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Licensing & Accreditation

Brookhaven Retreat is Accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Organizations and is licensed by the State of Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.


We are a private pay treatment center and do not accept any type of insurance. Costs associated with care are the responsibility of the client.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 00:00

Workin’ Man’s Lunch

Some of life’s simple pleasures come paired with a partner. Think about burger and fries, bread and butter, corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips, bacon and eggs, or bagels and cream cheese. If you happen to be from the Deep South, you will notice that I missed an iconic pairing . . . an RC Cola and a Moon Pie. It was known as the ‘working man’s lunch’ early on because back in the 1930s the Moon Pie was the largest snack on the rack that could be purchased for a nickel. At the same time, the RC Cola was the biggest drink you could purchase for a nickel so, for a dime, you could get an RC Cola and a Moon Pie. This tasty combination moved into pop culture in the 1950s when “Big Bill” Lister sang an ode to the delicious duo aptly named “Gimme an RC Cola and a Moon Pie.” While the illustrious pairing had humble beginnings, my memories of having an RC Cola and a Moon Pie are much more sentimental.

Growing up in rural East Tennessee, the simple pleasures of life were highly appreciated. Sometimes that would mean sitting on the porch sipping ice cold lemonade and listening to my grandparents tell stories. Other times, it involved visits from favorite relatives. One of my favorite visitors was my Aunt Kathy. She was a tiny woman with an enormous personality that could brighten any day. She always had a sympathetic ear and was ready and willing to listen to a young child’s deepest fears, anxieties, and the occasional confessions of guilt. She was never angry or disappointed; instead she would always smile and tell us that it would be okay. Aunt Kathy made the big bad world a little less scary.

Whenever Aunt Kathy came to visit, she always brought a bag of goodies with her. She would bring coloring books, crayons, candies, and a small blue picnic cooler. We would climb the hill out back to the tree line where shade could be found and plop down in the grass. My sister and I would lie on our bellies and color with Kathy’s daughter while Aunt Kathy would spread a small worn blanket on the grass. She would place the cooler on one corner and stretch across the blanket down the other side to color with us. While we colored, we would surreptitiously glance at the cooler because we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what was inside. She always made us wait about an hour, but when we got too fidgety, she would announce that she was ‘famished’ and just couldn’t color another stroke without something to eat.

At that proclamation, we would place our crayons in the box and crowd around the cooler in anticipation. Aunt Kathy would say, “Coloring is hard work, good thing I planned ahead and brought us a ‘workin’ man’s lunch.” Then she would open the cooler to reveal a plastic bag stuffed full of Double Decker Moon Pies that were as big as our faces and four glass bottles of RC Cola all snuggled down in an icy slurry. She would pass out the Moon Pies first to busy our hands with the cellophane while she wrestled the soda bottles open.

I will never forget the taste of a fully chilled Moon Pie and, even though my taste buds have matured, I still occasionally purchase one to enjoy on vacation. Moon Pies were an integral part of my childhood and never fail to bring back happy memories of coloring on the hill in the shade of a tall oak tree. I now know that the ‘workin’ man’s lunch’ does not belong to me alone. That particular memory is actually extremely popular. Need proof? Every year in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, they celebrate this southern tradition with the Annual RC Moon Pie Festival. This year, the 20th anniversary festival is expected to be a grand celebration. Maybe my Aunt Kathy will be up for a road trip. After all, it’s not often that a road trip can include Memory Lane.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Sunday, 28 June 2015 00:00

Watermelon Feta and Orzo Salad

For me, summer is a time to picnic in the mountains. It is one of my favorite methods of clearing the stress after a long workweek to return clarity to my mental health. Picnics are cathartic, helping to reduce anxiety and depression through the sights and sounds associated with nature. It is possible to leave the foothills, where temperatures are in the 90s, and make your way into the heart of the Smoky Mountains to find temperatures in the upper 70s. This dramatic drop in temperatures makes the mountains an enticing draw when the oppressive heat of July hits.

