Category Archives: high priestess hour

high priestess hour with laura rombauer

Laura Rombauer is the proprietress of Vintage Home in St. Helena— and one of the finest retailers in Northern California. Over the past decade, Laura has championed + taught so many of us the importance of re-inventing our own holiday tradition/ ritual + ceremony– on the table, on the tree, on the mantle, on the front door.

I have been dying to do an in-depth Q + A with Laura, to discuss all the things I never get to while in the shop… I was so thrilled to get her responses.

I have an eagle eye for quality and authenticity. I see the details in things that many people miss. This has been very helpful in my retail business but it drives my vendors and suppliers crazy! I cherry pick many of the lines I offer at the store; only bringing the best of the best.

I have always loved the Christmas holiday for as long as I can remember. I can credit my Mother for this. She was (and still is) a very creative woman and an incredible cook. Our holidays as a young person were always very tasty and my Mother made a point of having the house beautifully decorated. She taught me that the process and efforts leading up to Christmas day were the best parts of the holiday season. My parents always took great efforts in filling my stocking with all sorts of special, individually wrapped gifts. There was always a tangerine in the toe of the stocking which I would eat while I unwrapped all gifts in bed (I would get up at dawn, and everyone else would still be asleep!). I think there were walnuts in the shell tucked in the stocking and foil wrapped chocolate Santa’s, too.

I think I really got into Christmas after my daughter was born. For whatever reason, I have always had an eye for the German nutcrackers, smokers and candle pyramids. I think that the fact that they are all handmade and artfully assembled has attracted that keen eye of mine. Plus, the tradition behind all these Christmas items is so familiar to me. I wanted to share and collect all these holiday traditions with my daughter with the thought that some day she would in turn do the same with her family.  Each year as we unpack all our family Christmas collections, it is such a delight! At the store, we always joke about my “inner frauleine” – although now at my age, “inner frau” would be more appropriate! I must have some latent German genes somewhere.

As far as home decor, I would always go to the San Francisco wholesale flower market. It was quite wonderful 20-25 years ago. I think it is a bit different now, but I am sure one can still get fabulous live greens, garlands, wreaths and potted narcissus.

Early on, when my family lived in on the Peninsula (Palo Alto, Los Altos), we would get a number of our ornaments at Cost Plus (of all places)! Way back then, the imported wooden ornaments were from Germany – not China as they are today. Our family moved to Lake Tahoe when I was 11. In Tahoe City, there used to be a store called “Gunde’s of Scandinavia”. This was a wonderful store at Christmas time with all sorts of European holiday items, including many from Germany. I think I have had eye for the German Christmas aesthetic since my childhood.

The German’s have a long history and tradition in woodworking. Most of the manufacturers have been making these pieces for multi-generations. Each company/artisan has a distinctive look. After a while, you can recognize the differences between the different carvers. All of the wood nutcrackers, smokers, pyramids and Christmas scenes I carry at NVVH are handmade and assembled. These pieces are meant to last for generations and to pass down from one family member to the next.

Napa Valley Vintage Home has been open for 10 years as of January 2013. Over the past 10 years, I really have developed a reputation for wonderful, traditional and high quality European Christmas ornaments and décor. We have many customers who add to their collection every year. NVVH has truly become a holiday destination. We close the store 3 days every year to set up and we always have people waiting at the door as we re-open.

NVVH’s best selling holiday items are our custom Napa Valley Christmas ornaments.  I have designed a small collection of four Napa Valley/Wine related ornaments that included a holiday wreath, Champagne cork, grape cluster and a Champagne bottle. All of these ornaments are hand painted and made in Poland.

A Silver Tip Fir is my absolute favorite due to the spacing between the branches. This type of tree has a great architectural silhouette and plenty of space between the sturdy branches to hang your ornaments.

I prefer the classic red, green and white associated with most traditional glass and wood ornaments. I love a tree that has ornaments that have been collected over the years and generations. I have never cared for a “theme” tree.

I always like the clear mini lights for an indoor Christmas tree. This allows the ornaments to be the focal point and color. I do love the larger bulb type for exterior use; especially the multi-color – it evokes a vintage feel.

I alternate years between Magnolia and some sort Fir. Either way, I coordinate the mix in the wreaths to match.

Right now, I love the Spiritus Sancti by Cire Trudon. This fragrance reminds me of how Cathedral Notre Dame smells on a damp day. I also love the traditional Frasier Fir by The Thymes. I carry both candles at NVVH.

Champagne by Billecart, of course!


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high priestess hour with vanessa carlton: part 2

Running, espresso- making, play zee piana (after coffee and right before I sleep… if I am writing something), lots of dog walking, wine, make the bed, water my plant cemetery, hang with friends, I travel every 2 weeks.  Also, sometimes I go through periods where I go back to ballet class and take it every morning.  It’s a ritual I can never be too far from.

You can’t force it. As I said earlier, it’s like you gather up stuff in your brain, but you don’t even know it’s happening and then eventually it takes shape though your work. I have no control of it. I don’t sit at the piano everyday– but I’ll sit when it pulls me. Recently I wrote a song a week for 2 months. That’s never happened before; but I felt like I was going to burst open unless I wrote.

The instrumental parts are usually written in a couple minutes and then melding it and weaving in the poem can take either 10 minutes or a year. Once I have the fundamental vision of why and how I want to put all the songs together…Once I feel the thread…I go into the studio.

