Friday, March 7, 2014
Almost two years ago, I had the honor of being a keynote speaker at a Zonta event in Fort Collins, Colorado. I'm ashamed to admit it today, but back then I was unfamiliar with the amazing work that this organization does both here in the U.S. and around the world. Saturday, March 8th, is the official International Women's Day, and it is also the day known as Zonta Rose Day. The goal is to raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges that face women worldwide. Fortunately, Zonta advocates for and generously supports projects and organizations that a) improve the status of women, b) promote human rights, and c) uphold justice.
Zonta was established in Buffalo, New York in 1919, and its earliest members were among the first generation of college-educated, voting, employed women in America. The group's founder, Marian de Forest, wanted to create an organization that could (and would) help women reach their potential. Within one year there were nine Zonta clubs with 600 members. Today, there are 1,200 clubs in 65 countries and 30,000 members worldwide.
On Saturday, countless women who have worked hard to help others (in both big and small ways) will receive a yellow rose as a token of appreciation for their efforts. Zonta's goal is to advance the economic, educational, health, legal, political and professional status of women. Zonta international has supported projects in 57 countries, and provided scholarships as well as awards to women around the globe.
In cooperation with the United Nations and its agencies, Zonta has worked hard to raise awareness of (and improve education about) violence against women and children. This effort includes implementing (and enforcing) local laws that protect women and victims of violence--including providing legal, medical, rehabilitation and reintegration services for survivors of violence.
To learn more about Zonta, email email@example.com. Isn't it good to know that we all can make a positive difference in the lives of women and girls both in our own communities as well as around the world?
Looking forward to your comments.
Monday, February 24, 2014
Are you one of the millions of moviegoers who has watched the movie Monuments Men? In America, as of yesterday, the film has grossed close to $60 million dollars. I wanted to devote this blog to the largely unrecognized contributions of the women who worked alongside the men portrayed in George Clooney's latest hit.
In the film, Cate Blanchett portrays a female art historian (Rose Valland) who helped rescue over five boxcars worth of valuable artwork. She later received three of France's highest honors for her work, and she is one of the most-decorated women--ever--in French history. She was also awarded America's medal of Freedom; Valland died in 1980, at the age of 82.
But the photos above are of Anne Olivier Bell, who is the last surviving woman to have been a part of this daring art escapade. Currently 97 years old, this Englishwoman was part of a multinational group of women who risked their lives to protect artistic treasures from being destroyed by the Nazis. The group included (among others) Americans Edith A. Standen and Ardelia Ripley Hall, as well as the French Valland and the British Bell.
In November 1945, Anne Olivier Bell was approached by a young man at a party and asked if she would like to work for the Museum, Fine Arts, and Archives branch of the Allies Control Commission. In her words, "I was concerned about all the bombing and the destruction and the horror and the moving about the pictures and so forth. And I knew that I had something of use and value to offer." She was given the civilian rank of Major.
The art-hunting team actually had several hundred people in it, but there were only a few dozen women included in their ranks. Almost everyone was a dedicated scholar, and their bravery is unquestioned. The movie is based on a variety of books, including 2009's The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and The Rape of Europa, a 1994 book by Lynn H. Nicholas as well as Sara Houghteling's 2009 novel Pictures at an Exhibition.
The Monuments Men Allied section operated in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. And it included architects, curators and scholars, as well as workers like Ms. Bell, who handled logistics for the team in Germany. She helped coordinate the rescue and return of thousands of Medieval Church bells that the Nazis had seized and were planning to melt to use for weapons.
It took decades after the war to restore and return the "saved" artwork, which included everything from work by Leonardo, Raphael, Onyx altar pieces and two massive rose granite lions that had been taken from the Louvre. To give you an idea how vast the looting was, in France alone from April 1941 to July 1944, 4,174 cases of artwork were shipped to Germany. The same sort of theft took place in Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy and Poland.
In addition to her art-rescue work, Anne Olivier Bell, these days, is best known as a scholar who has made a life's career out of editing Virginia Woolf's diaries.
Looking forward to your comments...
