is a giant and knows everything, and I am utterly intimidated.)  The doctor informed me, “Michele, based on the way you answered the questions on the exam, you’re either lying or you are a psychopath.”  Huh?????  I swallowed hard.  Oh Lord, how in the world do I reply to that?  What should I say?  Neither option he gave me was palatable or true.  “Um, sir, I was definitely not lying.  I just found some of the questions hard to answer because they were situational and unclear.”  He sat staring at me for what seemed like an eternity.  My heart was racing and my palms were sweating.  The interview never really recovered.  It was a bust.  I don’t remember anything else we discussed; all I remember is that I couldn’t wait to get out of that chair—I practically flew out of the psychologist’s office.  This time I was certain that he was drawing a big X on my recruitment file, and I was about to be kicked out the door.  To this day, I don’t know if he was a complete idiot or there was some method to his madness.  But for whatever reason, months later I found out I was still in the running. …

Polygraph:  To pretend that a polygraph is not a BIG DEAL is a BIG FAT LIE—unless you are a psychopath, which clearly, I am not.  The examiners tell you not to be nervous while they hook your body up to a strange-looking device that we have all seen in the movies.  You are told to clear your head, but because they are asking whether you have ever lied or cheated, a movie reel of material flows through your mind—every sin you have committed in your whole life.  The polygrapher reminds you that you need to clear your head and just answer the question, but all you can think of is, Maybe I’m forgetting to tell her/him something!”  It is at this point that all serious Catholics and conservative Evangelical Christians completely fail the exam because we know—based on decades worth of preaching—that even if we have considered a sin in our hearts/minds, it’s as if we’ve committed the actual sin.  God sees our hearts, and the polygrapher must too!  We feel so guilty for our transgressions that the polygraph goes haywire, making it look as if we just tortured and killed someone in the next room.  For people like us, the polygraph is hell.  There is no way around it.  The polygraph is a torture device that is most effective with people who have a conscience.  The rest seem to get through it without a hitch.

And yet somehow, despite my certainty that I had failed, I did make it through the gauntlet to begin my year of training—and I crossed my fingers that I could get through that!

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Elegant Dining Etiquette

If you were a professional athlete you’d have to train every day.

If you were a concert cellist you’d have to practice for hours on end.  So it stands to reason that if you want to dine with the best, you must fine tune your skills.  I recommend doing this three times a day, every day.  Admittedly, though, you would be forgiven for not starching the monogrammed linens for breakfast.  

Here are just a few tips that will make your dining experience pleasurable, safe and elegant:

  • Enter your chair with your left hip  (from the right side of the chair). If everyone did this—as they should—there would be no traffic jams at seating time.  How often has a dinner been delayed because of a pile up?  Well, I don’t know, but if it ever happens, you wouldn’t want it to be your fault, would you
  • Napkins are placed either on the left of the plate or on the presentation plate—charger, as it is sometimes called. (Never put the napkin in the water glass, and no swan shapes, please!)  Napkins can be placed onto your lap once the hostess has done likewise.  Luncheon (that is posh for lunch) sized napkins will be unfurled completely, but dinner sized napkins should remain loosely folded with the fold toward you (so you can daintily dab the corners of your mouth with the far edge).  If, for whatever life-or-death type of reason, you must leave the table during a meal, the napkin should remain on the chair until your return.  At the end of the meal, and only upon leaving the table for good, it should be placed on the left side of the plate.  This signals to the wait staff that you are finished.   Please note: they prefer it if you do not hide your peas in there.  You’re a grown up, eat them, they are good for you.
  • When asked for the salt, pass it along with the pepper. (Whether or not both were requested, they like to travel together.)  Place them both on the table within reach of the person who asked.  Salt is never passed hand-to-hand, considered bad luck in many cultures.  (Judas spilled the salt during the last supper, he was never asked back.)
  • To politely refuse a drink being poured, just put two fingers on the rim of your glass.  Not the whole palm, just in case the flow of wine has begun.  Try it once if you don’t believe me!   One thing that should never be on the rim of your glass is your lipstick.  The trick to that is either blot after application or don’t wear any.
  • If you are asked to pass food, remember that it goes counter-clockwise … If you don’t have a clock, that means pass to the person seated on your right.  Food should most often be served from the left side and that is effectively what you are doing.  Reasoning: most people are right handed so if food comes from the left they can use their right hand to serve themselves.
  • Drinks, on the other hand … are served from the right.  It’s easy to remember, because that is where the glasses are.
  • Everyone’s favorite after dinner tipple*, port, is passed around port-side, after pouring a glass for the person on your right.  Port-side, for those who don’t know, is left.  Easy to remember: Your boat LEFT the PORT.  (I just thought I would add that in, as perhaps it might save your life one day, or at the very least, your boat.)  Evidently, etiquette is principally designed for clock and boat owners.
  • The most important thing to remember is to observe what the hostess or host is doing, and try to do likewise.  (Unless s/he is shouting at someone—then don’t do that.)
  • Oh, and one last thing—no matter how tempting, don’t wish everyone a “Bon appétit” at the outset of a meal.  People are not waiting for your green light to start their meal. To encourage their appetite suggests the food is so grim they need you to cheerlead for them if they are going to even consider eating it.

There now.  You are very nearly ready to dine with the pros.  There are more tips, of course, but I don’t want to overwhelm you on your first day of training.  Practice as much as you can and we’ll cover the rest in another post.

 Bon appétit! (Just kidding.)

 *I just made that up, but everything else is true.


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Be Your Own Security Advisor—Small Decisions are Big Decisions

It was the worst kind of attack in an area of Baghdad teeming with terrorists.  After leaving the meeting and driving half-way down the block, the first car in the convoy became disabled when an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) detonated right next to it.  The explosion created fire, smoke, and spread debris on the asphalt making it impossible for the second car to see what was happening 50 meters in front of it.  Not knowing the lead car was at a standstill in the middle of the road, he slammed right into the back of it.  This was the car carrying the principal protectee.  The third car wasn’t far behind, quickly pulling up to try to rescue the passengers in the first two vehicles. That’s when all hell broke loose:  AK47s, PKC machine guns, and RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades) fired until the cars looked like Swiss cheese.

It is not clear if the young protectee could have gotten out of the car—if there was any way to escape the inferno that eventually enveloped her.  All we know is that she didn’t get out and most of the team died that day.  The attackers had no clear purpose, other than a flimsy claim that it was a part of some undefined jihad against an undefined enemy who was actually there to help the locals.  I call it what it is:  a terrorist attack by a bunch of pathetic thugs against an unarmed civilian.  Real heroic. 

When you are not familiar with the ins and outs of terrorist attacks or criminal activity, you tend to think that you must be a member of Seal Team 6 in order to maximize your chances for survival.  Not so.  Actually, the most simple concepts are what will save you.  In the real-life situation above, I’m not sure anything could have been done differently except this:  That team should have never been in that neighborhood in the first place.  The area around the meeting location was actually referred to as “the triangle of death.”  Making a move to part of the city without the full resources of Blackwater or the U.S. army was to take a huge risk that far outweighed the purposes for being there.  Remember, sometimes the smartest decisions are those in which we decide not to do something.

You make similar decisions every day:  Should you go for a jog on the trail at dusk by yourself?  Should you walk back to your car in the parking garage by yourself after dinner?  Do you lock your doors and windows religiously, even when you think you live in a safe neighborhood?  We make these seemingly insignificant calculations every day, and we need to be conscious that we have more control over our security than we think.  It takes an extra step or two in order to improve our security posture, but it’s worth it.  Not every threat can be avoided, but we can improve our chances by being cognizant of that which we do control.

Dozens of people died in the Twin Towers because they were told to sit tight.  After hearing that unfortunate insight, I decided I have sufficient life experience that I should listen to my own instinct about what to do when something goes wrong. Hopefully, you’ll never face anything like 9/11 but you can make security a more conscious decision in your everyday life.  You control a lot more than you think you do.

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Interview: Xaviera Hollander, the Happy Hooker

Xaviera Hollander is a truly fascinating woman. She was born in Indonesia, of German and Dutch parents and speaks 6 languages.  She has lived an incredibly full life, with a lot of ups and a few downs.  Her stories are filled with an irreverent sense of wit and humor.  She relocated to the U.S. to work as the Dutch ambassador’s secretary in the 1960’s.  During this time, she found that men were happy to shower her with gifts in return for “favors,” in part, due to her highly sensual nature. After a bit of introspection, she began moonlighting as a call girl.  Popular with a wealthy and influential clientele, she earned $1,000 per night. ($6,000 per night is the equivalent today, adjusting for inflation.)