After Rabbits on the Run (my last album)– the studio chapter has become my favorite part because Steve Osborne (my producer) helps me create sounds that feel like drugs and magic.


Everything in moderation is something I struggle with, but that is the key to staying ok on the road. Everyone gets worn out by the end. It is an honorable job. I always focus on taking care of my health. It’s usually ground hog day before sound check and I try and remember people want to see you do your thing so you better do it real good.

I usually create four stage-ready outfits that my friend and costume designer Tracey Moulton helps me put together.  I send her pics from my shitty blackberry to her shitty blackberry in la and it works wonders!

Flax shirts. Proudly. People look.

Sayulita, Mexico, Newport RI, San Francisco. I like Chicago a lot too.

 I don’t know but I’m pretty excited about it. Getting older has been awesome.

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high priestess hour with vanessa carlton: part 1

High Priestess Hour segments explore + illuminate women who inspire by living audaciously, authentically, with purpose and conviction… Their magnificence is anchored in discipline, shamelessness, interpersonal vigilance — and the ability to carefully balance all three. Singer/ songwriter Vanessa Carlton is the perfect example of a woman leaving an indelible mark.

Vanessa got her first publishing deal as a writer at 19 years old + was nominated for 3 Grammys by 21.  Over the past decade she has sold over 4 million albums chock full with songs that follow the journey of love, loss, heartbreak, and friendship—inspiring legions of fans + fellow musicians.  Vanessa is a story-teller; deeply inspired by the richness + texture of the mundane and its rituals.  She often tours with the High Priestess of-all-times, Stevie Nicks.

The life of a performer is deeply rewarding/ complex/ singular/ challenging/ — it is something I have always wanted to understand, and she generously obliged.

I was happiest in the woods. I grew up in the forest of northeast Pennsylvania and the upper Delaware area. I went to the Homestead school. It’s a gorgeous Montessori school. My fave times were spent exploring stuff alone. Looking for bones and nooks that the trees made. My favorite things were running as fast as I could, rubbing rocks together to make different colors and AMPLE time winding up and then spinning out on a swing that hung from my parents’ willow tree.

I don’t remember it coming forth because it was always there. My mom teaches piano so there were always at least 4 pianos in our house.  I started banging on em at 2 years old.

I think I was 9 when I started writing music. They were instrumental pieces. No words. But in my head it was about a waterfall. I didn’t actually write songs until I was 15. I think my main inspiration at the time was the idea of woman who was very different than what she appeared to be. It was a female character that I was trying to figure out.

I went to the Professional Children’s School on 60th street + studied at the School of American Ballet while living at Lincoln Center. I was completely devoted to Balanchine and perfecting his technique.  It was a beautiful and painful and life shaping process. High school wasn’t normal. I went to school with a bunch of pre-college Julliard kids, child actors, and dancers. It wasn’t an art school it was an academic school for young artists who had really intense schedules outside of school.

Ahmet Ertegun.  I had made a 4-song cassette demo that made it into his hands and he called me at my dorm room and said… “The songs are strange, you have a very interesting voice. Could you come to my office?”  I had no idea the impact he would have on me, nor did I really know who he was.  I was just a ballet dancer at SAB.  He was so generous with me and I’d come to his office on Fridays after class and he’d tell me insane stories and encourage me to write.

It’s changed a lot over the years in terms of texture of sound.  All the change that has happened to me comes from learning from people around me and not being afraid to explore what I really feel.  I am much more in synch with my authentic reactions to things than I used to be.   Also, I spend much more time meditating on the poetry.  Just because it sings well doesn’t mean it belongs.

I feel just as comfortable exploring the periphery of pop as I do creating something super straight-forward.  My approach to the piano is always the same.  I like huge builds and slow rolls.  I love dynamics.  Moments that dip and then soar are cool.  It makes my chest feel funny and that’s the best sign.

Books, ideas, philosophies and how it ties to the private human experience. Right now, I’m in Joseph Campbell’s mind. But what’s weird about being an artist is how unaware you are of the things that are imprinting on you all the time. Walking down the city street and seeing a girl’s face, or seeing an exchange between two friends…that moment could make it into a song that I write 6 months down the road and I wouldn’t even remember if that moment was real or not. I feel like I gather up other people’s energy. Not on purpose but my eyes are open to everything.  We are all part of the same phantom fabric anyway.

Maybe my listeners find that my songs reaffirm their individuality and I validate something they are feeling. I don’t know. That’s what other artists do for me. As with all people, my work helps me to define my mind which makes me feel like a solid being. Also it is a way for me to connect with the outside. I’m pretty shy and lay low most of the time. Sometimes I don’t venture out for many days.

Oye, that’s so broad. I’m not at the level to teach a master class, but I definitely have experienced many interesting and extraordinary situations. Two things that have helped me move my life and work forward is: 1. Developing a better sense of self awareness  2. Feeling strong enough to explore the unknown. The unknown could be in the form of a person and idea or a place. I know it’s hard to remember (I forget too) but succeeding and failing are both beside the point and both are illusions. I’ve had many failures that I call fail-ups. As long as you take away new knowledge from a situation that you deem a failed thing –then you are golden.

Stevie Nicks. She is a very beautifully evolved person.  She also doesn’t judge others.  I watch her navigate situations and her own life and she is so graceful and cool. She is sitting on a mountain of beautiful work and she is filled with love and that is inspiring.

