Thursday, December 28, 2006

RAINBOW XYLOPHONE REVISITED

When I was in second grade, my classmate Toby's father got in front of our whole class to play the guitar and sing. I was sitting cross-legged on the carpet, right next to his feet. He was wearing sandles and had toenails deformed by a fungal infection. I remember looking down at those feet, but also up at the peaceful, beaming face of The Singing Dad. That image has stayed with me to this day.

I bet Toby's Dad would be shocked to know that more than 30 years later, someone remembers that day and the way his face looked when he played the guitar. Most of us, myself included, never realize the extent to which we inspire people - loved ones and strangers alike - with our words, our art, our acts of humor and kindness - things we don't think twice about, don't think much of at all.

As the author of this blog, I hit pockets where I think it doesn't matter that I write Creative Times. Even if the statistics shows that folks are reading it, the way I filter that information is "I don't know if this blog means anything to the people who read it. It's one of millions of blogs and maybe they forget it about it the next day."

This past week, I got off a plane in Santa Ana, 3,000 miles away from my home in New York. My boyfriend picked me up and drove me to a party hosted by his parents' best friends, Ron and Joanne. I had met Joanne a couple of years ago and she had sent some kind emails about my blog. I had forgotten about the emails.

Joanne came up to me at the party and said "I've really enjoyed your blog. I loved reading about the rainbow xylophone. And I did decide to sign up for the writing course." I then recalled that over the summer, she had been deliberating over signing up for the course, feeling like she had nothing to say. I had sent emails to encourage her to take the course, saying she had plenty to say.

Anyway, it sort of blew my mind that Joanne in sunny Orange County liked reading about the rainbow xylophone I had purchased at a stoop sale 3,000 miles away in Brooklyn, New York.

After the incident with Joanne, I started thinking about Toby's dad and how he left a mark in my mind that's stayed all these years. That's when I started to think about how every move we make has such incredible staying power, such capacity to move and inspire people around us. I began to entertain the idea that there might be other Joannes out there who have been impacted in some way by things I have written. Just because I'll never see or hear from those folks doesn't make my writing less important.

So I'm trying to remember - and maybe you could, too - that we each make a difference to people just by being who we are. Whether we know it or not, we do. Toby's dad, if you're out there listening, thanks for reminding me of this essential truth.

Art Credit: Michael Sorgatz

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

GOOD NEWS, SCORPIOS!

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): "Talent hits a target no one else can hit," said German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. "Genius hits a target no one else can see." That could and should apply to you, Scorpio, at least during the month of November. I believe that you have a heightened ability to access special talents that have been partially dormant up till now. If you summon the gall to be almost crazily confident, you'll soon be scoring bull's-eyes on targets that no one else can see, let alone hit.

- Taken from Free Will Astrology with permission of Rob Brezyny, www.freewillastrology.com

HOT PINK PARKA


Since the dawn of the Barbie Town House, pink and purple have been my favorite colors. So imagine my delight when, home sick, I opened a package from my mom and found a hot pink puffy parka. Putting it on and zipping it up, I felt my spirits lift in spite of my crummy cold.

Pink, pink, how I love it so . Here are some other Hot Pink Moments:

  • * A few years ago, my dear friend Isabelle sent a gift tucked into a hot pink gift bag adorned with a furry hot pink handle. I kept the bag around for months just so I could look at it.
  • * For three years, I dressed as a Disco Fairy for Halloween. Ensemble included hot pink chiffon dress from early 1970s, complete with fake jewel-encrusted collar and sheer cape-like attachment.

* A bunch of years ago, I bought a hot pink stuffed animal monkey and named it Pink Monkey. The twin boys that I did childcare for loved Pink Monkey so much that I gave it to them. Last week, I was perusing a Brooklyn shop for children and found a smaller version of Pink Monkey. Brought it home where it sits on a shelf next to hippos George and Martha and the rest of the animal gang.

LONG LIVE HOT PINK!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

CELESTIAL PUMPKIN

My friend Meghan suggested that we get together to carve pumpkins. "Great idea," I said. "I haven't done that in years." I went to the corner store, bought two bright orange beauties, and schlepped them home with my laundry. Covered the kitchen table with newspaper, got out an assortment of knives and spoons, and welcomed Meghan as she walked in the door.

The sun shone onto the little square table where we sketched out our design plans. We cut off the tops and scooped out the seed-strewn innards. "Let's toast the seeds," I suggested, and proceeded to separate the seeds from the cold orange goo. Sprinkled the seeds with salt and oil and put them on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees.

As the seeds toasted, we carved our pumpkin faces. Meghan made a cat and I made a moon and a star to represent each eye. I named mine "Celeste" for the celestial theme. We each placed a white votive candle in a condiment dish and then into the bottom of the pumpkin. Magic! Celeste and The Cat glowed from within up as we munched on the salty seeds.

Felt great to do a hands-on project. Invigorating and relaxing at the same time. Must do this again next year!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

ANN MORRIS, AUTHOR OF CHILDREN' S BOOKS

Holy Cow! Ann Morris has written more than 100 picture books for children! I met Ann at a workshop for teachers at the Guggenheim Museum and instantly wanted to get to know her. Ann graciously welcomed a visit from me in her lovely apartment in the upper west side of Manhattan. There, she shared the path that led to her rich and rewarding career as a children’s book author.

Originally a teacher of young children and a teacher of teachers, Ann went on to a 13-year stint at Scholastic as the head of the early childhood department. In that position, she oversaw the production of the magazine Let’s Find Out, various sound filmstrips, and other audio-visual materials. When Ann decided that she wanted to develop her own educational materials, she sold her book ideas quickly. She met Ken Heyman, Margaret Mead’s photographer, and initiated collaboration with him on some of her books. Currently, much of Ann's work is done with Peter Linenthal, whom she calls "a talented artist,photographer, sculptor and creative partner in all ways."

In books such as Bread, Bread, Bread and Shoes, Shoes, Shoes, you can see that Anne is the master of taking a single concept and depicting it, through words and photographs, across a multitude of cultures around the globe. Young people get to see similarities and differences in a visual way. In the back of the concept books, Ann tells where each picture was taken.

The global nature of Ann’s books is fed by her life-long love of travel. Indeed, Ann will testify to the high number of adventures connected to the making of her books. She travels to do research, to interview people. She travels with different photographers.

Currently, Ann volunteers for Learning Leaders in their Authors Read-a-Loud program. She visits various school classrooms to share her books and book-making processes with young people. She also conducts multicultural grandparent/parent/child book-making workshops which tie in with her series What Was It Like, Grandma? This collection includes books that look at the lives of grandmothers of seven different heritages: Latina, Arab, Chinese, African, Native American, British and Jewish.

One thing I admire and respect about Ann is how she keeps her life big and interesting through her genuine love for people and curiosity about the world around her. Her office bulletin board is full of photographs of the people she’s met and kept in touch with; her home is full of keepsakes from her travels. Being in her apartment feels like being in a smaller, more intimate version of a museum.

Ann Morris is a woman with a thousand stories to tell. Fortunately for us, she continues to tell them through her beautiful, well-crafted books.

If you’d like to know more about Ann and her work, you can visit her website at http://www.annmorrisbooks.com/

Monday, October 02, 2006

GEORGE AND MARTHA


What can I say? I love the children’s book characters George and Martha. I remember their picture books from long ago and was thrilled to find the video George and Martha: Best Friends in the Donnell Library. The video, featuring the voices of Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin, animates four stories – The Book, The Acting Class, The Misunderstanding, and The Secret Club.

