Monday, December 31, 2007


Over the holidays, my parents and I sat down for some instense rounds of Scrabble. In the game of Scrabble, if you lay down a word and another player dounts that the word does not exist, they can challenge you. The challenger looks the word in the dictionary to see if it's there. If it is there, the challenger loses his or her next turn.

Influenced by the Italian neighborhood I live in, I laid down the word trattoria. It is, in fact, in the dictionary, where it is described as "a small, inexpensive Italian restaurant." Just for fun, I started browsing the dictionary. I'd find words I didn't know the meaning of and ask my folks to guess what those words meant.

The game ended, and I kept looking through the dictionary, having a ball finding words I wasn't familiar with. "What's 5 times 365?" I asked my dad. "One thousand, eight hundred twenty-five" came the answer. "Well, I want to learn five new words a day in 2008," I declared.

I decided to start my big project even though the New Year has not yet begin. The same night I returned from California, I walked over to the book store to purchase Webster's New World College Dictionary. Today, I found my five new words:

grilse- a young salmon on its first return from sea to fresh water
lobelia - an annual or prennial plants of the bellflower family, having white, red, or blue flowers of very irregular shape
molder -to crumble into dust; waste; decay
numen -an indwelling, guiding force or spirit
pied - covered with patches or spots

I'm excited to be 1,825 words richer by this time next year!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


By the looks of her blog, you’d think that Petra Symister has lived in Bedford Stuyvesant (a Brooklyn neighborhood) for her whole life. The Bed-Stuy Blog is chalk full of goings-on in the worlds of real estate, culture, community events, community organizing, wellness, dining, and entrepreneurism. There’s an ongoing calendar of events so that any Bed-Stuyer has a bevy of activities to choose from. There’s no excuse to be a couch potato with Petra around.

Truth is, Petra moved to Bed-Stuy a mere 2.5 years ago. Originally from North Carolina, Petra came to Long Island in 1993 to earn a PhD in social health/psychology. In 1996, she moved to Chelsea and lived there for nine years. When it came time to buy a place, Petra chose Bedford Stuyvesant. She didn’t know a soul when she moved to Bed-Stuy, but starting her blog changed all that. Through writing her blog, Petra has accomplished something noteworthy: she’s created community and built friendships. Doing footwork for her blog forces Petra to go out and see what’s going on, to be more social, to go up to strangers and ask what they are doing. “I’m far more gregarious than I would be on my own,” shares Petra. Evidently, it’s easier to approach people when she’s on one of her many missions to provide a service to the community by answering their questions about goings-on.

According to Petra, Bed-Stuy Blog was born out of a real need. As someone who got the scoop on events via Time Out New York or online, Petra observed a hole in terms of information available online and just in general about Bed-Stuy activities. “The world is online,” observes Petra, “and if you’re not online, you don’t exist.” Inspired by other neighborhood-based blogs such as Clinton Hill Blog and Brownstoner, she decided to start one for her own place of residence. The outcome has been amazing: for starters, Petra has a huge following of readers. There are even folks who have said that they moved to Bed-Stuy because of what they saw on her blog. In addition, some of New York’s major magazines regularly link to Petra’s blog on the internet.

One of the aspects of Petra’s blog that keeps people coming back for more is the way that she makes it genuinely interactive: she asks probing questions and people state their opinions right underneath her posts. She asked, for example, why Fresh Direct doesn't service the Bed-Stuy population. Lots of readers responded to that piece. More recently, she inquired about the lack of holiday decorations in her neighborhood and plenty of people had plenty to say about that one.

And there’s more: Petra wrote about her neighborhood’s YMCA, featuring photos of people working out there. She posted a piece about an upcoming march against domestic violence. The bottom line is, Petra makes it easy for Bed-Stuyers to be up on current events and to get involved in their community in mind, body, and spirit.

Keep up the good work, Petra!

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Today, my friend Petra and I ventured to SoHo to check out two design stores that had been featured in a New York Times article. (FYI, Petra is the creator of Bed-Stuy Blog and I'll soon be doing a post about her amazing work.) At Muji, I thought I had died and entered a heaven where everything was white, tan, or black. Although I liked the relaxing music, I missed having other colors of the rainbow around. The first few seconds next door at CB2 were filled with a lightening bolt of bright colors and shiny metallics. One item, a silver hollow globe meant for hanging and filling with a tealight, reminded me of the classic 70s decor of the inside of Woodstock's birdhouse. Petra knew exactly what I was talking about. Neither of us could remember, though, which Charlie Brown tv special showed Woodstock's home interior. I guessed that it was from the Easter special.

Anyway, the one thing I really wanted from CB2 I found -- small disco ball ornaments. My plan was to hang them on the Fairy Tree that I created. The tree features branches that I cut from a dead tree laying on the sidewalk. I put the branches in a lead crystal vase and adorned them with origami ornaments, gauzy pastel colored butterflies, and my fairy barbie. Unlike a Christmas tree, there is no need to throw it out when the season is over. I can just change the ornaments depending on the holiday or the season. (I can't wait till Valentines Day!)

Leaving CB2, the cover of the catalogue caught my eye, and no wonder: it was designed by one of my favorite illustrators Maira Kalman.

Next stop: Pearl River Mart. Bright colors, Asian imports, lots of inspiration.

And then: Housing Works Book Cafe. Petra had never been there before, so it was fun introducing her to one of my favorite places in the city. I found a great book called Your Home as Sanctuary filled with tons of photos and good tips.
For me, the point of going shopping isn't always to buy tons of stuff. It's more about having an aesthetically interesting experience where I can gather ideas for creating visual inspiration in all parts of my life.

Friday, December 07, 2007


As the end of the year approaches, I've been putting aside time to re-organize and clean out my home office. For me, it's a way of creating a clean slate before launching 2008. I take an hour or two a day over a couple of weeks to move furniture around, weed through and consolidate stuff, toss stuff, re-domy bulletin board, get rid of obsolete papers from my files, and donate office supplies or books that are gathering moss. What's been fun is coming across mementos, including these items:

* Scrapbooks I started keeping when I was five

* A glitter-embellished program from when I went to Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1975 (see pic above from inside the program)

* A program from the musical Annie, which I first went to see in 1980

* A program from when Richard Burton was in the musical Camelot

* A whole book about Espirit

* Autograph books from summer camp and middle school

* Blessings from my mom, dad, and brother (for about 30 years, each of us would write a note to every other person in the family to share what we appreciated about each other and what we hoped for each other in the coming year)

* A 7th grade essay predicting what I would be doing now (I said that I would be choreographing dances for cruise ship performers, writing a best-selling children's book, and running a boarding school for young people with a focus on performing musicals.)

It feels great to have a freshly-organized space to work, think, and create and, as I move forward to set goals for 2008, I love being able to connect to my past and all the threads that have run through my life. I highly recommend this activity as you step into the new year!

Saturday, November 24, 2007


What Would You Do If You Had No Fear?: Living Your Dreams While Quakin' in Your Boots. This is the full title of a book which I found at the Housing Works Book Cafe in SoHo. The question that the title poses is so powerful, and I found that it's useful to ask it of myself on a daily basis. In her book, Diane Conway crafts bite-sized chapters which feature stories about people who took different kinds of leaps to reach their dreams. The stories come from people whom Diane has met on the street and at her workshops.

I enjoyed the Life Challenges which Diane lists at the end of each chapter. Here are some of them:

Ask yourself, "Am I waiting for someone or something to let me be me?" Think about what you'd do if you weren't waiting.