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final danielle steel post for all mothers to enjoy…

Danielle Steel is the best selling author alive, with over 800 million books sold– her rivals include Shakespeare, Dickens + Agatha Christie.  She is also a mother to 7 children… Those 2 facts alone, are breathtaking in today’s time. I emailed Danielle recently and asked her if we could do a Q + A discussing such topics as:  how did you stumble on your career; best daily practices; precision organization; work schedule management; required sleep, daily uniform, women + men; why her books/ characters resonate so deeply with her audience; definition of the modern-day hero; and lastly which gender has it easier…

Juggling the demands of family and work is a challenge for all of us, and some days you manage it better than others. When my kids were little, I only worked at night, and was with them in the daytime, with rare exceptions. Once they went to school, I worked while they were in school, and again at night, and was with them from the time I picked them up at school until they went to bed, or had settled down for the night. Now my kids are grown, and most of the time, my time is my own. (I still have one daughter at home, in college, but she has a busy life of her own). So I am not as pulled in ten directions as I once was, but it’s still a challenge sometimes, when one or several of them have a problem or need my attention, and I have a tight deadline to deal with too. All you can do is the best you can, and try to stay calm about it. You can usually get everything done you need to, if you dont panic about it!!! It’s amazing how we, as women, find the time for everything. Some days I even surprise myself, and I’m sure you do too, with all I deal with in one day!!!  I also take time off in the summer, and I used to not work during all their school vacations. I still keep myself free in the summer and try not to work, so I can spend time with them—-if they have time to in their busy lives!!! Working at night always worked well for me, and still does, with fewer interruptions, no phone calls, and when they were younger, it allowed me to be with my kids during the day. (And I never get to lock myself in my office—but the idea sure is tempting!!!)

 I’m lucky that I dont need a lot of sleep. It’s a family trait. My father and grandmother slept very little too, as do some of my children. It allows me to get a lot done, with long nights at my disposal. 5 hours is a big night for me. I often get by on 4 hours, and can manage on 3 hours sleep if I have to. I’m happy with 4 or 5 hours a night.

Do I have a daily uniform? Oh dear. I always admire people who look ‘nice’ every day, look all put together, wear make up every day—-and lipstick. Early on, when I started writing, and working at home, I decided that getting dressed up when you work at home is a huge time waster, and I’m usually rushed, with a lot to do. I just cant see the point of spending an hour getting all dressed up when no one is going to see me and I’m going to work an 18 or 20 hour day. So I am very bad about dressing up to work at home, and even worse when I’m writing. And I have to admit, one’s morale is better when one looks pretty, but I rarely take the time. When I’m writing, my ‘uniform’ is an ancient cashmere nightie. The rest of the time it’s jeans and comfortable sweaters. And I only get dressed up and wear make up when I go out. It’s naughty of me, but there it is. (And I hate getting dressed up and going out when I’m writing, and rarely do. It’s a huge time waster and distraction. By the time I get dressed, go out, do whatever I was supposed to do, and come back, I’ve lost the thread of the book and have trouble getting back into it, so I rarely go out or see anyone, and do nothing socially when I’m writing.)

Style icons, good question. I will return the compliment my children often give me: my children. Three of my daughters work in fashion and are very chic. Other than that, I loved the way Audrey Hepburn looked, she was always so beautifully put together. Diana Vreeland, a long ago (before my time) editor of Harper’s Bazaar, she was older and had her own style, she wore some wonderful costume jewelry, which she usually wore with black. She was so bold and daring. And my favorite quote of hers was “Never be afraid of being vulgar, only boring!!”. Historically, Coco Chanel, another bold, brave woman. It’s very rare to see a truly chic woman today, who can just throw on some clothes, put the right accessories with it, and make it look terrific. I love the way young people today mix things, wear something vintage in just the right way, with modern clothes. Some of them just have a knack for throwing it together and having it look right, and interesting. It takes courage and imagination today (more than money) to look interesting and have style. French and Italian women always seem to pull it off.

My most treasured possessions are the things my children have made or given me. I love them all (the kids, and what they give me. I still have things they made for me all over my house.)

Do my readers enjoy reading about a woman who has it all? probably not, because that’s not real. No one has it all. Life is the great equalizer. It gives and takes, blesses and wounds. Just when you think you have it all, the bottom falls out of your world when someone you love gets sick or dies, or you have some enormous challenge to face, or something happens to one of your kids, or you lose your job. Life is about that give and take. Who we are is about how we handle it, which is what fascinates me in what I write. No one has it all. Life just doesnt work that way. Even if you have all the fancy trappings and a ‘have it all’ life, Life is going to get even with you, and take something away. I think people would much rather read about that, because that’s real and what’s happening to them too.

Read posts 1 and 2.

Art credit: Mrs. Lilien

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high priestess hour with my sister

Claiborne… O, wow— where to begin.  It is staggering + humbling to see your little sister crush a dream/ vision– using sheer talent/ will/ resourcefulness.   Her book, American Beauty was published by Assouline, one of the great publishing houses that specializes in exquisite coffee table books.  American Beauty was on the cover of Assouline’s 2012 international catalogue, featuring the house’s book offerings for the year.

The allure of Claiborne’s work + this book was that it illuminated the lost art of portraiture + the telling story of a woman’s life, through modern medium and a set of fresh eyes.  Many artists have the gift of a magical eye, but very few make people safe enough to want to share their true selves/ their true stories, let alone have it captured/ recorded.  And interestingly, that is what makes portraiture so deeply intriguing– it is ultimately proof we were here.