After viewing Best Friends with Mike, I turned to him and said “George and Martha are a lot like us, aren’t they?” Mike laughed and agreed. We’re best friends who quibble sometimes but mostly enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life together.

Soon after renting the movie, I found stuffed animal versions of George and Martha at The Corner Bookstore and gifted them to Mike on Valentine’s Day. We particularly like the red tulip tucked behind Martha’s left ear and the gold tooth hanging over George’s chin. G and M are easy on the eye. They also serve as convenient scapegoats for unexplainable acts of mischief. When Mike asks questions like “Where’s the rest of my sorbet?” Or “Why are there cookie crumbs all over the futon?” or “Why is my hairdryer broken?” I simply avert eye contact and say “I dunno. Ask George and Martha.”

This morning, I had George, Martha, and a small hand-knit, toothbrush-carrying walrus performing a dance to my version of Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack. “Do you think it’s weird that we’re adults who have stuffed animals around?” Mike asked. “No!” I exclaimed. “Every literary household has stuffed animals. It means we’re reading the good books!” That being settled, George and Martha let out a collective sigh of relief.

PS - The original George and Martha books were written by James Marshall and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The illustration above is from www.hbofamily.com

Saturday, September 30, 2006

HALIMA AND RACHIDA

I met Halima (left) and Rachida (right) in 2005 when I trained them and other parents at Roosevelt Island’s Public School 217 to be volunteers in the school. I remember thinking at the time how they defied every crummy stereotype about Muslim women. They were funny, open, outspoken, and asked good questions. They shared from personal experiences of coming to the US, learning English, and navigating our culture. Through their talk, I learned that Halima and Rachida shared a strong friendship.

When I returned to PS 217 in the spring of 2006 to lead a workshop about parenting adolescents, Halima and Rachida came into the room together to participate. “Do you want any treats before you sit down?” I asked. There were coffee and sweet rolls on a nearby table. “No thanks,” they replied, “we just had breakfast together.” Something about that response caught my attention, maybe the fact that two friends started the day by sharing a meal. You don’t hear a lot of stories about moms, or anyone, doing that. I pried a bit and found out that Halima and Rachida’s breakfast together is a near-daily event. At 8:30 a.m., they drop off their children at school and head to Trellis, the only sit-down restaurant on Roosevelt Island.

The following month, after the school held a Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast, I pulled Halima and Rachida aside and asked if I could interview them for Creative Times. “Sure,” they said. And this is what they shared:

Halima came to the U.S. in 1995 and Rachida came in 2002. They met here at a children’s birthday party. They are both Moroccan, both Muslim, and both speak French, all commonalities which contributed to the original connection they made at the celebration. They also both shared a focus on education when it came to raising their young ones.

At the party, the two women exchanged information and continued to build their friendship in different ways. Before Rachida knew a lot of English, for example, Halima would do some translation for her at doctor appointments.

“What do you like about each other?” I asked them.

Halima’s reply: “Rachida is funny, sensitive, and she is a good mom.”
Rachida’s reply: “Halima is open-minded, sincere, and confident in the information she shares about parenting.”

Halima and Rachida’s families get together sometimes, but it is their morning breakfasts that are the bedrock of their friendship. “The breakfasts last hours sometimes,” they share, “and the time goes by quickly.”

PS – Halima is now the PTA President at PS 217. Rachida is teaching French at the United Nations International School.

Friday, September 29, 2006

WEED YOUR OFFICE

When I was a full-time professional organizer, I saw a lot of folks whose file cabinets were stuffed with papers that they never looked at or used. Meanwhile, the papers that came in everyday - bills, school stuff, medical stuff, stuff related to work, passionate pursuits, and daily life – piled up on desks, beds, window sills and bookshelves. Yikes!

An office is a lot like a garden: You’ve got to weed it to keep it in good shape. Remove whatever is excess, old, no longer relevant, and you’ve got yourself more room – physical and mental – to grow beautiful, new ideas, projects, and relationships.

At least three times a year, I go through all my files. I take out one file at a time, look at the contents, and ask myself if they are truly important to my life right now. If a single paper or an entire file doesn't fit that bill, into recycling it goes.

Sometimes, I create whole new categories of files based on a life change or on a new priority. I have one now called Brooklyn Life. It includes folders called Home Ideas, Park Slope Food Coop, and Goals.

The idea of going through your files may sound like a complete drag. But let me tell you, there are some rewarding and even pleasurable aspects to it. For me, it’s like taking an inventory of my life, past and present. I get to take a walk down memory lane and then figure out which of these memories are worth preserving. Sometimes I come across papers that remind me of something I want to write about, some idea I want to pursue. Or I realize that whatever that paper represents is no longer important to me in my life right now.

When I’m done with the whole process (which, by the way, is easier if broken up into one- or two-hour chunks of time over the course of a weekend), my file system is easier to use. It’s more reflective of how my life actually is. I have the immense satisfaction of recycling one or two large bags of paper. My office has a whole new, shiny, light look and feel.

If you have an office inside or outside the home, enter it with the discerning eye of a gardener. Pluck out what hinders growth, make room for the new.

Friday, September 22, 2006

CECILIA ANDRE, LOCAL HERO

I met Cecilia Andre through a women's organization called The Crystal Quilt. She came to my apartment on the night that I led an evening of goal-setting for a group of Crystal Quilt women, and afterward sent me a thank you note featuring animal stickers surrounded by her own sketches. I was intrigued.

Later, Cecilia showed up when I trained a group of parents at her daughter's school to be Learning Leaders - that is, to provide one-on-one assistance to public school students who needed extra help with math, reading, and writing. Cecilia agreed to be the Lead Volunteer of Learning Leaders at the school, and proceeded to help lead one of the most dynamic and well-organized group of parent and community volunteers that the school has ever seen. Going above and beyond her weekly duties as a tutor, Cecilia organized other volunteers and school staff to turn a dumpy, depressing teacher lounge into a chic, comfortable hang-out spot via donations of paint, furniture, window treatments and her very own artwork.

Which brings me to Cecilia, the artist. Cecilia has been making art since she was a young person growing up in Brazil. Currently, she has her own studio in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. There, she paints, hosts small studio classes and throws parties. She shows her work in locations around the city and is excited about the upcoming Painting is a Dinosaur. The show will run from Oct.4 to Oct.29 at Gallery Onetwentyeight. Go to 128 Rivington Street between Essex and Norfolk. Take the F Train to Delancey and you'll be on the corner of Essex, just one block away from the gallery. Hours: Wed. - Sat. 1:00 - 7:00; Sunday 1:00 - 5:00. Cecilia will be there each Sunday.

Here's what I love about Cecilia:

She so warmly invites people of all walks of life into her own life and into her family's life. As a result, Cecilia's life is rich with a diverse array of friends and her children get to grow up in an extended network of people who care about them.

As an artist, mom, and a leader, Cecilia powerfully models for her daughters and for other females that there are no limits for women. She prioritizes the well-being of her family without losing sight of her many additional interests and talents. Case in point: she has kept her identity and work as an artist front and center.

Cecilia is as busy as anyone else I know, yet leaves room in her life and her family's life for spontaneity and unstructured time. There is a sense of generosity there and a sense of playfulness in how she views and lives in time.

Thanks, Cecilia, for modeling what it means to live life fully and passionately!