While I prefer a shaded mountain setting, picnics at the beach or a local park are just as relaxing. In fact, you can picnic just about anywhere as long as you have the right companionship and the right foods packed in the basket. One of my new favorites for summer picnics is a chilled bowl of watermelon feta and orzo salad. The unexpected combination of flavors and textures complements the more traditional staples, such as chicken. As a bonus, watermelon possesses many health benefits. You can’t go wrong with a little watermelon!

Watermelon Feta and Orzo Salad


  • 1 cup orzo pasta
  • ½ cup Lemon-shallot Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
  • 3 cups seeded and diced watermelon
  • 4 cups firmly packed watercress or baby arugula
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese


  1. Prepare pasta according to package directions. Toss together hot pasta and Lemon-shallot Vinaigrette in a large bowl. Cover and chill pasta mixture 3 to 24 hours.
  2. Gently toss together watermelon, watercress, feta cheese, and pasta mixture just before serving; add salt and pepper to taste.

Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette


  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup minced fresh flat-leafed parsley
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard


  1. Stir together lemon juice and minced shallot; let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in olive oil, parsley, honey, and mustard. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 1 week.

SourceSouthern Living

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Sunday, 28 June 2015 00:00

The Break You Give Yourselfie

In 2011, Science Daily reported a study by the Douglas Mental Health University Institute called "Stress in the city: Brain activity and biology behind mood disorders of urbanites."

The summary was as follows:

“Being born and raised in a major urban area is associated with greater lifetime risk for anxiety and mood disorders. Until now, the biology for these associations had not been described. A new study shows that two distinct brain regions that regulate emotion and stress are affected by city living.”

What does that mean to me? I may live longer for the fact that I have spent most of my life as a New Jersey suburbanite. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates one out of every four Americans suffers from mental illness every year and 85 percent remain untreated. It seems the risk for anxiety disorders is 21 percent higher for city dwellers, who also have a 39 percent increase for mood disorders.

Sometimes the best break is the one you give yourselfie. If we can take photos of ourselves constantly---so popular there’s a cutesy name for it---why can’t we also grant ourselves peace even in the bustling city where there’s so much to consume and digest you couldn’t possibly eat it all in one lifetime?

Why not give yourself a break today since much of our angst is self-produced? Aren’t there enough people pulling at you (both literally and figuratively) to do this or that or go here or there? If you do one thing every day to manage your stress, let it be figuring out how to make things easier, especially if you’re playing beat-the-clock. No time to bake a cake? Buy one. Stressing over meeting with someone today when tomorrow is perfectly doable? What for? There’s always an easier way. All you have to do is find it.

I’m giving myselfie a break right now simply by writing what I want to write as opposed to what I believe I should write. Sometimes I realize how easy it is to crop anxiety out of the picture of my day and hit delete. Not always, but when I feel in control, I take advantage of that power by not allowing the noise either in my head or on the street to shake me up.

It’s like that feeling I get when I’m in New York City. Last week I went in for a brief business trip. As soon as I got off the ferry from New Jersey I got that rush of excitement. What can I do? Who can I see? What can I learn? The same hunger exists within me no matter where I am, but the Big Apple acts like a steroid to my awareness of both past and present, all I want to do and haven’t done.

But wouldn’t you know it, after a 20-minute people-watching, window-shopping walk to the hotel, all I did with my free time was sit. The walk was enough! A younger me would not have done that and what’s worse, I probably would have pushed myself to do one thing or another rather than be mindful of what I needed to do to keep that sense of ever-ready anxiety in check.

Mindfulness can be put to use in all situations and all places---a power meeting in the city, a picnic in the country, a camel walk in the desert, or a close encounter with an army of aliens in outer space---doesn’t matter. All it means is that you’re living in the moment and aware of the experience you’re having, and your focus on your own needs even if they seem counterintuitive. For instance, although I thought I wanted to be outside looking up at skyscrapers and counting how many different languages I’d hear on the street, instead I was mindful of my need to sit in the comfort of the hotel lobby on a couch and stare at the art on the walls.