Capitalizing on her lucrative business, she opened Xaviera’s Happy House in a Manhattan high rise at 73rd St. and York Ave.  It quickly became the most exclusive brothel in New York City, and Xaviera was the most famous madame. She operated successfully until 1971 when she became embroiled in a massive police corruption scandal—The Knapp Commission. She was forced to testify or face deportation. She testified and ended up being deported anyway for “moral turpitude.” Apparently, her former johns in high places had no sense of humor …

After being deported, she continued to write.  In 1972, she published her memoir, The Happy Hooker.  It became an overnight sensation, selling over 20 million copies, worldwide. Her no-holds-barred, racy account of the swinging ‘60’s and ‘70’s, unabashedly delved into prostitution, bondage, group sex, bisexuality, and lesbian relationships—subjects that were taboo at the time.

She has written 19 books in total. Her last novel, and possibly her favorite, Child No More, is a memoir of losing her mother with details of their complicated relationship. While some of her books expound on sexual techniques and can be quite informative, she also has a sensitive side and addresses love, relationships, happiness, and profound sadness.

In 1972, a movie profiling her life was made, entitled The Happy Hooker, starring Oscar-nominated actress Lynn Redgrave.  Several other theater and film productions have been made about her life over the years.  Currently, a musical is being developed, with the goal of Broadway.

Have you heard of Call Me Madam? Well, Xaviera wrote for that column for 35 years for Penthouse Magazine—the longest running agony aunt advice column of its kind.

Today, she splits her time between Xaviera’s Happy House, her bed and breakfast in Amsterdam, and Villa Caprice, her villa in Marbella, Spain. She is married to a loving husband, Philip.  She offers sexology workshops and lectures and continues to write. She also brings noteworthy small theater productions to Amsterdam from around the world.

The wisdom and maturity she has gained through the years allows her to view life and relationships at their most realistic and uncomplicated levels.  She generously advises people on how to look at life from the bright side, and how to keep the spark in relationships.  We should be on the lookout for her next advice column for couples.

Q:  Hi Xaviera.  How are things in Amsterdam?

A:  Amsterdam, this winter, had the mildest climate in Northern Europe and could hardly be called “winter”.  Flowers started to bud already in February this year, and people were already flocking to the sunny and warm terraces in Midtown Amsterdam, while in the UK, people were soaked for several months with floods and rain.  Now they are finally learning from the Dutch, who as you know do more than just stick a finger up the little Dutch boy’s bum to stop the dyke from flooding!

Aside: I mentioned that I stole The Happy Hooker out of my parent’s book case when I was 13.  It turns out I wasn’t being sneaky at all—they’ve since told me they knew and thought it was funny.  That was an eye-opener for a 13-year-old kid.  I remember thinking: “Whoa!”  “She did what?  That book was much better than sex education class in the 8th grade.

Q:  Do you have any plans for an e-book re-release?  I know I’d read it again.  That and I think The Happy Hooker’s Guide To Sex: 69 Orgasmic Ways To Pleasure A Woman should be on every Kindle.

A: As it happens, (coincidence you should ask me), I just published two of my favorite books (apart from The Happy Hooker, of course) as an e-book. Let’s get Moving, about my wild times in a quaint, but fun Mexican fishing village south of Acapulco called Zihuatanejo, in Guerrero where I have been “overwintering” for the last 34 years in a great bungalow park called Las Uraccas.

Each cabana was named after an exotic bird. It was a heavenly little paradise close to the beach, with our own palapas, hammocks and great terraces, parrots and squirrels in the trees and great Mexican food.  I went there with, what for years had been the love of my life, John Drummond, a wild Scottish intellectual who, at times, liked his whiskey, beer and wines too much. We had great sex, often up to 3 times a day—all that and he was about 17 years older than me.  We met a few great looking younger couples, at a party in the mountains. We shared some wild adventures with them. And there was the occasional single blondie, often American, looking for a wild lay in the hay.  The book Let’s Get Moving is the follow-up of Happily Hooked.

Other e-books include the cute and handy illustrated booklet Sex: 69 Orgasmic Ways To Pleasure A Woman, which is full of great sex advice and tips on how to become a terrific lover.  This booklet (with a sexy red cover) is based on 35 years of sex advice I have given in Penthouse Magazine under the title Call me Madam. About 11 years ago, I got my walking papers from Penthouse, soon after Bob Guccione walked out of his own office. I had been the  longest running sex agony aunt ever in a monthly girly magazine, I used to live in London  with Guccione and his then new wife (ex-stripper) Kathy Keeton, and we all had a lot of fun. Especially when he opened Penthouse Clubs, one after another. Bob was always in competition with Hugh Hefner and Playboy Magazine.

Q: I’m sure you were upset when you were deported.  Awhile ago, you mentioned that you were having problems getting into the U.S. to work on your Broadway show.  How many  years has it been since you have not been allowed to enter the United States?

A: 28 years. Until TV and radio host, Larry King sponsored me and took care of the legal bills to get me back, and on his show. He was kindhearted and almost overly protective toward me with the callers, who asked me all kinds of questions.  Little did he know how much I like controversy!  The Larry King interview had very high ratings. During the show, I promoted my new favorite (18th) book CHILD NO MORE. Shortly after the show, I secured a visa to the USA for the coming 5 years. 28 years earlier, after getting kicked out of the USA for running a brothel and procuring call girls, I realized one thing about the USA: IN THE USA YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH MURDER, BUT NOT WITH SEX. (I’m hinting towards O.J Simpson, who finally did get done in. To tell you the truth I was more glad than upset to get the hell out of the USA, that’s how fed up I was with all those crooked cops in Manhattan. I craved freedom again. “

Q: How is your bed and breakfast doing in Amsterdam:  Xaviera’s Happy House? Do you have any suggestions of things to do while visiting Amsterdam?

A:  Do you mean the most bohemian and colorful, semi-erotic, tinted bed and breakfast you will ever find in the world? The perfect hideaway for lovers, especially our renewed and enlarged Garden Chalet with a magnificent double shower, where two lovers can easily “fool around” before diving between the sheets of the enormous king size bed. To answer your question, we are getting very busy all of a sudden, what with  the dead months of winter behind us. It has been spring-like weather since February — with tourists flocking especially to Amsterdam—#2 fun city in the world.

Tulip fields in March and April, in the so-called Keukenhof, where thousands of tourists flock;  our various massive worldwide known congresses, around the corner from my house at the RAI congress center;  wild holidays like the King’s birthday, April 26 when  everybody dresses in orange and  the entire country goes crazy. Kids under 18 are not allowed to buy liquor anymore.  A step taken to avoid crazy binge drinkers. They still drink, but it’s confined to private parties.

Then there is the world famous GAY PRIDE day in August,  when all the gay boys and girls let it all hang out (with minutely covered private parts).  Even the predominantly gay police force (the so called boys and girls in blue), appear on their special boats, but never as naked as some others … Then there is the famous Holland Festival for a week in June  with culture lovers  seeking a stay over at the  Xaviera’s Happy House or any of the dozen other places my man Philip and I represent: or simply visit Absolute Amsterdam. Year round, people of all ages, but mostly between 25 and 50, flock to Amsterdam to attend enormous rock concerts, kinky S&M fetish parties, and to watch burlesque shows and visit the red light district. Of course, there is the recently reopened Rijks Museum. After 10 year’s restoration work, it’s a museum you don’t ant to miss.  The  Museum of Contemporary Art, is a worthwile visit as well.

Q:  I checked out your Villa Caprice on your website.  It looks like a very cool place to be …

A: Cool is not really the right word for a steamy place like Southern Spain … Villa Caprice is in Marbella, Spain. Occasionally, I go there with my man and friends, when the heat is over. There are only a few tourists  in May or September.   The Marbella weather is the best in the world. The rest of the year, the villa is for rent for my own friends or fans or via booking agents. The house is spacious and can sleep up to 12 people with 3 different bathrooms and two big kitchens. And, lots of terraces and seating or lounging place for all guests.

