Being Human Is Like Being A Guest House

when you're ready to learn the lesson, the teacher always appears

when you’re ready to learn the lesson, the teacher always appears

A beatiful and interesting poem by the Sufi poet, Rumi. Words that I will try to embrace.

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.


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A Cool Mona Book Review: Thank You For Your Service

Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for The Washington Post. Published 2013. Author of The Good Soldiers, New York Times Best Book of the Year – 2009.

The Good Soldiers is the frank and forceful story of the grueling 15-month deployment of the Second Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment to Baghdad during the surge of 2007-8. It is as illuminating an account of the war that has ever been written. And just like The Good Soldiers, Thank You For Your Service is reported in a non-personal, bi-partisan manner sharing the facts of brave young lives. “Every war has its after-war…”

Finkel once again embeds with the troops, this time at home after deployments have ended, following the lives of a few either directly or indirectly involved with 2-16. Amanda Doster, a widow just barely remaining upright, drives around town with her husband’s ashes strapped in to the passenger side. Patti Walker, advocate with the Wounded Warrior Program at Fort Riley, deals with 49 wounded warriors all day long and then goes home to the 50th, her husband “who was blown up in Iraq”.

When we ask young men and women to go to war, what are we asking of them? And when they return, what are we thanking them for?

One of The Washington Post’s Top 10 Books of the Year, A New York Times Notable Book of 2013, An NPR Best Book of 2013, A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2013. It’s mesmerizing and it needs to be read. I awarded it 5 margaritas in the Cool Mona rating system.

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The Voice. (No, the one in my head.)

practice gratitude in color

practice gratitude in color

I wonder what other voices sound like, the voices inside heads. Do they talk all day? Does the evening’s darkness finally silence them? When I am hurt, betrayed, indignant or entitled, my Voice kicks in, speeds things up, increases the volume. It takes a selfie.

I read a lot about The Voice and wanted to share some deep and moving thoughts from Geneen Roth’s Women, Food And God, An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything:

The Voice usurps your strength, passion and energy – and turns them against you. Its unique way of blending objective truth – that you’ve gained weight – with moral judgment – that therefore you are a complete loser – leaves you feeling defeated and weak, which then leaves you susceptible to latching on to the next quick fix or miracle cure. Anything to stop feeling so desperate.

The Voice is merciless, ravaging, life destroying. The Voice makes you feel so weak, so paralyzed, so incompetent that you wouldn’t dare question its authority. Its intent is to keep you from being thrown out of whatever it perceives as the circle of love.

When I talk back to The Voice, I do it with color. I line up jelly beans on my desk – no more than 10 – and write with color pens. Lavender blue, lime green, hot pink. My daily diet DP glass is orange and yellow swirls. I grocery shop some days only for red things. I sit and read wearing strands of mismatched colorful beads. So take a good, hard look at the color around you…the red of your boss’s face as he reads the report, the blue of the sugary drink your kids want with dinner, the yellow of the daffodils you snitched from Sara Beth’s yard. Focus on the feel-good energy that comes from hues and brightness and shades and before you know it, you’ll say hey, the day’s already over and I’m still upright.

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A Cool Mona Book Review: Company Man

Marg_5-iconCompany Man: Thirty Years Of Controversy And Crisis In The CIA by John Rizzo, the most influential career lawyer in CIA history. Published 2014. Rizzo served under 7 presidents and 11 CIA directors, pre and post 9/11, the point person for the Iran-contra scandal, the approver for the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (aka “waterboarding”). It’s the most revealing insider account during the CIA’s most historic and controversial era. Let’s just say he knows where the bodies are buried.

Many areas of the book aren’t dinner table conversation. He’s the first CIA official to describe what “black sites” look like from the inside. He walks you through a comprehensive account of the torture tape fiasco that took place at one of the secret prisons for 9/11 Al Qaeda leaders. He gives an authoritative delivery on the interrogation of Al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah. None of it pretty but definitely interesting.