The 100 portraits in American beauty capture each woman’s very best self… Not her 6am self in a robe.  Not her Tuesday night self over a stove.  Not her weekend self, driving a mini van. The process of the photographer was wholly specific– as every single detail of the portrait told the complete story of the life of each woman…  She photographed her subjects wearing their most favorite clothing/ jewelry/ accessories– nuances that started telling her story; while sitting in the environs that best suited/ matched/ soothed their spirits. The end portrait was an exercise in celebrating the sum of the parts that make us all truly individual.

I have always joked, these portraits are the kind of photos you want to have bedside, in the nursing home at 85: proof of the life you so proudly lived + proof you looked damn good, while doing it.

A portrait photographer who sets out to capture beauty and tell the story of women through the portrait.

Portraiture. For me, it is a window into ones soul and a means in which we can express who we are. The portrait has the power tell a story, to inspire, to document a life. The portrait allows us to proclaim, “I was here and this is who I was.” When this life is over, I feel deeply that the portrait is the most powerful artifact we will have of our lives and the person we were and wanted to be.

I was always drawn to beauty and to the portrait. I remember as a young child being mesmerized by portraits in magazines of women. I remember often wondering who these women were.  I wondered how they lived their lives. I ripped endless photos out of magazines and covered the walls of my bedroom with them. I loved photography. I loved pictures… I loved beauty. I remember throughout my adolescents devouring Vogue, and not really reading the articles just studying the pictures. Pictures have moved me deeply for as long as I can remember. Pictures have inspired me to dream. I think the portrait was the extension of this dream of self and the ability through a portrait to tell a story of a life.

I always felt great nostalgia for the portrait from the paintings of Singer Sargent to the black and white portraits of Avedon. I grew up very much aware of the portrait through my twenties and was very intrigued by its power. As I began to seek out portraits to inspire me I seemed to always reach back to those of a time long ago. To the Slim Arron’s portraits of Babe Paley to David Bailey’s jean Shrimpton, Avedon’s Katherine Hepburn…  I couldn’t find these iconic portraits of women today- portraits that stayed with me and moved me the way those images do and did. I found that I too longed to have an iconic image of my self that captures my spirit.

I begin to ask friends. They too felt this way… I didn’t have a friend that felt that she had a portrait that captured her truest being and beauty. I felt this great desire to create iconic portraits of women today that represent the same spirit and beauty as these women that inspired me did from long ago.

I was drawn back to the history of portraiture and how it, at one time, was women’s rights of passage- her moment of youth documented… The traditional portrait had been forgotten in modern times. The gift and power of its message had been lost. I wanted to bring the spirit of traditional portraiture back, while exploring it through a modern lens. I realized there was a new story to be told and that new pictures were needed to tell the story of the women in my world and of my generation. That was the beginning of American Beauty.

I think my greatest strength, as a photographer, is my eye. I think that any great gift comes through you and isn’t truly your own– you become a channel so to speak. I don’t really intellectualize this process: it isn’t a thinking exercise for me. I see portraits through a frame in my mind. I shoot for beauty; I shoot for soul. I find beauty, depth, strength and hope in each of the women I shoot. I create a safe environment for these women to own their beauty and share a very personal piece of themselves with me.

I think creating an intimate and safe environment is the most important thing. I am always seeking to shoot these women with a loving eye, a kind eye, to capture them in their very best selves.

Wardrobe, location and, of course, the woman. I really seek out the complete marriage and harmony of these three parts. I work with each woman and collaborate with them on locations that resonate with them and I style them in their own clothes. I have a very clear formula and a very clear process. For me, the power is in the process and in these elements. I also only shoot with natural light and I prefer to be in nature.

My vision of American Beauty was to tell a story of my vision of modern American women, beauty and style through iconic portraits. I set out to celebrate the spirit and soul of American women while paying tribute to our country and its beautiful landscapes.

Women are, of course, my inspiration. Strong women: my mother, my sisters, and my grandmothers; the women in my book and the women of long ago. My great inspiration was always and will always be women and the portraits that tell their stories.

Beauty comes from the inside and the outside. It is unique and never comes the same way in two women. Beauty is a way of being – a freedom of self. It can also be found in the line of a lip, the blue of an eye, or the length of a leg. Beauty comes in the light; beauty comes in nature. For me it is all about seeking out the beauty in each woman. I zero in on the part of her that makes her beautiful and capture it.

Choosing women for the book was at the end of the day a matter of intuition.  I had to be inspired by each of the women I photographed for American Beauty. I felt that it was extremely important that each woman was professionally contributing something interesting in the American culture and society in some way.

I then sought out individuality/ uniqueness:  a certain depth and a beauty in the way she expressed her self in the world. My dear friend Genevieve Bahrenberg wrote the text for America Beauty and co-produced it with me she was amazing sounding board. We spent many nights and days in deep discussions pouring over lists of women that we felt were interesting and creating in America. My gut and the desire to capture each of them and my hope that I could create something beautiful made the final edits.

Each woman underwent a “process” starting with wardrobe/ location meeting. My goal was to collaborate with each woman on her portrait to translate with her who she was and how she saw her self. I felt it essential that each portrait was a collaboration in order for it to be an authentic portrait. I ask them to bring their favorite article of clothes to the wardrobe meetings or send me images. I discussed with them their personal style. I then made edits and styled them from their clothes…

We often went on location scouting trips to areas/ locations/ environs they feel resonated with who they were and gave them a peace of sorts. This would differ for each woman. Some women felt themselves at peace in an open field, or sitting in the back of an old car, or on a porch. I thought very carefully and wanted each women to have a unique portrait, very much her own.