You can frolic around in the immense pool in the nude, walk to the beach in ten minutes, hike into the mountains just around the corner, or take a car and go to spectacular places like Cordoba, Seville,  Granada , Morocco, or Gibraltar. In almost every quaint Spanish village there are interesting and colorful  street markets full of interesting locally made things you may want to pick up to take home. “

Q:  How is the theater production company? You travel quite a bit to find productions to tour with, correct?

A:  I have a great love of the theater, especially one or two man or woman shows.  To hold the attention of an audience takes incredible writing and acting talent. The last great bestselling one woman show was called  STRIPPED …  about the life and times of a true and seasoned, bright stripper. I produced the one hour, one woman show in a theater festival in Dubrovnik, Croatia with great success.  The play also toured in Amsterdam and Marbella.  I’m considering working on a UK version of the first play I produced in Holland, 15 years ago.   It is a Russian play called MOSCOW PETUSHKI, about a Russian drunk philosopher who gets stuck on a train between Moscow and Petushki. The Polish Actor Jacek Zawadzki  did the show both in Polish as well as in English in Holland when I organized an entire  Polish public at my own house theater.

Q: So, you’re doing a lecture tour, running your B&B (Happy House in Amsterdam) and have your Villa Caprice in Marbella. You host seminars and symposiums, write, produce theater, and travel to find talent. You handle your website and merchandising of your books and CD’s.  HOW do you keep this all straight?  Are you Superwoman or what?  Do you ever sleep?

A:  I am a total insomniac, and each hour I don’t sleep, I am at work, usually on the computer.  I need no more than 4 to 5 hours sleep.  I keep up with all this while I am still reasonably fit.  I don’t drink any alcohol, don’t smoke cigarettes and gave up smoking Marijuana years ago. Basically, I am a  chocolate, cookies, licorice and flower girl.

Q:  Do you think a brothel like Xaviera’s Happy House could work today in New York?

A:  NO AND THAT ENTIRE  SUBJECT right now is about the furthest thing on my mind.  Sorry to say, yet I am  very much up to date with the changing laws worldwide, and just did a major documentary about women, all over the USA, Canada, and Holland. in the sex industry—Pay For Play from Canada.

As I become more mature, my life experiences are leading me in a different direction.  I’m now looking at options for a syndicated advice column for couples. It will be focused on how to look at life from the bright side and make changes before relationships blow up like some enormous eruption of Vesuvius …  Even if couples have to break up there are ways to soften the blows.  If you are in a brand new relationship, I can teach you how to avoid the potholes and keep things fresh and exciting without necessarily having anyone turn into a Barbie or Ken doll.

Q:  You have told me that Philip is the love of your life and soul mate. How did that happen?

A:  I am glad that I am not a young girl anymore who has to make up her mind what she wants to be when she grows up. I am happy I hooked the love of my life about 10 years ago at my own birthday party.  He treats me like a lady with a good dose of  humor and basically  knows all  my needs; be this a fine pot of  fruity tea and lemon or ginger in the morning or some  sickly sweet pancakes and raisins, with  powdered  sugar and  whipped cream and not to forget ice cream once a week at night!!

He is a terrific cook and in fact, the first sentence I spoke to him when we met in my own garden was:  ‘Hey Philip, can you COOK?’  THE ICE WAS INSTANTLY BROKEN.  He is a multifaceted diamond this man, 10 years my junior.  He used to be a jeweler and limousine driver for some very wealthy Russians, a bookkeeper (for me now) and a private detective … (which makes it impossible for me to cheat as he smells it  before I could even think of cheating) .  He is very jealous and does not like me to fool around at all. Although, we both love to  embrace very big breasted women like my year-long friend  the porn star ANNIE SPRINKLE . Philip, now  just 60, is in great shape and, like his sweet parents (both still very much alive in their mid-eighties), he has a thick mop of curly white hair.

We love to go swimming at least once a week but if he begs me to go for a long walk, I usually decline.  My favorite space in the house is a most comfortable ergonomic Miller office chair, where I can be found until the early morning hours—skyping, typing, calling and facebooking—NOW I have just launched two books of mine on ebook  versions and this week I will start a welcome to my readers  campaign to start TWITTERING and  promote these books  SUPERSEX  and  LETS GET MOVING.  (about my wild adventures in Mexico many moons ago).

The only place we argue in is in the car, as there,  Philip’s macho mentality cannot be suppressed by my screams or kind requests  to slow down . … His name in Dutch is de Haan … the cock, and for sure he is a real MR MACHO COCK ON THE ROAD.

Q:  Xie, thanks for the chat, and please keep us posted on where to find your writing and column.

A:  I will and the same to you!

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Etiquette Moments On Illness

And now for a bit of seriousness.  But it won’t last long, don’t worry.

Illness. It can strike anyone anytime. It is one of life’s tests, and how one reacts to the news can often determine the prognosis.

Fighting a battle against disease can be quite hard work in itself, but it’s made worse by the tactless comments and actions of those around.

While we all know that people have the best intentions, too often they get nervous and say the wrong thing, which will leave the sufferer politely cringing, hurt or uncomfortable. Talk about adding insult to injury!

So how should one handle the subject? In my opinion, it should be avoided, when possible. People are very swift at labeling others indelibly especially when it comes to a ‘weak point’ such as illness or disease. This can perpetuate the image of un-wellness, which is not a help to recovery.

If someone announces that they have a serious illness, and you want to show them you care, then please bear in mind the following points before putting your foot in your mouth.

  1. Somehow, people often manage to make it about themselves.  “Oh, you have cancer?  Well, I know just how you feel. I’ve got this terrible corn on my toe that just won’t quit.”  Don’t be that person.
  2. Remember that the person in front of you is living, breathing and thinking his or her illness 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  They might not want to talk about it with you.  But, if they do, then let them do the talking.
  3. Don’t pry but do show some consideration.  ‘I’m very sorry to hear that, shall we go sit down?’ Acceptable questions can be ‘How long have you known?’ or ‘I’m not familiar with that condition, can you tell me about it?’  If you aren’t BFFs or family, then forget about trying humor, you’ll fall flat.
  4. If you do know of someone who has beaten the illness, it’s okay to share that info, as well as how they did it.  If you know of someone who has not recovered, then keep it under your hat.
  5. Forget about “Give me a shout if you need anything.”  That never works.  Be proactive in your offer to help by dropping off treats, coming over to collect ironing; arrange for a cleaner (by prior agreement) or have groceries delivered.   If you are at the shop, call and say “I am here, what can I bring back for you?”, which is a much easier offer to accept than having to ask someone to make a special trip.
  6. Send a card, by all means, but also keep in touch by phone or email.  It’s not because they can’t get to the party that they are not keen to learn all the juicy gossip. Learn to read the signals on when it’s ok to be present, and when the person needs some alone time.
  7. Don’t expect a thank you …  Your gesture probably made their week, but they might not be in good enough shape to tell you about it.
  8. Do not EVER give medical advice unless you are their physician.  Whatever you read on the internet does not qualify as sound advice.
  9. When telephoning, begin by asking whether it’s a good time to chat.  If it isn’t, then don’t linger.
  10. It’s okay to say “this is so unfair,” because that is exactly what illness is.
  11. If you are visiting in the hospital, keep your voice down as much as possible, respect the visiting hours, and do not expect the nurses to provide you with a cup of coffee. (though they sometimes will, because they are lovely people).  Look up the policy on flowers and plants and if they are not suitable presents, bring something that is.  Books or an iPod full of audiobooks are great alternatives.
  12. If someone is on a diet to improve their physical condition, don’t expose them to the forbidden elements like alcohol or a fudge cake.  And if you do, the comment: ‘Pity, you can’t eat this it’s delicious’ is both unnecessary and cruel.

If you are suffering from an illness, you probably already know how utterly tactless people can be and who your real friends are (because there are about three of them left).

It’s not your responsibility to teach people how to behave around you, but you might like to consider the following strategy to avoid getting into situations, which will invariably make you uncomfortable.