Rizzo is a true company man and has never forgiven President Bill Clinton for not attending the funeral service for 6 CIA operatives. It was the week after his inauguration and the president sent the first lady. He does, however, find some sympathy for George Bush over the WMD controversy. In the Cool Mona rating system, I give it 5 margaritas.

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Things Are Gonna Be All Right (Part 3) care of yourself...

shhh…rest…exhale…take care of yourself…

Those inspirational writers at pulled these wonderful examples together. Check out the earlier ones in case you missed them.

#13: The Boston Marathon Runners Who Raced to Help Bombing Victims

Some jogged straight to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood, and others tore off their shirts to use as tourniquets, according to The Daily Beast. An act that triggered everyone’s fight-or-flight response reminded us of a third option—one that requires an inspiring level of selflessness.
#14: A Stranger Who’s Been There
Even though you might not have ever met the person, just hearing that someone has felt the same way you have, or do—whether it’s  a mommy blogger who  admits she spent the afternoon picking gum off the family dog, or Beth Howard describing the guilt-tinged grief following her husband’s death in Making Piece—we get the  resounding message: It’s not just you.
#15: The Friend Who’s Going Places

There are those Facebook friends whose sparkling accomplishments make you want to pour coffee on your keyboard; then there are your real friends, for whom, when they accomplish incredible things, you can’t help but do slow-motion victory dances.

#16: The Word “Remission”
It may not mean disease-free, but it sets off a wave of relief that can make you suddenly lower your shoulders for the first time since they tensed up near your earlobes when you initially visited the doctor.
#17: Staples, Magnets, Paper Clips
Your computer may get a virus and destroy the Great American Novel you were writing; your air conditioning can go kaput on a 96-degree day; and, your car may stall just as you merge onto an exit ramp. But you can still count on some other things to  almost always respond the way they’re supposed to.
#18: A Deep Breath
You’ll be surprised to realize how much you were holding in when you finally exhale.
Cool Mona note: Like what you read? Then pass it on to a friend!
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A Cool Mona Recipe: Hot Cocoa With Tequila And Mint

add some tequila to that cocoa!

add some tequila to that cocoa!

Spring has sprung but the nights are still chilly. Tequila  pairs well with both spices and cooling mint, so you have a couple of options. Take advantage of the cool nights while they last with this knocked-out version of spicy cocoa. Recipe inspired by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Managing Editor of Serious Eats.  


  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 4 ounces milk chocolate chips
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 4 ounces tequila
  • 2 ounces peppermint schnapps
  • Whipped cream and mint leaf garnish


  1. In medium saucepan, stir cocoa with sugar and salt. Stir in milk, milk chocolate, and bittersweet chocolate. Heat over medium heat until, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted and mixture is hot. Gently whisk to completely homogenize mixture.
  2. Add tequila and peppermint schnapps. Divide into serving cups and top with whipped cream and mint.
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Everything’s Gonna Be All Right (Part 2)

stop the power linesThose inspirational writers at pulled these wonderful examples together. Miss Part 1? Here you go.

#7: The Lack of Cell-Phone Reception

At first, this seems like the moment when you transform into Donald Duck and start shouting a stream of unintelligible rants while stomping up and down; but, it can also be the moment when you realize that those rapidly multiplying work emails, urgent-yet-not-important phone calls and that ping-ping-pinging sound are temporarily gone. You’re (kind of) off the grid, and you’ve got no choice but to surrender to the world around you. Is that the sound of birds chirping?
#8: A Five-Minute “Cool Down”
You wanted to quit eight seconds into the plank position. You mentally cursed out your Zumba instructor for her never-ending side kicks. And now, you’re almost done. Those final stretches at the end of a workout can be more gratifying than any other moment at  the gym.
#9: Your Mom’s Casserole—Even If It’s Made with Ketchup and Cream Cheese
It’s like that scene in Nashville when Hayden Panettiere’s character, a self-obsessed country singer, sneers at the “Pink Macaroni Casserole” her mom made for her. Hours later, once she’s realized she’s a teen queen caught up in the middle of a shoplifting scandal, without a friend to turn to, she takes comfort in the one thing she can rely on: the familiar taste of an old family recipe.
#10: The $2 Million T-Shirt
It’s retail therapy without the post-shopping guilt: Each week, the social-good platform Sevenly releases a few shirt designs promoting a specific cause, and $7 from each sale goes toward that week’s mission. That number may not seem like much, but in two years, the donations have amounted to $2.2 million and benefited causes ranging from funding cancer research to ending sex trafficking.
#11: Dogs Who Wag Their Tails with Their Whole Spine
They’re so happy to see you, they’re practically convulsing.
#12: One Crumpled Dollar at the Bottom of Your Purse
Even better than the small burst of excitement you experience from finding money you’ve forgotten you had, is coming across it right when you’re 96 cents short at a toll.
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Everything’s Gonna Be All Right (6 Things To Remind Us)

