How Period Trackers Have Changed Girl Culture

A special report on personal technology for health, family and fitness.

My 18-year-old daughter knows exactly when it will be that time of the month. Since June, she’s been plugging the dates of her menstrual cycle into a popular period tracking app called Clue, and has it programmed to send her an alert every month, two days before her next period is due.

“It’s great because I never think about it, and now I never have to think about it,” she said.

Like a lot of young women, my teenager is just too busy. And no, she doesn’t mind being quoted, she said, adding, “Mom: I’m not embarrassed about my period.”

She’s not the only one. Girls and women are openly talking, tweeting and texting about their periods, and not just to Donald Trump. New companies tired of the stigma are selling menstrual products using the “P” word, singers and artists weave menstruation themes into their work, athletes and others have mentioned it on talk shows and at press conferences. Two New York City high school girls developed a video game called “Tampon Run” — the heroine’s mission is “to rid the world of the menstrual taboo.”

Add to this mix period tracker apps, which have helped shift attitudes, demystifying and normalizing menstruation by assigning cute icons to once unmentionables like heavy flow, maxi pads and period pimples. Most important, the apps transform the input into crunchable data that can tell a young woman when her period is due, when it’s late and even why she might be feeling so blue.

There are over 200 different period tracker apps to choose from, and they are immensely popular: consumers have downloadedPeriod Tracker (by GP International) and Period Calendar/Tracker(by Abishkking) more than 10 million times from the Android store alone, according to IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

Period tracker apps can track a range of issues related to the menstrual cycle including emotions, cramps, weight, sleep, energy, food cravings and more. They also can record when you had sex (Clue’s icon for protected sex is a man wearing a tie) or remind you to pack tampons, take your birth control pill or do a breast exam, all information women say is both empowering and liberating. Some apps are pink and girlie, all hearts and flowers and butterflies; others take a more subtle approach with lots of graphs in muted shades of purple. Specialized apps have even been developed for niche groups like Orthodox Jewish women who adhere to religious family purity laws. The apps say they are “rabbinically approved.”

“When you see a technology that someone has developed specifically for you as a woman, it really legitimizes talking about your periods and thinking about them,” said Shuangyi “E.E.” Hou, 24, a product designer in San Francisco for apps and websites who has used a period tracker app for over a year. “If we as a society say women should be checking in on their periods, and we give them permission to talk about it, I’m convinced it will be beneficial for women’s health.”

While the apps also can be used to track ovulation, signaling the days the user is more or less likely to become pregnant, most period tracker apps explicitly warn users not to rely on them to prevent pregnancy. The ovulation tracker and fertility prediction can be helpful for a woman trying to conceive, but it can give a false sense of security to a woman who relies on the app as a form of birth control.

That’s because even the most vigilant ovulation tracking methods have shockingly high failure rates, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with up to one in four women becoming pregnant over the course of a year with typical use.

“Apps are a tool; they’re not actually a birth control method,” said Hannah Ransom of San Diego, a certified fertility awareness educator.

But many users of period tracker apps rely on them to help schedule their busy lives or for tracking health conditions that fluctuate with their cycle, rather than contraception. Aliya, a 23-year-old from the Bronx, said she uses Pink Pad Pro to schedule social outings like visits to a Russian bath house and to give her doctor an accurate answer to the inevitable question about the date of her last menstrual period (though she admitted relying on it occasionally for birth control as well).

One college theater student said she always forgets about her period during the week or two before a production, when there are a million other details to think about, so she likes the push notification reminders from Period Tracker Lite.

One concern about the trackers is privacy, and the fact that most young users won’t read the app’s privacy policy. Registered users of Clue agree to let the company use anonymous cycle data to improve the app and for academic and clinical research. Data isn’t collected from unregistered users.

Ida Tin, who founded Clue, one of the fastest growing period tracker apps with 2 million active users in 180 countries, said her motivation in developing the app was to provide women with more information and greater understanding about a “foundational” part of their lives for 40 years.

“If you just have the data about what is going on in your body,” said Ms. Tin, “It’s a navigating tool for your life.”

 Shadow Work and the Rise of Middle-Class Serfdom


Brett and Kate Mckay

shadow work illustration man wearing many hats

Meet Bill, an average American.

The first thing Bill does when he rolls out of bed in the morning is look at his phone. He checks for new texts and emails, peruses his Facebook feed, and then surfs around to various news sites and blogs.

