"Wisdom" NPR (88.1 WVPE) Radio Commentary with Michiana Chronicles

NOTE: You can listen to the MP3 of this HERE.

Wisdom
By Heather Curlee Novak


I have a special wisdom. I know The Right Way To Do Everything. I really do know everything, which may surprise you considering I only have a bachelors degree. I have not traveled the world, can only barley be considered a mother after eleven months at it and I am only thirty eight years old. But let me tell you, I do know everything, or at least I thought so until recently.

Thanks to my special wisdom I can tell you the best way to do anything from peel an apple to living your entire life. Whether you have asked me or not. Whether I actually have experience in the area of consideration or not. Do you have someone in your life like me? Are YOU perhaps a bit like me?

I blame my Mother’s Mother Margaret, who I loved dearly. She had a fierce belief in the right way to live, the right way to do things. I feel I often channel her spirit and I have yet to learn to control it. I can blame some of it on my Dad, who we call the VOA for VOICE OF AUTHORITY. He really started this by modeling a special brand of ‘helpfulness’ in life. My Husband calls it the C Chromosome after my maiden name.
It drove me up a wall most of my life until recently when I realized Dad means only well.
I only mean well too.

I mean, if you knew for a fact one restaurant was awesome with tasty succulent food and attentive waitstaff, but the other was hideously overpriced for what you get and you basically have to bus your own tables, wouldn’t you share the wisdom accordingly? Even if you hadn’t eaten at either restaurant, but heard it from other people, read it in the paper, or just kind of had a feeling? It’s like that when I share my wisdom. I just want that particular person to have the most positive experience in their life and I usually think I know just what that is.

And likewise, if you had a friend making horrible choices in their life and you could clearly see the better option they should be taking--you would tell them, right? Because you love them and want to protect them from grief. Because if their life was a movie and you watched it you would warn them by shouting “Don’t go in the basement!!!” They would appreciate that right? They would know it was because you loved them, cared about them. Even if they didn’t quite realize they needed your...help? Even if they didn’t exactly ask for your...wisdom.

What? You wouldn’t say anything? I do it because I care! Because I love them. Right?
I read a book lately where there was a character like me, and a line said something about the heroine loving people, maybe too much, and you could tell which ones were her loved ones by their ‘hunted look’. I’m afraid my friends might have that. That hunted look.

Hey, this feels like real wisdom and it doesn’t feel good.

I wonder if real wisdom is just loving people where they are and leaving them the hell alone? Listening to the horror story as it unfurls and stepping on the urge to yell about not going into the basement. Maybe better love, better care would be to just listen...when they go into the basement and after they have emerged still breathing, eventually smiling, and wiser all by themselves. Maybe true wisdom, if I had it, would keep my mouth from opening in the first place.


I think all throughout Michiana you may hear quiet cheers of my dear friends released at once from The Right Way To Do Things, finally free to do their own things instead. I wonder if any of them can offer me advice on how to maintain this sudden epiphany of mine. I wonder who will share their wisdom instead of me offering mine. It’s not really all that great anyway.

"Neurotic Green Living" NPR (88.1 WVPE) Radio Commentary with Michiana Chronicles

NOTE: You can listen to the MP3 HERE.

Neurotic Green Living
By Heather Curlee Novak


I’m going to ruin your day. Just like that...you have had a perfectly fine day going about your happy life and all of a sudden in my attempt to save your life I will actually ruin it. You know how once you buy a certain car you see that model everywhere? This will be like that. It is my new neurosis, and in fact...many have it now: The Green Movement.

Your body wash is killing you. The parabens in it and also in body lotion are known to cause cancer. My baby is basically laying face down in the street even when she is safely in our home laying on the carpet....but our shoes tracked in everything from the street so there she is laying in it. My household cleansers are full of toxic poisons that irritate my skin and could poison my darling baby if she gets into them. Or if she sucks on my fingers after I used them if I haven't washed them well enough--then again my hand soap has sodium lauryl sulfate in it and that can affect her reproductive organs down the line. Whew.

