What to See and Do in Chicago

The debate was on. It was me and hubby’s 38th anniversary and we had two free domestic airline tickets. Where would we go? Hubby’s top pick was Chicago. I had never been and wasn’t sure what there was to do in the Windy City, but went along with the ride.

Am I glad I did! If you go, what should you do? Where should you stay? Where should you eat? Here is my itinerary along with some tips:

Day One: The Whitehall Hotel and John Hancock Center

The View from the John Hancock Center

The stunning view from the John Hancock Center.

We landed in O’Hare at about 3:00 p.m. and took the “L” train – or Chicago’s version of the subway – into the city. Here’s my personal opinion and first piece of advice. Whether you’re in New York, London, or Chicago, if you want to get a true feeling for the city and its residents, forget the taxis. Ride the subway as much as possible.

Second piece of advice: use Hotwire. Maybe you’ve had a different experience, but they haven’t steered me wrong yet. The disadvantage is you don’t know exactly where you’ll be staying until you book it, but that’s part of the adventure and you usually pay about half price. I typed in a four star hotel and ended up at Whitehall Hotel. An older, remodeled hotel in Magnificent Mile (the swanky area of Chicago with expensive shops and trendy restaurants) with a super friendly doorman. Great stay.

chicago the tilt

The Tilt – and yes, it tilts down to give you that extra sense of vertigo.

We only had a few hours, and the John Hancock Center was a block away, so that’s where we headed. The observatory is now called 360 degree Chicago with spectacular views of the waterfront and Chicago’s famous skyline.

Although there is much debate whether the John Hancock Center or Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is the better option, we decided to do both. So which one did I think was better? Hard to say. John Hancock had a better view of the waterfront, a bar where we sat and had a drink (there’s no such place at Willis), and The Tilt. For an extra $7 you can lean against a glass wall that actually tilts down so you can have an extra dose of vertigo from 1,000 feet up. Fortunately, it wasn’t crowded the day we went and I didn’t get a chance to see how this worked before I jumped on – and was shocked the wall moved. I’m afraid of heights and am darn proud I did this! Willis Tower (which I write about below) has the famous Skydeck and a better view of the river. It is a bit expensive, but since we didn’t know when we would return to Chicago, we splurged and did both. No regrets.

We had dinner at Fornett Mei. This charming Italian restaurant, conveniently tucked next to Whitehall, has plenty of ambiance, phenomenal service, and great food. We had a specialty thin crust grape and sausage pizza. Sounds like an odd combination, but it was delicious.

Day Two: Willis Tower, Cloud Gate, River Walk, and Sunset Cruise

chicago skydeck

I’m afraid of heights but got up the nerve to sit on the famous Skydeck – over a thousand feet in the air with a glass bottom.

Jumped the subway and started day two at Willis Tower. I figured we’d get my fear of the heights completely out of the way so I could enjoy the town with my feet firmly planted on the ground the rest of the time. The elevator ride itself was exhilarating. Up 103 floors in 90 seconds with a video that lets you know when you are as high as the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. Freaked me out a bit, but interesting. When you get off the elevator you’re a whopping 1,353 feet in the air with great views 50 miles out and you can actually see four states on a clear day.

Okay, let’s talk the Skydeck. These famous scary glass boxes extend out four feet with views all the way down. As I mentioned before, even though I’m afraid of heights, I was determined to do this. I’ve had a rough few years and I just wanted to start living again. The secret? Don’t look down. Step out, refuse to think of how high up you are, and look straight at the camera thinking of the awesome photo you’ll have to share with family and friends. I only looked down as I was ready to safely step off. The view was terrifying, but I’m still happy I did it.

chicago cloud gate

The view from underneath Chicago’s famous landmark, Cloud Gate, nicknamed The Bean because of its shape.

Next stop. We walked to Cloud Gate in Millennium Park for some cool pictures. Be sure and walk around this beautiful park in the middle of the city.

One interesting sight is the Crown Fountain with two glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project faces of Chicago residents with water flowing through an outlet that makes it look like water is spouting from their mouths.

Then off to the River Walk with spectacular views. We ate at O’Brien’s – great hamburgers, good service, and the perfect spot to relax on the river.

chicago river walk

The gorgeous River Walk where you can catch a boat tour, walk, or rent a kayak.

 

My sister, Joanie, booked us a sunset cruise for an anniversary present which included an architectural tour of the city’s famous buildings at dusk, then a cruise ride on Lake Michigan for views of Chicago’s magnificent skyline after dark. Very romantic!

If you take one of the sunset cruises you can see Chicago's skyline during daylight, sunset, and at night.

If you take one of the sunset cruises you can see Chicago’s skyline during daylight, sunset, and at night.

Day Three: Sailing Lake Michigan

Me and hubby own a sailboat and have been sailing for 30 years. We rented a boat and took a relaxing sail on Lake Michigan, the second largest Great Lake, with Chicago’s skyline in the background. The wind was great! You can rent a captained boat if you don’t know how to sail.

Sailing from Belmont Harbor.

Sailing from Belmont Harbor.

Another transportation hint: Taking the subway to Belmont Harbor, located in Lincoln Park, seemed a bit complicated, so we called Uber. I personally prefer Uber over taxis. The drivers seemed more relaxed and friendly. In fact, as a writer, I enjoyed getting their life stories.

As a bonus, most, but not all, had lived in Chicago their entire lives and were happy to make recommendations.

We just happened to be there when the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Chicago at Navy Pier was taking place which put my husband in seventh heaven. After watching the trials, our Uber driver and other locals recommended the very casual Al’s Italian Beef for a typical Chicago meal. We ate their award-winning steak sandwich with sweet peppers. Yum. If you visit Chicago, also try their specialty popcorn – a delectable combination of sweet caramel and savory cheese.

Of course, you can’t visit Chicago without trying their signature deep dish pizza. Lou Mainati’s Pizzeria on Rush Street was recommended by a local and within walking distance of our hotel. Tried their famous recipe that has been handed down through generations and considered one of the oldest family names in Chicago and fell in love!

Day Four: The Art Institute of Chicago

chicago art museum

The famous American Gothic at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Okay, this is going to make me sound terrible and uncultured, but museums are not normally at the top of my list of things to do when visiting a new place. I’d rather be outside having new experiences.