Identify a dream you can accomplish before your next birthday.

Pay attention to chance meetings and serendipitous happenings.

Call the number that will lead to an adventure

I loved Diane's book so much that I emailed and then called her. When she found out it was my birthday, she sent me an e-card that made me laugh out loud. Go here to see it for yourself.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


With winter coming on, Mike and I were eating more of the "ee"-sound foods, namely meats and sweets. The bellies reflected it. So I said "I know, let's make an exercise chart. That way we'll have a visual reminder of our goals for the next six weeks." (Six weeks down the road is when we'd be flying cross country for the winter holidays.) So I stuck some Snoopy sports figures on top of a piece of paper, divided the paper into the six weeks and divided it in half for me and Mike. The goal: to exercise at least 3 times a week until travel day. Every time you reach the 3-times target in a week, you get to draw a star. Guess what? The chart is working! Working as a motivational tool. Plus I get a nice healthy dose of popular culture from watching the telly whilst doing my thang on the treadmill. Sounds too simple to be true, but I guess the young one in me still loves stickers and stars.

Friday, November 16, 2007


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Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Yay, yippee and yahoo! It's my birthday! Here's how the day has gone so far:

1. My sweetie, Mike, gave me a book I've been longing for: The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman and a beautiful butterfly card. Also, he gifted my fav new movie Ratatouille.
(We laughed our heads off watching some favorite parts in slow-mo.)
2. I went to an exercise class at BAX (Brooklyn Arts Exchange), a place that always inspires me.
3. Walked to Le Petit Cafe and had a big breakfast in a space that looks and feels like a European garden. Read a little bit from the classic Random Acts of Kindness.
4. Traded my winning ($14) Lucky Seven lottery card for 14 more cards and won $2.
5. Came home and set up the futon so I could lounge in the sun and read the stack of literature next to me. It includes the art section of The Sun, Vanity Fair, A Hedonist's Guide to New York, and, of course, The Principles of Uncertainty.
6. Got a phone call from my brother's family in Hawaii. Loved hearing my 2.5-year-old nephew say "Happy Birthday!" He sounds so pleased with himself.
7. Next up..........more lounging, maybe will watch Oprah, then meet my sweetie for dinner and
go to Joe's Pub to hear a panel discussion which features my heroine, Julie Taymor.
I feel grateful to have so many great people and experiences to celebrate!
Card designed by:Laura Merer for Renaissance Greeting Cards, Inc.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


This summer, I strayed from my Brooklyn branch of the YMCA and had a fling with the Chinatown Y. It was the week leading up to Labor Day weekend and it was raging hot outside. The pool at my Y was shut down for its annual cleaning and I was desperately searching for a body of water to which to escape. Then I remembered that some friends of mine had started swimming at the new Chinatown Y. I was up for an adventure, so I took the F train to the 2nd Avenue stop, got out, walked for 30 seconds, and was at the door of the new Y. I wasn’t sure what to expect – my branch was small so I thought this one might be too. I was surprised to find a bustling lobby, a gigantic pool, state-of-the art equipment, family-friendly facilities, and the helpful and knowledgeable staff. Plus it was around the corner from a Whole Foods that had a second-floor hangout perfect for reading, writing, and socializing. Another bonus of the location: I could easily walk to other favorite places like the Housing Works Bookstore and Café Gitane.

After 6 free visits, the love affair became a permanent relationship: I upgraded my Y membership to an all-city pass just so I could swim regularly at the Chinatown Y.

One thing I love most about the Chinatown Y is the diverse crowd it draws: lots of folks from Chinatown, the Lower East Side, SoHo. There’s a real range in terms of cultural/ethnic background, social class, and age. I guessed that there would be someone pretty interesting in charge of this Y and wondered what their approach to bringing so many different kinds of people together under the same roof. Following up on that curiosity, I paid a visit to Chinatown Y Director David Kaplan got the inside scoop.

First, a little bit of history about this Y:
1974: The Chinatown Y is launched by several volunteers from Chinatown.
1992: Their vision leads to the opening of the Hester Street Beacon Center.
2006: The dream of a full-fledged health and fitness facility for the community becomes a reality. The Chinatown Y’s Houston Street Center opens its doors to the public.
Today: The Center reaches more than 10,000 people a year from Tribeca, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Little Italy, the East Village, and SoHo.

What interested David about working at this particular YMCA?
David grew up in the Greenwich Village area and, as a young person, was involved in a local community center where he played basketball. Years later, after slowly transitioning out of lawyerhood, he led a variety of non-for-profit organizations which served a wide range of people, including teenagers, young people, runaways, homeless people, gay and lesbian teens and adults. He sensed that the re-built Chinatown Y would be diverse because of its location and wanted to work someplace that attracted that kind of diversity.

What, in David’s eyes, makes the Chinatown Y special?
1. The diversity. Some of the members are from Chinatown and some are from the Lower East Side. There is an income-based rate scale to pull in people from all income levels.

2. The staff. They are a welcoming, positive, pro-active, and hard-working team of people.

3. The brand-new facility. There’s all kinds of potential in terms of how the space gets used. They listen to members to figure that out. As David says, “The space is open to play with.”

What has David Learned about Diversity?
In David’s own words, Diversity is not just a symbol that you put on the wall. It’s about what you do on a day-to-day basis to meet real-life situations. For example, different groups of people have different ideas about what makes for appropriate locker room etiquette, child-rearing practices, and behavior in public spaces. For some groups, it’s okay to be loud. For others, it’s not alright.

David is aware that each of his staff brings in his or her own background and set of life experiences and so challenges them to be open to people who bring something different to the table. He warns them that their assumptions will be tested while working at the Y.
“The Y” says David, “is about developing mind, spirit and body, so we as staff need to be doing that ourselves.”

What are David’s main areas of focus?
First, David focuses his energies on collaborating with other people in charge to run the physical plant. The goal is to make the Y a functional place and also a warm and welcoming place that is conducive to social interaction.

Second, David invests his time in fundraising events.

Third, he liaisons with the Y’s main office since they dictate what the branches do.

Last, but definitely not least, David spends a good deal of time reading the suggestion forms which members fill out and put into the feedback box. He sits down with other Y staffers and figures out what to do with that input. “We change and grow because we ask our members to do the same. Our work is never done,” commented Dave. [Editor’s note: how cool is that – a director who reads every piece of membership feedback!!!]

What is challenging about running this Y?
One challenge for David is being a white man and having people wonder what it means that a white man is running the Chinatown Y. Another thing is sharing space with University Settlement, having that additional foot traffic and figuring out how to collaborate.

David has the interesting task of listening to various individuals and groups of people in mapping out the course for the Y. These folks include board members, donors and other stake-holders, long-time staff members, community folks who witnessedthe place being built. He listens and incorporates as much as he can into his decisions.

What are David’s personal hobbies and interests?
David is the proud father of a 22-month-old daughter. He loves to basketball and box and he’s also a musician who plays the guitar and sings.

How did David transition from being an attorney to working in the not-for-profit world?
When David was a private attorney, he donated money to a youth center and progressed to raising money for the center. His level of involvement in the not-for-profit world grew to the extent that he could no longer practice law full-time. In 2004, David stopped practicing law all together.