I was at the Gramercy Park Hotel, by the way, a manic feast for the senses back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and again in the 2000s when the owner’s son committed suicide by jumping off the roof. I’m glad I wasn’t there that day.

Another key component of mindfulness is the keen observation of your thoughts and feelings minus any judgment. So instead of calling myself lame or lazy for sitting on the couch, I just let myself be. I didn’t even bother to document the act of resting my arthritic bones by taking a selfie. Absolutely unnecessary. I’ll remember the moment no matter what.

There are times when I only have to think about a day in the city and I stop in my tracks. Even though I love it when I’m there, it’s instantly stress-producing in both healthy and unhealthy ways. I may not be up for it on a given day.

In all my years of intermittent talk therapy, I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental illness (even though I begged for one during a particularly hard time). Regardless, I must manage my tendencies toward anxiety and depression, and the only way I survive is by striving for balance with moment-to-moment mindfulness. While the city poses many possibilities for extreme anxiety, there’s no need to focus on them.

I know I can return to my peaceful New Jersey life where cab and subway rides are unnecessary, traffic is minimal and the loudest thing I might hear all day is either the sound of someone’s lawnmower or the few minutes twice a week the garbage truck roars down my street.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Saturday, 27 June 2015 00:00

Music and Memories

Music speaks to the soul. Whether you listen to pop, rock, country, or classical, you know that music can influence and enhance emotions. In fact, recent research has shown that listening to music is more successful than prescription drugs in decreasing a person’s anxiety before undergoing surgery. Music can improve the function of the body’s immune system and reduce levels of stress. In addition, music therapy, when combined with standard care, is a successful treatment for depression. Music affects the physical body and the mind.

Music motivates people. Whether being used to increase the intensity of a workout or to push work speed to meet a critical deadline, intense music has the power to motivate us. My running playlist, for example, always has “Eye of the Tiger” near the end. Something about hearing that song during the last 3 minutes of an exhausting run always manages to push me through to finish strong. Another personal favorite is the “William Tell Overture.” During my college days, when I would have a deadline, I would always listen to this piece while typing up my rough draft. The music would swell with intensity and by the Finale, my fingers would be pounding away at the keyboard as if possessed, pulling my thoughts from my head at a rapid-fire rate. The most unusual part of that experience was how coherent and organized my words would be. It was as if the music lent structure to my thoughts.

I still type with music as it helps to drown out background noise while providing a cadence for my fingers to follow. Sharing an office, however, means that I occasionally need to hear when other people speak to me. Therefore, it has become a recent habit to type with only one ear bud in leaving my other ear free for communication needs. What I have discovered while doing this is that, with modern stereo recordings, I am only hearing half of the piece. Different parts are recorded on different channels to give the listener a surround sound effect that, when the music is listened to appropriately, makes the music more interesting. With one ear bud out, it changes the music.

Some of the changes are simplistic and unimportant, like missing the “echo” of a trumpets call. Other changes, however, lessen the intensity of the music by removing the descant or an important counter melody. Hearing music this way is not as balanced. It is not exciting and is obviously incomplete. Some pieces are changed entirely. Imagine listening to the folk favorite “Dueling Banjos” without hearing both instruments. The banjo playing would still be impressive but the feeling of lighthearted competition would be gone. The two parts of music seem to interact, as separate entities, yet exist solely to complement the other. Just like life, the music must have both a heart and a mind to live completely. With an ear bud out, a full half of a duet is lost. Consider hearing only Christina Aguilera’s part of the “Say Something” duet with A Great Big World. The song would lose its passion and be emotionally flat.