I used to be normal. I still remember it well, it was about seven months ago before the tandem birth of my baby girl and my awareness of the new Green Movement. I was somewhat aware of whispered warnings in mass emails, but I could hit delete...we all have to die sometime right? I heard the whispers but ignored them in order to continue in my happy, normal and sane life.

As I left the business world to be a mom and tend to the little bit of diapered business at home I looked at it like a career change. I read every book on pregnancy and child development I could check out of the library or shake down from friends. I web surfed any topic that caught my fancy or made my stomach roll over in worry. I learned way too much.

I tried to bring up some of the topics to my husband casually, starting with baby’s body wash. I talked to him about changing from body wash for all of us to bath soap in a good old fashioned bar with fewer ingredients. I tossed the standard issue baby lotion with toxic fragrance, parabens and God knows what else and made my own baby rub with lavender essential oil, grapeseed and almond oils. My husband smiled indulgently at me but said little. I asked him if we could stop wearing our shoes in the house, he said to just remind him for awhile, that would be fine.

I asked him if he was ok with more vegetarian meals since meat is carcinogenic and so is dairy according to several books and web sites I had surfed. He said it was fine until a visit to the health food store netted not a single meat item in our kitchen that week. We had a throw down. He meant one or two meals without meat, not only one or two meals with it. He said I was really making it hard for him to follow with all the big changes I wanted to make. I told him I was only trying to do the best things for my family. He told me I was buying hype, I told him he was buying the standard as the best option when it wasn’t.

He stayed calm and pointed out how neurotic I was beginning to be. I started to realize I was the healthy living lifestyle version of Debbie Downer from Saturday Night Live! I could and would tell you the pros and cons of anything going on your skin or into your mouth. I regularly suggested friends run their various skin care products through the cosmetic database website to see their level of toxicity. I was as close to pious about my cloth diaper use as I could be and still have disposable diapering friends. I was in love with bacon but tried to hide my lust in order to follow the line about meat being cruel and full of nasty chemicals. I was indeed becoming neurotic.

I think green living is crucial for our lives, for the well being of our environment and for our personal health and wellness. I believe all of us are better off giving more consideration for how we use things, buy things and go through our days. I also think we can over do it and get bogged down in trying to do everything at once. I guess the answer for us is to be aware but not obsessed. To make changes but not everything all at once. To enjoy life and give up trying to control it by trying to know and do everything possible to prolong it. I think I’ll go green in a rainbow of ways with a relaxed, less neurotic smile on my face. I hope you can still have a wonderful day!

One Less Thing: Would You Put It Back?

I am distracted this evening, annoyed with myself and with a woman I know named Lovelyn. Isn't that a grand name? And it suits her. She has that languid, easy flow about her that lets you know she is unruffled in most situations and would serve anyone she could. Here she is with her family.


I met Lovelyn when we did the "Listen to Your Mother" show. She read a piece called "The Motherless" in our Valparaiso show. I cried when I first heard her read it in our rehearsal. I cried when I heard her read during our show. I cried again just thinking of it. I began to consider for the first time in my Reluctant Mama life adopting a child. We have our hands full right now with our two little girls, but down the road I know this could become a reality for me.

Today I bounced across Facebook and saw Lovelyn's link to Etsy and a few things she is selling to raise money to fly back across the world to get another son to join their family of seven. I wanted to encourage her, to buy something. I didn't see anything I needed or wanted, but I posted a link on my Facebook page, asking friends to look and shop and support her. We have a budget and I felt I couldn't spend money right now.

I have eaten out several times in the past week. I plan to buy $30 sheets from Target even though we have three sets of sheets for our bed. (Just because a web site offered that as a staycation idea and I liked it.) I spend a lot of money on organic food every week. We have so much food in our house that it often goes bad and we put precious amounts of it on our compost pile in the back yard. Our living room furniture is starting to rip after eight years and I just bought $150 worth of slip covers for it. But I cannot buy a $14 shirt from Lovelyn?