Then he grabs a quick breakfast and it’s out the door for a 20-minute commute to work. But first he stops at a convenience store to fill up on gas and withdraw some money from the ATM.

Once at the office, Bill makes himself some coffee and settles into his desk. His computer prompts him, as it does every 90 days, to change his password. He then spends an hour going through his work email, before doing some copy making and filing.

At lunch, Bill eats at a “fast casual” establishment where he orders at the counter, brings his food to a table, and then cleans it off when he leaves.

Back at the office, there’s more email to answer and tasks to take care of.

After work Bill stops by a grocery store, and swipes and bags his items in the self-checkout line.

Once he arrives home, Bill makes himself dinner, and then cleans up the kitchen. Next he sits down at his computer to figure out which flights would be best for an upcoming trip he’s planning, and to book a hotel and rental car as well. Two hours later, Bill makes those purchases, and then shops for a new bag he’ll need for the trip, looking at numerous sites and reviews, and then putting in his credit card and shipping information once again to complete the transaction.

Then it’s a little more web surfing and one last check of his Facebook feed. Right before he turns in, Bill gets a text from a friend: “Hey man! Want to go mountain biking this Saturday?” “Sorry,” Bill replies, “I’m too busy. Maybe another time.”

While Bill hasn’t done anything physically strenuous during the day, he crawls into bed feeling exhausted. And with good reason — for in addition to performing his “real” job at the office, he also worked a wide variety of other positions: driver, news editor, gas station attendant, banker, waiter, bus boy, secretary, cashier, grocery bagger, cook, housekeeper, travel agent, and salesman.

Though Bill nominally only works a 9-5, he has in fact been toiling around the clock.

Are We Really Busier Than We Used to Be?

In the modern age, we have the same 24 hours a day that every human has enjoyed for thousands of years. But when you look around, you might be forgiven for thinking that time has somehow sped up and that our days have grown shorter. People seem harried and worn out. If you ask them how they’re doing, “Busy, busy, busy!” is often the answer.

40% of Americans say they’re overworked, half feel there are too many tasks to complete each week, two-thirds feel they don’t have enough time for themselves or their spouses, and three-fourths say they don’t get to spend as much time with their kids as they’d like. And as far as the other parts of life, well, they can’t be bothered with them at all.

Making small talk? Too tiresome.

Going out and socializing, even with old friends? Ditto.

Throwing a party? Too much work.

Going to church or doing service? Too busy.

Following basic manners and acting civil? Too tired to make the effort.

Cooking and eating real food? Too time-consuming; I’ll just get all my calories from a shake.

Putting on pants without an elastic waistband? Why bother?

Having hobbies? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

To explain what’s behind this apparent time crunch, the instinctive hypothesis is that we’re all simply working more — that jobs these days require us to toil for more hours than they used to.

Yet perception is not reality. Since the 1960s, work hours have actually decreased by almost eight hours a week, while leisure time has gone up by almost seven hours. Many will likely find this hard to believe, and that’s partly due to the fact that people routinely overestimate how much they really work by 5-10%. We also greatly underestimate our available leisure time; Americans think they have, at the most, about 16.5 hours of it a week. In actuality, nearly all of us have anywhere from 30-40 hours of leisure time at our disposal. And this includes both men and women, singles and marrieds, those with children and those without, and the rich and poor alike; in fact, lower income Americans have more leisure time than higher earners.

So what exactly is going on? What accounts for the gap between how our lives feel and how they’re actually structured?

How is it possible that we ostensibly have 40 hours of leisure time each week, and yet most of us feel we can’t even spare 20 minutes a day to read a book or meditate?

Stupefied by Shadow Work

Working women have long complained of having to hold down “the second shift” — i.e., having to do the bulk of childcare and housework after putting in time at a paid job. While it’s true and often reported that women continue to do more of these second shift chores than men, total working time for men and women these days is actually close to equal. That is, while working women do more housework, working men put in more hours at the office, so that the total working hours for each is close to the same.

Amidst the debate over which sex does more, few have noticed the fact that all of us — men and women alike — are working not only unpaid second shifts, but third, fourth, and fifth ones as well. Think about Bill’s day again: even though he had one official job, he wore many different hats.