When we hear music, as it is intended to be heard, it speaks to our entire being because music is one of the few ways we have to tie the past to the present. While “Eye of the Tiger” has a pretty good beats-per-minute count to set a steady running pace, I respond to the song on an emotional level based upon my past experience with that song. Who can forget watching Sylvester Stallone overcome incredible odds in Rocky? Plus, during the very first 5K I ran, that song came on my iPod during the very last tenth of a mile on a down hill stretch. I finished that race strong so now, when I hear that song on my run, my obstacles seem to diminish and I know, deep in my heart, that I can push through and finish strong. It is the emotional reaction that makes me push harder, not the actual song. That emotional reaction is a mental cue to remind me that I can accomplish anything. The same is true of a traditional Gospel song, “I’ll Fly Away.” When I hear that song, memories surface of times when I experienced great bereavement due to a community tradition of using that song during funerals.

A friend once told me that our mind inherently wants to use our past experiences to temper present experiences. That is why, she suggests, that we have such powerful memories of our past. Memories must have a deeper purpose or otherwise, we wouldn’t remember some events as strongly as we do. Our mind knows that the past and the present are meant to sing together, like a duet. However, for it to be a duet it must be comprised of two parts and we must hear both parts. If we go through life with one of our metaphorical ear buds out because we are afraid of missing part of a conversation, we lose the opportunity to connect with our past experiences because we are not fully listening.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Friday, 26 June 2015 00:00

If the Walls Could Talk

The Gramercy Park Hotel is full of ghosts. Potentially, I mean. I knew this before stepping through the revolving door, but didn’t realize the extent of it until a couple of hours ago when I began researching it. I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know now because I may not have slept very well that night.

I was scheduled to meet members of the Brookhaven Retreat team at the Gramercy the day of the Linehan Awards Dinner at the New York City loft so we could all go together. I took the ferry from New Jersey and arrived about two hours early. I always feel a special thrill when I step foot in Manhattan, the same way I did as a child. It’s the rush of adrenaline that stems from the notion that the world is bursting with endless possibilities. Of course, this fact is true no matter where you are, but the city presents it in 3D.

As I got off the ferry, it was windy, but warm enough to take the 20-minute walk from East 35th St. to the hotel’s Lexington Avenue address. I must have been smiling the whole way because several people smiled back at me and every step in the right direction (guided by Google maps) made me more grateful to be alive. I looked forward to seeing the fabulous art collection exhibited where many of my favorite musicians like The Beatles, David Bowie, Elvis Costello and U2 had spent loads of time. Then I walked through the revolving door and something came over me. Even after quickly checking my senses I couldn’t identify it. The distinctive aroma in the air was slightly intoxicating, but I doubted that could have anything to do with it. I imagined residual fumes leftover from the opiates of the ‘70s. I wondered if the substance abuse rehab experts from Brookhaven Retreat would pick up on any of this, or if it was just my own personal psychodrama.

As I spoke to the lovely people at the hotel desk the quality of my voice was much more subdued than usual. Could I be that exhausted after a mad dash to the ferry, the 40-minute ride, and then the 20-minute walk? How does anyone do that every day? After walking around the lobby looking up at the dramatic colors in the inspired works of Damien Hirst and Dan Colen, I planted myself on a red velvet couch, listened to the old familiar music playing somewhat loudly in the Rose Bar, which looks completely different with wall-to-wall people during primetime. All I could do was stare into space.

Once upon a time, The Gramercy Park Hotel was crawling with both residents and visitors struggling with their mental health and various addictions, and at the same time, enjoying fame and fortune. If the walls could talk they might say, “I’m drowning in style. Please don’t save me!”

More than an hour later, although I wasn’t sleeping, I had to surgically remove myself from my velvet throne to greet the others when they arrived.

Surfing the World Wide Web taught me that Gramercy’s nickname, Heartbreak Hotel is for the equal parts extreme pain to euphoria experienced inside its walls ever since the doors opened in 1925. Designed by Robert T. Lyons and constructed by Bing and Bing, the hotel was built on the birthplace of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edith Wharton (The Age of Innocence, 1920).

In 1926, Humphrey Bogart married Helen Menken on the rooftop terrace. The Kennedys lived on the second floor for several months before their move to London, and Babe Ruth regularly worked on his alcoholism in the bar where I nearly went comatose, possibly from the overwhelming vibes of yesteryear. The Rolling Stones lived there in 1964 after their first American tour and Debbie Harry (Blondie) lived in room 501 for a time.