To contact Cecilia about her artwork or studio classes, email: arteny@msn.com or phone: (917) 892-6705

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

GRATITUDE JOURNAL

I'd read and heard about keeping a gratitude journal and wrote it off as being corny. The thing is, I have a little habit of focusing on "problems" rather than giving my attention to what's going well in life. So I finally started to keep a gratitude journal, first in an actual paper journal and then in a computer file. At the end of each day, I list ten simple things that I feel grateful for. It's a great way to end the day and gets my attention on what's going well.

Here's one of my lists:

Finding greeting card with Quentin Blake illustration
(see above image)
Finding Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write for $2.oo
Nice chat with middle school principal
Hugging Carol, the security guard at PS 6
Rearranging the office
Buying palm tree/hula girl earrings for my friend's birthday
Wearing new terrycloth flip-flops
Spotting two red dachsunds the size of baby seals
Listening to Missy Elliott while working out
Watching Project Runway with my sweetie
Getting advice from fellow co-op shopper about best cheese to buy for pizza
Making pizza at home

Thursday, September 07, 2006

LE PETIT CAFE = HEAVEN ON EARTH


If I could spend the night anywhere besides my apartment, it would be in the garden seating area of Le Petit Cafe. Just push a couple of tables aside, pop up an Aerobed, and I would be in Heaven. You might be, too. Co-owners Jose Segundo (left) and Tommy Perez (right) have created one of the most magical environments in Brooklyn. Prior to opening Le Petit in 1999, Tommy had spent a good deal of time at Connecticut Muffins. He noticed how much he enjoyed being outside with his neighbors and decided to create a place of his own where local residents could hang out together. A few years after opening his restaurant, Tommy brought Jose on board and eventually made him Co-Owner. You can tell by the good vibe in Le P. that these guys work well as a team.

Le Petit boasts these features: skylight; soothing sounds of two waterfalls; pleasant wait staff; stone floor; and two tree-shaped tree sculptures made of sheet metal, one which pours water the other which holds votive candles. Everywhere you look, there is something pleasing to the eye - a color, a texture, a small sculpture or plant. Still, it never feels overdone.

Whenever I need time away from the hustle and cement of the city, I head off to Le Petit. An hour of reading, writing, eating, and soaking in the beauty fills me with the quiet inspiration I need.

Le Petit is located at 502 Court Street between Luquer and Nelson. You can get there by taking the F or G train to Carroll Street. Their website is http://www.lepetitcafe.us/

Friday, August 18, 2006

MY PEANUTS BIRTHDAY BOOK

Stop feeling bad about missing peoples' birthdays and instead take charge with a birthday book, also known as a perpetual calendar. That's what I did in 1997 when I bought the fabulous Good Grief! Some Dates Are Hard to Remember Special Occasion Datebook. The illustrations are based on the PEANUTS comic strip by Charles M. Schulz.The book is spiral-bound and divided by tabs into the 12 months of the year. Each day of the year has half a dozen lines for you to record anniversaries, birthdays, and other occasions which celebrate the lives of the people you love and care about. A few days before the start of each month, I review whose birthday or anniversary is coming up. I pull together greeting cards and get to work. It's easier to just send them out in a batch.

I dedicate the single drawer of my desk to my birthday book, stamps, return address labels, stickers, and stationery. So sending notes to people on any occasion is fun and easy. It's so satisfying to hand a stack of crisp white envelopes to the mail carrier.

Most book stores and stationery stores carry perpetual calendars. Another good source is calendars.com.

Go to it! Go get a birthday book!

Monday, August 14, 2006

GIRLS ROCK THE HOUSE

Jack Black rocked hard in School of Rock, but the girls in his movie only got to be backup singers. Not the girls from last Saturday night. Front and center at a school theater, they occupied big space with big voices, big gestures and big lovin' energy from their fans in the audience. They were the girls of Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls and they took no prisoners.

In the course of a single week, 200 campers formed 19 bands with names like Barbie's Rejects, Chicks with Sticks, Ripchord, and The Corrupted Frenchfries. They learned how to play musical instruments, write songs, work a soundboard and a turntable, direct music videos and learn about salsa, hip-hop, blues, reggae, jazz, and punk rock.

The camp, which originated out in Oregon, is named after Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, a blues and rock performer/songwriter who was one of the first women to play the music that came to be known as "rock n' roll." "Big Mama" would definitely be proud of these girls.

Here are the lyrics to my favorite song of the evening:

Explosion 99
by The Corrupted French Fries

We'll dominate the world
We're a bunch of rocking girls
Get out of our way
'Cause we're here to stay
Yeah! We'll dominate the world!

Boom! Boom!
Crash! Crash!

Bow down to us
And go without a fuss
We will take control
And mastermind patrol
We're takin' over the world
And ya betta not hurl
Yeah! We'll dominate the world

Boom! Boom!
Crash! Crash!

We just want to create
A place that we could dominate
Dominate! Dominate!

We rock really hard
And we are so in charge
We'll take over the universe
Universe! Universe!

For betta or for worse
Yeah! We'll dominate the world

Boom! Boom!
Crash! Crash!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I WON! I WON!

When the postman handed me certified mail from the New York Public Library, the first thing I thought was "Holy Schneikies! Do I owe that much in overdue fines?" After signing for it, I tore open the envelope and read a letter informing me that I had won a prize in the 2006 Dream Raffle. Accompanying the letter was a gift certificate for Cascina Ristorante, a restaurant in New York's Theatre District. Well, Glory Be!

When I entered the Dream Raffle earlier this year, I cut out pictures of the two prizes I most wanted to win - the Caribbean Odyssey and a trip to the New Age Health Spa - and put those pics in my Dream Binder. I didn't win those prizes, but I'm still grateful to the NYPL for giving me this chance to take my man out for what I'm sure will be a delightful supper.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO MY DAD

In honor of my Dad, Len Traubman, on his birthday, I am documenting some of my best memories of him from the first ten years of my life, plus some interesting facts about him.

I Remember When My Dad.......

* Let me and my brother, when we were about 5 and 3, sing "bathroom language" words while he played on the guitar. I don't think I had ever laughed that hard. (And may I say what a smart parenting strategy that was?!)

* Hung out with me at a San Francisco public school playground to help me learn how to ride a two-wheeler bike.

* Took me, as a surprise, to get my ears pierced on my 7th birthday.

* Squeezed one eye shut, puffed out his cheeks, and talked like a pirate, sending my brother and me into rolling fits of laughter.

* Drove our whole family waaaaaaay out into the boondocks to visit the "redhead babies" of one of his patients. The "redhead babies" turned out to be a whole batch of redhead baby dachsunds and we got to pick one out to take home with us. We named her Suena, which means dream or vision in Spanish.

* Left $20 by bed so I would wake up and find it the morning of my 5th grade graduation trip to Six Flags Marine World.

* Showed me how to pass a baton and timed my laps to help me prepare for a elementary school track meet.

* Took me to see Yul Brynner in the live theater production of The King and I.

* Took me, starting from age 2, to Tadich Grill, the oldest restaurant in San Francisco.

* Took me to the deli of a large downtown grocery store to pick out a whole cow brain to study and bring to my 5th grade oral presentation about the brain.

* Taught me and my brother how to make fried matzoh.

Some Interesting Facts About My Dad

* He knows how to make beautiful jewelry out of different metals.

* From his many years as a children's dentist, he has an enormous collection of fun ties which feature bright colors and characters.

* He once dressed as Waldo (as in Where's Waldo?) for his office's Halloween party, and designed his own costume.