What has been a rewarding aspect of the job?
David is walking proof of the laws of Karma, particularly the idea that what goes around comes around. From his long history of leadership in community-based and nonprofit organizations, David gets the satisfaction of seeing the people he helped as young ones come into the Y with their own children and thank him for what he did to reach them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


On the days that I work with clients on the Upper West Side, I get to visit all my favorite places I frequented in the twelve years I lived up there. One of those places was the Saint Agnes Branch of the New York Public Library. Sometimes I never made it into the main room; I’d linger in the foyer where they sell used books and magazines. There must have been a local patron or two who subscribed to Vanity Fair and Architectural Digest for years. Every time I stepped foot in that library, I came out with an issue of one or both of those mags.

Recently, while on the UWS, I spied a sign that announced a book sale in the basement of St. Agnes. Basement? I never knew they had one. They were getting ready to renovate and clearly wanted to get rid of stuff while raising funds. A steep set of stairs led down to a huge cement-floored basement that was filled with books as far as the eye could see. Heaven!

My Big Find was a book called The World of Marc Chagall, photographed by Izis Bidermanas and written by Roy McMullen. This book is incredible. It is filled with photos of Marc in action – creating sets for shows, stained glass windows, paintings, sketches, prints.

I like this passage from the preface:

"One [assumption] is that Chagall is to be taken at his word when he insists, as he often does, that his art contains a serious ‘message.’ The other is that this message is to be found in his work as a whole. There is meaning as well as entertainment in his figurative midsummer night’s dream of Vitebsk, Paris, blue moonlight, giant bouquets, weightless lovers, sad clowns, and fabulous beasts; and the same meaning emerges when we isolate fore study what he calls his ‘abstract’ colors, shapes and structures.”

I keep the book leaning against the bulletin board that sits on my desk as a constant source of inspiration.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


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Thursday, October 25, 2007


What would you rather come home to after a long day of work – (A) a letter hand-written on some brightly-colored, personalized stationery or (B) a long list of emails? I PICK (A)! Emails are fine and dandy but if ya wanna live a truly inspired life, snail mail is the way to go. And part of doing snail mail in style is picking out fabulous stationery. As someone who is always searching for great cards to send, I was totally psyched out of my mind to find an actual company on the internet called – you guessed it! – FABULOUS STATIONERY.

Let me backtrack for a sec. Every year, I search for a festive, non-religious card to send as part of my end-of-the-year mailing. It’s a fun project: I make an alphabetized list of my highlights from the year and tuck the list inside the card. I try to get an early start in October by scouring stores and the internet for That Special Card. When I went into stores this month, I mostly saw the same holiday designs I had seen in past years. On the internet, all the personalized stationery seemed to feature goofy stick people or overly-delicate graphics. So imagine my great delight when I came across Fabulous Stationery via an ad in the back of Dwell magazine. The graphics, with a heavy 60s influence, are designed by Trish DeMasi, whose “inspiration comes from so many things: fabric, fashion, nature, architecture, friends, even pets.”

Then there’s the oh-so-cool feature of the cards developed by Jay Arnold, one of Fab’s founders. Jay developed the ideas of printing the sender’s return address on the back of the note cards and matching the address so it appears in an envelope which has a clear window in the upper left hand corner. That way, the recipient can’t lose the sender’s address. When you order a set of note cards, this feature is free of charge.

The other thing that the company offers that I love are the calling cards. With their retro graphics, these little babies are for people who want to step out in style with something more funky and less formal-looking than a biz card.

So after much perusing, I picked out my holiday card. Technically, it’s a birthday card but it has that just right festive look I’ve been searching for. The only problem with the Fabulous Stationery website is that it is highly addictive. Why am I up until midnight looking at their card designs? ‘Cuz I’m a freaking stationery addict, that’s why!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, October 19, 2007


One night, when Mike and I were both asleep, I woke to hear the sound of a guitar strum. It came from the corner of our bedroom where the guitar sits upright on a stand. I looked over and saw that Mike was still next to me. “That’s odd,” I thought, and then: “Mike, did you hear that?” “Yeah,” he said. “I guess that wasn’t you playing.” Then we both turned to each other like “What the.....?” We got quiet and heard scuffling around the walls. Mike’s guess was that the mouse had hopped onto the guitar strap and the guitar strap fell, with the mouse, across the strings. Me, I think that the mouse got tired of roaming the kitchen and wanted to try her hand (er, paw) at music.

Fast forward to present day: the mouse is back, but this time it seems to be roaming the living room/kitchen area. We throw out our saggy mattress and get a low-to-the-ground platform bed. “Do you think that the mouse will be able to get up here?” asks Mike. “Only if it has a javelin or a cape,” I say.

As long as Mousey does not snuggle right next to me, s/he is welcome to stay at 46 First Street. Guitar concerts are gladly welcomed!

Friday, October 12, 2007


I discovered Summer Pierre through the 52 Projects website. Going to her blog, I saw that she was a singer and songwriter and that she had a great’ zine called The Artist in the Office. (I highly recommend buying The Artist for yourself and creative friends for the low low price of $10). Then I took note that she lived in Brooklyn and I thought “Hey, why not give her a call and see if we can meet in person?” She generously agreed to the meet-up so I went
out to Greenpoint one morning for tea. I present to you:

Ten Fun Facts About Summer Pierre

1. Summer is a transplant from Northern California – Palo Alto to be exact - and was raised in what she describes as a “post-countercultural lifestyle.” Her parents had been involved in the Haight-Ashbury scene and she spent the early years of her life on a commune. Pierre went to an alternative school in Menlo Park where artisty was encouraged. Put Summer in any situation as a young one and she’d start drawing.

2. Ten years ago, Summer moved to Boston and was part of the Harvard/Cambridge scene. During that time, she came out with her own album and toured both the west and east coasts. She describes her style as acoustic folk-rock.

3. Two years ago, Summer moved to New York. Whilst on her honeymoon this past August, she was visiting a small town museum in White Fish, Montana and got an idea for an illustration. Based on the info she collected about the town’s history, she would like to make a map of White Fish and send it to their chamber of commerce.

4. In addition to being a singer, songwriter, and illustrator, Summer works part time in an office setting. Since she is the author of the zine How to Be an Artist in the Office, I asked Summer how she personally goes about bringing her artist self into her workplace. She does stuff that breaks the routine and monotony without being disruptive. For example, she posts anonymous notes in between bathroom stalls and other secret places. She brings food anonymously and leaves it for people. She chalks messages on the way to work.

5. One of Summer’s proud accomplishments is her Great Gals Calendar which celebrates inspiring women. (Dolly Parton was featured in the 2005 edition. Yay Dolly!) Great Gals came out of Summer’s love of hand-making holiday gifts and it now has a sizable following! (Interesting side note: Summer’s college thesis was about women in rock!)

6. Summer sez: “The more permission you give yourself to do the things that delight you, your life goes through the roof. Start noticing what nurtures you.” What are some things that delight Summer? Watching movies alone, walking in Central Park, and going to the Algonquin Hotel to hang out in the lobby and write.

7. Summer has a wonderful honesty about her. For example, she shared the story of how she went to a week-long writing retreat led by one of the writers she most idolized. Her interactions with that person were not so pleasant, and Summer was crushed. However, it was a turning point in her life where she realized that everything she needed was in her – not out there.

8.Summer is currently working on a book with lots of illustration.