“Late Night” band leader Paul Shaffer has been quoted as saying, “I lived at the Gramercy Park Hotel for about 10 years. It was terrific. It was a pleasantly run-down hotel of the '70s and '80s with a mix of older, rent-controlled apartment dwellers, Europeans and new wave and punk bands. The room service was great, the hamburger was terrific, and they had a doctor who made house calls.”

When art collector and real estate developer Aby Rosen took over, he summoned Julian Schnabel, artist and film director, and John Pawson, a British architect, to renovate it in the high style bohemian’s dream-come-true it is today.

On a side note, I can’t ignore the enormous potential for paranormal activity. According to New York magazine online, in 2002, David Weissberg, the 45-year-old son of Steven Weissberg--- Gramercy’s CEO at the time---was arguing with Marilyn, his wife of two years. She had packed her bags and told him she was leaving him. They spent some time talking on the 18th floor rooftop before she said goodbye and headed downstairs. Just as she walked through the lobby and out the revolving door, David had jumped to his death landing in front of the hotel bar.

According to a witness, Marilyn was hysterical and sat down next to his lifeless body with her back against the wall. Their shared drug addiction and attendance at a methadone clinic was just part of the mania left in the wake of David’s suicide. His brother, Steven, was left to pick up the pieces, including David’s stash of assault weapons found in the hotel basement. By that point, Steven had had his own share of heartbreaks at the hotel, including losing his first wife from cancer in 1997, and the drug overdose of his 19-year-old son shortly after that. That could explain why the month after David’s death he closed the hotel bar and restaurant without warning. I wonder if he wished he could shut the entire place down, but couldn’t afford to.

Perhaps the eventual renovation cleared some of the bad vibes and maybe even some of the good ones. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my stay at the Gramercy, including an hour in the Rose Bar after the awards dinner, and a good night’s sleep in room 1511, where I’d like to think nothing horrible ever happened and never will.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Wednesday, 24 June 2015 00:00

What I Learned From The Clearance Bin

Several weeks ago I needed to have my tires checked. Since I had purchased them from a local dealer near the shopping mall, I had ample time to do some shopping while my car was being worked on. In one store, there was a prominent display of clearance items and a brilliant blue skirt caught my attention. It was a deep royal blue and was lightly textured. It was also in my size. Normally I would never consider such a bold color but, since it was on clearance, I figured I could at least check the price. To say that it was deeply discounted would be an understatement of epic proportions. The store was practically paying me to purchase it as the price couldn’t have even covered the material it was made out of, let alone the labor involved in its creation. Even though it was outside my comfort zone in color, I decided to purchase the skirt. If things didn’t work out between the skirt and me, I could always toss it in the donation bin at the local women’s shelter.

As I checked out, the shop called. My car was ready and my shopping trip ended with that solitary purchase. I took the skirt home and hung it in my closet. Several days later, I decided to wear it to work. While I was still anxious about the color, I had a top that would pair well with it so I put it on, added some attitude, and wore it in to the office. At the office, it was easy to forget what I was wearing and, as my anxiety faded into a busy work schedule, I didn’t think anymore of the skirt. During lunchtime, however, I was offered a compliment on the skirt by a coworker I passed in the breezeway. Those few quick words made me feel good about myself and, as a result, I stood a little taller and smiled a little more. There was a bounce in my step as I returned to my office. Once again, work consumed my attention and I forgot about the skirt until I went for a brief mental health walk (2 minutes away from the keyboard to refresh my brain). I passed a different co-worker in the breezeway and once again received a compliment on my skirt. I was exceedingly pleased and spent the rest of the afternoon smiling like the Cheshire cat.

