Episode 32: How to Transform Your Life Through Communication, with Dorothy Vidota Chow



Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Lynn S Evans and I am the host of Power of the Purse Podcast. There was a time in my life not too long ago when I believed three things about money. One, women are not supposed to talk about or be included in any conversations about money. Two, women don’t have the natural ability to understand anything about money. And three, men know best how to manage money. Those truths I made up about money guided me for years until I realized money was not a foreign language or some other obscure academic exercise. It was something I could not only understand, but teach to other women.

Too many times I’ve heard stories from women who ought to know better, but didn’t, until they were forced to, because of divorce, widowhood, job loss or the approach of retirement. This podcast will add another chapter to a rich history of successful women, who, when faced with some personal challenges, found the ability to step beyond them. We’ll examine some of the truths they made up about money from their life experiences and how that shaped the paths they chose. My mission is to help women have a healthy, positive relationship with money. With that in mind, my guest today is Dorothy Vidota Chow. Dorothy is the owner of Altagracia, and she has a very interesting story.

I was an overweight stay-at-home mom of four children. About 10 years ago, I started taking a Latin dance class once a week at my children’s ballet school. The realization of being overweight came when I tried to dance and there was so much of me to move and my body was going in all directions. I was humiliated and devastated at how distant I was from me, the me I used to be and the me who I no longer recognized, a stranger in this body. This was my bottom, my turning point. This crossroads provided me with two distinct choices in my mind: succumb or fight. I fought. In the late 70’s, I loved disco dancing and maybe there was that little part of me that still connected to that girl and wanted her to emerge and take control of this wobbly, out of shape blob, and whip her into shape.

I struggled with my confidence, identity, purpose meeting and through dance, I always felt like all of those insecurities melted away when I moved on the dance floor and the beat of the music washed over me into a meditative state, where I felt safe, confident and understood. Learning to dance salsa, cumbia, merengue and bachata were difficult to learn. The rhythms of each music is different, the movements complex. I struggled as my teacher repeated the choreography, breaking it down simply at first and then building it as the confidence with movement emerged, so did I. In the first year of taking one class per week on Sunday mornings, I lost 56 pounds. Everything changed. I can’t wait to hear the rest of this. I love it, I love it. Okay, so thank you very much for being a guest. I’m so excited to have you here, Dorothy Vidota Chow, and let’s just jump into some of the fun things we want to talk about. How about this Altagracia? What is it? Altagracia, in Spanish, translates to full of grace. I have also had a very special relationship with the Virgin Mother. I grew up in a Catholic household and I always felt the Virgin Mother’s presence in my life, albeit I’m not very religious. I do feel like I have a very special relationship with the blessed mother. I think it’s that sense of the female connection and I think that’s where it comes from and always feeling safe and guided through her. Thus, Altagracia – full of grace.

That’s great. Okay, what is it that people do when they come to visit you at Altagracia? I think mostly communicate and I always feel that the physical, the actual workout as a trainer, is secondary. I feel like we have to start with the mind first. We have to start in a place where there’s comfort, where there’s connection, and people feel safe. Then we go from there.

How do you establish that level of comfort and trust?

By listening. I think by listening and offering support and understanding, that we don’t have to come from this place of perfection, that we have to come from a place of acceptance of what our story is and how we make what we have into the best possible thing for us. Everyone’s different. There is no cookie cutter mold for that. I think once we accept who we are and accept our flaws and accept our…not only our flaws, but we have to accept the things that make us unique and wonderful, that we have to establish that, all of that, is just the place where you have to start. It’s with what you have and acceptance of what you have, good, bad and indifference, and then go from there.

How do you get people to discover all that? Is there some kind of an initial interview that you take people through?