9. Summer creates one-page illustrated stories for Skirt! Magazine.

10. Her dream is to have a one woman show that includes music, art and writing.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I have a confession to make: I love walking the aisles of Dean and Deluca, the fancy-dancy gourmet food and kitchen supply store in SoHo. Everything is so pretty to look at! Eye candy abounds. I took my friend Kate, new to the city, into D&D. Right in the entryway stood three pumpkins, each the size of a truck wheel. We spent a long time looking at items in each section: bread, candy, pies and cakes, spices, housewares. We spent the most time smelling soaps both solid and liquid in the bath/body area. Way down on the bottom shelf, I found a soap called Jardinier that eminated the scent of geranium. I just stood there smelling and smelling and smelling that geranium scent that wakes up yet calms the mind. A few days later, I went back and bought the soap. Instead of putting it in the shower where it would dwindle away, I placed it in my desk drawer so that I could pull it out and smell it any time!

I never knew about the scent of geranium till I was in my twenties and working in an aromatherapy store in Manhattan. That was before aromatherapy got to be a big thing in the US. The store owner's signature scent included lavendar, lavandin, geranium and something citrusy.....what was it called? I forget now. It was heavenly, but I discovered that geranium could stand alone as a scent to relish.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


“What’s the secret to greater success and fulfillment for individuals and teams? Appreciation!” This is the attention-grabbing headline of Mike Robbins’ website and the central organizing thought for his work as a speaker, trainer, coach and author.

Every month, I receive Mike’s Appreciation in Action newsletter. In the newsletter, he shares a concrete way to make appreciation part of our work and personal lives and relationships. So I was excited when I heard that Mike was coming out with a book. He was kind enough to send me a copy of Focus on the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation.

I was curious about the book, because, to be honest, I wondered “What else is there to appreciation besides being grateful and expressing this sentiment to others? How can there be a whole book out about this topic?” Mike shows that there’s plenty to be explored here. The piece of the book that most caught my attention was the chapter entitled Appreciate Yourself. In it, Mike explores why self-appreciation can be challenging; the difference between self-appreciation and arrogance; what self-appreciation is; and how to appreciate yourself. Here’s a couple of thoughts I liked a lot:

“Without appreciating ourselves, we will find it difficult, if not impossible, to feel, think, and express gratitude bout life and toward others.” Why? “Because […] we live our lives and perceive the world primarily through the lens of our opinion of ourselves – our relationship to ourselves.”
“Once we discover and own our own unique strengths […] we learn that it’s more productive, enjoyable, and beneficial to relate to others through their strengths, rather than with a focus on their perceived weaknesses.”

Mike recommended the implementation of some “Positive Practices” for putting self-appreciation in our lives on a regular basis. These included creating a “sunshine file” – a folder with expressions of gratitude we receive (thank-you cards, photos, notes); regular “me” time; and picking something we appreciate about ourselves each morning and focusing on it all day.

I’ll tell you what makes Mike credible to me: his ideas don’t just come from being in the business world. Before becoming a speaker, author, and coach, Mike was a top-notch pitcher for Stanford University and helped lead his team to championships. He was voted “Most Inspirational” by his teammates. He was also drafted by the Kansas City Royals and played with them until an injury got in the way. Mike uses a lot of what he learned as a leader in the athletic domain in his work with companies today. Plus, you don’t get voted “Most Inspirational” for nothing!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Today, I jumped out of bed, cleared some children's books off of my shelf, ate breakfast, and walked out to Smith Street. What a glorious, sunny day - bright and clear with no humidity. The crossing guard and I exchanged smiles as I walked into Carroll Garden Park to drop off the books. My hope is that parents will find them and bring them home for their families to enjoy.

At the F stop news stand, I grabbed The New York Sun and was delighted to find a special section entitled "Autumn in New York." This gem includes listings in a variety of categories - books, museums, galleries, family field trips, cabaret, jazz. Okay, you won't find as many choices as, say, in Time Out New York or The Village Voice. However, what makes this section truly wonderful are illustrations like the one pictured above. This one was on the Food and Drink page. (There were no credits for the art that I could see, but I will investigate.)

One thing I love about this season is all the Fall Preview editions of newpapers and magazines. The anticipation of what's to come, the idea of having so many possibilities, is so satisfying. I feel blessed to live in a city so rich in culture, art and street life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


For a while, I was using a small, red, zip-up Paul Frank wallet with the signature Julius the Monkey face on it. It was cute, but I had to cram about 12 different ATM, membership, and ID cards into two plastic pockets. Every time I went to get one card, I'd have to pull the whole lot out and sift through them. Not fun for the person standing behind me in a line.

I had a store credit at this great neighborhood place called Handmade. I ventured in and fell in love with the wallet pictured here. I think it's a French dog: it's wearing a scarf around its neck and is holding a flower in its mouth. The clasp is a bone.

The wallet is lightweight and has lots of slots for cards. Most importantly, I feel joyful everytime I pull it out and see the French dog.

The wallet is made by a group of Canadian designers who call themselves espe. I ordered one of their cosmetic cases for my friend's birthday.

We use our wallets so much, why not make sure they are tiny works of art that bring us happiness each time we look at them?

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I started the last day of summer vacation by (a) eating a popsicle for breakfast (b) skimming books and magazines laying around my home office and (c) writing out September birthday and anniversary cards and getting them ready to mail out. (Any excuse to use the new CELBERATE! postage stamps.) In the cards, I shared highlights from the summer. Here are some of those sweet memories from the last two months:

Interviewing muppeteers and the cameraman from Sesame Street

Celebrating five years of together with my sweetie

Going on fairground rides with my brother and nephew on our last day of the family vacation in Seattle (see pic at left, taken at fairground photo booth)

Discovering the gorgeous Chinatown YMCA (it’s actually in SoHo) and enjoying swims in the Olympic-sized pool (they generously let me in for free since my Y's pool was shut during the last week of summer vacation)

Hanging out in the spacious and welcoming second floor lounge of the new Whole Foods, which is just steps from the Chinatown YMCA. (When I say lounge, I do mean lounge: people make jewelry, play boardgames, browse the internet, chat with friends for hours.)

Enjoying the end of the summer in the garden of Le Jardin Bistro with my sweetie. Nothin' like soft shelled crabs in the not-too-hot summer breezes while sitting under a canopy of ivy

Seeing the movie Hairspray with my friends Cecilia, Lizzy and Marjorie, then hanging out in the garden of Café La Fortuna (the west side’s oldest café) and catching up on summer adventures

Spending time with my teacher from second grade and her new poodle puppy

Re-organizing the home office in a way that showcases my boyfriend Mike’s paintings

So, what are some of your top summer memories? Email me:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


“And now, I’d like to introduce a special guest,” announced Fran Brill to the group gathered around the conference table. She seemed to be concluding a presentation about her career in television so I was surprised that someone else would be appearing on the agenda. I waited, expecting Fran to beckon one of us at the table to come forward. Instead, she reached downward, below the table. When her arm came up, she was joined by long-time Sesame Street muppet Prairie Dawn. Using a high-pitched voice, Fran infused the Sesame character with life. Prairie Dawn fielded questions from the audience. “Who is your favorite friend on Sesame Street?” I asked Prairie. “Oh,” she said, “I like Grover and Cookie Monster but I don’t have favorites. I like everybody!”

Fran Brill, the first female muppeteer hired by Jim Henson, has been on the set of Sesame Street nearly all of its 38 years. Here’s the big surprise: Fran didn’t play with puppets as a child. Her primary passion and training was in theatre, starting from when she stole the show in a play that her Brownie troupe performed. In her teens, Fran performed in summer stock and also interned at the Bucks County Playhouse. As a young adult, she chose to attend Boston University College of Fine Arts for its strong theatre department. There, Fran received classical theatre training and also participated in regional theatre.