Except in big cities with museums brimming with impressive and stunning collections. In New York, you must see the Met and when you visit Paris you’d be remiss not to see the Louvre. Chicago has many world-acclaimed museum, but perhaps most famous is it’s Art Institute. With more than 300,000 artworks and artifacts from all over the world and every era, famous modern and contemporary art, and fabulous views of Millennium Park, it’s a must-see. Bonus for me – the miniature rooms – which I’ve been fascinated with since I was a kid. Even Ferris Bueller visited the museum. He had the right idea.

One of my sister’s friends, a former Chicago resident, recommended Carmine’s on Rush Street for dinner. On Magnificent Mile, it was fun watching the Lamborghini’s pull up with the happening crowds dressed to the nines. Affordable for downtown Chicago, the food was fabulous. We had baked clams as an appetizer – to die for!

Ah, alas, time to go home. After watching the news recently about three hour waits at O’Hare, we got there nice and early. We got through security in about 10 minutes and then had a lot of time to kill. We were the first ones at our gate. Guess everyone else knew better and somehow I didn’t get the memo!

As you can tell, I fell in love with Chicago. It ranks right up there with my other favorite cities: Sydney, Seattle, London, and Paris. If you ever get the chance, don’t miss visiting this welcoming, clean, exciting, and fun city!

CURRENTLY: How I’m Finding my Bliss the Summer of 2016

One of my fellow bloggers asked me to join a blog hop to share where we are currently in life. Our dreams and what we’re reading, watching, listening to, and loving in the CURRENTLY Summer 2016 Blog Hop.

In other words, how am I finding my bliss this summer? Sounded like a fun idea and I’m game. So sit back, have a read, and enjoy.  Then visit the other #Gr8Blogs  listed at the end of this post  for more Summer 2016 CURRENTLY inspiration.

Here we go…

Scott and Julie Skydeck*Loving…

My hubby. We celebrate our 38th anniversary on the 17th of this month and I’m beyond grateful for every moment I’ve had with the love of my life.

I’m also loving Chicago, where we went on our anniversary trip (which I’ll be writing about in my next blog). Here’s a picture of us 1,353 feet up on the famous Skydeck. First time visiting this fabulous city and it ranks right up there with my other favorite cities: Seattle, Sydney, London, and Paris.

*Reading…

If you read my blog, you know I just finished reading a copy of legendary teen idol Bobby Rydell’s autobiography for a book review. I’m excited that this man, famous for hits like Volare and starring in Bye Bye Birdie, did an interview for me as well. His answers to my questions were brutally honest – which is so refreshing.

Book at BeachI just started reading a new book, Descent, by Tim Johnston. The publisher calls the novel a “literary thriller.” As a review by the Washington Post notes, “It’s a thriller because it concerns a girl of 18 who is abducted during a family vacation in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It’s literary because Johnston’s prose is lyrical, even poetic, to a degree rarely found in fiction, literary or otherwise.” Sounds like the perfect summer read and I’m on board!

*Watching…

10 Cloverfield Lane. Man, I haven’t seen a movie this good in a long time. If you haven’t seen it yet, the less you know, the better. Don’t read any reviews. Here’s what you need to know: This movie captures your attention immediately and keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. The acting is phenomenal. John Goodman defines the word creepy. The tense, chilling thriller reminds me a bit of Hitchcock and will keep you guessing to the end. Oh, and the ending! Just spectacular and guaranteed to knock you off your feet. A must-see. It just debuted on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and On Demand on June 14, 2016. Check it out!

(For the perfect feel-good, funny, and inspiring movie, watch Eddie the Eagle. Just watched last night and loved! Hugh Jackman is just perfect in his role.)

As far as TV, love Big Bang Theory to make me laugh. And I’m oh so ashamed to admit I’m hooked on the trashy but entertaining Bachelorette. Don’t ask me to explain why.

Music*Listening…

Paul McCartney is releasing his latest album this month, Pure McCartney, a collection of 67 of his hits starting in 1970. It includes songs like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Live and Let Die.” Sounds cool, but recently, I discovered this laid back solo from his debut album: “That Would be Something.” Unfortunately, the song didn’t make the final cut for his album, but I’m obsessed with it. Click here to check out a live performance of this simple but oh-so-groovy song.

*Thinking About…

Oh my, many, many things are rattling about in this brain of mine. June 13th was the first anniversary of my Mom’s death, so she is definitely on my mind. I’m trying to focus on all the good memories we shared instead of the awful memories of her death – and succeeding fairly well. I’m attending a sign language Bible convention this month, so I’m having good spiritual vibes. And I’m kicking around ideas for an eBook (it would be my first) and whether I actually want to write one or not. It would be a ton of work writing and promoting it. Then again, maybe I’ll just keep freelancing for magazines writing fun lifestyle and travel articles and enjoy the simple pleasures of summer. Then, I’ll do this debate in the fall. Yeah, that sounds better. 

*Anticipating…

This may explain my fascination I mentioned above with Paul McCartney, but I’m going to see him live at Desert Trip in October along with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and the Who. Can’t wait!

*Wishing…

I’m a lucky girl and many of my wishes have already come true. But at the top of my bucket list is a trip to Africa.

*Making Me Happy…

Life. Grateful for each and every day. My faith. My husband, my children, my grandchildren, the rest of my family and friends. My writing. Good memories. Sailing. My many blessings.

grandkids and puppy*Seeing in My Camera Lens…

No brainer. My adorable three grandchildren, of course! Here they are happy with their new puppy.

So there you go. Thanks for stopping by! For more Currently -Summer 2016 inspiration, visit the #Gr8blogs below. And hey, if you’re pumped about writing your own Currently – Summer 2016 post, just add your family-friendly Currently link to your blog post in the comment section. We’ll visit your blog and give you some blog love!

JD’s Writer Blog

C*U*R*R*E*N*T*L*Y What I’m Up To!