live imperfectly with great delight.

live imperfectly with great delight.

Those inspirational writers at pulled these wonderful examples together.

#1: Woman Who Was Reunited With Her Dog After the Tornado in Oklahoma

Halfway through an interview with CBS News, as Barbara Garcia surveys the debris where her house once stood, reporters find her schnauzer, Bowser. The tornado’s winds ripped him from her arms in the small bathroom where they had been hiding, and Bowser had been buried alive under the rubble. “I thought God answered one prayer, to let me be okay; but he answered both of them,” she said.

#2: An Unexpected Text

You can’t stop thinking about that mid-meeting gaffe at work, even though it was six hours ago. You should’ve said this, or you could’ve not said that—and then you glance down at your phone and notice an unread message. “Watching an old clip of SNL and ‘Weekend Update’ reminded me of your spot-on James Carville impression.” It may not be poetic, but it’s just thoughtful enough to tug you out of a shame spiral.
#3: The Return of Hostess
Everybody loves a good comeback story, especially if the protagonists are Twinkies, Ho Hos and other snack cakes.

#4: The Woman Who Changed Her Cyberbully’s Perspective

After a Reddit user posted a photo of a Sikh woman on the site’s “Funny” section with the caption, “I’m not sure what to conclude from this“—referring to her facial hair—the woman in the picture issued a reply. She politely explained that her religion doesn’t believe in altering one’s body in any way, and sparked a chain of responses, including an apology from the original person who posted the photo and caption. It may not happen often enough, but sometimes, our words can change minds.

#5: A Nearly Crossed-Off To-Do List

It reminds you that you’ve accomplished a few things today, and it leaves you a goal to push for tomorrow (even if the goal is really an internal budget memo).
#6: 11-Month-Olds with Serious Dance Moves
In a 45-second YouTube video, a set of twins showed us how important it is to have “our” song—the one we can’t resist rocking out to as soon as we hear it, even if that means ditching our lunch mid-bite. The knowing exchange at the 15-second mark says it all.
Cool Mona note: More tomorrow. I could use some more assurance.
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6 Times To Tell The Ugly, Painful Truth (Part 2)

creativity is in all of us.

creativity is in all of us.

Honesty is the best policy. But honesty at exactly the right moment? An even better, less-likely-to-lose-friends policy. Leigh Newman tells us when (and how) to lay it on the line. Here’s Part 1:

Perfect Time #4: The Moment You Stumble into the One Fragile, Vulnerable Room in the Burning House

Have you noticed something? Problems, unlike yogurt, don’t come in single servings. I’m going to give a painful example. I have a friend who constantly has family crises. Her marriage is a struggle; her kids have learning difficulties; her husband is in and out of work. We will meet for brunch, and the news on her end will go something like this:

“I don’t know, maybe everybody has problems. People fight, don’t they? Do you think Jim and I fight too much? Basically, I think it’s about power. He wants it. I want it. I think sometimes it affects the kids, because little Sammy is wetting the bed again.”