That particular skirt received several more compliments on the first day. Several days later when I chose to wear it again for a personal event, it received quite a few more. I can honestly say that it has become my most complimented skirt and I only own it because I took a chance and stepped outside of my comfort zone. The clearance bin skirt has become one of my favorites and I no longer hesitate to wear it. Now, I put it on with confidence knowing that nice things will be said. A discounted skirt has boosted my self-esteem and made a positive impact on my mental health.

Sometimes we all need a reason to step outside of our comfort zone. For me, it was a bright blue skirt in the clearance bin.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Wednesday, 24 June 2015 00:00

Rock Star of Mental Health

Several months ago, while reading a 2011 New York Times story by Benedict Carey about Dr. Marsha M. Linehan’s arduous and extraordinary transformation from patient to doctor, I thought of her as a rock star of mental health. Little did I know Carey would be the recipient of the Linehan 10,000 Gold Stars Award at the annual Linehan Institute Award Benefit at the Midtown Loft on May 20, and I would be there, too. Co-hosted by the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington, the annual event raises funds for the advancement of mental health education, compassion and research. It had been almost two years since my mother told me about Dr. Linehan and her life- and mind-saving Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) techniques that helped my mother get a better grasp of her life. When it came time to research Dr. Linehan for a press release I’d write about Brookhaven Retreat being the Platinum Sponsor for the upcoming awards dinner, I recalled her name and her purpose. Carey’s piece made me sure I had to meet her.

Considering all Dr. Linehan has been through and achieved, including being institutionalized as a young adult, I wasn’t sure what kind of personality to expect. She’s a PhD, a professor of psychology and adjunct professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington.

When I introduced myself as a new writer for Brookhaven Retreat, Dr. Linehan immediately asked what I wrote about. I shared a little and let her know I had a piece of art for her--- created by my mother: two overlapping circles representing three states of mind (the reasonable mind and the emotional mind integrating to create the wise mind), an element of DBT developed by Dr. Linehan. To my surprise, she was warm as she could be. Her calming presence seemed to say, it’s OK to be whoever and whatever you happen to be. She said she loved the art piece and insisted we pose for a picture of her holding it.

Her journey reminds me of the book “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” wherein author Clarissa Pinkola Estes states, “There is a saying that when the student is ready the teacher appears. This means the interior teacher surfaces when the soul, not the ego, is ready. This teacher comes whenever the soul calls---and thank goodness, for the ego is never fully ready.”

I am in awe of Dr. Linehan, whose teacher surfaced just in time to save her from becoming another horrifying statistic during her troubled youth. Thereafter she “rocked” the world of mental illness by adding her DBT methods to its body of literature. She became a star who dedicates her work to saving others whose suffering and torment she experienced first-hand.

Every 13 minutes there is one death by suicide in the United States. Worldwide, 800,000 people commit suicide every year, 90 percent of whom have a diagnosable mental illness. By any measure, these numbers are staggering. But the use of DBT has cut the number of suicides in half and decreased hospital stays by 80 percent.

Chatting was one thing, but hearing Dr. Linehan introduce and speak about the award winners was quite another. Mental illness and suicide are touchy topics to begin with, but Dr. Linehan’s casual manner was especially moving and engaging. The Linehan Clinical Science Award was presented to Minnesota Department of Human Services Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for their passion in the treatment of DBT.

Arthur Evans, of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, won The Courageous Heart Award for demonstrating commitment to learning about and providing DBT to the highest standards. Choking on tears isn’t good for you. Of course, you can say that about choking on anything, but stifling a cry is the act of strangling emotions, stopping the natural flow of the body’s fluids and energy. All bad! Every time I cry I like to think of it as my demons being released into the breeze rather than remaining trapped and left to wreak havoc in my body. However, there’s a time and a place for everything, though I realized much of the room was either holding it back or letting it flow.

Dr. Linehan herself shed a few tears at one point at the podium when she seemed to lose her train of thought, which I found endearing. “I’m 72,” she said, while begging the audience’s pardon. “I’m embarrassed because this has never happened to me in public.”

There was dead silence until she quickly continued and laughed it off saying, “OK, I’m back.” Then---tension-melting applause.