As author and professor Dr. Craig Lambert explains, we all increasingly “find ourselves doing a stack of jobs we never volunteered for, chores that showed up in our lives below the scan of awareness.” Lambert calls these tasks “shadow work” and in his book of the same name, he describes this labor as “all the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organizations.”

You perform shadow work whenever you do jobs that used to be done by a paid employee, but have now been outsourced to the consumer: pumping gas, booking a travel itinerary, bussing a table, and so on. We likewise do shadow work whenever we bank online or use an ATM instead of a teller, check-in to flights or a hotel using a kiosk rather than a human, and wait on hold for an hour to talk to a scarce customer service representative. When we can’t find a knowledgeable salesman to talk to and get a recommendation from at a big box store, and instead must take over his job and shop online, spending hours comparing model features and reading reviews, we’re doing shadow work then too. When we follow through on these online transactions, entering in our credit card number and address for the umpteenth thousandth time, we do yet more shadow work — this time as DIY cashiers.

We’ve all taken over a wide variety of jobs that used to be done by others, not only in the wider marketplace, but even just a few desks over; many paid positions have been subject to “job creep” in which a worker must perform the tasks that used to be done by three other people, and are not included in his official job description. Support staff — secretaries, assistants, and the like who used to make your coffee and copies, answer your mail, and keep track of your schedule, have largely been resigned to the dust bin of a bygone era. And yet the requirement of becoming a jack-of-all-trades has not been accompanied by an increase in wages.

Shadow work also includes tasks that have resulted from new practices and expectations, and which you must perform if you wish to use a particular service or simply keep your job. Think of kowtowing to the shoe-removing rituals required by airport security, filling out endless paperwork when you visit a new doctor, and of course doing your taxes, a chore which takes the average 1040-filer 23 hours of shadow work a year. Suppressing any normal, negative feelings, and putting on a consistently upbeat, friendly face — which more and more employers require of workers who interact with the public — constitutes tiresome shadow work too.

Finally, the realm of shadow work includes tasks that aren’t strictly necessary, but that we perform because of their perceived benefits. At least 2/3 of us surf the web for medical information, often coming up with our own diagnoses instead of, or before seeing a doctor; after our visit, we do more shadow work to decide between the various treatment plans the good doc described. Many folks who are looking for love report that online dating becomes like a second job, as they must spend hours perusing profiles, responding to messages, and setting up dates. And not only do we have to clean and organize our physical home these days, but we have to regularly tidy-up, back-up, and arrange the songs, emails, files, photos, and videos that line our virtual “shelves.” Plus, we must not only manage our real world selves and protect our physical privacy, but also monitor our online reputations andsafekeep the data we put in the cloud.

But perhaps the most taxing shadow work of all is managing our information intake. In times past, magazine, book, and television editors controlled the flow of information to the public. This restricted the media being put out, but also filtered it for quality and importance. The web has radically democratized this process, so that anyone with a computer can create their own videos, books, articles, films, and so on. This has left the consumer with the enormous and never-ending job of wading into the torrent of media online and sifting the wheat from the chaff.

This ever-increasing mountain of shadow work tasks has placed a unique burden on the modern citizen. Lambert argues that while shadow work has hardly put us in the position of medieval peasants, it has in fact created a new kind of middle-class serfdom. We are all Bill, logging hours for corporations we don’t realize we’re employed by, and working around the clock without pay.

Life as a Middle-Class Serf

Lambert calls shadow work such, because it takes “place in the wings of the theater while we are absorbed in the onstage drama of our lives.” Had it dropped into our routines all at once, we would have noticed, and may have howled in protest, but instead it has arrived slowly in dribs and drabs. It’s become our new normal and we’ve gotten so used to it that the phenomenon has largely gone unnoticed and unrecognized.

Taken alone, the tasks of shadow work seem laughably trivial. But it’s serfdom by a thousand cuts; together, our shadow work chores have shredded our days into what the author of Overwhelmed calls, “confetti time.” Rather than experiencing long, unbroken stretches of time in which we concentrate on completing tasks for a single role in our lives, we are constantly changing the hats we wear — toggling from husband to cashier, office worker to news editor, father to travel agent.

And while we were formerly forced to largely work during regular work hours and shop during regular business hours, technology allows us to produce and consume 24/7. We never fully clock out from our “real” jobs, nor do we ever fully take a break from the marketplace. Even when we’re not actively engaging in shadow work, in the back of our mind there’s that ever present niggling: Is there something I need to buy? Is there something going on I should know about? Should I check my phone? We’re always “on” and constantly mentally switching between roles.