 Choose whom you tell: there are times when people will have to know all the details, but with others, you can keep the information limited.  ‘I’m a little unwell at the moment’ might be just enough to keep people from being too intimate and will explain why you are not your usual self.  Remember that the illness could likely become your new identity for as long as people will remember so don’t tell more people than really need to know.  Once you are well again, you will appreciate not having shared it liberally.
Be a good ambassador: you might suffer from a condition that many people are not familiar with …  If that is the case, then have a quick explanation ready so people don’t have to wonder how they should react.  For instance you could say ‘I suffer from an auto-immune condition called Lupus, so I get tired quite easily, but I’m ok for the moment so let’s get to work.’
Even good people will screw up and say or do the wrong thing.  Forgiveness is often key to healing, so practice it now.
Take care of yourself.  Follow an alkalizing diet to enforce your immune system and steer clear of toxins: cigarettes, sugar and alcohol to name a few.  You’ll garner much more support when people see how serious you are about fighting off the baddies.
Get well soon. xx


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From AMW to CFO

Raise your hand if you’re an AMW.

I found out about this term when I first came to Los Angeles. A new acquaintance casually called me an “AMW” and even though I’d been one half my life, I was deflated to find out there was this derogatory acronym used to describe my life’s purpose.

AMW = Actress, Model, WHATEVER.

At that time I was actively pursuing my career as a screenwriter, and even though the model/actress part was true about me, I felt so indignant about the “whatever” part because after all, I had a clear, passionate dedication to writing. I’d spent YEARS working every day on my craft. I had producers interested in my scripts. It was the reason I came to Los Angeles. I scoffed at my new acquaintance. How dare they lump me in that category. I was an Actress, Model, WRITER.

Eight years later in Los Angeles …  how much money have I made from screenwriting? … Zero.

There have been a lot of hard times during my career as an AMW. A LOT. One of my greatest pieces of advice for young girls who want to be an AMW is to always have something else you do that makes money so you can keep yourself going during tough times. That way you won’t have to resort to having a sugar daddy like a lot of the AMWs (not me) do, and you won’t be desperate to book jobs (me). I gave that advise out sensibly for years, but I myself didn’t have any skills that paid the bills. That drove me bananas. I had a lot of dreams: woodworking, tiling, gardening … but who did I think I was? Some kind of Jesus cum Martha Stewart? I’d never made a craft in my life! I tried a lot of crazy part timers: DJ’ing, personal assisting, weed delivery telephone operator, dog walker … but those occupations were more “whatever’s.” I wanted a solid skill.

During one of my stints as a personal assistant, I was given the opportunity to do some bookkeeping. It was challenging, but I liked it, and the more I did, the more people asked for my services. Soon I became a QuickBooks wizard. I had so much work, I couldn’t handle it all.

Last year my husband started a bar service business for private events called The Grand Bevy and guess who is the CFO?

Finally, an acronym I can be proud of!


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I Am Afraid


Be Your Own Security Advisor – Security Tips from a Counterterrorism Expert

The thing about CIA intelligence officers is that you must be tuned into your environment, aware of your surroundings, and able to spot when something looks wrong or out of place.

Ultimately, we are searching for counterintelligence threats because we don’t want to end up detained, charged with espionage and dumped in a foreign jail.  That is a CIA officer’s worst nightmare—to be caught in the act and blown as an agent.  Therefore, we have to be on our game every time we conduct an operation.  We have to know:

  • Is anyone following us?
  • Listening too closely to our conversations?
  • Standing too close?
  • Are they using walkie-talkies in their cars?
  • Do they have earpieces in their ears?
  • Do they look out of place?
  • Are they acting normally?

The other major thing we are looking for are people that could pose a security threat to us.  As Americans living and working abroad, we are the natural target for people who hate the United States.  We are the people that terrorists want to hijack, carjack, kidnap, or kill.  Therefore, we have to pay extra attention to what’s going on around us.  The same goes for men and women concerned about keeping themselves safe on the mean streets of America.  Gone are the white picket fence days-of-old when we still had our innocence.  September 11th stole our sense of well-being and since then, mass casualty attacks, school shootings, and assaults by crazies and lone wolfs in public places, have become the new normal.  We have to adjust our ways of seeing the world and become our own personal security advisors.It’s not hard—especially for women who tend to be tuned in to their surroundings (the mama bear protective instinct).

This Feminine Collective series will give you the tools you need to keep you and your loved ones safe.  But before we delve into the specifics of how to prepare for, and respond to various types of attacks, you have to learn how to be your own secret service agent.  You must have the rudimentary knowledge to comb a location and identify potential security threats.  Situational awareness is the key to safety.  Without it, you are toast.

I regularly scan for threats when I’m in large, crowded, public places like malls, concert events, sitting in the lobby of a large hotel (more of an overseas concern), getting into and out of my car in parking lots and parking garages, walking on the streets of a city next to dumpsters, alleyways, etc.  In those moments, my antenna is all the way up.  I’m looking for anyone or anything that is out of place:  an abandoned bag, a person skulking around looking shifty, a strange car parked close to mine with someone inside of it, individuals who appear confused or nervous or simply seem out of place for the area, etc.  I’m not paranoid, but I’m searching for clues to be sure that someone is not in a position to harm me.  A few of the things that have popped out at me when I’m “in the zone”:

  • I see a lot of drug deals going down or about to go down.  It’s not a direct threat to me, but I’d rather not stick around and place myself in a more vulnerable position.
  • My husband and I were walking on Capitol Hill when we noticed that a car pulled up and was driving very slowly behind us.  A guy got out of the car and start walking towards us.  We both straightened our posture and picked up our pace.  My husband, who has amazing street smarts, pulled up his jacket as if he was reaching for a gun (which he did not have).  With confidence, my husband turned around to glare at the guy who seemed to be pursuing us.  Thank God he wigged out, made a sudden U-turn and took off in the opposite direction.
  • While driving close to home in 2002, I saw two men in a rental car taking covert photographs of a water treatment facility in Arlington, VA.  (I called in their tag number and vehicle description to the FBI hotline.)
  • While walking to my car in the parking garage of a prominent mall in northern Virginia, I heard some loud noises and what sounded like an assault taking place in the stairwell.  I grabbed my phone ready to call 911—that’s when I turned the corner and saw a man and woman struggling—the woman was screaming for him to let her go.  I yelled, “Are you OK????”  I realized, at that moment, that it was an Arab couple so I instinctively yelled in Arabic, “What are you doing to her?  Shame on you!  Shame on you!!!” They stopped fighting, looked shocked and embarrassed, and then ran away.
  • In a major department store, I walked right into the middle of a surveillance operation.  I saw several men ducking behind shelves and wearing earpieces although I never saw the rabbit (the person they were surveilling).  No one else in the store seemed to have a clue what was unfolding right in the middle of their little shopping trip.

Funny how paying a little bit of attention to your surroundings reveals details you’ve never noticed before.  Turn up your security antenna, and you will be ahead of the game and more switched on than the majority of those around you.  Then, if anything does go down, you’ll be ready.

Photo Credit: Christoph Scholz Flickr via Compfight cc

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The Pissing Contest: Step by Step

Installation #1: Explaining the male psyche

You’ve heard the term Pissing Contest? Well, for us (men) this is a real and very serious thing.  It must take place out of doors, preferably in a semi-public place so that there is an added element of risk.  We like risk.  We do not have contests standing at a urinal during happy hour.  That would be considered bad form and kind of creepy.

Pissing Content Rules:

  • The opponents must stand side by side 6 feet apart, so that distance judging cannot be questioned and arc height has an obvious point of reference. There is no referee.  Honor is paramount.
  • We do not check out each other’s plumbing.  This is grounds for disqualification and the end of Happy Hour.  We take a great deal of comfort in knowing it is there, but we don’t feel the need to look (this is called meat gazing).  That would be weird.
  • Copious quantities of beer are usually involved to increase hydraulic pressure. Quantities are left to the contestant’s discretion to compensate for age, weight, and bladder size variance.
  • Balconies, roofs, and large boats are considered choice venues unless the match involves penmanship, which we’ll go over in a moment.
  • The standard competition is usually judged on distance (pressure), arc (height), accuracy, duration, and timing.  As in most other competitive sports, it is important that the athletes are competing in the same time frame.
  • In a penmanship match, snow is the preferred medium (with a shrinkage factor handicap factored in), although dry, fine sun-baked sand is also acceptable.  Opponents agree, before the match starts, on style—block letters or cursive.  Cursive is the usual choice.  Block letters will send some competitors crying and running back to the bar.  Without extensive training, the stopping and starting between letters can be extremely painful and unless properly executed, can result in disqualification.  The subject matter must be legible.  If it is not, this if referred to as the unattended fire hose effect, or willy-nilly.
  • There is no argument or contesting a match.  There is no instant replay.  Contestants are working with an unspoken code of honor.
  • Interestingly, (and this brings us back to the unspoken code) the winner buys the next round of beer, to refuel for the rematch.