I used to just let her go. She was right on every count, and I wasn’t sure if she would listen if I said something—not that she’s a narcissist; she was simply upset and didn’t get much time to just talk and be listened to. That is, until I realized after several of these “chats” that I was really worried about little Sammy. Now I do this:

Her: I don’t know, maybe everybody has problems. Me: [Nod] Her: People fight, don’t they? Me: [Nod] Her: Do you think Jim and I fight too much? Me: [Nod] Her: Basically, I think it’s about power. He wants it. I want it. Me: [Nod] Her: I think sometimes it affects the kids. Me: I think so too. Kids sense upheaval. It’s really stressful for them. Have you thought about taking him to talk to somebody?

Waiting to be honest about the one point in the whole dark cavalcade that feels the most crucial to you, instead of trying to tackle every problem (in other words, trying to focus on one room of the burning house, instead of the whole burning house), is more likely to help your friend, even if it’s in a smaller way, instead of overwhelming her with commentary and not helping her at all.

Perfect Time #5: If (and Only If) You Can Pull Off a Dan Rather

Sometimes you find things out. They are never the things you want to find out. By chance, you discover that your friend’s mother has cancer and she’s keeping it a secret from the family. Or you suspect your friend might be losing her job. The usual dilemma is whether or not to tell your friend.

Assuming that you want to be honest, that you want to lead a life without the fuss, agony and guilt of cover-ups, consider sticking to a plan I call The Uninterpreted Facts. This is what newscasters do, and everybody loves them, even when they’re sitting up there saying things like “a famine has spread through the Sudan, and all the children are dying.”

Let me give a few examples: About your friend’s mother, instead of saying “I think your mom has cancer,” you might say, “I ran into your mother at the hospital yesterday. We were both in the chemo wing.” About your friend’s job, instead of saying “you haven’t been working very hard, and I think your boss—who’s friends with my boss—is going to lay you off,” you could say, “There’s a memo about layoffs in the break room. Your boss is in the office with the head of Human Resources.” In the face of this news delivered in a neutral tone, the friend is either going to wonder why this happened and/or why you brought it up, then reach some conclusions on her own—or she will not because she’s not ready to deal with it. Either way, you’ll have given her the honest information, and she will have the choice about how to move forward.

Perfect Time #6: When Your Friend Is Not There…

In other words, when you’re alone. Being truthful with others starts with being truthful with yourself.

This is one of those excruciating realities that we all have to live with—because to be honest, nobody wants to be honest with themselves. I certainly don’t. I’d much prefer to think I gave my sweater to my neighbor because I’m a nice lady, not because I don’t like the sweater and I want to use my neighbor’s garden next week and she likes the sweater.

The real truth is complex and clunky and doesn’t come with three free smaller bits of wisdom and a set of apple corers. It’s not sexy, and it doesn’t make you look younger. But it is one of those things that gets more valuable as you learn to use it on yourself with the same compassion you would use with other people. Telling yourself the truth as your husband walks out (“I pushed too hard,” “I didn’t listen,” “I was never really committed,” etc.) isn’t at all enlightening—and may possibly ruin your self-esteem. Three days later, after you’ve calmed down, that same unwelcome but much-needed bit of honesty could change your life.

Cool Mona note: I’m so glad you hang with me. It feels good to be part of a community.

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6 Perfect Times To Tell The Painful, Ugly Truth

a peace pod in Chautauqua, ny

a peace pod in Chautauqua, ny

Honesty is the best policy. But honesty at exactly the right moment? An even better, less-likely-to-lose-friends policy. Leigh Newman tells us when (and how) to lay it on the line.

Perfect Time #1: After the Wedding (Way, Way After…)

Back when I was younger and idealistic, I believed that if you thought your friend’s upcoming wedding was a bad idea, you should gently, lovingly tell her. I did this twice: once, the night before the wedding, when the groom was partying at an “exotic dancer” club and the bride was crying in the corner of the hotel suite, and then again when a (different) bride revealed to me that she had had an affair a few weeks before the wedding was to take place. In both cases, I took a big, horrible breath and posed the question, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

And in both cases, the brides got married anyway. And then things got distressing. They didn’t not talk to me for a few years; they simply talked to me in bright, chipper sunshine voices about their jobs and houses and plans for vacation, but never, never about their spouses. I did my part in these conversations. I was as bright, chipper and sunshiny as a dandelion watered with Dr Pepper. I didn’t want to lose my friends. I knew this phony veneer was the only way we were going to make it through.