* A pro at geneology, my dad wrote a book about his side of the family. He also knows a ton about my mom's side of the family, and stood up at his mother-in-law's funeral service to share interesting stories about her family's history.

* He assembled a ham radio when he was around the age of 10 and can still do a rapid verbal fireout of the morse code (which cracks up his 8-year-old grandson).

* He likes melted chocolate chip sandwiches.

* He can play Grandma's Feather Bed, Froggy Went A-Courtin', and many other country and folk songs, on the guitar.

Thanks, Dad, for modeling kindness, curiosity, vision, patience, humor, and appreciation of the arts.

Love,
Eleanor

Sunday, July 30, 2006

ROOMSERVICE

When it's super hot and humid like it was yesterday, I usually want to sit in an air-conditioned bookstore or lie in an X-shape on my futon. Yesterday, however, I was suprisingly up for a New York adventure.

I started off in The East Village, for an early lunch at ROOMSERVICE. I had walked by this place a bunch of times before, somewhat intimidated by the all-white interior. Guess what? It turned out to be friendly, fun, healthy, and a bargain. For a mere $7, I chowed down on all this stuff: thai iced tea, an appetizer of spring rolls, and a main course of chicken and veggies sauteed with fresh ginger. The main dish comes with organic brown rice, something you often have to pay extra for at other restaurants.

While eating, I had a chance to chat with Jakkrit, who, with his sister Chanissara, helps his aunt run the place. Jack found the space for his aunt while she was looking for a site to open a restaurant. Under prior management, it was called United Noodle. I complimented Jack on the menu design, and he took credit for it. The food choices are listed on a series of brightly-colored laminated pieces of paper the size of a hotel's "Do Not Disturb" sign. The papers are held together by a metal O-ring, and from each O-ring hangs a real key. Everything ties back to the room service concept, including the fact that they make free deliveries.

By the way, the hip and relaxing music in the background was so great, I wanted it in CD form. Jack said that both he and a DJ friend put together the playlists.

NEXT, I wandered into a store called HIMALAYAN VISION on 127 Second Avenue and bought a sheer aquamarine blue piece of fabric embellished with gold bead designs to hang on the wall. Later, at home when I took the fabric out of the bag, I noticed that it smelled of incense.

I stopped in a few more places and then I was thirsty again. I found a cafe I loved right away called 17 BLEECKER (formerly The Coffee Chamber), located between Bowery and Lafayette. The decor is spare but welcoming and there's a feeling of happy calm. There are sunflowers in the window and a small collection of funny figurines on the countertop, including a Buddha perched on a tiny pillow. In the back, there's some shelves of books. The policy is that if you bring a book you're done with, you can exchange it for one on the shelf.

At 17 BLEECKER, I sipped the best iced orange ginger mint iced tea of my life and browsed through the premier issue of a culture magazine called Helio.

I like this part of the menu: Square Things $3 - Round Things $4

After leaving the cafe, I wove through streets in SoHo to get to The Apple Store. I retrieved my repaired ipod and took the opportunity to blast Outkast and Barry White at one of the demo tables. How fun would it to be a DJ, turning up music as loud as you want and watching all the peoples dance in their glittery outfits?

I hopped on the subway to head back home, where I promptly turned on the air conditioning and made a X-shape on the futon.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

SOUL SAUCE: FUNKIER AND GREASIER

The day before the heatwave started, I told Mike about a memory I had of a blind Osmond brother who used to play the vibraphone on the Donny and Marie show, or at least on their holiday specials. Does anyone else remember this guy or am I imagining that he existed?

The next day, when the heat wave first started, I passed by a small porch sale in Park Slope. Something brightly-colored caught my eye. I stopped to take a look; it was a child-size, 8-note rainbow xylophone. Better than a xylophone, really, because it was metal instead of wood. So the sound was richer, more like that of a vibraphone. The Park Slope mom offered it to me for a mere dollar. I snatched it up in a hearbeat.

This is a small instrument that brings a big joy to our small apartment. I play it when I get up in the morning and at night before I go to bed. There's something about the light-heartedness of the sound that brings my attention right to the present. I always tell Mike that I have to come home for xylophone practice.

After we'd had the xylophone for about a week, Mike handed it to me to play while he put on a CD called Soul Sauce (say it five times, fast). He ordered me to play the rainbow xylophone to accompany the late great Cal Tjader on the vibraphone. The best number is the rough mix of Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro!), the song.

The text on the back of the CD reads: [...] as the years wore on and band personnel came and went, [the song Guachi Guaro!] got funkier and greasier - so that by the time it was recorded for Verve in 1964, producer Creed Taylor dubbed it Soul Sauce. The single was a bigger hit than it had ever been and the LP became an instant classic.

So I played along with Cal and danced around the livingroom. You can't help but grin when you're playing a rainbow xylophone.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

BE A LOVER OF STAMPS

'Til lately, I never quite realized that I've loved stamps for my whole life. When I was little, I took used stamps off of family mail and put them in my scrapbook. Now, I get a big kick out of going to the post office and choosing stamps -- rainbow-candled menorahs, children's book characters, Jim Henson and the Muppets, whatever suits my fancy or the occasion at hand. Check out all the great stamps the US Postal Service has to offer online.

What is so great about stamps? They are small but mighty, with the power to carry an important message anywhere in the world for mere cents. Stamps are tiny pieces of art. Like children's picture books, they must capture the essence of a story or an idea in a small amount of space.

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
If you say "stamp collector," this is what I picture: a man in a rust-colored jumpsuit sitting in a dark room. He is hunched over a rickety card table under the light of a brown, scratched goose-neck lamp. With magnifying glass in hand, he peers peevishly down at stamps in a dusty, 20-pound album that he's had for 20 years. He's surrounded by lots of cats and house spiders and he never shares anything with anyone.

Halt. Wait a sec. Something is askew in the land of stamp appreciation. I love stamps and this description does not fit me! What's up with that? Could I be the only one with an outdated image of stamp-collectors and collecting? According the United Nations, the average age of stamp collectors is increasing. So my guess is, whole generations of folks aren't being exposed enough to the joys of stamps.


UNITED NATIONS = STAMP MECCA
I guess there is no quick fix for the lackofstampappreciation epidemic. Wait, yes there is. If you want to get pumped up about stamps, get thee to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. I went there during my folks' recent visit from California. I know you're supposed to be contemplating world peace when you land at the UN, but all I could think about is how badly I wanted to visit their post office.

Before I could reach the UN post office, I saw something interesting out of the corner of my eye. Upon closer inspection, I discovered the UN's version of a photo booth. Let them take a picture of you or you with your friend and they will incorporate the photo into a sheet of stamps featuring different images of the United Nations. If you use these stamps, you must send the mail right there from the UN Headquarters. The best thing to do is to keep the sheet as a souvenir. I may make a postcard out of my sheet.

Once I got my personalized stamp sheet, I proceeded onto the UN post office. Holy smokes, talk about a collection of stamps to choose from! They've been producing their own stamps since 1951, so you can imagine the selection. There’s more than 1,000. I decided to get the Vienna Souvenir Collection because it included a stamp by Peter Max. I also got a set of 12 with a flying postman whose red mail satchel is overflowing with hearts as he holds an olive branch in one hand.

Here are a few fun facts about the UN Postal Administration taken from their website:

* The idea of the UN issuing its own stamps was first proposed in Argentina in 1947.
* An agreement with the US postal authorities was reached in 1951 and stipulated that the stamps be used only at UN Headquarters.
* The first UN stamps issued in US dollar denominations on UN Day - October 24 - in 1951. The stamps, an immediate success, were sold out within days.
* Other artists whose work is featured on the UN stamps include.....