Sometimes this leads to the master’s round, particularly if the athletes walked to the bar.  During the walk home, we move into PPR (public pissing round).  This is a freestyle event with only one contestant at a time.  Once again our code of honor rules. The athlete not competing at the time becomes the judge.  There have been times when the first competitor executes such a perfect round that the potential opponent yields and the match is over.

Master’s Round Guidelines:

  • The use of props and diversion are important in this event.  Scores are based on levels of difficulty, discretion, and audacity.  Not unlike judging a surfing contest, every situation is different and every athlete executes moves according to their personal style.
  • Important props include a large cup, a newspaper, a loose upper-thigh length jacket, and most importantly—a cell phone.  A loud imaginary conversation on the cell phone diverts attention from the cup or the rolled newspaper over the garbage can to the competitor’s face.
  • Discretion is crucial in this round.  Discovery results in immediate disqualification and possibly a little jail time.

I hope this, and future installments will be useful in explaining the male psyche.

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Sticks and Stones

Should I tell my boss his fly is undone?

“Should I tell my boss when his fly is undone?”

Here is the short answer …  No.  No more than you would tell anyone they had parsley in their teeth, nor say “bless you” (or any variation thereof) after a sinus eruption, even if it makes it onto the Richter scale.

Does this make you uncomfortable?  Consider this: it’s all about saving face.  And while you might be chomping at the bit trying to point out these … shortcomings … you must be mindful not to embarrass the other person by letting on that you have noticed.

Now, I am not a fool. (It’s worth mentioning.) There are circumstances in which there is no recourse but to help someone out: a spouse for instance.  Consequently, I recommend that you adopt a system of discrete signals with close friends or family members to draw attention to a bit of food-on-face should the situation arise.

For instance, in our family, we use a code word which means absolutely nothing but that can easily be slipped into a sentence.  People “in the know” will hear it and remove the offending crumb/drip/spot whilst people who don’t know will simply think they have misheard.

Sadly, I cannot share with you exactly what it is because every member of my (large) extended family now knows it. Needless to say, it’s getting awkward at gatherings when the whole family simultaneously reaches for napkins at the sound of the word.  It sort of freaks the other people out, in fact.  Pavlov would be amused, though.

So I encourage you to get your own word, and share it with those you love.

Depending on the situation and if dealing with someone particularly switched on, you might be able to manage a “Sir, a word please?” followed by “I thought you might like to borrow my mirror for a moment.”

But, when it comes to your client, a new acquaintance or employer, unless you have a very privileged relationship, then I’m afraid that you’ll have to just put up with the problem.  And try not to stare.


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Bad Bosses

I have the worst luck when it comes to landing bad bosses.

Jennifer Aniston’s character in Horrible Bosses has nothing on the people I’ve worked for.  After selling my house and car, packing up all of my earthly belongings, and moving overseas to one of the most inhospitable places on earth, my first boss greeted me by saying, “Don’t f— this up,” and then gave me a lecture that I still don’t remember because I was still stuck on the first sentence.  He would pass right by me in the tiny office and refused to speak to me or acknowledge my existence for three months.  Meanwhile, I was surrounded by office gossips who behaved like they were still in middle school.  It was the height of discomfort.

My second boss was incompetent and knew it.  He was terrified that everyone would see through him, so he hid in his office and only came out to berate his staff or use the bathroom.  That guy couldn’t run an operation to save his life.  It was clear to me that his behavior was based on deep insecurity and fear.  I didn’t know whether to hate him or feel really sorry for him.

The third boss wasn’t horrible, he just wasn’t accessible.  He seemed to have no real leadership qualities.  He was cold and stiff, but I was thrilled to have him.  I felt like I had won the lottery.

Finally, after all of that suffering, I was placed in a group with two female bosses that were great.  But they were quickly overshadowed by one guy in the chain-of-command that lied and cheated and seemed to get away with all kinds of offenses that–if it were me—would have landed me in jail.  In one situation, I refused to partner with him in a lie.  When he couldn’t get me in trouble with my immediate bosses, he turned around and gave my partner a horrible performance review to make up for it.  We both knew it was coming, but we felt we were ethically right and were ready to bear the consequences for our decision.

Then my fortune finally turned and I had a series of wonderful bosses who mentored others, gave their staff opportunities to grow, and looked after people who showed talent and drive.  Hallelujah!!!!

Surviving such an unfortunate string of bad bosses was a character building exercise that I would have preferred to skip.  I don’t pretend it’s easy.  It may be one of the hardest things you do, so here’s my survival guide for dealing with the narcissists and big egos:

◦   You can’t change the circumstances, but you can change the way you respond to them.  They sneered at me, I greeted them warmly. Each day I walked in the office, I felt like doo-doo, but I put a smile on my face, worked hard, and put forth the best effort I could.  I took the high road and refused to let them believe they were impacting my life.  I wanted to show them that they couldn’t steal my faith, my purpose, or my joy.

◦   Learn how to channel the icky stuff.  I learned how to channel my energy when I felt overwhelmed and frustrated.  Exercise is extremely useful when you have no hope of altering the outcome of a situation.  I used to imagine this one guy’s head on the punching bag, and I kicked the heck out of that thing.  I always felt physically and emotionally better after those workouts.

◦   Put your head down and become the expert.  While bad bosses and terrible colleagues are busy creating their own dramas, put your head down and become the best accountant, analyst, bookkeeper, teacher, or salesperson there ever was.  Use the time to focus on learning your job and taking your expertise to the next level.  While they are mired in conflict, you will speed ahead and leave them all in the dust.

◦   Take the long view of life.  Tactically they won small victories, but it was me that won in the long view of life.  I hate to say it because I certainly don’t wish it on anyone, but the seeds you plant will come back to you in spades—either good or bad.  One boss lost his whole family (extremely ugly divorce), the other has a hugely dysfunctional family with a child in prison and a wife that won’t speak to him, another had a child out of wedlock and had to scrape together to get through the situation…and the sad list goes on.

We want to think we can change our situations, but I’ve been there and I know that’s not always possible.  Sometimes we are mired in the muck longer than we would like.  I’ve lived to tell the tale and so will you.  I promise you will come out on the other end.

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In My Other Life

Sex Addict Revealed

It wasn’t until the death of my mother on July 25, 2011, that my blindness died. After three more months, I was born again, as an awake, aware, and sober addict and co-dependent.

On October 10, 2011, I kicked my husband, Leonard out the door. It was a relatively minor infraction that sent him packing. It brought up all his lies, betrayals, and infidelities that I had recently discovered, after leaving my mother’s deathbed. Yes, throughout our kinky lifestyle, I had expected my husband to be honest with me. That was the only way I could justify it all.

I had entered my husband’s land of lust because he complained that he hadn’t experimented enough sexually before we met. I came up with a hare-brained compromise that would allow him to explore sexually yet still give me emotional security. With this deal ruling the heart and crotch, a couple of superhero swingers took flight!

The Agreement: No side relationships and we would only “play” together, never separately.

For me, the rule was modified, only to accommodate my sugar daddies. It was a type of job, after all, and had nothing to do with personal entanglements. So the personal boundaries did not fit here. Even as I write these words, I want to vomit. I had twisted myself into a pathetic pretzel to ensure that my “love” would stay with me and stay honest. Only to discover, after my mother’s death, that he never kept his end of the bargain. He had been cheating on me the entire five years of our relationship.

Hence, the night of October 10, 2011, was the beginning of my new life, without costumes, without sex parties, without constant porn, sex chats, threesomes, foursomes, sugar daddies, or the coordination of Leonard’s next fix, whatever it was. My abrupt decision to banish him enveloped me in total shock, quickly followed by intense rage, extreme fear, deep sorrow, and then relief, all within five minutes. Later, I would visit these various stages for weeks or months at a time. If being in love feels like sipping a cocktail of Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin, then falling out of love felt like drinking a straight shot of Cyanide. In the sex/love addict’s 12-step program, they call this detox phase “withdrawal”, just as it would be for an alcoholic or drug addict. I found it to be miserably painful.