We live simply and debt free. We are financially comfortable and blessed and grateful to live in America. There are many things I would like to buy, but because we choose to live simply and under our means I do not buy them. I am already frugal, and yet...what if I bought one less thing? What if every week I spent a little less on things I enjoy but do not need like organic eggs or a fourth running bra. What if I put one thing back every time I shop and instead give the money away? Would I be more blessed by someone's gratitude than by Starbucks coffee? Instead of four new $9.99 happy beach towels, what if I just used our old towels? I could spend the $40 on Etsy to shop and help another motherless child get home to a forever mother like Lovelyn? What about you? Could you put one thing back? Maybe you won't give money to my friend, but send it somewhere to someone who needs it more than you need that one more thing.

The quote from the offerings there still haunts me although I am sure I heard it before.

"It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish." Mother Theresa

So I feel foolish and greedy even though I know we are not extravagant or greedy. I am embarrassed to feel myself cling to prettier things instead of throwing money at someone as gracious and world changing as Lovelyn and her husband and her ever growing family. I feel humbled by my darling healthy girls and loving engaged husband. I know I can do more in the world to lift others up, to honor God and to share my blessings. But will I? I mean really, in a few days or a month will I feel the same humility? I hope so. And it can be by just putting one thing back, and placing that money somewhere better.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. What is your "One Less Thing", and will you put it back?

"Bored" NPR (88.1 WVPE) Radio Commentary with Michiana Chronicles

NOTE: You can hear the MP3 of this HERE.

"Bored"
By Heather Curlee Novak


Are you bored in your life? Do you seem to have lots of moments where you ask yourself, ”Well what now?” or “Well what’s on TV now?” I’ve had this conversation with a few people recently where they admit boredom and I stare blankly trying to comprehend the word they have just used. Boredom? I think the last time I was bored was maybe twenty years ago as a teenager! My guess is we are required to be bored for most of the teen years or we aren’t allowed to get to the drinking age, there would be no purpose. We would also never be motivated to move on with our life and go to college, get a job and have adventures. Then again, maybe not. From time to time we all could stand a good hard look at our lives and how we are living them to be sure we are getting the most out of our breathing above ground days.

I read recently in a parenting magazine that author Donald Miller wanted to live a better and more interesting life. Apparently a biography of his life was in the works but they told him his life wasn’t interesting enough! He gave up TV for a year and biked across the country just for starters. I have several friends who do that kind of grueling trip and I like admiring them from a distance. I’m not doing that. I’m expecting a new baby almost any day now so at nine months pregnant a walk around the block is pretty close to a cross country bike ride for me. I have plenty of adventure trying to keep my husband and toddler alive and happy most days. Even though boredom is not a familiar experience for me these conversations and the Donald Miller article about living a better life has engaged me and made me think about how I spend my time.

Before having a family, I used to work outside of the home as a sales and service trainer. I used to speak in front of groups of professionals, church retreats and classes. I used to dress up all pretty in clothes that were stylish and wore little heels instead of Birkenstocks or Crocs and my hair wasn’t accessorized by the lone bobby pin to keep bangs at bay. I was engaged in a professional, vibrant world of learning and teaching and reaching new goals. It is different now as a stay at home mom. I cannot say it isn’t as exciting. You try to keep a toddler from falling down stairs fourteen times a day, or from grabbing knives off the kitchen counter when she’s grown six inches overnight and tell me it isn’t...ummm...exciting. I’m so grateful to be home with our daughter and be the person learning along side her each day, but I can see where there could be more.

My Mother died when I was thirteen years old, and I believe it’s that experience that taught me the early lesson that life doesn’t last. From this lesson I’ve known all my life that there are lots of great things to do with my time and only a limited amount of that time to do them all. This core of my being has shaped both my younger professional life and my life as a stay at home mama. I try to seek out the most interesting options, the life engaging and affirming ways to spend our time and I think this is what rescues me from potential boredom. I have lived a life on fire and have very few regrets. I have lived in Chicago, Colorado, California and Indiana. I’ve swing danced, painted, written, acted, gone on political rally bus trips to Washington, seen movies alone, snow shoed, water skied, geocached, eaten dinner in the bathtub, made candles, drank champagne for breakfast on the front porch, cooked up fabulous new food and total kitchen disasters including flaming bagels. I have read garbage books, naughty books, highbrow books and educational books. I’ve volunteered for homeless shelters, deaf communities, disabled adults and churches. I’ve driven cross country many times, raised two dogs from pups, angsted through mix tapes, finished college late, took jobs too big for me, worked jobs too small for me and smiled at strangers regularly.