The Hidden Thieves Stealing Your Willpower

It isn’t the time that shadow work tasks require that ends up being so draining (they may even save you time over the traditional route), but their effect on the psyche. Willpower is a finite resource. You only get so much of the fuel that allows you to focus and gives you the mental energy to tackle the world each day. And what saps this fuel is making decisions, weighing options, and exercising self-control.

Shadow work requires all three behaviors, and is thus a huge willpower drainer.

I have long felt that this is one of the single most overlooked facts in modern life; even Lambert largely misses it. I think it gets to the heart of why people feel overworked, worn out, and harried — why they just can’t be bothered to be civil or to socialize or to have hobbies, even though on paper they don’t seem to have that much going on. The stuff that’s eating away at their willpower aren’t the things you’d put in a planner, but the overlooked shadow work in the wings.

Shadow work does frequently give the average consumer more autonomy; you can do things when and how you’d like. But 100% autonomy is actually not a desirable state. “Submission” is a word with negative connotations, but times of psychic submission are in fact a mental necessity. Our minds need periods of rest where we can say to someone else, “You take care of all the details on this. I just want to enjoy the result!” It’s true that the rich have always enjoyed this kind of delegated caretaking the most, with their coterie of maids and servants standing by to fulfill their every need. But as recently as 50 years ago, everybody, from the overwhelmed housewife to the working class bloke, got to regularly enjoy at least a few brief moments of respite at stores, gas stations, and the like; nearly everyone had times both of serving and being served. Now we’re always waiting, and never being waited upon. We’re constantly tasked with shouldering all the responsibility, weighing all the options (of which there are more available than ever!), and making all the decisions. It’s exhausting.

Most wearying of all, is that one of the things which is supposed to act as our servant — the web — often becomes our master instead.

Take just the example of working in an office today compared to half a century ago. Imagine in your mind’s eye your 1960s desk. It’s got some paperwork on it, a picture of your kids, and nothing else. No computer. As you go about your work, there’s nothing to distract you; you can look at the files on your desk, or at a plant in the corner, and then back to your files. Now imagine your desk at work today. Right in the center is your computer where you do all your work. Every minute you have to resist the urge to check Facebook or look something up on google to focus on the task at hand. Each time you feel the urge to surf and resist it, you use up a bit of your willpower reserve. You’re thus actually working two jobs at once: one as Outgoing Accounts Manager, and the other as Chief Urge-Resister. Your job thus feels twice as taxing as it did a few decades ago, and you go home feeling like you just worked a double-shift. Because you pretty much did.

Once our willpower reserve runs low, “decision fatigue” sets in and we shy away from doing anything that’ll require mental energy or making choices, and just generally default to the path of least resistance.

It’s no surprise then, that the time we spend watching television — the ultimate in vegging out for the modern willpower-depleted serf — keeps increasing and currently stands at almost 3 hours a day, or half our total leisure time. That same leisure time everyone swears they don’t have.

Becoming the Lord of Shadow Work

Corporations love creating shadow work because outsourcing formerly paid jobs to the consumer increases their profits. But they also often claim it’s a win for everyone, as the consumer will ultimately save money and time as well. Of course the rhetoric doesn’t always match reality; oftentimes the cost savings never trickle down, and the new robotic customer service rep is less convenient than the flesh and blood variety. For example, airline ticket prices haven’t fallen now that we buy them online and check-in via kiosk. Similarly, self-check-out at the grocery store might sometimes be faster if you only have a few items — but not if you run into an error, and not if you have a whole basketful of groceries.

But shadow work does undeniably have its benefits. It lets you shop on your own time, manage your own information stream, and dine out more often than you might have otherwise (you may have to bus your own table, but you don’t have to tip).

Thus, Lambert goes out of his way to argue that shadow work in and of itself is not a problem, and is in fact an opportunity; it “can both add new tasks and open up possibilities.” But we can only take advantage of it if we’re fully aware of the phenomenon and the various ways it’s insinuated its reach into our lives. For most, the shadow work they perform goes unrecognized, though its effects are still felt; it’s as if someone sleepwalks through nightly workouts, and can’t figure out why they’re so fatigued during the day.