From there, I steered away from all trends, any shoes that could be identified to a certain moment in time.  Many of the girls were bare foot.  Jewelry was always of a personal nature.  My take was anything in the frame of this portrait was important and told the story of each woman.  Every detail + nuance was important.  Everything mattered.  In the end, the whole process was a true exercise in ones ability to understand ones self. ‘

I took between 200-500 photos per woman. In the end there was always the ONE. It was always about the ONE and the ONE was all I was looking for…


The greatest gift I learned from each of these women was to follow your heart, to listen to the soft whisper of your dreams.  I have never met two women who shared the same dream. Dreams are our visions of our greatest selves. I believe that deeply… Each of these women followed this voice and that is why they are making indelible marks across America. The secret is in the courage to dream BIG, to work hard and never give up.

I believe we were all put here for a purpose and the great purpose of our lives is at the heart of our dreams. Finding ones purpose sets us free and empowers us to be the unique being we were meant to be.
available for portraits + commissions
pre-order American Beauty from Assouline

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part 2 of high priestess hour, with regena thomashauer

I love men.  And I believe that men really do live to make women happy. They very often simply do not know how to do that. It is up to us (women) to teach our guys what it is we want. As much as we might wish, they can’t read our minds.  That if he only knew what you wanted– your life would be better, and so would his.

I teach women how to bring the best out of the men they work with, live with, sleep with and raise. ‘Man-training’ is actually educating a woman on how to bring out the hero that lives inside every man.

The most important ingredient in man-training is a woman who is happy with herself, first, foremost and always, and is able to gracefully tell her guy how to make her even happier.

The most important practice in a relationship is communication- and to communicate as if you were both batting for the same team, rather than opposing ones.

Never doubt your man’s ability to give you whatever you want. All men are capable of creating anything that their woman truly desires.

Sex is incredibly important. Many couples blame each other for the lack of sex, rather than take the time to really learn how to continually expand the intimacy in a relationship. It is possible to have a sex life that continually gets better and better- just like practicing piano – you can get better and better over time if you simply practice and learn how. Taking classes to improve your sex life is a great investment.

Women often complain that they are not having enough sex, or that their partner does not give them much pleasure. But women often do not know enough about their own body and their own capacity to experience orgasm. If I want to give someone good directions, I have to be willing to go there first, myself.

  1. Practice sex with the same level of attention that you might give to tennis lessons or working out.
  2. Take classes +  read books,
  3. Experiment! Learn your own instrument, and you can have a sex life that everyone will envy!
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1 of 2 posts with mama gena

I am doing 2 posts this week with Regena Thomashauer, an author, as well as the creator/ directress of the School of Womanly Arts in NYC– so you know this woman means business. Regena is the high priestess of women/ love/ transformation and is recognized throughout many circles with great passion + fervor as Mama Gena. Regena teaches thousands upon thousands of women how to celebrate the privilege of being a woman; feel gorgeous and radiant; take pleasure from each moment; take powerful steps in the direction of their dreams and desires; and learn how to find the sacred in the mundane. And for those who know me, know that she is one of my most favorite sages walking the planet.

I asked Regena if she would share her thoughts on all-things woman… topics such as: what is it that all women are desiring/ the importance of best daily practices/ what it means to take “exquisite care” of yourself/ what we should know about men/ the art of practicing + learning sex.

I am an author, educator, creatrix and CEO of ‘Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts,’ where I teach women how to use the power of pleasure to have their way with the world.  I have taught thousands and thousands of women, over the past 15 years, to truly take advantage of the privilege of being women and design their lives based on their desires.

I am now, and have always been a researcher. Before being Mama Gena, I was investigating everything I could get my hands on to understand why women (myself included) were so consistently incapable of living into the full extent their power, beauty and confidence. I wanted to understand why women put themselves down, get desperately crushed by inadequate relationships, and do not allow their voices to be heard in the world. I was researching the ancient goddess traditions, sex and sensuality, and the differences between men and women. Women are the greatest untapped natural resource in the world. We are all incredible legends- with our lids on. My job is to teach a woman to live the legend that she is- in her lifetime.

I am an expert in everything woman.  I know and love her darkness, her light, her fire, her depth, her passion, her grief, her raw enthusiasm.

I seduce women to fall in love with every aspect of themselves, to stand in their feminine power, and live the privilege of what it means to be a woman in every sense of that word.

The women who are attracted to my work are women whose lives are working pretty well: They are smart, educated, accomplished- but- they long for something more. They have a sense that they are not living their full potential as women. They might want more love, more sex, more creativity, more money, more passion, more intimacy with her family, more pleasure from her life, more impact in her career, or simply a nameless longing that there is more out there for her. My clients are very diverse in age- from 18-85… Some want to get married, some want to repair their marriages, some want to change careers, some want to have a baby, some want to start dating, some want to intensify their sex lives with their partners, some want to feel happy and connected with a community of women.

  1. women want to feel beautiful
  2. live their most deeply held dreams and desires
  3. get paid well for their work
  4. live their creative voice
  5. experience deep intimacy with their partners and families
  6. have an ever-expanding sex life

  1.  I want her to use her remarkable, unique, powerful voice in every circumstance.
  2. Feel hotter than she has every felt in her life, no matter her age or opinion of herself.
  3. Take huge radical risks in the direction of her dreams.