When I originally began writing my memoirs, I thought it would be a titillating romp through my “sexcapades” as a legal secretary, when I was still single and wild. After a loveless and sexless seven-year marriage in the 90’s (I know the seven-year itch!), I was ready for a good dose of lust. That is what I thought anyway. Little did I know I was on a journey deep into my sex/love addiction, a journey fraught with painful consequences that ended with me married, yet being paid to have sex with wealthy men. Yes, I wanted to believe it was legal. They were merely helping a lady who found herself in a difficult situation.

Until recently, few people recognized that sex/love addictions even existed, especially not for women, and least of all for me. Although I knew I had tremendous difficulty being alone for more than a few hours at a time, I had an even more difficult time coping outside the cocoon of a romantic relationship. When I was in between relationships, I was miserable. Later on, I adopted the serial dating approach, so I wouldn’t have a moment to lament, while desperately hoping to find the next Mr. Right. But I just told myself this was a fun adventure and for the most part, I did have fun, as long as the addiction was fed. Albeit, I was never content with my need to be in love and in a relationship. However, I preferred that to being in lust. I accepted lust, only as a bad second to love, and I accepted it often.

Photo Credit: iggyshoot via Compfight cc

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BDSM and Swinging

In the summer of 2008, I left my life-in-law and felt inspired to write down my “sexcapades” as a legal outlaw.

Perhaps my inspiration was this escalating sensual life with my new boyfriend, Leonard. Escalating? How could my sex life possibly be escalating?! Until I met Leonard, I thought I had hit my peak, or rather bottom, of my lust barrel. He made me look like a prude! Is that why I fell in love with him? Finally feeling like a virgin again. Until meeting Leonard, I was naive about the world of kinky sex. With all his sex parties, Craigslist personals and BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadism, and Masochism) equipment, I felt like a newbie. His extensive sexual experiences had the positive effect of minimizing all my promiscuous years.

I married Leonard twice during 2010; once in Brooklyn at an artist loft known for hosting sensual events, and once in Costa Rica at his parents’ country home, amidst his extended Catholic family. These were such diametrically opposed environments, yet they fed two distinctly powerful elements within my psyche: the Madonna and the whore. I guess I wanted to prove my husband’s love for me was real. Real to whom? My life with Leonard was a constant barrage of sex, sensuality, kink, love, and lust. I agreed to enter into a swinger lifestyle with Leonard since his so-called lack of sexual experiences, was his only stop in marrying me. Curious for sure about this swinger life, but mostly, I wanted to please my man, so I could keep him. Thus, a resistant swinger was born.

Beside lots of kinkiness, we had a good dose of laughter and frivolity thrown into the mix. After nearly 30 years of transformational work under my belt (ten of those years geared specifically around sex, sensuality, dating, and relationships), I quit my corporate life, in 2008, to join forces with my newly unemployed man to become relationship coaches. Leonard had also spent many years studying in these transformational realms, though mainly in the sensual arenas. We felt we would be a great, working team and could offer people some “out-of-the-box” coaching that would enliven their romantic lives. Though we mainly kept our kinky lifestyle private from our coaching clients, some of our clients came from the “kink” worlds, were aware of our lifestyle and welcomed our experienced coaching.

We were originally known as The Tantra Warriors. Clad in tights and capes, we styled ourselves as relationship superheroes and flew around our perfect Gotham, here in New York City. Leonard created these superhero outfits to attend a Fourth of July sex party in 2007. Although we were undiagnosed sex/love addicts, we were clear about our costume addiction a.k.a attention addiction. By 2011, we had two closets full of costumes to add to the party trail. Some costumes were made for “Burning Man” art parties and others for sex parties. In 2009, our Lady Gaga-like costumes attracted the notice of a major TV network, and by the summer of 2010, we appeared as the season finale of a popular reality show. We changed the name of our coaching practice to “The Transformational Warriors” as Tantra had too much of a sexual connotation for prime time. I was delighted to shirk off some of this overt sexual persona and be more of the vanilla heroine that I longed to be. I had gone from supermodel to super slut to superhero, and I was flying high on my attention drug of choice!

When the show aired that summer, we were both intoxicated by our 60 minutes of fame but we still had no fortune to warm the stove. However, Leonard did make sure we had plenty of bedfellows to warm our loins. One day, I had a brilliant idea to combine what Leonard wanted (lust) with what I wanted (loot). I signed up on several sugar daddy dating sites, looking to trade sex for cash. Hey, it was technically legal. I wasn’t a prostitute per se. I was merely embracing another level of my legal courtesan. Besides, I was in a relationship with these men, or so I told myself. Why not? I thought. Hell, I was giving it away for free anyway, why not make some money for my time and effort?

I met with a number of very interesting wealthy men through these sugar daddy websites. Typically, I’d meet each sugar daddy two to three times a month for dining, dancing, and dalliances, like any other dating couple, except I was married and they were handing me handsome allowances. I justified my new life as a legal courtesan by the emergency financial relief it gave us. I needed to care for my dying mother with Alzheimer’s, who was being abused by my alcoholic father. I had absolutely no time for a 40-hour a week job. What about my husband? Oh, he was too busy with his sexual addiction to work either. Of course, at the time I did not know why he could not come up with employment. I assumed it was the recession. We even tried to sell him to sugar mommies and sugar daddies, but a mid-40’s, out-of-shape man didn’t make the cut.

Photo: ©Shanti Patty Owen

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“a plea”


Nectar of the Extreme

Gifts that Guys REALLY Want

Today I’d like to give you all a heads up on the kinds of things most males like to receive as gifts.

I’m going to throw in my two cents at 55 years old, and also get opinions from my son Charlie, 24, and my buddy Max, 26.  So we’re covering two generations.

I think it’s safe to generalize a bit and say that we don’t like a lot of stuff.  We like cool stuff that lasts.  We break things in and keep them, and for the most part (except for beer), we’re more into quality than quantity.  We don’t need closets and dressers full of clothes and shoes. That’s what washing machines are for. We don’t need 5 or 6 colognes or shampoos.  We don’t like to make decisions.  We want to jump in the shower 7 minutes before we need to leave home.  We don’t pack huge suitcases full of shit. We travel light.

Sporting equipment, boats, electronics, and cars give us wood. I was told many years ago that for the feminine gender, if it plugs in, it ain’t a gift. This is not true for guys.

Before you do your gift shopping, consider the stuff we’re suggesting.  The response you don’t want is: “Oh honey, that’s so sweet.”  What you do want is:  “Whoa … Damn!!!”  This isn’t tied to how much you spend, it’s what you buy. Granted, there are a few things here that I know I would probably never receive as a gift.  Not a snowball’s chance in Hell. But hey, a guy can dream can’t he?

So, Charlie and Maxi are both interesting characters.

Max graduated from American University and also did a year at Trinity in Ireland.  He and his 2 best friends decided to have an adventure and pitched in to buy an old sailboat, The Seeker.  They spent 10 months restoring and outfitting her and learning to sail.  They took off from Panama City, Florida and sailed the Caribbean, Central America and South America for 6 months.  They supported themselves working while stopping off; mainly lobster diving in the Bahamas.  They sold the boat at the end of the trip in Bocas del Toro in Panama.  Max then did a stint in Portugal and Spain as a cycling tour guide for groups of 15 year old kids.  He is a modern gentleman and a scholar, wicked surfer, and a fierce snowboarder.

At that time, he had an interest in cooking and a real talent for it.  He came to Costa Rica and worked with me at Bella Vista Lodge for 5 months.  We had a blast.  We got to the point in the kitchen where we really didn’t need to talk.  We both knew what was happening and we just looked at each other and nodded.  He hit the turn signal and passed me going 120 miles an hour and moved to L.A. less than a year ago to be with his sweetheart Anna and is working as a personal chef.  He just landed a job at Gjelina, arguably the hottest restaurant on the west side.

The fruit of my loins, Charlie, is a lot of fun.  He is also a renaissance man like me. He doesn’t know what he wants to do yet—two years of school finished—so he does everything.  He does boat design and boat building. He’s a corporately sponsored tournament sports fisherman. He works on all facets of home construction. He’s been a charter captain, chef, catastrophe insurance adjuster, marine mechanic, commercial fisherman, and stone crabber.

