Life Coach. Writer.


Back at College (for the Afternoon)

October 25, 2015

The other day I went back to college. As a student. For 90 minutes. It was the quintessential autumn day. The kind where the leaves have just begun to turn color, some gently unhinging from their branches and wavering in the air before they hit the dirt below. Or in my case, before they hit

In front of the Button on Penn's campus.

Back at college, in front of “The Button” on Penn’s campus.

the bricks that make up Locust Walk, the pedestrian pathway that cuts through the heart of Penn’s campus.

On the invitation of my daughter, now a sophomore at my alma mater, I arrived on campus—not just as a courier schlepping a winter coat, some homemade chicken soup and several necessities from Trader Joe’s, but primarily to attend a lecture in Emily’s class, Intro to Positive Psychology.

With a tendency to cut my timing close, I purposely gave myself an extra hour before meeting Emily so I could wallow in the beauty of the day, and the memories of my own walks down Locust Walk—nearly 30 years ago. I texted Emily to let her know where I was sitting–on the grass to the left of the iconic Button sculpture that sits in front of the main library–steps away from the hovering statue of Ben Franklin. I literally could not wipe the smile off my face.

Emily's took this photo as she approached.

Emily took this photo as she approached.

I spotted her immediately as she walked up the path in my direction, dodging a few fellow students, most of whom had eyes glued to their phones. She pulled hers out too, discreetly placing it in picture-taking position as she approached. I knew she’d likely make fun of me, firing Snapchats to her friends and siblings. But I didn’t care. I was back at college.

Emily had invited me to attend this particular lecture because the guest speaker was Dr. Martin Seligman, a renowned and longtime professor at Penn and known as the founder of Positive Psychology. Having recently become certified as a Positive Psychology practitioner and life coach following a year of study and training through the Wholebeing Institute, I jumped at the chance to accompany my daughter to class.

Together we walked to Meyerson Hall, which sits at the lower end of College Green, the central grassy quad on this urban campus. The nostalgia poured over me as I thought about the times I walked into the same lecture hall as a student—three decades earlier—for a

Me and Emily, ready to take notes.

Emily and I, ready to take notes.

marketing class, as well as one on the Arab-Israeli conflict. I followed Emily down the side aisle and we took our seats, each with a wooden desk that turns and then flips up when you want to use it. Many students broke out their laptops; Emily used a notebook and gave me some paper to write on. I couldn’t wait to listen, learn, and take notes.

Dr. Seligman started his lecture by asking students the following: “In two words or fewer, what do you want most in life?” The students blurted out their answers: love, meaning, happiness, fulfillment. “Good,” he said. “Now tell me in two words or fewer, what are you learning in school?” Again, the students responded out loud: knowledge, how to get a job, discipline, bullshit!

Seligman went on to tell the group of about 80 students to notice the lack of overlap. “You’re being robbed because both can be taught in the classroom,” he said. “It’s possible to get more than a good job—you can also have fulfillment.”

Dr. Seligman begins his lecture.

Dr. Seligman begins his lecture.

For the next 90 minutes, Seligman discussed the five pillars of well-being, known by the mnemonic, PERMA, which stands for Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments. Dressed in a flannel shirt and navy slacks, he crisscrossed the stage, using slides and images to highlight his points, and word clouds to exhibit the latest study drawing on 50,000 words and phrases found on Facebook and Twitter. Occasionally stepping down from the stage to answer a question—he mentioned several times that he’s hard of hearing—he was direct, engaging and an obvious master of the topic.

I listened so intently that I felt the new wrinkles forming on my forehead. My laser focus was on his stories and research, and I jotted it all down on the loose-leaf paper Emily fed me. Was I this inspired 30 years ago? Did I ever feel disappointed that a lecture was about to end? Somehow I don’t think so. But from where I sat in Meyerson Hall, next to my 19-year-old daughter, I would’ve been happy to sit for a few more hours.

Seligman told the class that Freud and Schopenhauer had it wrong—their approach had been to look at how not to suffer, and how that was the mark of a good life.

Together at college, on Locust Walk.

Back on Locust Walk–thanks Emily!

Seligman followed suit, spending his first 30 years at Penn focusing on misery. But his work for the last 20 years has shifted to the study of well-being and the ways in which people can increase their life satisfaction.