Cat Michaels, Cat’s Corner

CURRENTLY Blog Hop Summer 2016: Dreams, Inspiration of a Writerly Life

Corrina Holyoake, Venturing Into the Unknown

CURRENTLY Blog Hop – Summer Dreaming

Carmela Dutra, A Blog for your Thoughts

CURRENTLY: A Blog Hop of What I’m Up To

Auden Johnson, Dark Treasury

CURRENTLY Blog Hop – Summer 2016

 

Images courtesy of marcolm and imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Julie Gorges’ Interview with Bobby Rydell: Baby Boomer Bliss

The media has deemed Bobby Rydell the “Justin Bieber of the Camelot Era.”

You baby boomers may balk at the idea of comparing Bobby with the Bieber, but no doubt you recall the teen heart throb for his boyishly All-American good looks with his pompadour hair and his famous hits including ”Wild One” and “Volare” with fond memories. You may also remember him for his acting and comedic skills when he appeared on The Perry Como Show, The Red Skelton Hour, The Jack Benny Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Joey Bishop Show, and as a regular on The Milton Berle Show.

And who could forget his role in Bye Bye Birdie with Ann-Margret, Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh – which he revealed to me in an interview was one of his proudest accomplishments.

PHOTO CREDIT: Bobby Bank/WireImage

PHOTO CREDIT: Bobby Bank/WireImage

But what a lot of you may not know is the deeply personal, inspiring, and extraordinary back story behind this fascinating man. Rydell has shared his story in his new autobiography, Teen Idol on the Rocks. You can click here to read my review of the book.

Rydell shares some of those personal and sometimes painful memories with me in the following interview.

His humble honesty knocked my socks off. For example, in the interview Rydell admits his beloved wife handled every aspect of their lives. After she died, he didn’t know how to pay a bill or schedule a doctor’s appointment. Calling himself “a pampered star for years,” Rydell confesses he was terrified. Or when asked what he felt what was his biggest accomplishment, after mentioning Bye Bye Birdie, he stated, “In hindsight, maybe my greatest achievement is still being here at the age of 74 after all the destructive behavior of my earlier years.”

Those brutally honest personal memories is what makes his book so great and what makes you want to give this man a hug! This legendary star is scheduled to be interviewed by Rolling Stone’s contributing editor and Grammy-winning essayist, Anthony DeCurtis, next month. So, I feel super honored he took the time out from his hectic schedule to answer my questions via email. Thank you, Bobby!

Without further ado, here’s the interview. Enjoy!

What made you decide to write an autobiography?

For years I’d sit around with musicians and other friends after my concerts telling old war stories and everyone would say, “You gotta be crazy not to write all this stuff down.  You should put a book out.” I’ve led a pretty colorful life to say the least, so I finally decided to do it. The first thing I did was contact my friend Allan Slutsky who was a guitarist and an arranger who I’d worked with off and on since 1992. Allan won the Rolling Stone “Ralph J. Gleason Award” for music book of the year in 1989 when he wrote Standing In The Shadows of Motown. A few years later, he won a few Grammys and a dozen film awards when he produced a film version of the book.  So it was a pretty logical choice to want to hook up with him on this project.

Did you have any objectives in mind that you wanted to achieve by sharing your story?

That whole Bobby-Soxer, Cameo-Parkway era happened a long time ago.  My old fans still remember everything, but I’m hoping the story of guys like me and Chubby Checker, the Dovells, Frankie Avalon, Fabian and other musical stars from that era can get documented and reach a new audience. And then, since my life was saved by double transplant surgery (a new liver and kidney) after drinking myself to within an inch of death, it gives me an opportunity to urge people to consider being organ donors in the event of a premature death. I wouldn’t be here today if someone hadn’t made that same decision. Her name was Julia, and she’ll always be my angel.

How long did it take you to write the book? Tell me a little bit about the process. Any quirky writing habits?

About, eighteen months.  Allan would come over my house, turn on the tape recorder (he was actually using old fashioned cassettes), and he’d start firing questions at me while he took notes. At first we did general topics chronologically and then he’d return at a later date and go into detail about specific things.  Then he’d take the material home and return with a chapter and we’d go over it together. I might see something like a story he didn’t quite get right and make a correction, or I might say something like, “That’s not what I was feeling at the time,” or, “I’d never say something like that.” The funniest moments came when we went back and forth trying to get all the Italian slang words and Philly-isms to lay right.

You list many achievements in your book, but what do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Starring in Bye Bye Birdie with Ann-Margret, Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh would definitely be one of them. Before that, I was just a good looking kid with a great pompadour who could sing, tell a joke, and do imitations. But I had to become an actor and a dancer for Birdie. I really grew as an artist in that film. And evolving into someone who can really do justice to songs from the Great American Songbook means a lot to me. When I was a teen idol, I sang simple pop songs, but in my ‘60s and ‘70s, I really got comfortable being an old fashioned saloon singer on songs like “All of Me,” “You and the Night and the Music,” and other great standards. In hindsight, maybe my greatest achievement is still being here at the age of 74 after all the destructive behavior of my earlier years.

You share some intimate and personal stories in your book. What were the hardest life stories to write about and why?

Definitely the stuff about my wife’s dying of cancer and my overbearing, stage-mother. The stage-mother thing was a much needed chance to vent and get stuff off my chest after decades of arguments and fights with my Mom. She was bi-polar with a little bit of evil mixed in. It’s hard for people to believe some of the things she did because she always showed a different face to outsiders who knew her. As for my wife—she’d been my childhood sweetheart since I was a young teenager, and we were married for more than three decades.  Her loss and my struggles with the bottle that followed couldn’t be anything but agony to talk about.  But I was also terrified because she’d handled every aspect of my life from the time we got married.  I didn’t know how to pay a bill, write a check, or schedule a doctors appointment.  She did all that stuff.  I’d been a pampered star for years, but now I was on my own and it terrified me.

What do you want readers to take away from your book?

I’d like people to look at me as not just a singer, or an actor, or comedian, but also as a survivor. I could have packed it in many times but I was always bailed out by the kindness of other people and by the music. I wanted to live to sing another day.

You are 74 years old, yet I see from your website you have many upcoming events planned. What keeps you motivated?

I’m the kind of guy who’ll sing and perform until I die. It’s all I’ve ever known. I still get antsy when I haven’t hit a stage for a while. I still love what I do. When I can’t do it anymore, you might as well start shoveling the dirt on top of me.