Marc Chagall, France
Vincent Van Gogh, Netherlands
Paul Klee, Germany
Peter Max, North America

IN CONCLUSION
Email is great; snail mail is better, especially personal letters. What makes the intimate exchange of lofty thoughts and tender sentiments possible? Stamps do! Let's face it: stamps go around the world AND they make the world go 'round! So appreciate and enjoy the magic of stamps.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

USING YOUR HANDS

Just before Valentine’s Day, my mom would cover the kitchen table with a bunch of supplies – sequins, beads, glitter, glue, doilies, markers, crayons, and colored construction paper. She never gave instructions; instead, she’d let me and my brother dive into the pile of goods. To this day, I remember the pleasure of the process, the satisfaction of handling all the different textures. I even remember the great feeling of putting little patches of Elmer’s glue on my hands so that I could peel it off after it had dried.

Looking back at my days as a young person, I realize that the most meaningful and gratifying experiences were those of the “hands-on” sort, the ones where I got to be physically connected to a task. Now, as an adult who lives in an age where speed, efficiency, and convenience rule, I find it challenging but important to stay involved in the world through activities that require use of my physical self, namely the use of my hands.

When I use my hands in a project, I slow down. I connect in a deeper way to the experience, to my other senses, and, if I am working collaboratively, to the people or person I am with. When I prepare a meal with my boyfriend, Mike, I often feel the same way I did when I was making Valentine cards at my childhood kitchen table – totally immersed in the project, relishing the experience of using my hands to implement choices, taking pride in the results of those choices.

STUFF YOU CAN DO WITH YOUR HANDS

Give a massage
Knit a scarf
Bake bread
Chop vegetables
String beads
Sew a costume
Make a pot
Finger-paint
Plant seeds
Weed a garden
Play the tambourine
Cut paper dolls
Hand-write a thank you note
Illustrate a card
Crochet a baby blanket
Fish
Paint someone’s face
Plaster a wall
Hammer nails
Saw or whittle wood
Hand-wash clothes
Scrub a floor
Arrange flowers
Place photos in an album
Build a fire
Flip pancakes
Braid someone’s hair
Pet a dog
Sandpaper a rough surface
Fry matzoh
Dye eggs
Build a fort or a sand castle
Knead bread dough

Monday, July 17, 2006

TOP 10 NAUGHTY THINGS TO DO IF YOU ARE A CENTRAL PARK SQUIRREL

1. Lick the ice sculptures at Tavern on the Green.
2. Ride the carousel for free.
3. Throw acorns into expensive handbags.
4. Take the Zambone for a spin on Wollman Ice Rink
when no one is looking.
5. Waterski in the Bethesda Fountain.
6. Sip leftover soda at the Loeb Boathouse.
7. Ride on the back of a turtle by Belvedere Castle.
8. Heckle the actors in Shakespeare in the Park.
9. Jump into a miniature model boat at Conservatory Lake.
10. Scuba dive in the Harlem Meer and take fish off of people's hooks.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A GEM OF A BOOK

The other day, I wanted portable, light-weight reading material for my subway commute. I tossed The Writer's Life: Insights from The Right to Write into my bag. The book is yellow, postcard-sized, and chock-full of pearly wisdom from Julia Cameron. You may know her from her time-honored classic, The Artist's Way.

Each page features a thought about writing, and as I read each thought, I think "Whoa, that's deep!" I am pulled to earmark almost every page. Here's what Julia sez on p.3:

Most of us try to write too carefully. We try to do it "right." We try to sound smart. We try, period. Writing goes much better when we don't work at it so much. When we give ourselves permission to just hang out on the page. For me, writing is like a good pair of pajamas - comfortable. In our culture, writing is more often costumed up in a military outfit. We want our sentences to march in neat little rows, like well-behaved boarding school children. Burn down the school. Save the books, perhaps, but get the teacher to tell you the real secrets: What does she write and read as a guilty pleasure? Guilty pleasure is what writing is all about. It is about attractions, words you can't resist using to describe things too interesting to pass up.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

DUDE, WHERE'S YOUR CARD?

One thing I love about my life is all the interesting, smart, fun, creative people I meet on a daily basis. One thing that surprises me in these encounters is the number of folks who walk without business cards.Yes, we live in sophisticated times: we can get almost anyone's contact information from the internet. Still, there is something worthwhile in the old-fashioned exchange of cards. It's like giving someone an official reminder of the connection you've made, a little piece of you that they can take back to home or office. It's satisfying to empty out my wallet, find so-and-so's card, and think "Gee, what good fortune that our paths crossed." I then find a home for them in my Rolodex and can easily contact them down the road. So much better than copying information from a crumpled piece of paper which has floated down to the bottom of my bag.

And here's a little bit you may not know about Rolodexes: you can buy the slotted index cards with plastic covers. So all you have to do is slide the biz card right inside.

Now, about getting the cards themselves: expense is no longer a barrier. You can go to websites like Vistaprints and get a batch for free. If you need to make a stronger, more professional image, you may wish to hire a graphic designer.

A business card can be a ticket to a fabulous work-related connection, whether your work is finding romance, making friends with other parents, running a corporation or building a home-based business.

Business cards: don't leave home without them.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

CANDY GRAM

Here's three facts about my late Grandma, Matilda Jane Daugherty Linn (1904-1999):

1. She was a flapper in the 1920s, which meant that she wore her hair bobbed, frequented speakeasies, and smoked cigarettes. I still have the beaded tassels which hung from the bottom of her dress.

2. David Letterman bagged her groceries when he was a teenager.

3. She adored See's Candy. At holiday time, she ordered so many boxes as gifts that See's delivered it all for free.

Here's a great story about my gram and See's Candy: For a number of years, my gramma had a tough combo of being mentally sharp but dealing with a number of physical ailments. During that stretch of time, my mom flew out to Indiana to visit Matilda. She found that my gramma was depressed and feeling that life wasn't worth living. She told my mom that she would stop eating and drinking. "Well," said my mom, "that's going to put a damper on our visit."

That night, as my mom and gramma were chatting, my mom brought out a box of See's Candy. My gramma saw it and decided to break her "no eating, no drinking" rule. She started to eat pieces of candy and then moved on to regular food. She decided that life was worth living after all.

After that visit, my mom wrote to See's Candy and thanked them for saving Matilda. See's wrote the story up in their corporate newsletter and gifted my gramma a box of treats for every month that she lived. Matilda passed away a few years later.

Between you and me, I think it was my mom's company that perked my gramma up. Still, God Bless her, I hope my gramma is up in Heaven right now, doing the Charleston and enjoying a big box of See's.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

THE JOY OF GRACIAS

Gracias: Part One

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
- William A. Ward

For a lot of months now, I've been wanting to let Ethel know how special she is. Ethel works at my office. She is in her 80s and runs a program where she gets volunteers to lead book discussion groups with students in New York's public elementary schools. Ethel is sharp: she's up on art and culture, dresses to the nines, and knows children's literature like nobody's business. Simply put, Ethal is Da Bomb when it comes to living life to the fullest.

The thing is, like most folks, Ethel does not know what a prize she is. I needed to let her know.So today, I brought a dozen hot pink roses into the office and left them in a vase on her desk, along with a thank-you note. Needless to say, Ethel loved the flowers and the hand-written message.

