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!