Although once upon a time she kept mum about her personal past so not to diminish her work in the field, Dr. Linehan should be proud to be both teacher and student, and wear her own brilliant star like one of the 10,000 Gold Stars she joyously gives others.

Published in Brookhaven Blog

Summer has unofficially arrived as Memorial Day often signals the beginning of beach season. After Memorial Day, droves of sunbathers flock to the coast to roast in the sand and play in the waves. Of course, for many people, the most stressful part of a beach vacation happens before the beach chairs are loaded into the car. Often, the stress comes shortly after the vacation is booked when you realize that it is time for a new swimsuit. Even those of us who love shopping can be off put by the thoughts of purchasing a swimsuit. In an informal poll conducted with my ladies running group, swimsuit purchases were the most dreaded purchase of the season. According to those ladies, the stress and anxiety related with the experience is deep seated and culturally ingrained due to the images put out through the media of photo shopped bodies and airbrushed details. In all honesty, looking at the magazine racks in the check out lane, I would be surprised to find a single woman who does not stress out over swimsuit shopping.

Originally, swimsuits were designed to cover as much of the body as possible for modesty but as they have evolved to be more fashionable than utilitarian, they have also shrunk significantly. The original swimsuit from the 18th century fully covered the arms, legs, and most of the neck area. It was heavy and itchy, often made out of wool. When the suit was submerged in water, the water would pool inside the fabric to prevent it from clinging suggestively to the wearer. It was universally unflattering regardless of body type or size. Body hugging swimsuits would not appear until around 1920 and the first bikini came shortly thereafter following World War II. Those bikinis covered a lot more skin than their skimpier cousins cover today and model’s body shapes have changed greatly as well. Back in 1944, when the bikini was still new and Seventeen Magazine was first published, the average model was about 5’7” and weighed about 130 lbs. By comparison, today’s average model is 5’10” (taller than most American women) with an average weight of 115 lbs. That puts her BMI lower than the BMI of many women in impoverished developing countries and yet, her appearance is touted as the ideal that women should strive for.

Not only are the models taller and slimmer but also most, if not all, images are re-touched or photoshopped prior to being used in a magazine. Waists are pulled in to appear more narrow, thighs and hips are slimmed, cellulite is smoothed, and scars and blemishes are erased until the image more closely reflects the photographer’s angle and touch up artists’ skill than the physical beauty of the model. Images such as those perpetuate the cycle of body image issues young girls, teens, and women face when shopping for a swimsuit. Our body image is the perception WE have of our bodies as well as how WE perceive other’s opinions of our bodies. Perceived body image is psychological in nature, not based on fact but is, instead, influenced by self-esteem, imagination, emotions, and physical sensations of and about our bodies. These ideas are ultimately influenced by what we perceive to be standards of society.

The reality is, everybody has flaws and magazine covers simply do not reflect that. We, as women, do not need to compare our bodies to the photoshopped images publicized in the media. Each woman is an individual with unique characteristics and should be celebrated for those differences. We need to accept the fact that our bodies are already swimsuit ready and, as far as size goes, size only matters on the suit side of the partnership as nobody sees the size but you. If the suit fits, you should wear it with pride and embrace your body the way it is. Everything looks better with a little confidence.

This year, my group is handling swimsuit shopping a little differently. We are making a day of it and heading out together to support each other. After all, we have seen each other slog through mud, climb over obstacles, and jog through snow in a tutu. We have pushed, pulled, and cheered each other off the couch and down the road. I believe we can handle trying on a swimsuit or two. Oddly enough, I am looking forward to swimsuit shopping this year. I believe, for the first time in memory, I am finally swimsuit ready.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Saturday, 20 June 2015 00:00

Imaginative Play

I recently photographed my 19-year-old son and his friend sitting in the grass in my front yard staring intently at their phones. They didn’t think it was cute when I created a meme titled “How Children Play Outside in 2015” and posted it on Facebook! This was a rare moment for these particular boys. They are the type to literally play in mud and grease with four wheelers, dirt bikes and cars on a daily basis. But the idea that children “in this day and age” no longer engage in imaginative play reminded me of all the games we used to play back in the day. Then it occurred to me, if I enjoyed these things so much, why do I no longer engage in them?