Initially, we just sit down and chat. Usually, but the time people get to me, they’ve reached a dead end. They’re frustrated and usually, a lot of the problems that they come to me with are byproducts of something bigger. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. They’re fat. They’re overweight. They’re unhappy. They have health issues, knee problems, hip problems, sleep problems, menopause, all kinds of problems. Usually, I get women, mostly women, who are in my age range, menopausal, post-menopausal, and then elderly women. I gravitate to elderly women. I just feel like they have these great stories, and they survived. They’re survivors. There’s a lot to tap into there. It’s a two-way street, so that’s what generally works. I think just listening and listening and really understanding and just saying, “It’s okay to feel like that. It’s okay to be at the end of your rope. Let’s just work back from there. Let’s see how we got there, at the end of that rope.”

Is the training, the personal training you do for what you said are elderly women, is that significantly different than what you would do for let’s say a peri-menopausal woman?

Oh, absolutely. I think as we age, we’re looking for better quality movement. We’re just looking to get from the couch to the kitchen table, that sit and bend and stand and pick up the mail and shovel the snow and all those daily tasks that are just becoming more and more difficult, increasingly difficult as we age to do, to go from one place to the other. Getting in and out of a car is very difficult as we age, especially if we are obese, if you have any kind of health issues, osteoporosis. Yeah, there are many issues that we have just by aging and they become debilitating to some people and turn into depression and a lot of people at that point become reclusive, because they don’t want people to see that they’re aging. They’re very embarrassed. They feel like they’ve lost their spark in some way and they do, so they isolate, which is the worst.

Well, how do you get them out of that isolation and over to see you?

I think by striking up a conversation, I’ve always been very good at doing that with strangers. I just find one commonality. It could be a beautiful day and did you see that robin in the nest? It could be something as simple as that, just to strike up a conversation over here at Lake Scranton or at a restaurant or just about anywhere, picking up some groceries and just starting a conversation when I see just a single person standing there, usually an elderly person. I’ll strike up a conversation and I’ve never had a situation where anyone has been negative. They’ve always been very open. I think it’s all in the way you approach it. I think if you approach things fully, full eye contact and you approach someone, especially in a grocery store where there’s a commonality and you’re buying vegetables at the same time and those artichokes look really good and you just kind of mention how beautiful those artichokes are. It will generally start up a conversation out of nowhere. I’ve always had that ability.

Well, I see that from your website that you have group sessions as well as individual or private training. What would someone who wanted to go into a group setting need to do that would make them okay with a group setting versus somebody who needed personal attention? Would you be the one that would help them decide whether they would be more suited for group sessions or an individual session?

That’s a very good question. There is that segment of the population who wants personal one-on-one training because that is where their comfort level is. They don’t want anyone else in the room. It’s a trust issue. They just want that one person who is me, where they’ve connected and that’s all they want. Then there are those people who are more extroverted, I would say, who look at group exercise as a social event. “I’ll see you on Tuesday nights at 6:00.” It makes them accountable. There is that segment that needs that socialization, that needs to be in that group, because they don’t want the limelight on them. They don’t want the focus on them. They want to be part of a bigger group, because that’s where they’re more comfortable. It really is a personal decision.

It’s also a financial decision, because personal training is much more expensive than a group training. One-on-one is generally much more expensive, but usually those are the people that have kind of odd times or they need to be in and out by 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning or they’re late at night people. They’re usually professional people who have that. I have more stay-at-home moms that want to do the group thing. That’s usually how it works out, more of a demographic and also a financial and a personal choice.

How many years or months or whatever have you been doing this type of training?

Well, I was a group fitness instructor, and I got a lot of encouragement from Jeanie Mendez, who was one of my group instructor teachers, and she encouraged me quite a bit to become a group exercise teacher. She loved my story. She was a part of my story and she encouraged me and pushed. I did that with not a lot of effort. It came very naturally.

Good. Yeah, so that was awesome.

That’s great.

I felt really great about that. About two years later, I immediately went to the YMCA in the Greater Morristown, New Jersey YMCA, where the fitness instructor there who is the fitness director now, her name is Kelly, she encouraged me to become a personal trainer, because I had had great success with group exercise classes at the YMCA and got a lot of positive feedback. She encouraged me. I failed. I failed the first time. I said, “Okay, that’s it for me. It’s too much anatomy, too much kinesiology. My brain doesn’t work that way.” A year later, she said, “You’re doing it again.” I said, “No, I’m not.” She said, “Yes, you are.” Yay, I passed with only six questions wrong. I nailed it.