Now in my life as a Mama I go to every story hour, take my daughter to play dates, zoos, museums, construction sites and do my best to show her the world with all its detail large and small. I’m not trying to shield her from boredom, I think it has it’s place in childhood. I just want her to learn how easy it can be to engage herself in a bigger life through even the smallest things. I want her to, like me, live her life in reality, not onscreen through TV or the computer. I want her to benefit from the life lessons I had to learn the hard way...isn’t that every parent’s sweetest dream?

If they were writing the biography of your life would it say you could recount every episode of LOST and worked hard at the job you hated but that is about it? What is on your bucket list? What adventures are you waiting to have? If your adventure is too big to be feasible right now what are smaller versions of it you could dance with? Don’t be bored! You have too much to do. I encourage you to fill your life with people who matter deeply to you. I can never say enough about volunteering your time and skill as an effective life builder. If you have been struggling with the status quo of daily doings I hope that sharing with you some of how I have lived my life out loud will set off some bells and get you off the proverbial couch into LIFE! None of us have enough days in our life to spend them chin in hand brooding and wishing there was more. There is MUCH more; get up and find it!

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Fashion Questions and Answers: The Compliment Challenge

This is a challenge from my friend Kathy Friend.


She is a GREAT "wardrobe and gorgeousness" consultant I have known for several years now. In one five minute consultation she opened my eyes to the fact I dress as if I am a pear shape when in reality I am an hourglass! I was 37 years old and never dressed my curves properly. Now I can filter my fabulous high fashion Target clothing purchases through the correct criteria to make me look my best.

As a natural complimenter and encourager, I don't know that I need this challenge myself but the rest of y'all might! Even though we are late...I think she is in day nine now, let's do it! If you blog, blog it, if you tweet, tweet it. Compliment someone every day for thirty days. Here is Kathy's bloggity blog...so much great info- ENJOY!


Fashion Questions and Answers: The Compliment Challenge: "Last week on WFRN , I challenged listeners.  The challenge was simple: give a friend a compliment each day. I issued this challenge becaus..."

Cloth Diaper Zen

By Heather Curlee Novak

My stress levels have been riding high lately. Just yesterday as I'm changing the baby's diaper my toddler starts whining in frustration over some plaything not cooperating. My shoulders tensed as I tried to react, to determine which issue was more important. Dirty dipe on the baby? Hollering toddler? Since I already had the diaper half off and it didn't sound like my toddler was actually bleeding, I kept my focus on diapering the baby.


I fought the typical urge to rush through it so I could see what my other daughter needed. I decided to enjoy the baby's smiles and pudgy leg kicks instead. I folded the cloth diaper and set it into the elastic diaper cover. I was grateful to protect my daughter's health and help the environment by using water (a renewable resource) to clean and reuse our cloth diapers. I smoothed ointment onto her bum and settled her into the freshly laundered diaper. I felt proud of the work and thought behind buying, preparing, washing and folding her cloth diapers. I smoothed the velcro tabs shut, gave her tummy a zerbert and appreciated how enthusiastic even my husband is about all fun and unfun angles of cloth diapering our young. I appreciated how diapering two girls for under four hundred dollars total payout gave us a lot of money to use in other ways over the years. I snapped up the baby's romper with silly sound effects and kissed her nose, laughing as she grabbed at my face and glasses with both happy hands.

"Diaper the baby to diaper the baby" replaced the simple Zen phrase I read years ago of "Wash the dishes to wash the dishes".

I chose that moment to be unhurried. I chose to stay in the moment without rushing on to the next thing. Diapering the baby just to diaper the baby was a highpoint in a not so grand day. I encourage you to find your zen moments, to choose to be unhurried. Enjoy the small times...they may just be the most special!