Fran’s first big acting job was in a theater in Atlanta, where she performed in an original show called Red, White and Maddox. Red was a musical satire of a Georgia governor who wouldn’t serve people of color in his famous restaurant, the Pickrick Cafeteria. In 1969, the show moved to Broadway. Like all Broadway shows, it came to an end and Fran found herself looking for work in The Big Apple. By day, she’d make rounds to the agents with eight- by -ten photos in hand. In the late afternoon, she’d arrive home exhausted and in need of cheering up. Watching Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood seemed to do the trick.

“Watching those shows, I’d think ‘I could do those voices,’” shared Fran. She had already done radio commercials and voiceover work. In 1970, one of Fran’s agents pointed to an ad in Backstage, which announced Jim Henson’s search for muppeteers for a Christmas television special. Fran called Jim. “I can do the voices,” she said. Jim let her know he didn’t work that way: muppeteers did the voices for their own characters. Interested in her theatre background, Jim invited Fran to come for a workshop in the East Village. Under the tutelage of Jim, Jerry Nelson, and Frank Oz, Fran underwent intense training in the skills of muppeteering. In the end, she made the cut, and was asked to muppeteer in the Christmas special.

From the Christmas special, Fran and Richard Hunt were asked to be in the core group of muppeteers. Fran agreed, with the condition that she could continue to act in plays, musicals, and commercials. Jim agreed, and Fran was on her way to Sesame Street.

Fran remembers well the sparks that ignited Sesame Street. The initial collaborators included “The Four Js”: television producer Joan Ganz Cooney, writer Jon Stone, composer Joe Raposo, and, of course, Jim Henson. With the Head Start Initiative newly underway, the ground was ripe for a show that would educate children about numbers, letters, and other early childhood concepts. The show utilized the format of both magazines and commercials by featuring a combination of live action footage, animation, and muppet inserts. Fran describes the formative years of Sesame as “a rarefied experience in a rarefied atmosphere” and “the perfect storm.” “They invented the wheel as they went along,” she shared. “Nobody thought that the show would be a juggernaut.”

In terms of her own role on the show, Fran started out as Ernie’s right hand – literally. A muppet generally needs two people, one person to operate the head, left hand, and voice and another person to operate the right hand. Eventually, Fran helped create and inhabit a new character - Prairie Dawn. Twenty years down the road, when the show’s producers wanted a female equivalent of Elmo, theyworked with Fran to fashion the character of Zoe. The characters, Fran says, represent different facets of her personality. Her job, as the muppeteer, is to channel "the spirit and personality that lives inside of the puppet."

True to the spirit of Sesame Street, Fran views her role as muppeteer as an ongoing process of growth and education. “I’m constantly learning, trying to be better, trying to please myself.” Fran shares that she strives to be as truthful as possible in her roles – not an easy task since she’s got just her hand and her voice to make the essence of a character shine through. Fran also reflects on the larger experience of being part of Sesame Street. “We’re inheritors, or seeds of Jim Henson,” she relays. She explains how the warmth, compassion, and empathy of the crew, cast, and content of Sesame are reflective of Jim. He was, Fran relays, a man who never raised his voice, never lost his temper, just worked off of praise and respect. “He brought out the best in you as a human and as a performer.” The gentleness, humanity, cross-generational appeal, humor, love, and global concern in Sesame Street was, according to Fran, “Jim Henson’s way of changing the world.”

While Jim firmly remains a legend in the mind of Fran and countless others, Fran herself has clearly won the esteem, love and respect of her audiences. On Fran’s birthday, folks logged onto Muppet Central Forum to share these sentiments with her:

“Happy Birthday Fran Brill, and thanks for all the wonderful characters you’ve given us over the years!”

“Eeeeeeey!! Franny!! You go, girl!”

As well as continued success with the muppets, I hope to see you performing in tv and movies. You’ve contributed a lot to the entertainment world.”

“Yay! Happy Birthday, Fran!” Hope you’re as blessed as you’ve made us all feel over the years! Thanks.”

“Frog bless you for all the fun and magic you’ve brought into our lives.”

Meeting Fran in person, watching her interact with her fans, and seeing her in action as a muppeteer, I got a clear picture of why she has won the affection of so many people. She is incredibly hard-working, loyal, funny, intelligent, cultured, and down-to-earth. Her lack of pretense is notable: she exhibits a complete willingness to share the events of her professional history without sparing any of the less-than-glamorous details. She does not see herself as separate from or better than her audience. In the end, it comes as no surprise that Prairie Dawn (a/k/a Fran) likes and gets along with all her friends on Sesame Street. She’s a living legend, and a lovable one at that.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I had walked by Spoke the Hub’s Re:Creation Center on Union Street a million times on my way to the Park Slope Food Coop. I often looked at flyers Spoke posted outside their center to publicize various dance classes, performances, and collaborative art exhibitions, thinking “What a cool place.” Last summer, I looked up Spoke on the web and found out that they have also have a performance/rehearsal space in The Gowanus Arts Building on Douglass Street. A couple of times, I went over there with some CDs and danced. On one of those days, I brought my then ten year-old friend Lizzy over and we choreographed a dance to the Mariah Carey /Snoop Dogg song Say Something.

Elise Long, founder and director of Spoke the Hub, has been a fixture in the neighborhood for thirty years and a key person who has used arts to build community. Here’s a description of the history of Spoke, taken directly from their website:

Based in Brooklyn since 1979, Elise Long and Spoke the Hub Dancing have been hailed by the local press and public as "neighborhood treasures" and "cultural pioneers" creating the Living Room Performance Space on 9th Street (1980 - 84); the Gowanus Arts Exchange on Douglass Street (founded in 1985, relocated and renamed the Brooklyn Arts Exchange/BAX, now active as a separate organization); and the Spoke the Hub Re:Creation Center on Union Street (1995- present).

Elise has an interesting life history. She came from a big family where her parents, both teachers, gave Elise plenty of support around her artistic leanings. Elise started choreographing in high school. As a college student in Vermont, she majored in English with an emphasis on dance and art. In the 1970s, Elise was involved in an “intense International folkdance scene in the 1970s” which was about being social and dancing with people. As a choreographer with her own Spoke dancers, Elise’s sources of inspiration are varied and include everything from Hip Hop to German legend Pina Bausch.

Elise is excited about her plans to expand Spoke to be a “well being center for the arts, with all kinds of art under one roof.” A piece of that vision includes a rooftop garden.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Barbara Ensor : Author, Artiste, Educator

Barbara Ensor’s website is enchanting. The opening image is a wooden file box, tied up round and round with twine with a big red and white nametag sticker that reads: Do Not Open. So, of course, you cannot help but click on the sign to get to the next thing. Once you click, you find yourself inside the file box, looking at three tabs labeled Cinderella, What Else, and Me.

So what’s the Cinderella bit about? Barbara wrote her own version of the classic tale, renaming it Cinderella (As If You Didn’t Already Know the Story). Some cool things about this version: One, Cinderella talks about her life in letters to her deceased biological mother. Two, the story isn’t over once Cinderella and the Prince are married. Barbara dares to show the complexities of married life and how Cinderella negotiates her own independence. Three, the illustrations are Barbara’s blcak shadow silhouette cutouts. The letters from Cinderella to deceased mom function, in part, to show the interior of Cinderella. “If you don’t see that interior,” comments Barbara, "you wonder why she is such a pushover."

Under the website heading Me, there is a little bio of Barbara. Some interesting facts:

She has written for New York Magazine, Entertainment Life, Village Voice.
Her illustrations have appeared in Harper’s, Self, New York Times.
She grew up mostly in England.
Her first job after graduating from Brown U was as a puppeteer.