Until…a few years later, when the first one called to tell me her husband had stolen all of her money, and the second one called and told me she was depressed: She was not in love with her husband, she wondered if she’d ever been in love, and she wasn’t sure what she was going to do exactly. Right then I realized that it was in this moment that I should have talked about my worries. Because—and I don’t care what anybody says—people about to be married do not want to hear it. Deciding to get married is just one of those things you do on your own. Heartache, on the other hand, is something you do with a friend, especially one who has a list of specific details about why that guy is a lout, starting with the time he cheated at Scrabble.

Perfect Time #2: Before the Margarita That You Drank in Order to Tell the Truth

It always seems like a good idea at the time: You slurp down a nice, strong, salt-rimmed drink to buck yourself up, and after that fortifying margarita (or three), you’re 97.82 percent more likely to respond truthfully and extravagantly to your long-time pal when she asks what you really think about her decision to move to China. You’re likely to bring up the time she got homesick in Florida over spring break. You’re likely to bring up the fact that she has no job there and is leaving a well-paying one behind in order to go to Szechuan cooking school. You might mention that she’s allergic to rice, and you might even do some lavish imitations of her trying to ride a bicycle.

In other words, you will tell too much truth, with too many repetitions of essentially the same story, in more and more hyperbolic terms. Worse, if she is also tipsy, she will have a similarly exaggerated response: She will cry, and you will sit there in La Mexicana on Route 17 imagining what would have happened if you both had just eaten at the Thai place that only serves tea with condensed milk, where, instead, you would have said, “Hmm…China? I know you’ve been looking for some kind of radical life change, but you could just go to L.A. It has a lot of Chinese cooking schools, cars you know how to drive—and beaches.”

Perfect Time #3: When You’ve Done the Same Thing, Only with Worse Results, and You Have Proof

This one applies to pants, haircuts, formal gowns and anything else about our external selves that we’re not supposed to care about, but we do. If you’re going to weigh in on these aspects of your friends’ choices, you need to come prepared with evidence from your own experience. (Models and superhumans can stop reading right now because you do not have the sufficient evidence. You might think you do—a patch of cellulite on your thigh, or pants that split up the butt, right on the runway—but that’s essentially a microscopic spot of mold on a slice of manna.)

For example, I have a friend who is hitting her mid 40s. She works very hard; she’s  single; she was feeling very dumpy. She hired a photographer to take some glamorous pictures of her. She was very excited about this, and I was very excited too. Sometimes something completely external can radically transform the internal.

The shoot took place on a Friday, and that night, my friend sent me the pictures. She asked me what I thought because she was going to put them up on her online dating profile; she was going to put them up on her fridge; she was going to send them out to family. And that is right when I had to send her an email that was not such a good idea: These photos did not bring out her best angles.

(Left unsaid: “You look dead in these pictures! You are green! And what is with the twitchy thing your lip keeps doing?”) I also told her that this happens to lots of people because taking pictures is hard. I know this because my husband is always trying to take pretty pictures of me so I will feel less dumpy, and this is what happened the last time he tried in Oregon.

Once you share a picture of yourself like this, the conversation quickly turns from what was wrong with your friend’s photo to “What is wrong with you? Why do you show this to people? And which Adderall-addicted grandma of yours sent you that hat?”
The same technique applies to jeans. I have a certain slinky, saddle-bag-enlarging, thigh-thickening, ankle-fattening pair that I wear over to my friend’s house when I must inform her that those pants she bought for $150 (and wore twice, so she can’t return them) are not her friend. “We all have pants that are not friends,” I say. “Look at me.”
When you really think about it, engaging in this kind of self-abasement to make your friend feel better is the real act of honesty. You’re being straight-up about yourself.

Cool Mona note: More  inspiration from Leigh Newman later. Why don’t you share it with a friend?

Hey, maybe a friend needs to read this!
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