If you want to read more about Rydell’s incredible story, TEEN IDOL ON THE ROCKS is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and book stores throughout America. Autographed copies and books with customized personal messages can be ordered exclusively at www.bobbyrydellbook.com.

For a list of his ongoing concert performances, both solo and alongside fellow South Philly “Golden Boys” Frankie Avalon and Fabian, you can check out the dates on his site. Also keep an eye out for his role next year in movie, The Comedian, with Robert De Niro.

Here is a schedule of special events and book signings:

TEEN IDOL ON THE ROCKS ON TOUR

Bobby Rydell: Intimate Guest Performance & Book Signing: Thursday, June 30, 2016, 8 p.m. 

Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, 7719 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814. Tickets & Info: 240.330.4500. For more information, visit www.bethesdabluesjazz.com

Bobby Rydell In Conversation with Rolling Stone senior editor, Anthony DeCurtis, followed by a book signing: Wednesday, July 27, 2016, 8 p.m.

Buttenwieser Hall, 1395 Lexington Avenue at 92nd St., New York, NY 10128, Tickets & Info: 212-415-5500. For more information, visit www.92y.org

An Intimate Evening with Bobby Rydell – The Original Teen Idol
“Concert Conversation and Book Signing”: 
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tim McLoone’s Supper Club, 1200 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park, NJ 07712
Dinner/Doors: 6:00pm – Show: 8:00pm
Tickets & Info: 732-774-1155

Includes an intimate evenings of musical performances including Rydell’s hits songs like “Volare,” “Wild One,” “Sway,” and others, but Rydell will also share stories from his incredible life.  For more information visit www.umtpresents.com.

Book Signings

Tuesday, June 21, 2016, 7-9 p.m.

B&N – Rittenhouse Square, 1805 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA

Sunday, June 26, 2016, 2-4 p.m.

B&N – Clifton, 395 NJ Rt. 3, Clifton, NJ

Saturday, July 23, 2016, 1-3 p.m.

B&N – Plymouth Meeting, 2300 Chemical Road, Plymouth Mtg., PA

Tuesday, August 16, 2016, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Doylestown Bookshop, 16 S. Main Street, Doylestown, PA

Saturday, October 8, 2016, 3-5 p.m.

Main Point Book Store, 116 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, PA

Friday, October 14, 2016, 2-4 p.m.

Wildwood Crest Library, 6300 Atlantic Avenue, Wildwood Crest, NJ

Saturday, October 22, 2016, 1-3 p.m.

Books & Greetings, 271 Livingston Street, Northvale, NJ

Saturday, November 19, 2016, 1-3 p.m.

B&N – Broomall, 1991 Sproul Road, Broomall, PA

 

The Story of Bobby Rydell

If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll remember Bobby Rydell. This teen idol heartthrob – and what a cutie he was – exploded on the scene in the 1960s with hits like Kissin’ Time, Wild One, and my personal favorite, Volare.

Rydell appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1959, and went on to sell more than 25 million records during his career.

Bobby Rydell book coverNow 74 years old, Rydell has written an honest and compelling autobiography: TEEN IDOL ON THE ROCKS: A Tale of Second Chances. I was privileged to receive a review copy and gave the book a read over the weekend.

Baby boomers will enjoy Rydell’s memories of his childhood in South Philly back in the day when no one locked their door and the best places to meet girls was at the local ice cream parlor.

The stories about his rise to stardom at the tender age of 17 and the famous people he met along the way are also fascinating. For example, Sammy Davis Jr. wanted a homemade Italian meal and Rydell’s grandma offered to cook for them. Eager to impress, Rydell was relieved when the dinner went well, but you can feel his horror when his grandmother brings out watermelon for dessert because that’s what she thought “they liked.” Sammy couldn’t quit laughing but Rydell was mortified beyond words.

There are also fascinating stories about Dick Clark, Red Skeleton, Frankie Avalon, Fabrian, and Ann Margaret.

But what touched me the most were Rydell’s personal, brutally honest stories. He describes his relationship with his bipolar, manic depressive stage mother back in the day when little was understood about mental illness.  Rydell pours out his heart telling the story of his first love, Camille, to whom he was married for 35 years. She later suffered from breast cancer and your heart will break as you read how he felt “sheer terror” at the thought of losing her.

However, Rydell doesn’t offer these events as an excuse for his slide into alcoholism. In this day and age when stars, and people in general, play the blame game, it was so refreshing to read how Rydell takes full personal responsibility for his drinking and the dire consequences.

Readers will cheer as they read how he faced a double organ transplant and later double heart bypass surgery with admirable courage and gratitude for his second chances in life. He eloquently expresses his gratefulness to his donor, a young 21-year-old girl named Julia, who was tragically hit by a car and killed.

Rydell manages to come through all his fame and trials shining with optimism and heart as he finds a new love and makes a successful comeback. Yes, this man is still touring and you can still catch his act. If you want to purchase his book (autographed books are available), attend a book signing, or check out his tour dates, be sure and visit Rydell’s site.

 

How I Lost a Pound a Day

I know, I know. Losing a pound a day may not sound like a healthy way to lose weight, but stay with me.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m not getting paid to promote some crazy diet. Not a penny. This blog is completely unbiased and just a helpful hint for those of you who may be dealing with weight issues like me.

I’ve shared my struggles with losing weight in previous blogs like My Menopausal Middle. In my 50′s as a post-menopausal woman, the weight just wouldn’t quit creeping up on my body. And losing weight seemed impossible.

Diet AdviceWe all know health and happiness are directly related. So, after a doctor’s visit with a polite warning that I had gained 10 pounds since my last visit, I was ready to take action.

In the past, I had used Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig to lose weight, but those diets didn’t seem to work for me anymore. I’d lose weight the first couple of weeks and then my body seemed to catch on that I was up to something and put a screeching halt to the whole process.

It’s still early on, but I think I found a new diet that actually works for me. I’ve lost five pounds in five days eating foods I actually like – and I don’t feel like I’m starving.

Before I reveal the name of the diet, however, let’s play a game of 20 questions – except we’ll only use five.