During our chat at Park Slope’s Union Hall, Barbara let me know that her family traveled a lot when she was little, so she and her siblings found ways to adapt to different surroundings. For example, they played with dolls way past when they were supposed to, age-wise. They also created a puppet theater. “It was all about setting up the story,” shared Barbara.

Here’s something else interesting about Barbara: In 2006, she started The Little School of Moving Pictures and began teaching young people how to make clay animation movies. She even posts her students’ movies on UTube!

What’s coming down the pike from Barbara? Well, there’s her rendition of Thumbelina coming out in June of 2008. Thumbelina will be portrayed as a tiny runaway bride, with all these different animals wanting to marry her. And there will be plenty of Barbara’s magical black silhouettes.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


One day, I came home from to my desk and on my computer screen was a website called Overlooked New York. “What’s this?” I thought. I soon became immersed in the world of New Yorkers who were doing all kinds of interesting things – raising pigeons on their rooftops, designing costumes for the circus, roller skating in that disco circle in Central Park. “Who is the person behind this site?” I wondered. That person is Zina Saunders, a self-professed “native New Yorker who is passionate about finding and profiling impassioned New Yorkers.”

I met up with Zina in a diner and found out more about her. By trade, she is an illustrator and writer who has contributed to publications such as Time Out New York, The Wall Street Journal, and D Magazine. In 2005, she transferred her focus from general illustration to reportage illustration. The new focus included articles which were an outgrowth of her profiles on Overlooked; one piece was about the Puerto Rican Schwinn Club, the other piece was about Central Park portrait artists.

As someone who grew up on the Upper West Side, Zina often sighted Puerto Rican men riding on biked tricked out with flags, foxtails, and fuzzy dice. Who were these men, she wondered? Where did they hang out? She wanted to talk to them. One day, Zina flagged one of them down in Alphabet City and he told her that he and other bikers hung out along the East River. So Zina went over to the River and started painting the bikers’ portraits. Word got around about her visits, and soon the bikers were traveling from spots as far as the Bronx to have their portraits done by Zina.

The overriding spirit of Zina’s portraits and profiles are the affection and great regard for the people she interviews. She picks individuals who are passionate about a pursuit, who are joyful in some fascinating way they have found of expressing themselves. They are earnest, sincere, and proud -- all the same ways Zina feels about her own work as an illustrator. Zina likes and cares about the people she interviews in a real way; there is nothing ironic about her depiction of them. She keeps in touch with the individuals whom she features on Overlooked. She "loves people and loves creating her vision of their joy."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


This May marked the second year in a row that I participated in the NYWC Write-a-Thon. More than one hundred writers gathered in The Small Press Center to raise funds for the programs of The New York Writers Coalition. Each of us participants got friends and family to sponsor us to commit to an entire day of writing, going to writing workshops, and listening to other writers read. The funds raised supported creative workshops given throughout NYC by the NYWC staff. The participants of their year-round workshops are generally members of unheard segments of the city’s population – at-risk young people, adult residents of supportive housing, the formerly incarcerated, seniors, and others. This year, the Thon generated nearly $30,000 towards these efforts.

The Write-a-Thon was the brainchild of Aaron Zimmerman, who is also the Founder of the Coalition. He got the idea from a friend who had planned to run miles to raise money for a charity. Aron felt that a write-a-thon was a fundraiser that would match the philosophy of his organization: everyone can write.

Aron, like his staff of workshop facilitators, is adept at getting others to tell their stories through writing. He himself has an interesting tale to tell about his own life path. In high school, Aron liked the writing he did in English classes. He also loved acting. In college, he studied film an ended up taking script-writing classes. For the final project, where most students made a film, Aron wrote a screenplay. It was a way of combining his interest in acting with his passion for constructing story through the use of language.

In graduate school, Aron focused on creative writing and began to lead writing workshops on his own. The Prince George, a supportive housing community for low-income, formerly homeless and special needs populations, asked Aaron to lead a writing workshop for its residents for National Poetry Month. The workshop was such a hit that Aaron stayed on to lead a weekly writing group. As more opportunities rolled in for Aaron to lead such workshops, he developed the idea of starting his own non profit organization. Aaron trained other people to lead workshops like the ones he had been leading at Prince George – gatherings that gave voice to typically unheard-from people in a safe, judgment-free setting.

Aaron describes the work of The Coalition as being three-pronged – to get people writing; to get people to connect to each other as writers, and to connect the writing with the world. One of the ways that the writing is shared with a larger audience is through a NYWC anthology called If These Streets Could Talk. Streets is a compilation of fiction and poetry from the formative years of Coalition workshops.

In terms of sharing one’s writing with a wider audience, Aaron has an interesting perspective: You don’t have to have a big audience to make a big difference. In a celebrity-obsessed society where fame is celebrated unto itself, we forget the power of moving one person with our writing. The person who listened may walk away with a new perspective on some aspect of life.

To keep his own creativity fueled, Aaron immerses himself in the visual arts. He also likes to play poker, hang out with his Beagle, spend time with his girlfriend, travel, and take walks. “Because of my work running the coalition, I have less of a need to be a published writer,” Aaron shares. “I am more focused on writing for myself.”

Monday, August 06, 2007


How does it happen that the Editor-In-Chief of a prominent financial newspaper becomes the author of 16 books about topics like make-believe, imagination, doodles, and daydreams? Read below to find out.

Bill Zimmerman got interested in writing when he was in elementary school. He’s open about the fact that childhood was not an easy time for him. He grew up in a chaotic household with lots of raised voices and "had a terrible time in school.”

When Bill was in first grade, his teacher stayed after school with him for months on a daily basis. She helped him identify letters and their sounds. According to Bill, she was the first adult in his life who provided a safe space for him to be in. And she was his link to the world of reading and writing. Reading, according to Bill, was an activity where he felt transported to another world, a world where no one could put him down. That early experience laid the foundation for the 16 books that Bill would author as adult: each one of those boks is a variation on the theme of creating one’s own world by transcending difficulties or limitations.

As a young adult, Bill loved newspapers and wanted to know what journalism was all about. So he got a spot on the staff of the college paper and worked his way up to being an editor. The newspaper staff, whom Bill describes as “bright, nutty, curious people,” became his surrogate family.

Following college, Bill became the copyeditor of American Banker, a highly-respected daily financial newspaper. With diligence, he worked his way to the positions of Editor-in-Chief and Senior Vice President. After leaving American Banker in 1989, Bill became Senior Editor at Newsday. There, he created the syndicated Student Briefing Page which was twice-nominated for a Pulitzer.
In the middle of his 26 years at American Banker, Bill fell ill. As part of his recuperation, he spent a month at Martha’s Vineyard. In the local library, he discovered a tape cassette which featured children’s interviews with residents of a senior home. The interviews revealed what life had been like for these elders when they were growing up on the Vineyard. Inspired by the cassette, Bill wrote his own book about how family members could become journalists by putting each others’ stories on audiotape. The book, How to Tape Instant Oral Biographies, generated thousands of orders and was written up in The New York Times.

From that first success, Bill wrote A Book of Questions and then Make Beliefs: A Gift for Your Imagination. In both books, Bill invites the reader to write or draw responses to questions. The questions are designed to spark use of the imagination, to see the world differently. Bill’s newest book ties nicely into that self-stated thread of transformation. It’s called Doodles and Daydreams: Your Passport for Becoming an Escape Artist. On page 161, Bill says: “Escape artists build escalators to heaven in their minds.” On the same page, he invites the reader to write about what she hopes heaven on earth would be like. The text is accompanied by the whimsical and joyful doodles of Bill’s collaborator, Tom Bloom.