After the lecture, I told Emily I wanted to meet Dr. Seligman. “I’ll wait for you outside,” she said without hesitiation. But minutes later, she joined me on the line to meet him (though we let all of the students go ahead of us). We said a quick hello and thanked him, and I told him that I was a Penn alum, studied Positive Psychology recently and had come from New York to hear his lecture. He didn’t seem to care.

But for that afternoon, I felt fulfilled and grateful and happy. The time with my daughter, in an environment where I could listen and learn, on a day when the sun was shining, in a place to which I feel connected—the pillars of PERMA were working for me. It was just great to be back at college.




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Our Civil Rights Journey to the Deep South

June 8, 2015

5503faba27ec8ab46d365ff2ab859292c76c27d0Last year in my son’s eighth grade social studies class, they discussed the civil rights era but according to him, they were short on time and (as he explained) “kind of rushed through it.”

So when the movie Selma came out last December, depicting the events that led 600 civil rights marchers to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965, it seemed a ripe opportunity to add to the lesson. Simon and I watched the film together, and it was just a few weeks later when I announced we’d be taking a special trip together — a three-day journey to the deep South to learn more about civil rights.

“A what kind of trip?” Simon asked when I first broke the news we’d be going.

“A civil rights journey,” I answered with extra enthusiasm. “It’ll be really interesting and fun!”

I knew that an education-filled bus trip was hardly the top vacation choice for your average teenager. But I also knew that this type of opportunity — a trip geared toward kids his age, and already including two of his close friends — doesn’t come around every day.


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Mindful in Morocco

March 2, 2015

IMG_7826It’s hard not to be mindful of your surroundings in Morocco—the North African country that seems to emanate a wondrous overload of the senses. The sights, smells, tastes and sounds can be overpowering and beautiful, startling and thought-provoking.

In a country where the terrain ranges from snow-capped Atlas mountains and the vast Sahara desert to the serpentine streets of Fez’s medina IMG_5655(old city) and the nearly 1,000 miles of Atlantic coastline, your senses are frequently on high alert. As they well should be.

On a recent trip to Morocco, our group had the good fortune to trek amidst the natural beauty of Mount Toubkal, feel the warm golden sand of the desert dunes, smell the aromas of animal skins at a tannery, and savor the flavors of many a sumptuous tagine. Thanks to the help of travel outfitter Quivertree, who helped us plan our trip and provided us with our amazing guide, Lahcen, our journey was filled with a varied exploration of Morocco’s fascinating offerings—heavy on adventure and a good dose of culture.

Here are a some of our trip’s highlights:


The 11th century Place Jemaa el-Fna is straight out of the movies—a large plaza filled with musicians, Read More→


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Escapades in Aspen

August 6, 2014

When my daughter, Emily, announced she had one week off of work this summer when all kid activities are cancelled due to an annual sailing race, my mind immediately started working. “What will you do?” I asked casually.

“Annabel and I are thinking of going away somewhere”, she answered, referring to a friend she met three years earlier on a summer community service trip to Costa Rica.

Emily is leaving for college this fall. Knowing that this could be an ideal opportunity to spend quality time with her, I blurted out, “Would you and Annabel want to go away with me and Dad? Somewhere we could do some high adventure?”

I held my breath, and within seconds she said, “Yaaaa!” She texted Annabel who responded in kind. And that is how I lured my 18-year-old daughter to come away with us. Yes, we’d be sharing her with a friend, though it seemed the ideal strategy for getting her to travel with us and we happen to be very

fond of Annabel.

To make the package as attractive as possible, challenging outdoor activities would be key. Planning a trip for 5 days and 4 nights, Read More→


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Savoring the Tastes of Puglia

July 27, 2014

For much of the past 25 years, when I heard someone mention Puglia, I could only think back to the music-filled and pasta heavy restaurant in Manhattan’s Little Italy, where I once threw my husband a memorable and ruckus birthday party before we were married.

All that changed a few years ago when I met my friend Antonello Losito, founder of Southern Visions Travel, and heard him boast about the beauty and food of his native region, Puglia, situated in the heel of Italy’s boot. “You must come to Puglia to see for yourself”, he urged. He listed the reasons why, and I listened.

I can now say firsthand that Puglia is a trip worth making. With only six days to explore, my husband, Rich, and I made the most of our time, splitting our six days between the Adriatic coastline area south of Bari and the historic city of Lecce further the south.

With the help of Southern Visions, we spent our first two days bicycling, equipped with titanium bikes and self-guided directions that the company provided. Biking along the flat coastline – ideal for adapting to the new time zone – proved leisurely and scenic

beyond my expectations. Read More→


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