Who am I? Here are your hints:

  • I used to be a fat guy.
  • I am 49 years old and an award-winning chef.
  • I had my own cooking reality show.
  • I have written 11 cookbooks, including five New York Times best sellers.
  • I was named People magazine’s “Sexiest Chef.”

Did you guess? If not, the answer is the very cute Rocco Dispirito.

As Rocco said in a recent New York Times interview, his doctor half-jokingly told him 10 years ago, “You might want to start writing your will because I don’t like what I see in your numbers.” With his parents’ history of heart disease, the doctor predicted a bad outcome 20 years down the road.

The doctor’s visit was a wake-up call. That and his inability to wear a regular chef’s jacket anymore, which he says was totally humiliating.

Diet Getting ThinThus began his journey toward discovering the secrets of fast and effective, but not tortuous, weight loss.

Two years ago, after watching Rocco on a TV show discuss his weight loss program, I went out and bought his book, The Pound a Day Diet.

I hated the name of the book, because it sounded like another Hollywood extreme fad diet. In fact, this diet has its share of critics because of the rapid weight loss and possible side effects.

For example, although a diet designed for quick weight loss can help keep dieters on track, ABC News’ Dr. Jennifer Ashton noted, she added that in some cases these types of diets can be associated with risks. Those risks include electrolyte abnormalities, cardiac consequences, and multiple other medical issues. So, with that in mind, clear this diet with your doctor before beginning.

Even though I was put off by the title, Rocco said in the TV interview that the diet was based on a Mediterranean diet with lots of veggies, fruits, and lean protein which were put into use in fast and easy-to-cook, tasty recipes. That part made sense to me.

Alas, my life got really crazy after that care giving for my Mom and I never got around to using the book. But last week, I pulled it off the bookshelf and decided to give it a try.

Now, the first phase of the diet is super strict – with six small protein-packed meals equaling only about 850 calories a day during the week and 1,200 calories on the weekend. This phase, with virtually no carbs, is meant only to be used for the short term to help motivate people with its quick results. Phase 2, shows you how to re-balance portion size, eat less meat, and add more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Phase 1 seemed too extreme to me, so I’m not being quite that strict. I’m eating more like 1,000 calories a day. Even so, for the first five days, I lost five pounds.

Diet Breakfast One of the staples of his plan is a morning chocolate shake packed with protein made up of just six ingredients. I used it a couple of times, but since I prefer real food over shakes for my meals, I usually stick with my typical oatmeal or cereal with fruit on top, half a glass of orange juice, and coffee for breakfast. Without the cereal, I was starting to crave some carbs and this breakfast fulfills that need so I don’t feel deprived.

The only recipe I can’t endorse is what Rocco calls “The Green Monkey” – a vegetable drink I just couldn’t tolerate. So I skipped that and chose a different snack. Everything else I’ve tried has been great and the diet has been pretty easy for me so far.

Here’s another tip. Rocco recommends drinking green tea. I’ve never liked it before, but I found one I love – Bigelow’s Green Tea with Wild Blueberry and Acai. Yum!

What I like best about the diet is that the recipes are healthy, easy, and fast – and the unique but simple combinations Rocco suggests are delicious.

Yesterday, I made the miso soup with shrimp for lunch – fabulous! For dinner, my husband and I used the Salisbury steak recipe and he loved it. (By the way, hubby has lost 11 pounds so far.) These are recipes I will continue to use even after I’ve lost my goal weight.

Now I hear Rocco has a new book out, Cook Your Butt Off! Lose Up To A Pound A Day With Fat-Burning Foods and Gluten-Free Recipes. According to reviews, the book looks at ways that people can slice calories from their favorite meals and turn their kitchens into home gyms. Ummm, that’s an interesting concept!

So, stay tuned. I’ll let you know in a few weeks if I keep losing weight and manage to keep the pounds off on Phase 2 of the diet.

If you have tried this diet or have any diet tips you’d like to share, please comment below. In the meantime, stay healthy and happy everyone!

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles and Serge Bertasius at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Life Is Good

When Bert and John Jacobs were kids, their mother would look around the dinner table and say, “Tell me something good that happened today.”

Life Is GoodSo simple, but that became the inspiration behind the $100 million apparel company, Life is Good.

“We didn’t realize until long after starting Life Is Good, but she was really the inspiration for the whole thing,” Bert says in an interview for People. “She taught us that in the most difficult times, that’s when optimism is needed the most.”

When they were first starting out, the brothers needed a bit of that optimism.

After college, they wanted to start a business that would enable them to sell their artwork. Rather than trying to break into the intimidating world of fine art, they decided to sell T-shirts. In 1990, they traveled the east coast visiting colleges with duffle bags full of shirts with little success, sleeping in their van and living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Until they designed their first “Life Is Good” T-shirt with the now famous smiling beret-wearing stick figure named Jake. “We wanted to come up with a rallying cry for optimists,” Bert says of the concept.

It was a good one. On the streets of Boston, they sold 48 of the original “Life Is Good” shirts in 45 minutes. Soon after, companies were contacting the duo. As the brand’s popularity began to snowball, Bert and John connected with more and more people who wrote to them with their stories of optimism.

That led to their book, Life is Good: How to Live with Purpose and Enjoy the Ride, published by National Geographic last year. The brothers share tales of against-all-odds scrappiness that illustrate the superpowers that make up the book’s 10 chapters: courage, openness, simplicity, humor, gratitude, compassion, fun, creativity, authenticity, and love. The book is about overcoming obstacles and embracing opportunities. It’s about simplifying your life to focus on what’s most important and letting your imagination run free.

Children, the Jacobs point out, are the ultimate optimists: they possess the superpowers in abundance until experience and maturity take their toll. The challenge, then, is not learning to live well but rather re-learning it.

River SunflowerSo true, right? As I look at my grandchildren, this becomes abundantly clear. As I’ve shared in this blog, my son is going through a terrible divorce. But what impresses me most about the grandchildren is their resilience. Children have a wonderful ability to adjust and stay optimistic.

This weekend they camped with their father and then Sunday night we had a family barbecue. Despite a turbulent year, it struck me that they were so carefree and happy.