Since leaving his job at Newsday in 2004, Bill has continued to write and teach. In a typical day, he may also read, create websites, play the recorder, do Tai Chi, swim, walk, or grow plants. Bill has two interactive websites - Bill’z Treasure Chest and Make Beliefs Comics.
Visiting Bill's websites as well as his books is a marvelous way to enter the world of a man who has made the world a sweeter place for his readers through messages of possibility, hope, and creative transformation.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


During the first three years of her son’s life, Tova Ackerman stayed home to parent. Sometime in those three years, she journeyed to the Leah Wallace Studio to participate in a puppet-making workshop. It was there at the workshop that Tova got a glimpse of how puppets helped people tell their stories. When Tova returned to her post as faculty in the Education Department of Brooklyn College, she discovered that she could use puppetry as an effective tool to teach English as a second language. She partnered with one of her students to form a club called Puppetry in Practice. Brooklyn College, always supportive of her work, gave Tova a room from which to operate.

Twenty seven years later, Puppetry in Practice operates on many levels and has far-reaching influence beyond the walls of the Brooklyn College campus. PIP “promotes the use of creative arts to enhance literacy” and accomplishes its mission in the following ways:

· Creates artist-in-school residencies to enhance curriculum
· Facilitates professional development workshops and teacher trainings
· Develops curriculum to brings arts into the classroom
· Performs puppet shows in community spaces
· Teaches English as a second language through the arts
· Offer workshops for parents about promoting literacy via the arts
· Leads family literacy workshops in puppetry and book arts

Tova is particularly excited about PIP's puppet museum which also serves as an outreach center. The museum is a site for workshops and is a place where artists and educators can get together. Tovawelcomes visitors to the museum. It's located in Marine Park, on Nostrand between Quentin and R. For folks who'd like to visit, call the main number at the college, 718-951-4240, and get directions to the museum. It's open by appointment until PIP has the staff to keep the center open all the time.

Tova is clear that the most enjoyable aspect of leading PIP is the people she works with. Tova’s love for people and cooperation is evident in what she does to make PIP special. First, Tova treats the artists she brings on board PIP as members of her extended family, no matter how long or short of a time they stay doing the work. Second, she is constantly setting up collaborations between educators and artists in US and countries all over the world, including Israel, Mexico, Brazil, and Puerto Rico. She personally makes it possible for folks from other countries to share their crafts with school children here in New York.

In reflecting on what has or has not changed in the world of puppetry since she started up PIP more than a quarter of a century ago, Tova has this to say: “What was unique in the early days of PIP was our use of puppetry to teach English as a second language. What has developed over the years is a general acceptance as art as a tool for teaching. More people are aware of the value of the arts and I am happy about that.”

Friday, August 03, 2007


Timothy Young claims that his love for puppets began when he came out of the womb. As a young person, he was fascinated by the tangible, 3-D aspect of these creatures and spent hours singing and dancing with puppets in his room. "It was a thrill to have imaginary friends that were so alive and real," he shared.

Now, as an adult, Timothy appreciates the art of the movement involved in puppetry – “the minute details that make the puppet believable and sincere.” For Timothy, the beauty of puppetry also lies in how it relates to other artistic disciplines, including sculpture, dancing, acting, and singing. As well, puppetry can enhance the learning of particular subject matter ranging “from the solar system to the Civil War.” “Puppetry can inject a plethora of new vocabulary and ideas into a solo or group project,” adds Timothy.

Fortunate for Timothy and for Brooklyn at large, he has built an organization based on his passion. “I wanted an outlet for my art, my characters, and my stories,” he recalls. For the past ten years, as director of The Puppetry Arts Theatre (TPAT) in Brooklyn, Timothy has been offering visual workshops and performances for young people and families in school and community settings. He began, ten years ago, “with a paper bag, two googly eyes, a bottle of glue, and some crayons.” From there, he led puppet-making workshops in schools and at community events. “It wasn’t easy at first,” remembers Timothy. “People were asking ‘Who is this guy?’" Eventually, though, he gained the community’s trust.

Some of the big events that Timothy oversees are an annual Haunted Halloween Carnival and the ongoing production of a fully orchestrated musical (starring puppets, of course) entitled In a Roundabout Way. Mr. Young’s big goal is to secure a building in Brooklyn that would serve as a new home to TPAT’s arts-in-educations programs. It would also provide a space in which to host affordable cultural events. Timothy envisions opening the building's doors for use by other community organizations as well. This visionary wants a real center for puppetry arts – “Like the one in Atlanta, only better.”

Timothy, who spends his days making puppets, doing workshops, and raising funds, relies on the generosity of individuals and businesses for donations of time, money, and supplies. If you’d like to contribute in some way to TPAT, you can email Timothy at

Friday, July 27, 2007


During a recent family vacation in an island off the coast of Seattle, I spent a lot of time playing with my nephew, Tyler. Tyler is two years and 4 months old. He loves to greet every person who comes in the room, jump on his older brother, and look at picture books. He is full of passion for life. When I play with Tyler, I follow his lead as much as possible. One evening, I sat quietly with Tyler as he lined up crayons next to each other and drew circles of all colors and sizes. One morning at the beach, I held Tyler’s hand as he walked in and out of the water, looking at the waves, the light, the skim boarders at water’s edge. Once in a while, Tyler would let out a shriek of delight accompanied by a joyful leap. Mostly, though, he wanted just to walk and look. I stayed with him as he did that for about a half an hour.

I can think of few activities more rewarding or important than to follow a young person’s mind. It does take a conscious decision to not insert my idea of how things should go. There’s always a pull to worry about how a child is going to “turn out,” and direct him or her to activities that will (seemingly) ensure success in the future as a “productive” or “well adjusted” adult. But I have a hunch that if we adults spent more time following the creative minds and pursuits of young people, more humans would have lives that they are truly passionate about. Kevin Clash is the proof in the pudding.

Kevin Clash is the puppeteer behind Elmo, the lovable, furry red muppet who has won the hearts of millions on Sesame Street. I gathered information about Kevin by reading his book – My Life as a Furry Red Monster – and by meeting him in person at his Sesame Workshop office. Most inspiring was learning the details about a life of love and support from family, friends, neighbors, and mentors who backed Kevin’s passion for puppetry from the start. Kevin’s rich history as a producer and puppeteer shows that good things happen when adults pay close attention to and nurture the creative and artistic sensibilities of children.

Kevin’s Life in a Nutshell
Kevin grew up in a working class, African heritage suburb of Baltimore, Maryland with a mom, a dad, and three siblings. He spent countless childhood hours creating puppets and puppet shows, getting plenty of inspiration from television programs such as Captain Kangaroo, Good Times, and, of course, Sesame Street. During his younger years, Kevin performed shows for neighborhood folks, for audiences in the wider Baltimore area, then for local television programs.

Like other children who do something off the beaten path, Kevin got a dose of teasing and raised eyebrows. He also experienced the insidious messages of racism. Fortunately, the love and support he got from his family and community balanced out forces that may have otherwise swayed Kevin from his path. As Kevin says in his book, “Society was still sending a loud message that black children like us didn’t have much to aspire to, but that negative talk was drowned out by our parents, who taught us that our dreams were worthy simply because they were ours.”