Friday, February 14, 2014
Happy Valentine's Day! My creative friend, Sonia Cooper, assembled this graphic as part of her tireless efforts to help promote The Self-Empowered Woman. I thought it was so pretty that I wanted to share it with all of you as my way of saying "Thank You" for being so supportive over the years.
This afternoon, I spoke to a South Florida group of National Association of Professional Women about the 17 traits of high-achieving women. The group's leader ended the meeting by urging all the women in the room to make sure that their loved ones remembered to treat them "like a Queen" on this special day. An experienced woman at my table, who has a busy career as a life coach, loudly commented (in a humorous way) "Better yet, ladies, instead of waiting for another person to make you feel special, treat yourself like the Queen you are. And if you do have someone special in your life, make sure that he treats you like royalty every day, not just on February 14th."
My wish for you is that your Valentine's Day is full of happiness, inspiration and serenity!
Friday, February 7, 2014
Do you plan to watch CBS's 50th anniversary tribute to the Beatles this Sunday night?
Like millions of other 15 year old girls, I was glued to the Ed Sullivan Show when the Beatles made their first American TV appearance in 1964. (In fact, 45% of Americans who had TVs were watching.) At the time, I attended a private all girls high school in Southern California, where we wore plaid pleated skirts, white blouses and dark green blazers/cardigans—as well as the obligatory lace-up shoes with ankle socks.
I was a page editor for our school newspaper who was also a confirmed bookworm, so I had no opportunity to meet—much less get to know or (gasp) date—boys. At that point in my incredibly awkward and sheltered youth, they seemed like creatures from another planet. Perhaps that’s why it was so easy to channel all those mixed-up emotions into Beatlemania.
If anyone had told me back then that I would grow up to become a journalist who lived in London, I would have been dumbstruck. And if they’d told me I would visit Paul McCartney at his Apple music office, and interview him over coffee and cookies, I’m sure I’d have fainted on the spot. But that’s exactly what happened in 1985, and I’m happy to say that (unlike many celebrities I’ve met during my career) the experience exceeded my expectations.
Sir Paul (he received his Knighthood in 1997) went out of his way to welcome me to his private office—complete with a giant Wurlitzer Jukebox. Our morning meeting flew by, but fortunately our time together was captured by my newspaper’s trusty photographer. Thanks to his good-natured willingness to spend a few hours with me, I now have unbeatable bragging rights among all my former high school classmates. Lucky, lucky me.
Marilyn Murray Willison
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Are you one of Amy Tan's loyal fans? Millions of readers have turned her books--novels, non-fiction and children's books--into instant best sellers. Tan was born in Oakland, California on February 19th, 1952. Her parents--Daisy and John--were Chinese immigrants, and she is the second of three children. Her father was an electrical engineer and a Baptist minister (3: Belief In The Unbelievable). When Amy was fifteen years old, her older brother (Peter) and her father both died of brain tumors within the same year (1: No Paternal Safety Net).
Amy's mother moved her and her younger brother (John, Jr.) to Switzerland, which is where Amy finished high school. During this time she and her mother did not get along, but this is when Amy first learned about Daisy's earlier heart-wrenching life in China. The story of Daisy's first marriage to an abusive man, the birth of her children, and the fact that she had to leave those children behind in Shanghai (when she escaped on the last boat to leave before the Communist takeover in 1949). Her mother's life events served as the basis for Amy's first best-selling novel, 1989's The Joy Luck Club (8: Turning No Into Yes).
Amy's mother had wanted her to attend a Baptist college, and study to become a doctor. Instead, she chose to study English and linguistics (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream). Amy received her bachelor's and master's degrees (in those subjects) from San Jose State University, and then worked on her doctorate in linguistics--first at UC Santa Cruz, and then at Berkeley (10: The Critic Within).
In 1976, she took a job as a language development consultant, where she directed a training project for developmentally disabled children. Next she started a business writing firm, and created speeches for corporate executives and business salesmen. She then began working as a business writer, and finally started writing short stories (11: Risk Addiction). Amy's short fiction earned the attention of magazines like Seventeen and literary agent Sandra Dijkstra.