Forget the divorce. What were they thinking about? Cutting a big sunflower for me and their Daddy and putting it on the dinner table along with a big pine cone they found in the mountains. Playing with their new puppy. Jumping on the trampoline. Learning to play chess.

One of the customer letters the Jacob brothers include in their book is from a 10-year-old boy who had a leg amputated at birth and whose twin brother is blind. “Me and Nicky have all of your shirts with the things we like doing best…. You’re lucky to have a brother too. I hope you do fun things together!”

Yes, we need to re-learn that bright optimism, cheerfulness, and hopefulness as adults.

“Optimism is a lot more than a philosophical viewpoint,” John says. “We see it as a pragmatic strategy for accomplishing goals and living a happy and fulfilling life.”

Stop Making Happiness the Goal

Have we been trying too hard to be happy? Does it seem like the more you strive for happiness the more it seems to elude you?

Is the media making us feel like happiness is like a button we push for instant bliss?

Is the media making us feel like happiness is like a button we push for instant bliss?

These may sound like odd questions coming from a blogger who writes about finding your bliss.

However, one recent study showed those that made happiness a goal, reported 50 percent less frequent positive emotions, 35 percent less satisfaction about life, and 75 percent more depressive symptoms.

Maybe that’s why I’ve noticed lately happiness isn’t quite as trendy as it used to be. A few years ago, the science of happiness made the covers of Time, Oprah, and even The Economist. Happiness articles and quotes glutted the Internet. The quest for happiness bred a whole industry of life coaches, motivational speakers, psychotherapists, research enterprises – and yes, blogs like mine.

But are we getting tired of pretending to be happy all the time? Are we sick of the media telling us to have a positive attitude no matter what’s happening in our lives?

Maybe so.

Jimmie Holland, M.D., a psychiatrist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, coined the term, “the tyranny of positive thinking.”

Sometimes it might feel like we’re being bullied into thinking that if we don’t wake up every morning with an instant perpetual smile on our face – something is wrong with us.

Social media hasn’t helped. When I described some of the trials I’ve faced these past few years, a friend told me, “I would have never guessed. You look so happy in your Facebook pictures.” Yes, I suppose that I’ve fallen into that trap posting only photos that look like I’m having the time of my life – all the time. Of course, I’m not, but this is the fictionalized world we all live in with social media.

Commercials also make us feel like happiness is an entitlement. An instant feeling on tap that can be purchased with that new sports car or a new pair of shoes.

The truth is everyone has problems. No one is happy all the time. It’s like that quote from Regina Brett: “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”

The fact is, most people have it worse than you despite the happy picture they are painting on Facebook. So maybe it’s time we all quit comparing our ‘happiness’ with others. Quit making “living happily ever after” some kind of prize we all want to achieve.

Negative Emotions Are Normal at Times

I was reading an interesting article, The Fallacy of Happiness, on Spike. The article pointed to a study by health insurers Aviva, that showed a quarter of adults in the UK suffer from stress, anxiety or depression and are not seeking help for it because they feel embarrassed by their “mental health conditions.”

Here's your happy pill!

Here’s your happy pill!

“How strange it is that such normal, eternal human emotions as stress, anxiety and depression are now placed under the category of mental-health problems,” columnist Patrick West writes. “Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, the clinical depression which leaves people unable to get out of bed for days: these are conditions that properly fall under the category of mental illness.”

He has a point. West contends that it’s natural to worry or feel low from time to time. These are normal human emotions that have somehow become pathologized.

All of a sudden, negative feelings are considered some kind of disease or aberration – something that must be cured right away. That’s become obvious with all the assortment of “happy pills” the pharmaceutical industry hands out like PEZ Candy. I mean, how did our parents and grandparents ever survive without prescriptions like Xanax, Zoloft, Prozac, Valium, and Ambien?

You Are Fine Just as You Are

Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, published a study on 700,000 women in midlife showing that there might not be a link between good health and happiness as other studies in the past have claimed.

Even more interesting than the results were the reactions of people,  Of course, grumpy people were jumping for joy since they no longer had to endure accusations that their crappy attitude is endangering their health. But countless others were outraged that all their quests for happiness might not lead to good health and longer lives like they thought.

But here’s the thing. The giddy kind of happiness we have all come to expect is not the norm. Life can be a struggle at times, filled with disappointments, failures, and obstacles.

Many people who make happiness their objective are trying to avoid uncomfortable negative feelings that come with the normal ups and downs in life. We can’t be happy all the time. Happiness is fickle.

Everyone has those heart wrenching moments when it’s impossible to be a Pollyanna. For example, I wasn’t jumping for joy while watching my Mom die after suffering from a horrible disease this past year. I wasn’t cheerful as I watched the painful disintegration of my son’s marriage and the effect on my three grandchildren. When I first started writing, I wasn’t exactly exultant when stacks of rejection letters filled my mailbox. Or ecstatic when people I loved betrayed me. You get my drift.

Should we still try to aim for a positive attitude? Definitely. Will we always achieve it? No.

Groundbreaking work by Iris Mauss supported the idea that striving for happiness may actually cause more harm than good. ”When people want to be happy, they set higher standards by which they’re more likely to fall short,” she said. “This, in turn, may lead to greater discontent, in turn, lowering levels of happiness and well-being.”

Mauss explained, she’s not saying, ‘Don’t try to be happy,’ If you give people the right tools, they can increase their happiness and well-being, she notes. It is an exaggerated focus on happiness that can have downsides.

No matter where you fall on the happiness spectrum – which in part is due to genetics – self-acceptance is key.

Let’s face it, I’m never going to be giddy and giggly, but that’s okay. If you’re like me, a bit on the serious side, you can take comfort from studies that show too much cheerfulness can make you gullible, selfish, and less successful. A wee bit of unhappiness, in fact, can inspire us to make necessary changes in life.

Happiness is not a Goal

“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived,” Eleanor Roosevelt famously said.

So, let’s all ditch happiness as a goal. As I wrote about in a previous blog, aim for fulfillment instead. Strive for contentment. Set your sights on inspiration and adventure. Search for purpose and meaning in life.