Gracias: Part Two

I have a fantasy and it goes like this: In my home, there is a room just for writing cards and wrapping presents. Since our home office is multi-purpose, I figured I could take a step in the direction of my dream. On lunch break last Friday, I went to American Greetings. I got a great box of rainbow thank-you notes (see pic above) and a book called Thank-U-Grams: thank you postcards for all ages and all occasions. Marianne Richmond, the artist of the impossibly cheerful cards, has a way of inspiring me to want to send as many thank-yous as possible.

The way I figure, the more thank-you cards I have around the office, the more I will recognize all the reasons I have to show my gratitude. And, as Tom Peters advises, "Celebrate what you want to see more of."

PS................I like Mike Robbins' Appreciation in Action. In this monthly e-zine, Mike offers "new perspectives on how to experience greater appreciation." Sez Mike: "Each issue offers insightful tips for acknowledging yourself and others effectively, and for creating positive environments of appreciation around you."

Who would you like to appreciate this week?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

LETTER TO MY HAIR

Dear Hair,

I bet you can't believe the number of different cutters you've had over the years, including Yours Truly. Remember all those times the stylist would ask me with an arched, quizical eyebrow "Who cut your hair last?" and I had to sheepishly admit to the deed? Don't be mad, Hair. I used those tiny pelican-shaped sewing scissors to keep your unruly strands in place. I can't run to the salon every time a new layer shows up that throws off the whole schema. Sometimes I have to take matters into my own hands. Just think of me as a Vigilante Stylist.

Wasn't it weird when you went from straight to wavy when I was in college? Wasn't it tortuous when I slept in pink foam 'n' plastic rollers at night to create smooth curls for school or a party? I can't imagine folding myself around foam and plastic for eight hours straight. Ouch!

I'm sorry, Hair. I do owe you an apology for that one.

The worst now will be getting highlights once a year, an occasional 30-second blow-dry, maybe a few styling products on humid days like this one. Thanks for being there for me over the years, Hair. I appreciate how steadfast you've been.

Love,
Your Owner

Saturday, June 17, 2006

ANDREA'S SHOES

When I was five and six, I used to go next door to Andrea's house. She was a rebellious teenager in the early 70s. She had her own huge bedroom and the central thing I remember was a wood vanity table with a mirror. When Andrea opened up the vanity drawer, I would look in and see Heaven - tube after tube of lipstick, little plastic cases of eyeshadow, mascara, blush, bottles of perfume. As someone who played beauty parlor 24/7 in my own home, this was Nirvana, and a big step up because it was the real deal: Andrea got to wear this stuff outside the house.

Andrea would spend time putting makeup and perfume on me. All the while, we'd be listening to a Rod Stewart album. The music sounded dangerous: that raspy voice, that hard driving beat.

Then she'd slide open the door to her closet. It was stuffed with clothes and the whole bottom of it was lined with shoes. Shoes. Surveying the selection, I picked a pair to try on. They were Candie's. You may not know this, but Candie's did not originate with Jenny McCarthy's trashy ads. They came from the 70s. Andrea had a pair made of light, laminated, fake wood. They had a clear plastic strap that went across the toes. The piece de resistance was the bunch of brightly-colored plastic fruit that perched atop the clear toe strap. It was 3-D fruit, the kind a dog might mistake for the real thing.

When I tried on Fruity Candie's - again, Heaven. I felt big, glamorous, showy, and a bit shy. I walked around the room, listening to Rod Stewart. I was hot stuff; my beauty parlor pals would be jealous.

I remember feeling sad and empty when it was time to leave Andrea's room. When I put the shoes back in the closet and she slid the door shut, I felt sadder still. I could have looked at those shoes forever.

When I got home, my mom complained about the stench of the perfume I was wearing. The magic of Andrea's was wearing off. Still, the spirit of the Fruity Candie's shoes stayed in my heart.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I LOVE LISTS

I love making lists and I'll tell you who's Queen of them: Barbara Ann Kipfer. This amazing woman has advanced degrees in linguistics, archaeology, Buddhist studies, and physical education. For more than 30 years, she's been writing and editing dictionaries, thesauri and other word books. Here are some of her gems:

  • 14,000 Things to be Happy About
  • 5,001 Things for Kids to Do
  • The Wish List
  • 8,789 Words of Wisdom
  • 4,000 Questions to Ask Anyone and Everyone
  • 201 Little Buddhist Reminders: Gathas for Your Daily Life
  • Instant Karma: 8,879 ways to give yourself and others good fortune right now

I'm also a big fan of Jeffrey Yamaguchi's 52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity.

Project #3: "Get your camera. Get on the train. Take the train to the end of the line. Take photos."

To view more projects and submit your own, go to What's Your Project?

Here's Project #100, submitted by Jeffrey himself:

"Make a list of 100 things. It can be a list about anything, but it should be personal. 100 books you'd like to read. 100 things you'd like to do before you are 40. 100 things that define who you are as a person. 100 people in your life. 100 things to do before the summer ends. 100 places you'd like to visit. 100 loose ends you'd like to wrap up. 100 questions about your family history you'd like to find the answers for. 100 ways to make your life better. When you first start out making your list, it will seem like it's going to be very easy to get to 100. About halfway through, though, you'll wonder if you are actually going to make it. As you get closer to 100, you will start to get very selective and contemplative with your choices, realizing you only have so many more spaces to fill on your list. Reaching 100 is a celebratory milestone, but of course, doing everything on your list is the time to really break out the champagne."

There's also the fun 'n' funky website 43 Things, where you can list your goals, find other folks who share those goals, and publicly chart your progress. Goals include: learn how to drive stick shift, visit China, play the piano, learn the Thriller dance, and sleep under a palm tree.

Finally, there's David Silberkleit's A New Adventure Every Day: 541 simple ways to live with Pizzazz.

Adventure #390: "Randomly give small anonymous gifts to strangers, simply to loosen up the hold that money has on youf life. Pay the highway toll of the car behind you. Leave one dollar inside a returned library book. [...] You mights even find that more money comes back to you than what you gave away."

Friday, June 02, 2006

RIZE UP TO MEET TOMMY THE CLOWN

Tommy the Clown is the Father of Krumping and Clowning and the subject of the 2005 docunentary, Rize. Krumping, which Tommy describes as "the raw, natural and expressive freedom of the body," is fast becoming an international movement with Tommy at its helm.

ET: What are three great things about being Tommy the Clown right now?

TTC: (1) Being able to make a difference in the lives of young people, especially those at risk. (2) Travelling throughout the world, spreading the freestyle dance movement and encouraging people to dance. (3) Connecting to my fans through my website Tommytheclown.com and my MYSPACE page. I enjoy speaking to the young people!

ET: What's challenging about being Tommy the Clown?

TTC: Getting corporate sponsors to understand the movement.

ET: What are a few projects and goals you are working on right now?

TTC: Tommy the Clown and the Hip Hop Clowns live stage shows is my immediate project. I am working on taking it nationally and abroad. Also, we are in the process of hosting The Battle Zone in Japan this summer.

ET: Who are three people who have inspired and supported you along the way and can you say a bit about each of these folks?

TTC: (1) THE KIDS. I wouldn't be Tommy the Clown if it wasn't for them. They inspire me to keep the movement going. They were the reason I started clowning. (2) Snoop Dogg has been an inspiration and he encourages everything that I do. He has come out to The Battle Zone to perform, not as a paid artist but as a supporter of what I am doing. He understands Tommy the Clown. (3) Anie Dizon, my manager, has been a constant support and believes in my vision of impacting the lives of young people throughout the world. She has been relentless in the pursuit to make it happen!