Hopefully this post has brought something that typically operates outside of consciousness to the forefront of your mind.

Now the task is to manage and direct your shadow work towards productive and desirable ends. Here are a few tips for doing so:

Develop a new mindset on busyness. Part of the reason people have failed to examine their perceived busyness more closely is that many don’t actually think it’s such a bad thing. Busyness these days has become a status symbol — a sign you’re someone who’s doing things in the world. People may complain that they’re overworked, but they’re often really just signaling their membership in the movers and shakers club. Our automatic equation of being busy with doing something right overlooks important facts — such as whether this busyness is actually making us happy, or even lending itself to our productivity! Someone may be expending their energy in a hundred different directions and feel entirely worn out, but be accomplishing very little.

Minimizing shadow work will make you feel less burdened, and it’s important you don’t interpret this greater lightness as doing something wrong. Again, sheer busyness itself does not equal productivity and creativity.

Outsource when you can. The DIY ethic is admirable, but only when you’re doing-it-yourself, for yourself! Putting in time for a corporation doesn’t satisfy the soul. So if they’re going to outsource jobs to you, consider passing the task along and outsourcing it to someone else. Yes, outsourcing usually costs money, but this upfront cost should be weighed not only against the time you save, but the physic energy and willpower you’ll preserve as well. Doing things like using a travel agent, hiring a tax preparer, and even riding the bus to work instead of driving yourself, can actually end up making you more money in the long run; if you feel so exhausted at night that you never end up putting in time on your side hustle, it’ll never get off the ground. The more you outsource tiresome tasks, the more time you’ll have for satisfying and creative pursuits.

Set no-brainer blocks on your devices. Instead of expending your precious willpower trying to resist the urge to check your devices when you’d like to be working on other things, take that possibility completely off the table by putting blocks on certain apps and sites at certain times. This post covers all the ins and outs of how to do that.

Clock out from production and consumption. The average modern American is either producing or consuming at any given moment during the day. Our identities are ever tied up in economic pursuits. Take a break from the marketplace by trying not only to keep regular working hours where possible, but to adhere to regular business hours when you shop. Just because you can buy some Beard Growth Spray on Amazon at 11 o’clock at night, doesn’t mean you should. Set parameters for your economic hours, consider taking a weekly Tech Sabbath, and make unbroken lengths of time — periods in which to pursue things for their own pleasures and ends, and simply to be a human — a sacred part of your routine.

Be a satisficer rather than a maximizer. Maximizers seek out every possibility and weigh every option before making a decision; satisficers pick the first thing they’re happy with and go with it. While maximizers do end up with better things because of all their effort, research has shown that they’re still less happy with what they get than satisficers! They can’t enjoy what they pick because they continue to wonder if they made the right choice, and whether there might be something else out there they’d like even better.

In our modern life, it pays to be a satisficer. There may be a dozen different powders for your balls out there, but just pick one and stick with it. That is, whenever you find a product or service you like, if you remain happy with it, keep on using it instead of constantly surfing reviews and perusing new products that are only infinitesimally different than the previous versions.

Be ruthless in filtering information. Everyone is now their own media editor, and how you perform at this task will have much to do with the quality of your life. Grade channels/sites; do they occasionally have excellent content, while 80% of it is junk? Give them an F. Does another media outlet have the reverse ratio of gems to crap? Give it a B-. Then, instead of randomly surfing, only frequent B-quality sites/channels. Imagine yourself as a real-life editor, and ask yourself if you would publish/broadcast the content that crosses your desk; if not, you shouldn’t consume it either.

If there’s a site you’ve come to trust, as you know they examine many sources and sides of an issue before presenting advice, go right to it when you have a question, rather than wading through everything yourself.

Also apply this mindset to your Facebook feed. Hide everyone and everything that doesn’t consistently share at least B-grade content.

When you start ruthlessly filtering your media consumption, you’ll often worry that you’re missing out on things — that you’ll miss something important amongst the 20% of good stuff a generally junky site puts out. But I’ve found that once you give up a particular media outlet for awhile, the tugging and withdrawal symptoms quickly go away, and you realize it was adding nothing to your life. Further, the important subjects that the junky site occasionally covered, invariably pop up on other sites, only executed far better!