Women have no idea what a huge resource they have in one another.  Our culture teaches women to compete rather than collaborate.  What a waste of energy!  The whole purpose of the School of Womanly Arts is to teach women how to support and be supported by community.  Having a community of support, when you are going for big dreams is like adding jet fuel propulsion to your desires.  Women will stand for you when you lose the courage to stand for yourself.

A woman who is successful with her love life and career is a woman who takes exquisite care of herself, first and foremost. There is no way to be generous with others if you have not replenished your own well, and cared for yourself.

It is not easy for a woman to prioritize herself. Women were taught to look after their husbands, families, bosses, and co-workers–pretty much everyone but themselves! So, it requires a huge paradigm shift for a woman to begin to even consider her own pleasure. But, pleasure does not have to take a lot of time. It can be as simple as dressing in clothes that make you feel pretty, even when you are tired. Or having a 5-minute hot bath with great tunes, at the end of a long day- before you cook dinner. Or it can be giving yourself a few minutes a day to read a great book, or making sure you buy yourself a bouquet of flowers for your desk, or actually sit yourself down and enjoy a healthy meal, rather than eating the kid food or the leftovers. None of these things take a lot of time- but- they are all about your quality of life and prioritizing your own pleasure.

A woman must choose at least 3 practices each day that bring her joy. Each woman is different, and she must do the research necessary to find out what it is that can create pleasure in her body, and consequently, her life. Whenever we have a pleasurable experience there is a huge internal physical consequence. Pleasure improves blood flow by the creation of nitric oxide, which turns on the production of neurotransmitters, including beta-endorphin, which dulls pain and creates euphoria, allowing you to deal more effectively with stress. Prolactin is another neurotransmitter that nitric oxide releases, which is the hormone of bonding. So, the creation of pleasure is important as a method of generating health in the human body. It is important for a woman to figure out what action steps can change her chemistry and raise her orbit, in order to not only find, but, maintain her sense of well-being.

I wake up at around 630a… I make a green tea, sit at my alter, and begin my day with 12 gratitudes.  After that, I work out; I get on the phone with my spring cleaning partner, and we do some spring cleaning, followed by a holy trinity:  a brag, a gratitude and a desire. This keeps me clean and clear and in the present moment for the rest of the day.

As you can probably tell, pleasure is not for the faint of heart– it is not for sissies. Why?  Well, it is very easy to live a miserable life.  Do nothing, and you will have a miserable life. But to live a pleasured life- an extraordinary life- requires eternal vigilance.  You have to prioritize your joy above all other values, every single day. It is all about vigilance.

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coffee talk: part 2

What resonates for people about my books. I think the fact that they are about the real issues we deal with, and the things that affect us all. the things that happen in my books happen to all of us: death, divorce, accidents, illness, the loss of a child, or a job, or challenges in a relationship, or handicaps (blindness, deafness). I try to write about modern issues and challenges too: women with weight issues, body image/anorexia, computer dating (and its risks), bringing up our children, losing our parents, struggling with work or money, loneliness, homelessness. I write about the  things that we all have to face every day, or exceptionally. I try to share with people interesting times, during wars, or times of crisis (earthquakes). Human failings and foibles, betrayals, marriage, infidelities, mental illness, rape. I think there are many things in my books that people can relate to. And despite the hard times that we all face, at every socio-economic level, and at every age, under it all I try to give people hope that they will come through it and survive, that life can be kind as well as cruel. I think people relate to experiences similar to theirs, and they pick up on the theme of hope and integrity, that seems to give them the courage to go on. I write the stories that come to me, and that are in my head. There is no recipe for them, but I think the books are meaningful to people because they can relate to similar experiences in their own lives.

 It’s hard to say what inspires my stories. Sometimes, but very rarely, real life. Once in a while a news item, or a historical event, or something I hear about that happened. But more often than not, the stories just fall out of the sky. I start thinking about an idea, and it grows on me, and then I have to come up with the characters to go with it, and little by little it builds. I never know what will inspire a story, and sometimes I am surprised myself by what comes to mind, and appeals to me. And I don’t know where the stories come from, they just happen. (And I’m very grateful that they do). I never let people “tell me their real life stories,” that never works for me. I need to invent my own.

How men and women approach relationships. I saw a cartoon drawing once, of a pie with one slice marked in it. The single slice was labelled “how much men think of relationships,” and the huge rest of the pie was “How much women think of relationships” And I think that may be true. I think we put a lot of time and energy into thinking about our relationships. I think men think a lot less about it, and just cruise along.

Interesting question if women can have it all. I married and began having children very young. And I started my writing career young too. (Both marriage and career in my teens). And people always told me you couldn’t have, or do, both. You had to pick a lane. I was always doggedly determined to do both, to have a husband and kids—-even a lot of them (7 of my own, and two wonderful stepchildren who came into my life when they were very young and I love as my own, so in my heart I have 9 kids)—-and I needed to write too. It was something I ‘had’ to do. And I was willing to do whatever I had to do to make it work, even if that meant only sleeping 2 or 3 hours some nights, and running myself ragged all day. The answer to the first part of the question is  yes, I think you can have both: a marriage/family and career. It’s a monumental juggling act, and you always feel like the last skater in the Ice Follies, and you never quite catch up, but you can do it if you want to, and I did. And some days it works smoothly, and at other times it is a zoo. I was also very lucky once I wrote full-time because I worked at home, and I could work at night when they were asleep.