As a child, Amy's parents had forced her to study piano, and as an adult she switched to jazz piano. As a successful author, she became part of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band made up of authors with varying musical skills. Her band mates included Dave Berry, Stephen King and Barbara Kingsolver (9: Music).
In 1989, The Joy Luck Club (which had received a $50,000 advance from G. P. Putnam's Sons) was completed in a little over four months. It spent eight months on The New York Times bestseller list, and the paperback rights were sold for $1.23 million. The book has been translated into 17 languages, and in 1991, she finished The Kitchen Gods Wife. Her other novels include Saving Fish From Drowning, The Hundred Secret Sentences, The Bonesetter's Daughter and The Valley of Amazement.
She has also written two children's books (The Moon Lady and The Sagwa), and an autobiography titled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings, as well as several other non-fiction books. She has received a variety of writing awards, from the National Endowment for the Arts, to the American Library Association and the Academy of Achievement (13: More Than Meets the Eye).
In 2003, she wrote about her struggle with Lyme disease, which went undiagnosed for years and left her with physical pain, mental impairment and seizures. She now suffers from epilepsy as a result of the 16 lesions in her brain that developed due to the disease. During her struggle with Lyme disease, she was unable to read or write until (four years later) she found a doctor who prescribed a course of antibiotics that currently keep her symptoms at bay (12: Hard Times).
Looking forward to your comments...
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Every day each of us is getting older. But thanks to my good friend Karen Bayless, I was lucky enough to learn about a fascinating new book (What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson, Henry Holt, 256pp, $25.00) that examines the life of an amazing 94 year old track star.
Olga Kotelko didn't start competing in track and field events until she was 77 years old, but now she is the only woman in the world over the age of 90 who still competes in long-jumping and high-jumping competitions. Plus, she holds over 23 world records in track and field, 17 of which are in her current 90-95 category.
Experts are studying Olga's habits, diet and exercise routine because researchers now believe that longevity is probably about 70-75 percent lifestyle. In other words 25 percent of our health and well being is what we have inherited, and the other "three-quarters is determined by how you play the hand you were dealt."
- Stay physically active--Olga played baseball until she was 75, and then she began participating in track and field events. New evidence indicates that exercise helps us both mentally and physically.
- Stay on your feet--The more hours you spend sitting, the worse your overall health will be. Many office workers now use stand-up desks to effortlessly burn off extra calories, and improve their circulation. For the majority of her life, Olga never had a desk job, and she still climbs stairs and rarely sits for long periods of time.
- You are what you eat--Olga avoids processed and fast foods, but (occasionally) enjoys everything from bread to beef to a baked potato--and she has a sweet tooth. She eats very little in the evenings, and works hard to have a balanced--but natural--diet.
- Be a creature of habit--Good habits make it easy to stay disciplined. Olga has many regular rituals--stretching every morning, bowling every Tuesday, the same bedtime every night, etc. Establishing a regular routine can be like having a healthy safety net.
- Embrace improvement--Whether it's our career, our relationships or our hobbies, we all want to feel like we're making progress rather than backsliding. But after mid-life--when the body naturally begins to get slower and weaker--we need to "refrain" our progress in order to still feel as if we are improving.
- Keep emotions under control--It's harmful to our health to get upset over little things. When asked about how she stays so even-tempered, Olga replied (regarding getting upset) "Honestly, I don't have the time." All of this falls under the category of don't sweat the small stuff.
Olga, who is only five feet tall, grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada and was the seventh of eleven children. She was a school teacher (grades 1-10) in a one room schoolhouse, married (the wrong man) when she was young, had two daughters, and in 1957, moved to British Columbia with her girls. As a single mother, she earned her bachelor's degree at night.
Her track and field career was helped when she found a trainer--a strict Hungarian woman who demanded the best out of Olga. She began going to the gym three days a week for up to three hours each time doing everything from planks to Roman chairs, bench presses and squats. Today she still does three sets of ten push ups, three sets of 25 sit-ups, and runs intervals. Deep breathing, massage, reflexology and stretching are part of her regular routine.