ET: What would you like your own life to look like 5 years from now?

TTC: I would like to move into film/television, not to focus on my own life but on the lives of others.

ET: Where do you think the Krumping Movement will be 5 years from now? What would you like it to look like in terms of scope and content?

TTC: Though I have been dubbed the Father of Krumping, I really encourage freestyle dancing. My vision is that young people will be empowered and will have discovered a new way to channel that energy, rage, or passion onto the dance floor.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

JUNE BIRTHDAYS

  1. Marilyn Monroe, actress
  2. Dana Carvey, actor and comedian
  3. Josephine Baker, dancer and actress
  4. Bruce Dern, actor
  5. Bill Moyers, TV journalist
  6. Diego Velazquez, artist
  7. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, singer and songwriter
  8. Frank Lloyd Wright, architect
  9. Johnny Depp, actor
  10. Judy Garland, actress and singer
  11. Jacques Yves Cousteau, oceanographer
  12. Anne Frank, diarist
  13. William Butler Yeats, poet
  14. Margaret Bourke-White, photographer
  15. Helen Hunt, actress
  16. Tupak Shakur, rapper
  17. Venus Williams, tennis champ
  18. Isabella Rossellini, actress
  19. Paula Abdul, singer and dancer
  20. Lionel Richie, singer, songwriter, musician
  21. Juliette Lewis, actress
  22. Cyndi Lauper, songwriter, singer, actress
  23. Wilma Rudolph, Olympic runner
  24. Fred Hoyle, astrophysic and astronomer
  25. Carly Simon, singer and songwriter
  26. Pearl S. Buck, writer
  27. Hellen Keller, radical educator and writer
  28. John Cusack, actor
  29. Claude Montana, fashion designer
  30. Lena Horne, actress and singer

Sunday, May 28, 2006

HOW I MET SARK

Fourteen summers ago, I was browsing in the art section of a bookstore. A book fell off the shelf, begging me to read it. It was called A Creative Companion: How to Free Your Creative Spirit, written by a woman named SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy). I read it that night and promptly wrote a letter to SARK asking if we could meet up in person. I wanted to talk to her about my creative goals and dreams. She called me a few days later and said "I'm driving to Santa Barbara to do a book signing for my second book, Inspiration Sandwich. Want to meet for lunch?"

So I did. Shortly after that, SARK asked me if I would be her assistant at her first-ever workshop, to be held in New York City. Not long after, I assisted her with her second workshop. SARK and I kept in touch and she became a world-famous writer and speaker about the topic of creativity. One cool thing is that she'd often thank me in the back of her books.

SARK likes to say "Make friends with freedom and uncertainty." Glad I did just that.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A SESAME STREET MOMENT


I was waiting for my boyfriend, Mike, outside of the Housing Works Bookstore in SoHo. I saw some guys walk up the street carrying human-size orange letters. They slipped into a warehouse space next door. I got up the nerve to go over and if I could photograph one of them with a letter so that I could put the photo in a book I was was making for my nephew. "It's a book about New York City," I explained, "because my nephew lives out west."

One of the guys said "How about if we pose with all of the letters? We could make them spell out RAT!"

I countered with the idea that they could also spell out ART.

While I was taking the first picture, a taxi driver who was watching from the curb yelled "Hey! There's not enough [skin] color in that picture!" And the other three guys shouted "Okay, then get over here!"

A little later on, Mike and I were walking by an antique store a few blocks from the bookstore and I did a double take. There, in the window, were the same letters, only smaller and yellow, spelling out the word ART. I couldn't believe it! So I went in the shop and asked the owners if they knew anything about the larger orange letters. Turns out they had just sold the orange ones to a guy who wanted them mounted to spell out ART on his livingroom wall.

Monday, May 22, 2006

PINK ICE CREAM TRUCK

How cool is this? Leyla Safai (http://www.heartschallenger.com/) drives a pink truck around Los Angeles, selling ice cream, candy, and toys from all around the world. Very cool, indeed.

I called Leyla after reading about her in Paper Magazine and got the scoop on her life story. Here's what I learned: Leyla was born in LA. As a young person, she thought that ice cream trucks looked like jail cells. Their tiny windows with big metal bars did not cut the mustard. One day, Leyla saw a mint green ice cream truck drive by and thought it was beautiful. Why, she wondered, did she never see that truck again? What happened to the old man who was driving it?

As a teenager, Leyla was at a rave in the desert. Again, she wondered why there couldn't be a beautiful ice cream truck filled with all kinds of treats. Wanting to create something that would give hope to both herself and to other people, Leyla started to more actively entertain the idea that she could make her dream a reality.

As luck would have it, Leyla met Ben, a calm man who loved to make music. He would become her partner in the creation of the pink ice cream truck and the recorded music which would be part of their appearances about town.

Leyla drives her truck on a regular route around the city so people know where and when they can stop by for a treat. She also makes appearances at parties and concerts. Her treats come from countries such as Mexico, Jamaica, Iran, China, and Italy. She even carries a Kosher version of Bazooka Joe.

Some other interesting bits about Leyla: As a teenager, she dropped out of school. It was hard for her to sit still for long periods of time. So she spent her hours in used book stores and thrift stores. "My education came from The Salvation Army," shares Leyla. "I read a lot of books and was always figuring out how different objects from the store were made." She also took the bus to different parts of Los Angeles, making friends of all different nationalities.

When she was in school, Leyla was known as The Candy Lady. Her mom took her to warehouses to buy sweets in bulk. She's take the candy to school and make $40 to $50 a day in quarters from selling the goodies to her friends.

Leyla went on to become an in-house designer at The Standard Hotel. Fortunately for the folks in LA, she left that job to launch her mobile mecca of magic, Heartschallenger. She and Ben are currently working full-time on their music group, Heartsrevolution, which is part of that magic. They spend much of their time in the studio recording a full-lenth album of dance tracks and, in Leyla's own words, "neverending storyish-type songs."

Glad you followed your heart, Leyla!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A LETTER TO NIKO

As a young person, writing and receiving letters via snail mail was how I stayed connected to friends and family who lived far away. When I heard the mailman drop letters into the slot, I'd leap down the basement stairs to see what paper treasures had come my way. I owe special thanks to mentors, grandmas, and favorite camp counselors and bunkmates for keeping in touch.

Since my nephew, Niko (person on the right), and I have always lived far apart, I've written books and letters to stay in touch and to communicate what life is like here in New York. The first book I made for him was called Niko, You Are Loved. In it, I used text and photographs to document the love and delight that friends and family felt when we first got to hold Niko in our arms.

The second book I make for Niko was about life in New York City. First, I asked Niko to send me a list of questions about NYC. Based on those questions, I went around Manhattan taking photographs of everything from fountains to taxicabs. Next, I photocopied and enlarged the pictures, added text, laminated the front and back covers, spiral bound everything, and mailed the final result to him.

Lately, I've focused more on writing letters to my nephew. Here's a recent one:

April 21, 2006

Dear Niko,

I am having breakfast in my favorite café in my neighborhood. They are playing a Jack Johnson CD, which makes me think of you because I remember listening to Jack J. for the first time when I was riding in a car with you in San Diego.

What I like about this café is the homemade cooking, the cozy atmosphere and the friendly waiters. They call their customers things like “Honey” and “Sugar.”