If you make those your goals, you’re more likely to feel the joy and happiness you’ve been searching for all along without even trying.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles and iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Focusing on Myself

This is the year I’m hitting the pause button on what has been a stressful few years, taking a deep breath, and focusing on myself.

The future is looking brighter.

The future is looking brighter.

I’m done dwelling on what I can’t change or control. I refuse to let stress interfere with living life to the fullest.

That’s my pep talk to myself. And you know what? I’m making progress.

As I shared in a previous blog, I am taking time each and every day to do three things for myself during my year of healing. You can click on the link above to find out what those three things are.

Here are three more steps I’ve taken this week toward a happier me. I hope these tips will give all of you some inspiration to take time to focus on yourself as well.

Spend on Experiences

focusing me concertWe splurged on tickets to Desert Trip – a three-day music extravaganza in October held on the same polo grounds where Coachella Fest plays – nicknamed Oldchella.

Hahaha. Make fun of us, I don’t care. This is every baby boomer’s ultimate dream!

After all, we’re the generation that refuses to grow old or grow up. Okay, we are getting older. I got my first senior discounted breakfast at I-Hop last weekend. Of course, the restaurant knows better than to call it that – it is simply named “The 55+ Menu.” Hey, I saved four dollars even though it hurt my pride. But my point is, we’re young at heart.

And ready to relive the 60s. We are talking Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Bob Dylan performing. We’re in the lawn section and will need binoculars, but I’m still stoked. Can’t wait!

Do something that makes you excited. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Science proves you’ll be happier spending money on experiences instead of things. New things make us happy, but only temporarily until we get used to having them. Then, the joy wears off.

However, the memories of experiences such as traveling, going to an art exhibit, learning a new skill – or rocking out to the Rolling Stones – will last forever. So forget that new iPhone or new pair of designer shoes. Cross something off your bucket list and live!

Take Care of Your Health

focusing me doctorOkay, this one isn’t as exciting, but nevertheless, it’s an important step. After caregiving for a few years, I had neglected to care for my own health. Confession time: it had been four years since I had a check-up. At 55, that’s not good.

So, off to the doctor I dutifully went. Unfortunately, I have been stress eating and weighed in at 170. The doctor informed me that I’ve gained 10 pounds since I last visited four years ago. Thank you very much for sharing that bit of depressing news. “Weight can sneak up on you after menopause and start adding up fast,” he advised.

Really? I never would have guessed. Actually, I wrote a whole blog, My Menopausal Middle, on this very subject.

But, all right, all right. So, I’m concentrating on eating healthy and have lost four pounds so far. Trying to focus on eating lots of veggies from the garden, fruit, lean proteins, whole wheat. I feel better already.

Also did my blood work and got a mammogram today – where I learned that my once dense breasts are deflated now that I’m post menopausal. More cheerful news. My ego deflated a bit along with my boobs, but that does mean it makes the mammogram easier to read and more accurate.

Even with all the humiliating news, I feel better that I’m taking care of my health.

You already know that if you remain healthy and physically strong, you’ll be happier, right? So quit procrastinating and get started today to a healthier you!

Get a Pet

Focusing me puppyWe got a new puppy. Technically, my son and his three kids got a new puppy, but while they are away, I’m puppy sitting.

Her name is Rey Anne ( the first name is Star Wars related since my son picked her up on May the Fourth be with You; the second name is for the girls’ favorite movie). She is a German Shepherd, seven weeks old, and we’re all in love.

Yes, puppies are a ton of work, but she makes me laugh with her awkward puppy clumsiness that causes her to slide across my wood floor. This morning, when I couldn’t find her, she was in the kids’ room snuggled up into my oldest granddaughter’s pajama top. That warmed my heart and made me smile.

Studies show pet owners tend to be less depressed, lonely, and stressed. They exhibit greater self-esteem and are usually more physically fit. If you’re a baby boomer like me, you may want to skip the puppy part and adopt a grown dog – it is exhausting! However, let’s face it, these furry creatures make us happier.

So there you go. Those are my three steps towards happiness I took this last week.

What did you do this week to bring more joy into your life? I’d love to hear! Please share in the comments below.

Images courtesy of graur razvan, ionut ponsuwan, and photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

California Dreaming: Laguna Beach

Last weekend, hubby and I decided to revisit Laguna Beach for a bit of baby boomer bliss..

This charming beach town, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, with over 20 different scenic coves offers everything from surfing, paddleboarding, snorkeling, kayaking, and whale watching excursions. Add ultra-chic restaurants and shops and one-of-a-kind art galleries and you get the picture.

Laguna Beach me and ScottMy husband and I happen to have a bit of history here. When I was 16, my father had to meet someone for business in Laguna Beach (if you look behind the town, you’ll see one of my father’s proudest engineering feats, the design of Portofino Laguna, a 200 home development built into the hillside).

He offered to take me and my boyfriend, Scott, along and drop us off at the beach ( incredibly, the same guy I later married – we’ll celebrate our 38th anniversary this year!).

Did I mention that the surf can be a little rough in Laguna? We decided to do some body surfing despite the churning waters. I wiped out on a massive wave (think Beach Boys’ song: Heheheheheheee wipe oooout!) and my face – upper lip first – was smashed into the ocean floor.

Actually, I blame the Beach Boys for this entire mishap since they went and romanticized this whole surfer chick thing with songs I grew up on like Surfer Girl.

The result: the ugliest scab mustache that lasted for what seemed like a year, but in reality was just a few miserable weeks. Yes, I know, it could have been worse. I could have broken my neck, but this was a teen girl’s absolute nightmare!

I begged my Mom not to send me back to school where the teasing was merciless, to no avail. But good ol’ Scott still loved me and told me I looked beautiful despite the thick scab  that made me look like a cross betweeen Cheech Marin and Burt Reynolds. He’s a good guy; that’s why I married him.

I eventually got over the traumatizing experience and have been back to Laguna Beach a few times since then. I knew it was absolutely gorgeous. So, hubby and I went back for a romantic weekend and visited a couple of places somehow we had missed previously.

By the way, the water was waaaay too cold for me this time of year and after my experience, I’m not sure I’ll ever navigate the waves in Laguna again, so the places we visited were more about the hiking and spectacular scenery than swimming.