Wonderful. That’s great. That’s really good.

It was a highlight of my life. It really was.

When was that?

That was about five years ago. Personal training was about five years ago. Group fitness, I think it was about eight years ago, seven, eight years ago.

That’s wonderful news. I like that. The one that kept cracking the whip over you and saying, “No, you’re not going to say no.” That was great. Then you moved from that area back to the Scranton area and you’re a native of this area. What was behind that move? Why did you decided to do that?

The illness of both my parents. My mother died of complications of COPD at age 71. She was a very heavy smoker. My father battled both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s for the last four years and he deceased last year. I lost both my parents in a two-year period. My father was 78 years old. My mother was 71. I missed them terribly and I inherited their home here in Scranton and came back to do a little bit of work in the house, and felt very comforted being back after they left this earth. I felt very comforted and decided that this was where I was going to put down my roots with. I was empty nesting. My children are all gone to school, are all in school still, in college and grad school, and it was time for me to make a decision on my own, so I decided to come back to my root, my deepest root. That was Scranton.

Do you have siblings?

I have one brother in Sarasota, Florida, and that’s it, just one older brother.

Then he couldn’t help you very much taking care of your parents, could he? No?

No, not at all.

Not from there, no. No, no.

Okay, so you were a caregiver too in the middle of all this, so did you start your business while you were still being a caregiver?

No, I didn’t, actually. I started my business in August of 2016. My dad passed in February of 2016, so it was a transforming year for me.

Sure was.

There was a lot of change and so I was a caregiver, although my father was in assisted living and then ultimately a nursing home. I would drive from northern New Jersey to Scranton once to twice a week every week for three years. That was grueling, but I wanted to be here for my dad as much as I could, but it was very difficult. After he passed and I moved into his home, I took some time for myself and I decided what it is I wanted to do, and I opened my business, because I felt I had a calling to do that.

Where is your business?                  

My business is in my home. It could be in your home. It could be in anyone’s home, so I travel. I travel in the area. I travel to Wilkes-Barre, up to Dalton, Clark’s Summit, German. I go here, there and everywhere or else people can come to my home now, which is nice.

Is that where you have the group sessions?

Yes, I have three to five women in group. It’s really a small group session, so I do three to five people here. We could also meet at a park if I had more, but I don’t. It’s generally three to five women. They’re usually friends or relations that come together, which is nice. That’s generally the way it works right now. I’m just kind of getting my feet wet.

Sounds like it’s a good first step. It sounds solid and it sounds like you’ve got a lot of history and training for people to consider this, so more power to you on all that. Let’s switch this around now. I’m very interested, given what you’ve just said, about starting your own business and being involved with people who’ve been, I guess you would say in a state of dementia and care giving, it means there was a lot of responsibility on your shoulders financially as well. Let’s go back and talk about the types of beliefs and systems that you’ve learned as a child and how that impacted who you are today. Let’s start with the first question. What was your family like while you were growing up?

We lived of modest means. My father ruled the roost. He handled all the money. My mom worked in a sewing machine factory for many years and then she was a waitress right here in Dunmore for many, many years, but my dad pretty much handled all the money. He would work at the German and Casey Hotel when I was a child as a bellhop. Then when I was about nine years old, he got a job at Tobyhanna and for my father who had a 7th grade education, that was a pretty terrific job. He held onto that job for – I believe my father was at Tobyhanna for 38 years until his retirement.

Wow. There’s so many people from our area who worked there and have those numbers, like 25, 30 years. It’s great to see that, because that’s a dying thing. People just don’t stay in one place for too long. What’s your first memory around money? My first memory around money was approximately five or six years old, I guess, and my father would come home on Friday afternoons and he had an envelope from the bank and I remember it had exactly five 20’s in it. He would give my mother two 20’s and we would go to the Giant Market down on Blakely Street and we would have an entire basket full of groceries from that $40. My other memory about money and I think this is important is a few years ago, before my mother passed, we were talking about my childhood and I had said to her one of my favorite meals as a kid was pancakes. We always had pancakes for dinner in the winter. My mother said to me, “Do you know why we ate pancakes on Friday nights?” I said no, because that was like the best meal ever, was just pancakes. She said, “Dory, that was because we had no food until your father came home. Until your father came home with the grocery money, there was no food for anything, there was no money for food for anything else.” That’s why we ate pancakes, so yeah. He’d come home and –

Those are pancakes though that had nothing in them. They were just pancakes, right?