Shadow work promises greater autonomy, but ends up making us feel more out of control — that we don’t have the time or energy to do the things we really want to. Don’t let yourself be added to the ranks of a corporation’s employees without realizing it, and don’t freely hand over the cream of your energy to the lords of media and commerce. Willpower is a man’s most precious resource; if you wish to be superhuman, rather than a serf, guard it closely and use it wisely.

A 101-year-old shares her best advice for young women

“Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what,” says Marian Cannon Schlesinger to today’s young women.

At 101 years of age, she is still painting, writing, watching Rachel Maddow, and reading two newspapers a day.

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination, many of the people who can recall the era in detail have passed on.

Marian Cannon Schlesinger was married to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., historian, speechwriter and special advisor to President John F. Kennedy, living in D.C. and raising four children during his Washington years.

Well-traveled, having studied in China prior to their marriage, she returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts after their divorce. She has written and illustrated five children’s books and, in 2012, published the second volume of her memoirs: “I Remember: A Life of Politics, Painting and People.”

I sat down with her recently to hear about her time in Washington, memories of being raised an “academic child” at Harvard, advice for independent women, and recipes for leading a “full life.”

Amidst all the cheering from individuals such as “Lean In’s” Sheryl Sandberg, many educated women of privilege in America have opted out of careers and public engagement to raise families, touting domesticity as a singular focus, in part because the alternative juggling act is so difficult and the infrastructure in the U.S. to support working parents is so paltry.

A centenarian who participated in a relatively traditional marriage might be the last person one would expect to call these women out.

But when I talked to her, Ms. Schlesinger refocused the conversation on responsibility as much as personal happiness: “Well-taken-care-of women who are well-educated, highly intelligent, well-read — a woman who has all this quality, all this talent, all this energy and yet nowhere to put it — I don’t know,” she said. “I would start by saying you can involve yourself in local problems. There are all sorts of things that have to be tended to in the world.”

What are you working on and doing with your days at this point?

Reading the newspaper, watching television and working on another book.

You spent your entire childhood among luminaries. Your father was the Francis Lee Higgins Professor of Physiology at Harvard for forty years. Your mother was a celebrated novelist and helped found Planned Parenthood. Were you impressed by all of this?

I think that’s why June Bingham and I used to have such fun over the whole thing in Washington. We didn’t take it very seriously because we had seen something of the world before we arrived.

We had a lot of fun as a family and we always had lots of people coming in and out of the house. My mother ran an “open” house really and she’d take care of all these sort of crazy relatives who had nervous breakdowns and things like that. These two wonderful aunts lived with us. So, I had three mothers, in a way.

My mother was very active in politics. She was out in the world and my two aunts were professional women and, for that period, it was rare. One of them was a founder of medical social services at Massachusetts General Hospital and the other, who had beautiful taste, owned a children’s store in Harvard Square from which generations of children were clothed.

How did you end up in China to study art after college?

“My mother sent each child after they completed college to some exotic place to sink or swim.”

My sister was married to John Fairbank and they were living in China at the time. My mother sent each child after they completed college to some exotic place to sink or swim. After Radcliffe, I took the trip by myself across the United States, got a boat in San Francisco headed for China.

How did that influence you?

A gentleman came every day and taught me how to use a Chinese brush and the whole technique of the way Chinese painting is done. There is something about the use of a Chinese brush, which is just an exquisite instrument, and it taught me so much about how to draw. A lot of people don’t draw. They just paint. I draw and paint but I feel that drawing is basic to my kind of art and I feel as though my time in China refined my work.

john f kennedeyUniversalImagesGroup/Getty Images

What was the Kennedy presidency like for you?

Very go-go, if you know what I mean. And of course, it was very exciting too. There was the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis in Cuba, those were real crisis, and then there was an awful lot of bogus stuff too.

Like what?

Oh I don’t know … I had an awfully good time.

Have politics changed today?

It was kind of like a small town in the Kennedy days. There were parties every night. We often dined at the White House. It was really mad.

There was a real family feeling—I think that was somewhat fostered by Bobby Kennedy and Ethel because they had a great sense of family. You’d go out to their house in Hickory Hill and there’d be all sorts of people gathered at their place. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was there, young law clerks and, oh, all sorts of other people. I can’t remember. I’m only 101 years old!

I think I was perhaps not as aware of political violence or what was involved. I was aware of the civil rights work but I wasn’t as sensitive to it as I became later on. A lot of this good work was going on at the time but I suppose I was preoccupied by the momentum of it all including raising my four teenagers.