BUT the second part of the question is the hook here. “while taking care of her own needs.” That is an entirely different story. I think marriage/family/kids/career is very different today. When I was young, people married very young, and fewer women had serious careers. And let’s face it, how many needs did I have when I married at 17 and had kids at 18? I didn’t worry about it at that age, and really didn’t have a lot of needs myself. Most women married and had kids in their early and mid twenties then. Very, very few women do that today. They wait. They build their lives and careers, and most marry in their 30’s, many in their late 30’s in a more sophisticated but unstable (economically) world. And women that age have opinions, habits, lifestyles they are used to, and needs. They are used to taking care of themselves, long before they have kids. Honestly, I think having kids is about being willing to sacrifice yourself, and maybe to some extent being married is about that too. How much of yourself and your own time are you willing to give up, or do you really NEED your down time, your massages, your time to yourself, your sleep, your manicures, your time with girlfriends, your quiet moment with your husband over a glass of wine at the end of the day?

For at least 20 years, I had no time to read a magazine, never had a manicure, never had lunch with a friend (seriously), I hardly had time to dress before I started chasing the kids around and I looked a mess at the end of the day. I didn’t get quiet moments, the luxury of time to myself, and even with people to help me, I was talking to my husband while helping one kid to do homework, carrying another on my hip, while two kids were crying, one had an ear ache and another one needed to be changed. Admittedly, I had more kids than most people, but to be brutally honest, if you are looking to ‘taking care of your own needs,” it’s going to be tough having a husband, kids and a career, because your husband will want your attention, your kids will have ear aches, a fever and runny noses, and your boss is going to want you to produce whatever he is paying you to do. Can you manage the husband, the kids, and the boss? Yes, definitely. You may be tired on some days, but you can do it, if it’s important to you. But for me, the only way to do it, was to put my own needs last, I just didn’t have the time to do whatever I wanted to do. I grew up that way, having kids so young, which was an advantage. And I think this generation of older mothers is concerned about their needs, understandably, because they’re old enough to know what they need. But to answer the question, no, I don’t think you can take care of your own needs if you want a husband, kids, and a career. Something is going to have to bite the dust, and more than likely it will be you and your needs. I always thought it was worth it, but it’s a personal decision we all have to make, about priorities. That’s just my opinion, but it’s what I think.

I’m not sure who the modern day hero is. I haven’t met one in a while. I think lives are different now, men have to be more helpful than they used to be. Women expect it of them, and women are busy too. So I think relationships are more partnerships today than they used to be. And roles are much less clearly defined. Often women today are more successful, or make more money, which is a real challenge for most men. Their role is not as clearly defined as it used to be. To me a hero is a good person, with integrity, decent and kind, who tries as hard as you do to make things work, is reliable and trustworthy, and a good guy, someone you can count on. I think we are all looking for the same things we always did, it’s just packaged a little differently now. Relationships are always challenging, and you have to work at them. A hero is a guy who will (work at it with you). It’s not enough to just be handsome and have a good job. Women today expect more, and the heat is on men too. To me a ‘hero’ is a good person, a good human being, who is trustworthy, loving and kind to the people in his life.

Are men the luckier gender? I’m not sure I know the answer to that. Sometimes, I think they are. As women, we have a double job, if we work. We have to do our jobs in the day time, and then come home and be mother and wife, or partner, take care of everyone’s needs and get the Christmas cards out. We are tutor, mentor, secretary, family shrink, sometimes provider, fashion coordinator, social secretary, and a whole lot of roles most men don’t bother with. And I’ve always noticed that when we’re sick, we still drive car pool and take care of the kids, and when a man is sick the whole world stops.

But men, particularly in today’s world, are under a lot of pressure too. They have to be a lot more sensitive and aware and ‘real’ than they used to be.  They do a lot more with the kids. They have to be sensitive AND strong, and reassure us. There is a lot of pressure on men to be ‘brave’, and they can’t be brave all the time. And being sensitive AND strong is a juggling act that can’t be easy to manage. I think both roles are difficult in today’s world. We’re expected to act more like men now, to be tougher and stronger in the work place, and maybe bring home the bacon, but be loving and gentle at home (not always an easy shift to make if you’re in a tough job as a woman and have to fight in the workplace all day). And men have to be more sensitive today than ever before. On the surface, I always thought men were luckier because they get to call all the shots. And they don’t have to sit around waiting for some cute guy to call them, because we’re not supposed to call them (I don’t think those rules still apply).

Bottom line, no matter how important our jobs, or how much we earn, men still expect us to be women, and act like women, when we come home. And we expect them to act like men, take care of us, and protect us, and fight off a bear if one should come to the door. I’m not sure which one is the luckier gender. Both have their upsides and downsides, and that’s just the way it is. I think I’m happy with my gender, lucky or not. And I like it when a man acts like a man, and makes me feel protected, loved and safe. So maybe we’re the luckier gender after all. (Besides, we get to wear cuter shoes).

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coffee talk

Danielle Steel is the best selling author alive, with over 800 million books sold– her rivals include Shakespeare, Dickens + Agatha Christie.  She is also a mother to 7 children… Those 2 facts alone, are breathtaking in today’s time. I emailed Danielle recently and asked her if we could do a Q + A discussing such topics as:  how did you stumble on your career; best daily practices; precision organization; work schedule management; required sleep, daily uniform, women + men; why her books/ characters resonate so deeply with her audience; definition of the modern-day hero; and lastly which gender has it easier…

The answers were so unbelievably thoughtful, that I’ve had to spread them over several days… So please, stay tuned.