That’s right, and sometimes there was maple syrup and sometimes there wasn’t. Sometimes there was just jelly and sometimes there was sugar and cinnamon. To me, that was a great meal. I didn’t realize we were poor. I didn’t realize we were hand to mouth. I was clueless.

Well, most people didn’t. It’s just how it was. You had nothing to compare yourself to, so that was just normal. I think so many of the women that I’ve talked to on these podcasts will say the same thing, “I didn’t recognize at all. I didn’t know that we were poor,” because you didn’t. It’s just how it was. What lessons about money did you learn when you were growing up? Well, I learned to hold on. I’m a saver. I learned how to hold on and always put a little aside for a rainy day, because the future is never promised and it’s always good to have a little tucked away and there’s always an emergency, so I’m a saver. I’m a saver and I’m an investor, and I’m pretty aggressive about it.

All right, I like that even better. Well, you know that most women generally are very conservative investors anyway. It’s great to hear somebody say you’re aggressive, because that’s really where the juice is, but can’t explain that to somebody who feels so uncomfortable about risk. What jobs or careers have you experienced up to this time in your life?

Oh gosh. Well, I was also a waitress like my mom through high school and then-

Where was that?          

I also worked at Elby’s in Franklin’s and Dunmore. Then I worked at the Ramada up in Clark’s Summit through high school, and Denny’s up on Route 6, all through high school. Yeah.

I thought you were going to tell me about some of the diners and some of the local places, but yeah, you’re good. No.

Okay, what has been the most threatening to your financial security? The most threatening that ever happened to my financial security was when the market crashed. My husband and I, at the time, we lost a lot of money, and we hung in there.

Good for you.

To look at that, oh my gosh, you have to have a strong stomach, because we lost a boatload of money and we just hung in there. Eventually, we sailed through. I just have this one piece of advice that someone gave me and I think it’s really sage advice about the stock market is this: first you have to have a strong stomach. The second thing is you can’t look at things for six months, or three months or a year. When you’re in the stock market, you have to look over periods of time, 10 years, 20 years, because there’s an ebb and flow to the market, and you know what? If you want those big investments, yeah, you’re going to have days when … You’re going to have years when you’re going to have a 15% gain and then next year, you’re going to be down 11%, but you know what? If you hang in there, you just stay with it, over a period of time, you multiply that out, you’re going to have a nice return on your investment, just ride out the storm as long as you can. You do have to have a strong stomach and you do have to hang in there.

[bctt tweet=”To see ROI on your investments: Have a strong stomach and hang in there. #PursePower” username=”LynnSEvans”]

Well said.

Thank you.

Well said. It’s just so rare to hear a woman say something like that, but I know that your husband is in the business too, right?

My husband was in the business, yes.

Yeah. But he’s not as aggressive as I am. I’m much more aggressive.

No kidding, you’re more aggressive than him? Yes, yes, I told him to get into healthcare many years ago, because I saw the writing on the wall with healthcare and I was like, “Get in that.” He’s like, “Oh my gosh, how did you know that?” I said, “Common sense, common sense.”

Well, then I think maybe you’re doing the wrong thing, Dorothy. I think you oughta be a prognosticator for the market. Oh my gosh.

That would be fun. There’s plenty of people out there that get paid millions of dollars just to have an opinion on things. Right or wrong, it doesn’t make a difference. I’d say it’s almost like the weather people. You get to predict the weather but if it doesn’t work out, you can always blame Mother Nature. That’s true.

What are some of the events that have happened in your life that you would describe as defining moments? I think we know one.