There were so many things played upon me at the time. I wasn’t involved with the mechanics of getting elected at that point. I wasn’t active in politics until afterwards when I went on a trip with Scotty Lanahan, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s daughter, who was a great friend of mine, and two other women. We went out and campaigned for Johnson in 1964. That was terrific fun. I never had such a good time as that.

What advice do you have on how to be a free-spirited woman?

Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what.

Also, my mother had said, ‘It doesn’t really matter if your house is that dirty. Go ahead and do your thing. Don’t pay too much attention to housekeeping.’ Of course, she did have a nice maid who came in every day but we didn’t have any live-in servants. My mother did most of the cooking. Sometimes it was not so good, but it was adequate.

In those days, women who had higher education, especially back in my childhood, were rather rare. The fact that they’ve gone out and gotten this education has differentiated them from other people in a way.

But there are strong women everywhere whether they have higher education or not! There have always been strong women.

This idea that feminism was created in the last twenty years is ridiculous. When you think of all the women that went across the continent in covered wagons. Really. It’s ridiculous. It’s a lot of baloney. If they’d read a little history, they’d find out that women have been powerful characters all through the history of the United States.

Young Woman with Hat and SunglassesFlickr / Chris JL

You must recognize, though, that some women still can’t find their voice?

I think there are a lot of privileged women who are frustrated. They just don’t know what they want to do and they need to go out and use their education and talent. I’m very fortunate because not only do I paint but I also write. I had plenty to do.

“I think I’ve been very lucky. But I think that I’ve made some of it for myself. I never gave up. I wanted it all, in other words, and I think I really almost got it all too.”

I was thinking about a friend of mine who, before she married, was quite active in Massachusetts politics. And then she married a man who was very well off and she was well-supported and had two children and then, once the children were all grown up, here she was well-supported and not even doing anything with it.

Well-taken-care-of women who are well-educated, highly intelligent, well-read – a woman who has all this quality, all this talent, all this energy and yet nowhere to put it—I don’t know. I really feel very sorry for them.

What would you say to these women?

I would start by saying you can involve yourself in local problems. There are all sorts of things that have to be tended to in the world.

Early on I decided being a painter was what I wanted to be but I wanted to be a lot of other things too. I wanted to write. I wanted to play tennis. I wanted to have a lot of friends. I wanted to have a lot of beaus. I think I’ve been very lucky. But I think that I’ve made some of it for myself. I never gave up. I wanted it all, in other words, and I think I really almost got it all too.

I was thinking the other day about never giving up. I remember when my husband and I separated and I stayed on in Washington for about a year before I moved back to Cambridge on my own. […] But then I sort of gathered myself together, moved back to Cambridge and got organized.

How did you get organized?

I renewed a lot of friendships.

What was it like to be neighbors with Julia Child?

She was terribly busy. I’d have people over for the afternoons and she’d come but I’ll never forget the time I had to her to lunch before she went back to California. I must say I made a very good meal and she said, ‘oh, Marian, this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.’

What did you make?

Gnocchi. We made gnocchi, green salad and fruit for desert. Pretty good and the gnocchi, it was delicious too.

Where do you get your news?

I read two newspapers a day. I also read The Nation and The New Yorker, which has become such a bore. Every once in a while there’s a wonderful murder in Vanity Fair which I love, especially a society murder, if you know what I mean?

I like to watch Rachel Maddow, if I can stay awake that late, I like her so much and Chris Matthews and Mister Ed who I love on MSNBC.

Favorite places to dine out in Cambridge?

God, I can’t remember. No one went out to dinner in the ’50s.

But I will tell you what I used to do with this great friend of mine, Sheila Gilmore, who was an original. She was the stepdaughter of the Harvard philosopher Alfred Whitehead and her husband was a professor of history at Harvard. She and I used to go to the original Legal Seafood down in Inman Square. We used to set up at the counter and I’d have a dozen oysters and a martini. I’ve forgotten what she had but I always remember this. It was my idea of the perfect meal.

Any thoughts on the Red Sox?

I think they’re terrific but I can’t stay awake and watch them. I find the Patriots are rather an irritating group – so full of themselves. I prefer the Red Sox to the Patriots.

Craft CoffeeFacebook/Craft Coffee

Do you have any habits or secrets to living to be 101?