Heisler Park

Laguna Beach Heisler Park

Located just north of the main beach, Heisler Park offers an easy half-mile stroll along a paved path with spectacular views of the coastline and the soothing sound of crashing waves. You can take one of the paths to the beaches and tide pools, just watch the tides and weather.

Benches, picnic tables, and barbecues abound where you can enjoy the magnificent views. Hubby and I had a picnic on one of the grass areas and it was perfect!

We visited the end of April and were fortunate and didn’t run into a lot of crowds – which I know can be a nightmare during the popular summer months. There are metered spaces all along Cliff Drive if you can find a spot.

Treasure Island Park

Laguna Beach Treasure Park

A true hidden treasure, this park is located on the grounds of the five-star Montage Laguna Beach, where the truly rich stay. Exquisitely landscaped, several lookout benches line the easy-to-walk winding path to enjoy the stunning scenery. Stairways and ramps lead you down to the beach, where you can walk through a beautiful rock archway during low tide, find a spot in the sand for sunbathing, and a large tide pool.

In addition, there is plenty of grass areas for a picnic. I’d suggest bringing some wine and cheese to catch a romantic sunset.

I hear parking can be difficult on crowded days. We were lucky and used an inexpensive pay-to-park underground parking garage. There’s also free parking east on Wesley and we saw coin-metered parking along South Coast Highway.

If you visit my home state of California, be sure and stop at this magical place. I’d highly recommend it, even though the place once gifted me a scab mustache!

 

 

 

 

Located midw

My Menopausal Middle: Menopausal Weight Gain

The following is from a humorous article I wrote about menopausal weight gain – more specifically menopausal belly fat – for Hot Flash Daily. The article was inspired by a photo my hubby posted on Facebook of me.

Body FatMind you, normally I try to avoid things that make me plump like mirrors, shop windows, other people’s sunglasses, large puddles, aluminum foil, or any other reflective surface.

Then, hubby posted that darn photo without my Facebook approval.

Don’t you love it when you see a picture and don’t recognize yourself?

I mean, how did I get SO wide? And what’s with that huge bulge around my waist? As the joke goes, my muffin top became a pound cake. When did that happen?”

Oh, I pretend to be puzzled but maybe I do know how it happened. Read, “Confessions of a Menopausal Chocoholic Crack Head” and you get the idea. 

But wait a minute, I take that back. Of course, I don’t accept those as the REAL reasons for this newly acquired belly fat. Like everything that goes wrong in my life, I blame menopause.

Which isn’t all malarkey, you know. Science actually agrees with me. Get ready for some real technical, fancy, savvy language to explain why I can’t lose this pooch.

According to the American Chemical Society, “estrogen receptors…serve as a master switch.” When estrogen levels in the brain dip during menopause, this master switch increases hunger, slows metabolism, and encourages fat gain around the waist.

Oh, great! In non-technical lingo, that means I’m so hungry I’d steal the chip from a monk, my metabolism called it quits, and all that extra fat now makes a beeline to my menopausal middle.

OverwieghtWhew, this menopausal belly fat SO isn’t my fault. But, after the Facebook incident, I decided it was time to face the music anyway.

I reluctantly decided to give up “mirror fasting.” Have you heard of this marvelous trend? People are refusing to look at their reflections for days, weeks, months, or even years so they can quit focusing on their looks and concentrate on more important stuff.

I wholeheartedly embraced this fabulous idea as soon as menopause gifted me with this Buddha belly.

I mean, look what happened to Narcissus who fell in love with his reflection and stared at it until he died. Yes, died! And who wants to be like the evil queen in Snow White who was a compulsive mirror gazer? Or what about the evil magic mirror in Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen that distorted the good and beautiful aspects of people and magnified their bad and ugly qualities? People just couldn’t quit looking at it. The evil mirror eventually broke into a million pieces; the fragments got into people’s eyes and turned hearts cold like a lump of ice.

There’s clearly a pattern here.

So, I quickly abandoned mirrors and felt very self-righteous about the whole thing.

But now things were different. Since hubby went and destroyed my blissful ignorance with the photo, I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. Just for one second, but the damage was done. Then, I knew it was true: “Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle.” No denying it. Depressing, but I survived it.

Okay. Next step. I thought about a measuring tape, but couldn’t find one (okay, I didn’t even look, leave me alone!) So, It was time for that scornful scale I broke up with long ago.

I waited for the morning, peed, and removed every item of clothing and jewelry – even my wedding ring. Then I plucked my eyebrows, shaved my legs, removed my nail polish, cleaned my ears, blew my nose, clipped my toenails, and checked for lint in my navel. Heck, I would have temporarily donated a kidney if I knew how.

And still…the scales read a whopping 167. By far, the most I’ve ever weighed in my life – even counting pregnancy. Deep sigh. It was like that poem, “When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but ten extra pounds on hips, thighs, and rear.”

So once again, I’m on a diet which stands for Did I Eat That? Time to play Hunger Games. Which is the sure ticket to failure, by the way, but I’m desperate.

Before I got started, the experts say to throw out all your junk food. Since I paid a lot of money for all those goodies, some pre-action was in order. So I diligently ate all the chips and chocolate chip cookies so they wouldn’t tempt me anymore. I worked day and night on this project as I pondered on the universal wisdom of the joke, if we’re not supposed to have midnight snacks, why is there a light in the refrigerator that makes it so easy?

Now I needed to lose 20 pounds instead of 15. Did I mention that menopause makes you extra hungry?

As you can tell, the whole dieting thing wasn’t going so well. After one week, I was obsessively examining myself in the mirror (I forgot all about Narcissus) to see if I looked any thinner. Yup, the low fat diet was working. My fat was definitely hanging lower.

If only losing weight was as easy as losing my menopausal temper!

On second thought, maybe it’d just be simpler to bake some cookies for my menopausal lady friends and look thinner by comparison.

Yup, that’s my plan. I’m forbidding any more pictures of me from my waist down on Facebook, breaking up with my bathroom scales once again, and I’m definitely going back to mirror fasting!

Image courtesy of jk1991 and AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Be sure and check out Hot Flash Daily for more informative and fun articles on menopause.