Gladys and George Clash operated as a team to back their son’s passion. They kept Kevin well-stocked with art supplies and fabrics; took him to his first gigs as a performer; drove him to hobby shops; and connected Kevin to professionals who would help him along his career path. Kevin also has vivid memories of what each parent did individually to support him. George, a flash welder and neighborhood handyman, helped Kevin build puppet stages out of salvaged scrap wood. He also kept his cool when Kevin used his (George’s) furry church coat to fashion a puppet named Moandy, responding to the discovery of his cut-up coat with a firm yet kind: “Next time, ask.” Gladys, a home-based daycare worker, was a talented seamstress who taught Kevin to sew on her old Singer machine. She was also the one who helped Kevin land one of his first big breaks by connecting him with Kermit Love, a man who would become one of Kevin’s key mentors.

When Kevin was in high school, he saw Kermit Love featured on an episode of Call It Macaroni, a children’s television show. Kevin was blown away by the fact that an adult was making a successful living from his passion – designing costumes and puppets for everyone from George Balanchine’s dancers to Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Through perseverance, Gladys got in touch with Love who in turn invited Kevin to come to his workshop in New York City. Shortly after that visit, Kermit invited Kevin to be Cookie Monster’s puppeteer in the 1979 Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In the 1980s, Kevin became a puppeteer for Sesame Street and also participated in a number of Jim Henson productions. In addition to winning the hearts of millions as Elmo on Sesame Street, Kevin has won multiple awards for his work as co-executive producer of Elmo’s World.

Kevin on Mentoring
In reflecting on the trajectory of his life, Kevin is clear that mentoring and other forms of support have been key to his success. He also recognizes that support can mean space and freedom and it can also mean the kind of tough-love guidance that keeps a person grounded. Kevin acknowledges that he has relied on others to keep him rooted in a life of integrity. Said Kevin during our chat at Sesame Workshop, “Stardom stinks if you don’t have people telling you the truth. You need people who teach you that there are rules to abide by if you want to keep being a success with family and with business.” Kevin fondly described several of the mentors who did help him grow as an artist through truth-telling; these folks include Stu Kerr, Kermit Love, and Jim Henson.

Stu Kerr, a television personality, was Kevin’s first mentor. When Stu saw Kevin’s puppetry at a local fair, he invited Kevin to perform in a television show called Caboose. Through Caboose, Kevin eventually landed a spot on Captain Kangaroo. Kevin credits Stu with teaching him about the importance of cooperation in working with other professionals, both from the creative and business aspect of things.

Speaking about costume and puppet designer Kermit Love, Kevin commented: “He took me under his wing like I was a grandson. He was so positive, guiding me in the right direction. When the time came to decide to go to college, he encouraged me to stay working with Jim Henson.”

And, finally, Kevin said of Jim Henson: “Jim was so approachable; there was no ego. Jim’s message was ‘Let’s have a good time and respect each other and give back.’ With Jim, you learned the craft by watching and by doing. It was intimidating to be the new kid on the set and Jim stuck with me.”

Kevin has been blessed with the sound guidance of these three and countless other guides. He also knows, particularly from his childhood days, that adults must step back enough to trust the rightness of what children love to do and want to pursue. On the topic of supporting young people in their journeys, Kevin says this in his book:

“You can teach your children all the basics and then some, and they will turn right around and use their knowledge in wonderful, powerful ways you can’t even imagine. That’s the beauty of learning. But it can be hard to resist pulling on the reins and, at some point, steering kids away from what they want to learn to what you think they need to know to be successful. […]

Dreams are fragile things, but when they’ve been bolstered by the support of parents and teachers, and reinforced with early success, they can withstand the skeptics and take flight. When I was a kid, my dad and I spent a lot of time together building things, and I can’t help but think of this metaphor: Kids are the architects of their own dreams. I know that I was.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I had a yen to go to Takashimaya, a Japanese department store on 5th Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan. There's a calm, peaceful feeling in that place. The merchandise is minimal, so there's plenty of room to walk around. What I noticed right away during this visit is that the gorgeous flower section had dissapeared from the first floor. What?!?! The flowers had been the main draw on that floor. The store, after all, is known for their stunning flower arrangements. I kept exploring the different floors and discovered that the flowers had been moved. Where before the flowers had been positioned near the front window on the first floor, they were now in the back of the 6th floor and esconced in low lighting. There was a long velvet couch where one could recline to read gardening books and to take in the quiet and the flowers. I felt like I was in a rainforest that happened to have a lounge.

I took at look at garden-related items on the shelves and found these incredible hand made cards (including the birdy one picured above) from a company called Pixie Designs. Lisa Kovarik heads up this company, and her creations can be found at On the back of each card, it says "Pixie Designs celebrates the marraige of exquisite papers - notably silkscreened Japanese chiyogami - and the art of collage. Multiple pieces and patterns blend beautifully to create original artwork that is reproduced , then finished by hand."

While at Taka, I also ventured down to the basement tea room. With very little visual stimuli, the room is a welcome relief in contrast to the visual and auditory intensity of the rest of New York City. I decided to get earl grey ice cream, something I've never tried before, and matcha iced tea. The tea is bright green, so it looks like wheatgrass juice.

Going back to the floor switcharoo: I was a little bummed about the fact that the first floor was now filled with makeup and makeup counters. This feature makes it like a lot of other 5th Ave. department stores designed to draw in women, and, I'm guessing, more revenue. The flowers, on the other hand, drew in both men and women and were about natural beauty rather than artificial beauty.

Still, Takashimaya remains a haven and an oasis for me.

PS - A great gift item, located on the floor with bedding, are the soaps from Fresh. Each soap is hand-wrapped with thick patterned paper and tied with a tiny stone on top. Even though I don't generally like perfumed products, I think these smell great.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Yesterday, with the support of nineteen friends, I participated in the 2nd Annual New York Writers Coalition Write-a-Thon. The purpose of the event was to raise money for the good work of the Coalition. Led by Aaron Zimmerman, the staff annually conducts 550 free writing workshops for the unheard populations in NYC, including at-risk youth and older adults. The Coalition also publishes anthologies of the writings that emerge from these workshops and creates forums for the participants to read their creations in front of audiences. Good stuff.

With $600 in pledges (thank you, sponsors!), I subwayed to The Small Press Center on West 44th Street in Manhattan. Shortly after arriving, I attended a writing workshop led by one of the Coalition Staff. She showed us a bunch of slides that served as visual prompts and then we got to write for 20 minutes based on one or more of those prompts. So I wrote what became Thoughts about Death. Each person in the workshop got to read his or her piece out loud and the other members of the group got to say what they liked or remembered about the piece.
I was blown away by the writing of a teenager in that workshop. A ninth-grader, she was the youngest person at the Write-a-Thon. After the workshop was over, I went back to the main room and sat at a table with her. She showed me more of her writing and I talked a little bit about my blog. We were then joined by another high-schooler and also by a woman who wants to write more but does not have a computer at home.

The four of us had lunch together and then a guy named Chris Baty gave the whole entire Write-a-Thon a pep talk about aiming for quantity and quality in writing as a way of getting both. Chris started this wild thing called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where participants begin writing November 1 with the goal of writing a 175-page (50,000 word) novel by midnight, November 30th. "The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing nd just create. To build without tearing down."
The highlight of the Thon was participating in the morning workshop, being around other writers, and making friends with young writers.

If you would like to make a contribution to the work of the Coalition, it is not too late! You can visit my sponsor page here, where donations will be accepted through August 11th.