He spent 8 months with me in Costa Rica helping with the Lodge.  We had some serious adventures there that I’ll talk about another time … funny.  The boy became relatively famous down there. (Anyone reading this from Dominical is doing an eye roll about now, guaranteed.)  He now lives in Cortez, Florida with the lovely Captain Charlotte and his pal Jack, a blue and gold macaw with a drinking and swearing problem.

Gift that Guys Want:  According to Max
3:31 AM via Gmail

max-jumpOkay, advice for buying gifts …

Enriching experiences or things that he can use, that show that you get him. Do lots of research and comparisons before you buy anything. Here’s a glimpse into Max’s mind: (Note from Bert: His mind is a scary place to be.)

  • A month’s membership to a climbing gym or to some sort of different and engaging exercise.
  • If he likes tennis, get him squash lessons.
  • If he likes to run, goggles and a month at a place with a pool.
  • Fencing lessons?  Martial arts?  Beach volleyball league? Softball? Softball is boring, actually, but I’m just brainstorming here.
  • Knife bag – I cook professionally, so I need to be able to fit all my tools in a dedicated knife bag.  I need something rugged but simply and thoughtfully designed.
  • Surfboard – I’m looking for a rocket shape or retro fish, but it’s damn near impossible to buy the right surfboard for me, unless you’ve been surfing with me quite a bit. Steer clear of items like this.
  • Hoodie and gloves for surfing in cold weather: Ripcurl, O’Neill, Quiksilver
  • A cool t-shirt: Salty Beards or Blood Sweat and Beards. I’m a food nerd, so a shirt with a picture of a romanesco on it would be a good gift for me. (Note from Bert:  He really is a nerd.  For anyone not familiar with something this obscure, a romanesco is a member of the cauliflower and broccoli family.  Its spiraled buds form a natural approximation of a fractal, meaning each bud in the spiral is composed of a series of smaller buds. (Remember the Fibonacci sequence from school? The spirals follow the same logarithmic pattern.)
  • 4-way stretch boardshorts with pockets, at least one of which is a zipper pocket. Hurley, Volcom, RipCurl are good places to look. I might be an extreme case, I’ll admit, but someone gifted me a pair that I wore 5 days per week for more than a year. So what if you can see the outline of my penis when I sit down? (Note from Bert: He’s pretty proud of that thing. I have to admit, it did cause quite the ruckus in Costa Rica.) You’re almost naked when you’re at the beach too. (He surfs naked when he can get away with it.)
  • A sweet backpack: Lots of pockets, ideally waterproof. See Surf to Summit’s Grey “Mariner Dry Bag.”
  • Sexy underwear for yourself is a gift for both of us.
  • A little jar of cannabis sativa, papers, and a lighter.
  • SCUBA certification class.
  • A professional one hour massage.
  • Camping trips usually make for good times if you bring weed, fruit, and beers, but otherwise don’t prepare adequately.
  • Leather-working classes for the both of you, enough classes to actually make something useful.
  • Homemade chocolate bark or mango guacamole … or whatever.  After all, the door to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

Gift that Guys Want:  According to Charlie
12:11 PM via telephone


Chaz:  Dad what the hell?  I’m pulling traps right now. I’ll call you back when I’m cooking claw.

Me:  Okay.  Think about what I asked you last night and I’ll talk to you in a few hours.  Really give it some though, okay?

Chaz:  WTF?  I’m busy here. TTYL! (beep, hang up.)

3:42 PM via telephone
Chaz:  Okay, come on over.

Me:  10-4

So, arriving to the smells of cooking stone crab claws, I walked around behind the house and Charlie had the big kettle going on the gas-jet burner.  Jack had been on the boat, riding on the winch used to pull the traps.  Now he’s on a perch holding a claw in one foot. He stops dining long enough to look up and say fuuuuuuuck!

Now Charlie is not overly in touch with his sensitive side, but he is kind, generous, and funny.  Oh, good lookin’ and smart too.  He gets me a cold beer and looks at me like I’m a moron and asks me if I have something to write with.  He stirs the crab claws with a paddle and starts rattling off a list of stuff he wants.

Chaz:  Ok, now Charlotte and I work together and live together.  We like the same stuff so there’s no big mystery with us. She’s into jewelry and clothes and stuff but she would be just as happy as I would be with the ideas I’m giving you now.  She’s a captain for commercial boats and sport charters …  asking me about this is kind of dumb but I’m going to try.

Let’s start with a killer boat—32’ Offshore Contender Tournament powered with twin Yamaha F300 4.2 Lt 4 stroke V6 engines.  Let’s go with Furuno NavNet TZtouch electronics, and a Bose sound system.  Then I want a gas motor blender that attaches to the bow with suction cups.  It runs on like a chainsaw motor and it’s called a Daiquiri Whacker.  Cool.  We’re gonna need Shimano Reels and Star Rods.  I want an ice machine too.  Don’t know where the hell we’ll put that.

Then we’ll need Grunden foul weather gear.  Xtratuf Boots, Columbia shirts because they breathe, good hats, and a killer cleaning station with serious knives.

Me:  Jesus, Charlie you don’t want much do ya?  What are we hanging at about $300K?  I mean—I thought you would be giving me ideas about your favorite cologne or some place you’d like to go for a weekend or something …

Okay, at this point Jack drops his crab claw and breaks into a cackling laugh that ends with a smoker’s hack cough.  The bird’s comedic timing is impeccable.

Chaz:  Hey you said you wanted to know what I think.  Screw it. If you’re going to go, go big …

That’s my boy.

Now I was going to throw in my ideas too, but these two have worn me out.  Also, I’m kind of funny about getting gifts.  I like giving them more than getting them, so I’m going to bow out for now.

Have a good one. Over and out.

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Succeeding When You’re the ‘Odd Woman Out’

The ten years I served as a counterterrorism official in the CIA kept me on my toes, in an alternate reality, in which manipulation, lies, counterintelligence challenges and personal security threats were all in a day’s work.

Since retiring from government service and becoming an international management consultant, I am still the “odd man out,” working in a predominately male industry in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  In this dog-eat-dog world, I’ve learned how to deal—in my own unique way—with international businessmen, lawyers, government officials, ministers of state, political advisors, and not so long ago, terrorists and insurgents. Operating as a female in this arena gives me the opportunity to challenge the status quo and achieve my objectives in new and incredibly satisfying ways.  Success would never be realized if I tried to follow everyone else’s script, so I had to create my own.  Here’s what I figured out:

Don’t fit in.  I gave up on this early on in my career.  I will never look like, act like, or be like the men around me.  I stand out.  I smile a lot.  I’m super friendly.  My demeanor is warm and welcoming.  (Not exactly the image of a counterterrorism officer or high-powered businessperson dealing with political and security issues.)  Let them wonder about you.  Let the intrigue of your persona propel you into the limelight. When you stand out, you have something going for you that others do not.  When people look at you and wonder, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” you have a distinct advantage in business where a little extra attention is never a bad thing.

Let them misjudge you.  I cannot say this enough:  It is incredibly useful when people underestimate you.  I no longer find this annoying or off-putting.  I hold my cards close until I am ready to reveal my hand.  As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!”  In the high stakes game of intelligence (and as I learned later—business), there is a lot of posturing and game playing.  You don’t always want people to know how smart you are until you’ve collected the intelligence you need to make the sale, land the contract, or seal the deal.  Use their false assumptions about you to turn the tables upside down and win.  Poker, anyone?

Be your beautiful, empathetic self.  It really bugs me when I see successful businesswomen downplaying or denying their use of traditionally female gifts to get ahead in the workplace.  It’s like they are afraid to admit they are women and that they do things differently from men.  Why?  I have always capitalized on my empathetic nature and see it as one of the keys to my success.  Empathy allows you to read other people well and ultimately, connect with them.  I personally feel that this will take you places that a stone-faced and stern demeanor will not.  Women are intuitively gifted in making friends with people of all kinds of backgrounds, which is essential in my line of work where I’ve had to befriend terrorists or work with world leaders who are used to being kissed up to.  Both are surrounded by fakes, kiss-ups, and manipulators, so authenticity catches their eye.