The birth of my four children.

Yes, for sure. This a huge one for me. The most defining moment of my life was being a mom, having the privilege of being a mom to my children, having the responsibility of growing young men and women. I know it’s cliché, but I do feel it is the greatest job. I was a stay-at-home mom and I really feel like that was it. That was it for me. That was the epitome of my life, right there, was just being able to have the privilege of staying home with them. I thank my husband very much for that, of carrying the weight of the financial weight of our home and our household by allowing me to stay home. I’m very grateful for that.I think the other one I was thinking of was that moment when you were on the dance floor. You decided, “I cannot be like this.” That was truly a turning point in your life. There’s one thing I wanted to ask you about that, because I’ve always been curious about people who lose weight or who just set themselves up mentally and say, “I’ve reached that point where it’s time for me to do something different.” How is it that you, not allow yourself, but how do you keep yourself on track with that when there are so many challenges along the way? I think it’s for me, personally, it’s I have to take care of my vessel, because it’s not anyone else’s responsibility. I don’t want to leave it in my children’s hands. It’s not anyone else’s responsibility or business. It’s mine. If you had a car. This is always the one I use. If you had one car when you were 15 years old and someone gave you this great Mercedes and said, “This is the only car you’re going to ever have in your entire life. It’s your job to either take care of it or not,” would you? Well, of course, because if it’s the only car you’re only going to have in your life, you’re going to put good fuel in. You’re going to put oil in. You’re going to take care of it, most people. We look at our bodies somehow differently.We just think, “Oh, you know what? I’m just a little overweight. Oh, I’m just going to eat their extra piece of cake. Oh, I’m not that fat.” That’s where I was at. I had no idea I was fat as I was, because I was very busy being a mom. I just finished everyone’s food, ate everything. As soon as I switched gears and tapped into something that was mine, which was dancing, before I was a mom, I reconnected to that girl and that’s when I knew I wasn’t even on the radar anymore. I was like, “Holy mackerel, what have I done? Here I am, so busy putting all my eggs in one basket with my children, I’m not taking care of me, which in turn, isn’t going to help them at all long term.”That’s true. That was my big moment. That was my big epiphany. It sounds like oh, this very egotistical or it’s selfish. It’s the exact opposite of that, because you want to be your very best for your children, for your grandchildren eventually. I don’t want to be like the grandma who’s unfortunately sitting at home with oxygen like my mom, like with the oxygen and couldn’t move off the couch and couldn’t really do anything with the children. She didn’t like that either, but it’s where she was in her life, and it was unfortunate. I wasn’t going to be that. That’s when my epiphany really came to me personally.Okay, but then let me throw out some… I’m going to be a devil’s advocate here and throw out some for instances. Let’s say with the four children, you had a birthday party at the house and you had a wonderful cake and all kinds of things for the kids. You shouldn’t be eating that cake, because it probably wasn’t something that was on any list of healthful things that you were trying to follow. When the kids would say to you, “Mom, here, have a piece of my birthday cake,” how did you deal with that? I’d eat the cake.

You what? I ate the cake.

Okay. Oh yeah. I don’t think you could ever do something 100%, no matter .. This has been my success, my success has been you cannot tell yourself, “Oh, I can never eat cake again.” Have the piece of cake at your kid’s birthday. You just can’t eat the whole cake is what I used to do. You can’t eat the whole cake. You can’t eat every bit that’s left over. Have a slice of cake. Have a scoop of ice cream, moderation.

You would eat the rest of cake? I would eat the entire cake.

Oh god.

And then throw everything away and pretend like there wasn’t a cake.

Okay, you understand then how you got to where you were. Yeah, it’s true. I did it.

That is huge though for you to go from that kind of eating to what you’re talking about. Oh yeah.

More power to you, girl. I just think that is amazing. I didn’t realize that that’s where you got to. Oh yeah, I did.

That’s major, to go from that to where you are today. Wow. Good for you. I think it’s great. Let me ask you some of the questions. Do you ever see yourself being retired? No. Oh god, no, never.