I drink a cup of coffee every morning. My nice son brings me a cup of coffee and he’s done that now for some years, which I think is terribly nice of him.

Her son Andrew chimes in: “You have a drink every night.”

A pretty watered down drink! It’s symbolic more than anything

What advice do you have on how to live a full life?

Just keep going.

Have lots of people in the house and lots of different kinds of people – young, old, black, white, people from all over the world. People have always energized me.

Your hope for the next president?

Good old Hillary would be okay.


5 Best Yoga Poses for Reading

The majority of these poses work better when you give your body some time to ease and settle into them. I usually give myself a two page time limit before switching to the other side, but you can do more or less depending on your body. Benefits of each yoga pose are listed below, along with links to more in-depth articles about how to practice them correctly.

1. Sphinx pose

It may not look like yoga–you probably read like this when you were a kid–but sphinx pose can help stretch out your chest, shoulders, and stomach. It also helps strengthen the spine and buns. Passive butt exercises while reading. Must I tell you more?

sphinx yoga pose for reading

2. Pigeon pose

Ahhh, pigeon pose. It’s one of my favorite yoga poses because I’m sitting in an office chair most of the day and get super tight thighs. It’s also one of the best to hold for long periods. Pigeon pose can help open up your hips, thighs, groin, and back. If it’s too hard (and most likely will be at first), you can use several blankets under your forward thigh to ease the stretch.

Pigeon yoga pose for reading

3. Lizard pose

Once you’ve opened up both of your hips in pigeon pose, take a break for a few minutes in sphinx, and then move into this more intense hip opener. Lizard pose can help your hips, as well as hamstrings and thighs, open up and stretch. Make sure to do it on each side. It’s easiest to do this one with an ebook, but then again, you get more balancing benefits with a paper book.

Lizard yoga pose for reading

4. Reclining big toe pose

Because of the aforementioned tight thighs and office chair, I sometimes have problems with lower back pain. The reclining big toe pose is a super easy pose you can do almost anywhere to help relieve back pain, stretch out your legs, and strengthen your knees. You can go more difficult by grabbing the toe with your hand, or using a strap as shown. The longer you rest in this one on each side, the more you’ll notice your legs releasing and stretching.

reclining big toe yoga pose for reading

5. Legs up the wall pose 

Legs up the wall pose is obviously made for prime reading time, but it also has loads of benefits for your body. It can help reduce back pain, menstrual cramps, fatigue, and anxiety. You can be super cute and do it against a tree like this, or against a wall, bed frame, or sofa.

legs up the wall yoga pose for reading

As with everything in yoga, listen to your body in these poses, be conscious of your breath, and try to have fun doing them.

If you feel any sharp pains when practicing these, back off or find modifications–many of these are shown in the links. It also helps to come into these yoga poses when your body is just slightly warmed up (even if that means with a mug of tea and a blanket).

(All photos in this post are courtesy of my fantastic friend and fellow yogi Suzanne atModern Yogi, because I cannot take photos of myself doing yoga without falling all over the place. She’s also great fun to follow on Instagram.)

Yoga & Writing w/ Adriana

  • Sunday, April 26, 2015

    2:30 PM to 4:00 PM

  • Yoga in the Heights

    317 Central Avenue, 2nd Fl, Jersey City, NJ (map)

  • Entrance on Griffith Street above Payless Shoes
  • Explore writing and creativity inspired by gentle movement, focused breathing, and relaxation. Learn techniques to release tension, move toward stillness, and tune in to your muse. The class includes several writing prompts following yoga postures.

    This is beginner-level workshop but open to all levels and new and/or experienced writers.

    -Wear comfortable clothing. Bring a pen/notepad. Bring a yoga mat (rentals available at studio). 

    -$15 cash at door

    -PARKING AVAILABLE at the municipal lot across the street off of Griffith. Location is a ten-minute walk from 9th and Congress Light Rail station. 

    Workshop hosted by Adriana Rambay Fernández, RYT-200. A Kripalu-certified teacher, Adriana offers gentle and moderate classes that support the process of self-discovery and healing through guided meditation, asana, and pranayama. Through an open, receptive, and steady approach she guides students to a place of inner balance, harmony, and union. She believes yoga can unlock inner creativity, healing, and a deepened sense of awareness. Find out more about Adriana at:

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