As we mature, do we lose our inquisitive nature? Our silly side? Our need to lose ourselves in fantasy? Or do we just forget how much fun it can be? Some of my best memories are growing up playing with my brother. We played “Stranded on a Boat” and fished for random toys off the side of the bed. I got to be the bad guy while my brother and his friends chased me around the neighborhood and then booked me into jail (our father is a policeman and we used this theme often). We created block mazes for our hermit crabs to maneuver as if they were soldiers searching an abandoned base. There was always the excitement of thinking of new scenarios to play out.

As an adult, when my life fell apart and depression and anxiety moved in, I was so stressed that I was seeking relief through commitment to some sort of project; to busy myself. I took on the task of helping a friend recover from his substance abuse. This definitely took my mind off of my own problems but only served to foster avoidance of my feelings. It would have served me well to engage in some imaginative play a few times a week and still allow myself time to feel, work through issues, and heal.

We know that exercise is good for our mental health, as well as proper diet, nutrition, and healthy relationships. But perhaps we should make time to play! Now that imaginative play is on my mind, I see a pillow fort in the near future….

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Saturday, 20 June 2015 00:00

Chilled Yellow Tomato and Vanilla Bean Soup with Lump Crab and Basil

A hot steaming bowl of soup can be a big turnoff when the mercury starts to rise. While most people think of soup when the weather is chilly, summer can be the perfect time to introduce a chilled soup on your menu. Finding bright yellow tomatoes at the local farmer’s market is often too tempting to resist and knowing that tomatoes are filled with vitamins and minerals that reduce the effects of depression makes them one indulgence you should probably commit. This refreshing, colorful soup is loaded with seasonal veggies and is a perfect way to beat the heat. As an unconventional replacement for an ordinary tomato gazpacho, it is sure to please. Best of all, this recipe can be prepared in advance for a dinner party and is guaranteed to wow your guests.


  • 6 medium yellow tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ vanilla bean, cut open lengthwise
  • ¾ cup vegetable stock
  • ½ cup half-and-half or heavy cream
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces lump crabmeat (may omit)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 4 large basil leaves, cut in chiffonade (see note)
  • 1 plum tomato, halved lengthwise, seeded and diced, for garnishing


  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high or turn on the broiler. Char the yellow tomatoes, placing them on the hot grill grates or under the broiler until they are browned and blackened all over. Set them aside to cool slightly.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, fennel, and garlic and sweat by cooking them until the onion is translucent and the fennel softens slightly, about 10 minutes.
  3. Scrape the vanilla paste from the bean and add it and the pod to the pot. Add the charred tomatoes and vegetable stock. Simmer to reduce the liquid by half, about 10 minutes. Add enough water to just cover the ingredients in the pot. Simmer until all of the flavors come together and the fennel is very soft, about 45 minutes more.
  4. Remove the vanilla pod and discard it. Working with a tabletop or immersion blender, add the half-and-half to the soup and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until the soup is cold.
  5. While the soup chills, toss the crab with the extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, and basil. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Ladle the chilled soup into bowls and top with a few tablespoons of the crab. Garnish with the diced plum tomato and serve.

Note: To chiffonade something, you’re essentially just cutting it into thin strips. This technique is mostly used when cutting broad-leaf herbs like basil or sorrel. It’s really simple, and its actually pretty cool. All you have to do is stack about six or so of the basil or sorrel leaves on top of each other so that they’re pretty well aligned. Now tightly roll the leaves the long way into a cigar-shaped cylinder. Holding the cylinder in place with one hand, cut across it at very close intervals. You should have a nice little pile of herb strips, but don’t cut them too far in advance, or they’ll lose their pretty bright-green color.

Source: Girl in the Kitchen – Stephanie Izard

Published in Brookhaven Blog
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