Why? I have too much living to do. I have too much… I’m very nosy. I’m very interested in many different things. I’m interested in people. I’m interested in traveling. I’m interested in cultures and cooking and food and everything under the sun. I’m a very curious person. I’m a nosy person, so I want to just stick my nose and then learn, learn, learn. I’m a learner and I know I’ll never stop learning, therefore I’ll never find myself retired. I’ll never settle.

Well, maybe the important question here would be what’s your definition of retirement? Well, I look at like people who are retired who just go through the monotony of a schedule every day. I don’t want to have an everyday schedule where I eat corn flakes on Monday and yogurt on Tuesday, every single week. I can’t do that. I just look at retirement as a monotony, as of a just giving up and hanging up my shoes and saying, “Hey, that’s it. That’s all I’m going to be doing for today. Leave it for the next guy.” I can’t ever foresee myself doing that.

I was watching something on television the other day about a woman, maybe it was even on Facebook, I’m not sure where it was, I think it was TV, of a woman who was 92 years old and dancing and she’s a yoga instructor. Oh, that’s Tao, Tao Porchon. We’re Facebook friends too. Isn’t she amazing? Yes. Yeah, she’s an amazing human being and she says age is just a number.Well, that’s what I think of when I think of you doing that is to say that you just continuously are looking at that kind of a personality that says, “I’m just never going to stop.” I think that’s who that lady is too. Yeah, it must’ve been Facebook, must’ve been. It is. Tao Porchon-Lynch is her name and I believe she’s up in Massachusetts or Connecticut. That’s her name. Yeah, she’s definitely someone that I admire and I would say has a great attitude about life and living. Well, that’s a great role model. I think it’s wonderful to think about … Think the way she thinks. It’s great. Would you do anything differently? Any regrets? Many regrets, many, many regrets. I’d be a better daughter. I’d be a much better daughter. I would have given my parents a lot more time. I would’ve cared less about how clean and organized my house was and I would’ve played Legos with my kids a lot more on the floor. I’d be a better listener. I’d be a better mom. I’d be a better daughter. I really think that I prioritize things wrong, not wrong, but just differently. I cared too much about the cleanliness of the home and yeah, just the chores. I wish I spent more time with my parents and I wish I spent more time with my children growing up.Well, maybe you’ll have a chance now to spend more time with your grandchildren. Eventually.Yes, you could make up for that. Absolutely.Yes, absolutely, not something that’s cast in concrete, so to speak. Who is the most influential woman in your life? What advice did she give you? The most influential woman in my life would have to be my Aunt Dorothy. Your namesake? She is my namesake. I was born on her birthday. She’s my father’s older sister. She’s still living, still with us. When I was a very little girl, my aunt used to take me to… She has three daughters and she used to take me on vacation and just always just pull in, come in, take me and just I was just one more and she’s an extremely disciplined person and she’s always had her shit together, probably can’t say that. She’s had her act together. She’s always been a very balanced person. She’s such a lady. I just admire her so much. She’s always taken the high road and she’s someone I admire very much and I try to emulate her, because she’s another very deep root for me.Well, did she give you any specific advice or is it just that by observing who she was and how she was with the world that you consider that to be the role model? Exactly, she never gave me any specific advice. She wouldn’t dare. She was a very accepting person.That’s neat. She’s always been the type of woman who’s taken the high road and with a lot of grace. She has a lot of grace and she’s just a lovely, beautiful woman. I’ve learned a lot from her. That sounds really good. It’s nice to have one of those role models in your life. Well, she was right.Thanks to my guest, Dorothy Vidota Chow, who’s the owner of Altagracia. To all of you in my Power of the Purse community, I hope today’s podcast was helpful in enriching your understanding of money and how it can help you achieve your life goals. If you’d like to spend 15 minutes on a call with me and ask me questions about your personal finances, please go to my website, powerofthepursepodcast.com. Select the contact tab, and find a time that works for you. Thanks again, Dorothy, for sharing your time and your knowledge. Until the next time, thanks for listening and remember, money is not the enemy. Your ignorance of it is. How to contact Dorothy:


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