Here is what I see around me:

1. People talking happily while they eat their breakfast together
2. A Heinz Ketchup bottle
3. Four different cakes protected by clear glass cake covers
4. Three chalkboards with the menu written in white, blue, pink, and green chalk
5. Two bumpy glass salt and pepper shakers with metal lids
6. A brown empty chair with a piece of wood chipped off of the leg
7. A skinny fridge filled with soda, water, and a cake
8. Red milk cartons that say “Marcus Half and Half”
(That’s the first time I saw the brand “Marcus”)

What do you see in front of you right now? When you feel like it, jot a few things down or draw what you see and send it back to me in the envelope I sent to you.

You are good.
You are smart.
You are powerful.

I love you!

Aunt Eleanor

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

TITHING: IT'S NOT (EXACTLY) WHAT YOU THINK IT IS

Last summer, I decided to do some exploratory work around money. In short, I always felt like I didn't have enough of it and that I needed to cling dearly to every penny. While it's true that I've never had a big salary, I knew that there was something more to the chronic "glass is half empty" feeling that seemed to pervade many areas of my life.

So I did a couple of things. I took a seminar called The Fiscally Fit Female led by Galia Gichon, founder of Down to Earth Finance (http://www.downtoearthfinance.comng/). With Galia's help, I was able to re-evaluate and modify external habits around money. The best part was walking away with a monthly spending and savings plan.

I knew I also had to go deeper to look at the internal habit of perceiving and thus perpetuating scarcity. I turned to Paula Langguth Ryan's book Giving Thanks: The Art of Tithing (http://theartoftithing.com/). Here's some great stuff I picked up from Paula's book:

1. Tithe means "tenth." The act of tithing a tenth of one's income "at the point or points where one is being inspired [...] predates the Bible by centuries and has been practiced in various forms by all cultures." In fact, tithing stems from Jewish law!

2. Tithing is about giving a percentage of everything that comes your way to the people and places which inspire you. It's not limited to giving to a religious institution. Ideally, it's given out of a sense of thanksgiving, not charity.

3. "Practicing the art of tithing allows you to give up the emotional struggle that surrounds financial issues. Tithing teaches you how to release your attachments to the abundance in your life. When you release your attachment to the prosperity that flows in and out of your life, you allow that abundance to glow more freely."

4. "Stagnation is death. Circulation is life."

This last point really hit home with me: Stagnation is death. Circulation is life. As a professional organizer, I had been teaching people to let go of belongings - papers, books, clothing - to make room for new people, opportunities, sources of joy and pleasure. I never thought about how the same principle could apply to letting go of money.

Excited by the book, I decided to start tithing in the form of flowers. Using a flower delivery service, I sent bouquets of flowers to people who had been inspirational or supportive. Some of these folks included Cheryl Henson, children's book authors Maira Kalman and Faith Ringgold, my great aunt Rene, my friend Cecilia.

Next, I began to support places and organizations which inspired me - the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and The Project for Public Spaces.

Don't get me wrong - I still have my struggles around money, as most folks do. I still worry and pinch and number crunch. Still, it must be said: tithing in the form of both funds and flowers has resulted in a heightened sense of joy, pleasure, abundance, generosity, and appreciation for all the sources of inspiration which surround me. It's a practice I plan to keep in place for life.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I'M BACK: REPORT ON A 7-MONTH SABBATICAL

The other day, I got off the 2/3 train at 96th and Broadway and saw my old doorman, Mike, walking up the street. He said, "Hey, I haven't gotten your newsletter in a long time." (This blog originated as an email newsletter.) I felt kinda sheepish. It's been 7 months since I last wrote for Creative Times. Other folks have commented, too: "I thought maybe I got dropped from your list." Not so.

I've been on a 7-month sabbatical from writing Creative Times. I was climbing Mount Everest and decided to swing off onto a side path that allowed a little more time to explore and smell the flowers. Here's some of the stuff I've done:

1. Read a ton of great books about writing and the creative process. Gems included:

  • What A Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher
  • The Sound of Paper: Starting From Scratch by Julia Cameron
  • Letters to a Young Artist by Anna Deavere Smith
  • Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • This Time I Dance: Trusting the Journey of Creating the Work You Love by Tama J.Kieves
  • Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg
  • Creating a Life Worth Living: A practical course in career design for artists, innovators, and others aspiring to a creative life byCarol Lloyd
  • The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women: a portable mentor by Gail McMeekin
Admittedly, I also bought and read a second hand copy of Florascope: discover your flower sign written by Helen Brown Gentry and photographed by Sally Tagg. Evidently, as a Scorpio, I fall into the category of Cactus Flower. This means that I am "eager to delve into life's hidden corridors." So true!

2. Taught public school parents how to make reading and writing more integral to their families' lives. Thanks, Ralph Fletcher, for the idea of having parents write stories about their first names. Incredibly revealing exercise!

3. Wrote journal entries about my immediate surroundings (e.g. a description of my favorite neighborhood cafe) and mailed them to my eight-year-old nephew, Niko, who lives in Hawaii.

4. Rented, for dirt-cheap, a subsidized loft studio space from arts center Spoke the Hub to listen to music and dance. A highlight was bringing my 11-year-old friend Lizzy into the space to co-choreograph a dance to a Mariah Carey song.

5. Co-choreographed a dance to a 70s song with colleagues at my office and performed it at our holiday party.

5. Started a Dream Binder. It's a place where I stick 3 by 5 cards or pictures which reflect the stuff I want to bring into my life.

6. Found pennies most days on the street or the subway. Taped individual pennies to sheets of paper with a note asking the finder of the paper to make a wish, take a step toward making the wish come true, then email the wish to me. I never heard back from anyone, but still enjoyed planting the notes around my neighborhood.

7. Explored many branches of the New York Public Library and took the office staff to tour Donnell, the best branch of them all, which resides across the street from MOMA.

8. Joined MOMA mostly to have access to their awesome loft-like cafe and visit Picasso's She-Goat in the sculpture garden.

9. Got inspired by the music of British MC (rapper) Lady Sovereign. Check out her website: www.ladysovereign.com/

10. Interviewed a woman who drives a pink ice cream truck in Los Angeles. Stay tuned for a report back from the interview in an upcoming entry.

So, you can see, I haven't been totally idle. But it has been hard to not write. There's a huge backlog of things I want to put to paper.

Here's what brought me back to writing for Creative Times: I found Louise Crawford's blog, Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn -http://onlytheblogknowsbrooklyn.typepad.com/ and through it found out about the upcoming First Annual Brooklyn Blog Festival in June. I emailed Louise and we ended up having a great phone conversation about blogging. In connecting with Louise, I realized that I am not a lone star floating around the atmosphere; I'm part of this great collection of folks who, like me, collect odd bits of information and life experience and string all of it together through words.

I'm excited about attending the Blog Festival and meeting up with kindred spirits.

Funny thing: after chatting with Louise, I opened Carol Lloyd's Creating a Life Worth Living to the chapter called "Building a Bridge You Can Jump On: Support Structures." Carol sez:

Like a bridge that needs to be anchored to the ocean floor and connected by great iron cables to the shore, creative people need multiple support structures so they don't float away to some distant professional reef [...] Your will alone cannot keep you in place. You need support structures to help you.
[...]
Creativity springs from a ferment of connections and ideas. So, in addition to your private vision, your vigorous creative habits, and your practical day job, don't forget that you need fellowship connecting you to the world.

I think this was the missing piece for me, the fellowship piece. I thank Carol and Louise for pointing out that truth, thus helping me return to the drawing board.

It feels good to be back.