Photo Credit: Transformer18 via Compfight cc

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She Still Stands

The Underground Internet You’ve Never Heard of

Unless you’re a drug dealer, assassin, spy, pedophile or black market profiteer, you’ve likely never heard of it.

It is the electronic highway of choice for those wanting to operate off the grid.  For the rest of us, it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie.  This alternative Internet, also known as the Dark Web, burst into the public’s consciousness following the October 2013 bust by the FBI of the infamous Silk Road, one of the best-known sites in this secret society.

The Silk Road was a marketplace where people could buy and sell a veritable menagerie of illicit drugs and other products from the comfort of their own homes.  The purchase of heroin, methamphetamines, crack, cocaine, LSD, and ecstasy were conducted anonymously and the merchandise was sent to buyers via the U.S. postal service.  (According to the Guardian, as of March 2013, the site had 10,000 products for sale, 70% of which were drugs.)  Launched in February 2011, the Silk Road functioned like EBay® allowing individuals to market their wares using the subterranean Internet which they could access using a funky tool known as Tor (aka The Onion Router).

What is Tor?  (Heads-Up: This technical information that will make you sound really smart if you repeat it.)

Tor is a fascinating technology that allows users to browse the Dark Web without being monitored or intercepted. It is a free tool that keeps a user’s browsing private and anonymous.  Instead of taking a direct route from source to destination, data packets are sent through various nodes.  Each time the packet hits a new node, new encryption keys are generated and the information is relayed until it reaches its final destination.  Therefore, no observer can tell where the data came from or where it’s going.  You can’t get to the Dark Web using a search engine or Internet browser—you can only get to the underground sites by using Tor.

And it gets stranger… No cash, credit cards or Paypal are used by vendors. Transactions are conducted using an alternative currency known as Bitcoins, a weird, untraceable currency completely outside the regulations of governments and the bounds of regular commerce. Sounds a little bit like Monopoly money, right?

Like any good technology, Tor is used by the good, the bad, and the ugly. As strange and illicit as Tor sounds, it was actually developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to protect sensitive U.S. communications.  Today it is used by all kinds of miscreants as well as human rights activists, journalists, the military, law enforcement officers, intelligence agencies, hackers, and regular Joe’s.

Despite what you may think of the Silk Road, the Dark Web, and Tor, they have fueled a vigorous debate about freedom and privacy.  Even though the U.S. government has shut down the Silk Road, the fact that it reportedly facilitated $1.2 billion in sales (according to the Department of Justice criminal complaint filed against alleged mastermind Ross William Ulbricht) means that similar enterprises will pop up to take its place. By the same token, the U.S. government’s continued efforts to collect data on U.S. citizens means people will continue to search for ways to get away from the prying eyes of Uncle Sam. It will be fascinating to see how the underground Internet and other technologies evolve in response to this new era of connectedness that we both celebrate and curse.


All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions or views of the CIA or any other U.S. Government agency. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying U.S. Government authentication of information or Agency endorsement of the author’s views. This material has been reviewed by the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Petalwell – Portable Aromatherapy

I recently met two sisters from the Irish Family company Oglesby & Butler Ltd.  They have created PETALWELL. A portable, uniquely designed essential oil diffuser that you can travel with. Reimagined and reinvented, this aromatherapy diffuser is easy to use.

It’s patented technology represents a new way to capture the benefits of aromatherapy. Unlike other diffusers you do not need to add water to this, when it’s fully charged it can last up to 8 hours.


It’s about the size of an iPhone and all you have to do is add 6-8 drops of one of their blends, click to start its inbuilt heater and automatic timer and you are ready for the fragrance to embrace you. It is rechargeable, elegant and so easy to carry.It comes with a zip pouch for easy packing.  Who doesn’t love convenience?

Here are the blends they make: LIVEWELL – energizing, RELAXWELL – calming, BREATHEWELL – breathing easy, LOVEWELL – romance, TRAVELWELL – restoring, SLEEPWELL – sleeping blend.

The sisters worked closely with a leading aromatherapist and scent developer to create the blends. You can make any space your own from the therapeutic properties of these oils. How great is that? And, there are no artificial chemicals or preservatives of any kind.

Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years for their medicinal and healing benefits. Dioscorides was one of the first to describe the oils and their benefits. Distilled essential oils have been used as medicine ever since Avicenna was able to isolate the oil, using steam, in the 11th century.

Delicious scents with benefits.

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The #1 Beauty Cream for Wrinkles Will Shock You

Ugh, I spent $500 on a bottle of face cream once! Yes, I was feeling a little vulnerable after attending a launch party in Miami the night before. My goodness, the girls were gorgeous! They were decked out, made-up, and in their 20‘s and 30’s.

Do you want to look as young as you can? I am 45 years old. I sure do. But, what I am proposing does not come in a $500 bottle of face cream, which by the way, has been sitting in my fridge unused.

Medical research suggests that up to 90 percent of all illness and disease is stress-related. And for those of you interested in your own beauty and youthful appearance what I am about to say is particularly meaningful. You may want to open your ears for this one. Nothing ages you faster, internally and externally, than high stress. You guessed it ladies.

Stress = Aging = Wrinkles/bags/sagging!

Reducing your stress is the answer. One, free, no-cost way that anyone can do to reduce their stress is to meditate. Meditating enhances your beauty from the inside out.

You don’t have to sell everything, move to India and meditate all day. You just have to take a few minutes each day to relax and center yourself and find your inner peace. Meditating not only calms your mind and reduces your stress, but it relaxes your face muscles and sends feel-good, anti-aging chemicals throughout your body.

Meditate, meditate, meditate …

Don’t know how to meditate? Read my 6 Simple Steps to Start Meditating Today. Look younger and slow down the aging process.

I must get off this computer and go meditate!

Be well, Susan


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My Secret Life at the CIA

We kept it under wraps for a long time. Only family members and a few friends knew, and they did their best to keep it a secret. It was a burden, the kind that affects everything you do in your life; it determines the kind of friends you keep, the activities you engage in, and the trajectory of your whole life. But after more than a decade of hiding from the world, I am finally ready to come clean.

So here it goes (stomach churning)… For all of those who wondered why it seemed like I had gone missing, dropped off the planet, or was completely unsociable, the truth of the matter is that I was working as an intelligence officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (yes, the CIA). I know those three letters conjure up thoughts of wild adventures, mystery, and intrigue. I got adventure alright: I lived in war zones and conflict-prone locations where I felt the daily bomb blasts of suicide explosions, hunkered down to avoid stray bullets during firefights, and tried not to let sickness consume me (in one country it seemed like the officers were perpetually ill for two years). As for mystery and intrigue? We got some of that too, but not the kind of drama you might imagine.

We saw a ton of the world but we worked harder than we will ever work in our lives. For ten years we were steeped in nothing but security, counterterrorism, and counterintelligence issues. If it didn’t happen in my part of the world, then I didn’t pay attention to it. American politics? American culture? I barely noticed. The long, repetitive names of Middle Eastern terrorists or the inner workings of al-Qa’ida? Got it.

For those of you who knew me from high school or college, you might wonder, “Sweet Michele in the CIA???” Yep. It’s true. I’m still sweet, but I am no pushover. I realized during my first trip to Egypt that I had to learn to be aggressive or I would be eaten alive on the streets of Cairo. I rescued the bits of my personality that had been pushed aside in order to be a well-liked southern girl—-and figured out how to employ them to survive.

Because I was conditioned to hide for so long, I have struggled to make this blog a reality, far after I had determined to do so. While everyone was moving towards full disclosure through Facebook postings, tweets, and blogs, I had receded from society and tried to hide my life. It has been enormously challenging for me to move in the completely opposite direction.

But that’s all behind me now! I have officially joined the digital age and let the cat out of the bag. The shaking of hands could not prevent me from finishing this post and fulfilling the urgent calling on my life: to use my skills as a (former) intelligence officer in the quest to motivate and inspire. While the “coming out” part still feels uncomfortable and scary, seizing the opportunity to inspire others feels really good. Here’s to life’s great adventures!


All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions or views of the CIA or any other U.S. Government agency. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying U.S. Government authentication of information or Agency endorsement of the author’s views. This material has been reviewed by the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos Flickr via Compfight cc

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