A very big shout out + thank you to my favorite, MRS. LILIEN!

I am in my small office in my kitchen in my Paris home. (big kitchen, small office)

Luck in part, I have been very fortunate in my success and career. Other than that, I attribute it to very, very hard work, and persistence. Discipline to make myself work, even on a pretty day when other pursuits beckon, or when I’m tired and would love to have a break. (I finish the work first). Discipline, hard work, and persistence win the prize every time..

I like the choice of word, how did I ‘stumble’ on this calling. My major in college was literature. And all my training was in art and design (at Parsons School of Design). I wanted to be a fashion designer ‘when I grew up”. But the high pressure of the business scared me off (and I wound up in a high pressure field anyway, with very tough deadlines). I am still very drawn to design, had an art gallery for several years, still curate art shows of contemporary art once a year, and do interior design. But I ‘stumbled’ into writing at 19, and wrote poetry for fun before that, and published quite a lot of poetry.

My jobs after college were as a translator, then in advertising and PR. I was a copywriter, and one of our PR clients was a group of magazines. The Publisher suggested that I should write a book, which intrigued me. So I tried it (at 19) and was hooked. It was a long, long time (about another 10 years) before I could make a living as a writer, so I continued to work in advertising, did some free lance writing, and taught English and creative writing at two high schools, and then finally became a full time writer. But I was hooked the minute I wrote my first novel at 19. I didn’t wait to find out if it would be published. I started a second novel the moment I finished the first one. My first novel sold very quickly, the next 5 didn’t sell to anyone (and are still in a box somewhere), which is where persistence came in. Despite the 5 novels that didn’t sell, I kept writing, and slowly, slowly, my work began to gain momentum. My seventh novel sold, and I kept plugging away. If I had given up during the 5 that didn’t sell, I would never have the career I do today (after 123 books). It’s a great lesson in persistence.

I’ll confess. I am relentlessly organized, which can be very irritating to others. I plan months ahead. My first priority is family and family related events. At the beginning of the year, I map out where I want to be when, the kids’ (grown up now) birthdays I want to come home for, and the things I want to do with them (we try to spend all major holidays together, despite all of our busy lives). Those times with my kids are sacred to me. And then I plan out my work, and the books I have to do that year. I block out when I will have uninterrupted time to write. And everything else falls into place around that. But I don’t wait for ‘inspiration’ or having time to write. I block out that time first. (For each book, I do three or four re-writes, have to edit galleys and audio scripts, decide on covers and ads, and I do a little bit of publicity for each book. So it’s all more time-consuming than it appears, and has to be planned. I don’t just ‘wing it’)You have to make choices and sacrifices in life, and I have. My first priority has always been family and my partner/husband, when I’ve had one, and then the work. And it is sometimes very hard to juggle both, as we all know. I’m always willing to sacrifice time for myself, or my social life, for family and/or work. There are a lot of things I’d like to do that I just don’t have time for. For me the work has to come first, in order to meet my deadlines, and maintain my flow of work.

On Sundays, I map out what I have to do that week. I like knowing what I’m doing. And I am VERY disciplined about sticking to my work plan. Once I’m engaged in a block of work, nothing sways me from it.

I’m also a list maker, and I am not good with any kind of technology. I write on a l946 manual  typewriter that I bought for $20.00 when I started writing. I still use the same machine 123 books later. I have a 10 year old cell phone, don’t own a Blackberry.  I only use a lap top for email and nothing else. And I have a very overstuffed date book with my whole life in it for the year, which I tote around with me when I travel. I live between two cities, so I have to be very organized to meet my deadlines, get my work done, see my children (in 3 cities), and live between 2 cities which are 6,000 miles apart.

Late at night, I review what I got done and what I didn’t. I don’t like leaving work unfinished, and try to get it all done each day. I’m willing to stay up very late and sacrifice sleep to do it, I feel better when I finish what I needed to do. But I’ve also gotten better about letting go at some point. Some days you just cant do it all!!! But I try!!

I don’t always feel ‘confident’, in fact a lot of times I don’t. I’m a worrier by nature. But I try to keep centered. I try to start the day with a good attitude, that the day will go well, and I don’t always succeed at that either, if I have tasks looming that worry me.  I pray a lot, and love going to church, which centers me, and I try to read something religious at the end of each day, the Bible, a religious magazine or article or book. (I love the books of Joel Osteen, which are inspirational for me. He’s a young minister in Texas with an incredibly positive attitude that always gives me a boost. And some days, despite your best intentions, it all falls apart, and you’re all stressed out by 10 am. (i’m in my office at 8 am every day, to answer emails and start work). Those days you do the best you can, and hope it goes better tomorrow. I feel better too when I go for a walk, and get some air, and lately I’ve been swimming. But having a good attitude, and a quiet prayer here and there throughout the day keeps me centered better than anything else. I don’t make an issue about being religious, that’s a very personal choice that doesn’t work for everyone, but it works well for me. (And on a tough day, I do make lists of things I am grateful for. And on a really bad day, it’s a short list, but it’s a great thing to do, to get your perspective back,and remind yourself that no matter how bad things seem, there is something to be grateful for, even if it’s a favorite pair of shoes, or a call from a friend).

art credit: Mrs. Lilien

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