Recently, Olga told an interviewer that she has the same energy today that she had when she was 50. The reason may be that researchers have found that exercise can stimulate the production of telomerase, the enzyme that maintains and repairs the little caps on the end of our chromosomes that keeps genetic information intact when cells divide. This means that older athletes our more cardiovascular fit than their sedentary counterparts, and they are also more free of age-related illness in general.
Obviously, Olga is a great inspiration to anyone (especially Baby Boomers) who don't want to look or feel their age!
Looking forward to your comments...
Sunday, January 19, 2014
|Sue Monk Kidd|
Many of you may have either read her novels, or watched the film versions of Sue Monk Kidd's novels. The Secret Life of Bees (which starred Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning) was shown in movie theaters and The Mermaid's Chair aired on the Lifetime channel. Today's posting is about her new novel, The Invention of Wings, which was just released last week and is a featured selection of Oprah's Book Club 2.0.
As many of you know, I am passionate about the stories behind Self-Empowered Woman, but I really enjoy sharing information about the lives of women who were born before 1900. From my perspective, they faced even greater challenges while they struggled to be heard and respected. At any rate, here's the story behind The Invention of Wings.
The novel--which is based on the life of Sarah Moore Grimke, who was born in South Carolina in 1792 (16 years after Jane Austen was born) is a fictionalized version of one of America's most impressive (but unrecognized) women. She was the eighth of fourteen children (the second daughter), and her father was a rich plantation owner who was also an attorney and judge. As a little girl she was annoyed by the fact the her brothers received a classical education, but hers was limited to tutored lessons on "appropriate subjects for young women." The combination of this inequality and her observations of how the slaves lived changed her life forever. From the time she was twelve years old, Sarah spent her Sunday afternoons teaching Bible lessons to the young slaves on the plantation (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).
The family attended the Episcopalian Church (3: Belief In The Unbelievable), and Sarah's mother volunteered to help the poor in the area as well as female prisoners. Sarah had two goals as a young girl, but because of the values of her time and her parents' rules, neither could be fulfilled. First, she dreamed of becoming an attorney, and she also longed to teach the slaves how to read so they could study the Bible for themselves. Teaching slaves to read had been against the law in South Carolina since 1740, and when her father caught Sarah secretly teaching her personal slave how to read and write her father had the young girl whipped. Sarah stopped the tutoring lessons in order to protect Hetty (who was nicknamed "Handful"), but never stopped working to help the slaves (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream).
Sarah's brother, Thomas, left to attend law school at Yale, and whenever he returned home for a visit he would secretly tutor her on the importance of both law and religion (2: Supportive Someone). When she was 27, Sarah travelled to Philadelphia with her dying father, the rigid man who had controlled her and prevented her from getting a good education. While they were there, he died (1: No Paternal Safety Net). Afterwards, she became more independent and self-assured, and decided to remain in Philadelphia where she was introduced to Quakerism. She decided to leave both the Episcopal Church and Charleston (14: Selective Disassociation), and become a Quaker minister.
This is where she encountered even more discrimination. The male members of the Quaker community felt, as did most people of that time, that women should be subservient and limited to the domestic arena. In 1836, Sarah published a pamphlet "An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States," which denounced slavery. And by 1837, both she and her sister (Angelina) were being attacked because they bravely but (for that era) scandalously spoke publicly in front of "mixed audiences" (men and women). They also dared to debate men who held anti-abolitionist positions (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).
In 1838, Sarah wrote "Letters on the Equality of the Sexes" to argue that the rights and liberties of both African-Americans and women were one and the same. It's hard to imagine how much courage it must have taken (during that long-ago discriminatory era) to have publicly--and simultaneously--denounced both slavery and discrimination against women (7: Magnificent Obsession).
Later that year Angelina married the Abolitionist Theodore Weld, and with Sarah they moved to New Jersey where they opened a school. During the Civil War they lectured and wrote in support of Abraham Lincoln. After the war, the three moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, where the two sisters campaigned for women's rights for the rest of their lives. Sarah died on December 23rd, 1873.
Looking forward to your comments...