What I really Learned in Grade School

As young ones, tots, and teenagers make their way through their first week of school, I wanted to take a moment to reassure them and their parents that their public grade-school education is worth every tax-payer dollar. The truth is, I learned more about life traveling through grades k-12 than in college, grad school, and “the real world” combined. Here are a few highlights of my suburban, middle-class primary education, wherein I learned…

Thanks to middle school, I learned where to go in the event of a nuclear attack — our choral room. #Glee

The choral room of my junior high school was in a subterranean, double concrete enforced room. At the entrance to the stairwell was not only a sign that said “Chorus,” but a yellow configuration of triangles signalling that the room was a remnant of the building’s Cold War construction.

2. Gym Class isn’t long enough and should be every day.

3. Nap time isn’t long enough and should be every day.

4. How to right a capsized canoe.

We had a pool. It was fancy and indoors and you could paddle around it in a canoe. During the swimming rotation of gym class, we had one day dedicated to water safety and water rescue. As a member of the swim team, I was made “captain” of a rescue team. 4 of us got in a canoe. Flipped it. Righted it. Then rescued the one idiot who got smacked in the head with the paddle when we capsized. This is a skill set that has come in handy more than once, I hate to admit.

5. Sumac that points down is poisonous. Sumac berry clusters that point up make great lemonade.

My 7th grade science teacher used to build bow & arrows and hunt deer with spears. He was the original Bear Grylls. As a result, our class curriculum was less NY State mandated and more wild-life survival.

6. Homemade cards for mom always trump something from Hallmark… even if they make absolutely no sense and look like something your dog painted.

If I ever find myself in a rumble, I’ll be more than a little prepared.

I had an old school Bronx Italian English teacher for 2 back to back years. It was Romeo and Juliette year, so we watched West Side Story in class. He wanted to make sure we’d be prepared if we were ever in a rumble.

8. It’s not about what you’re selling. It’s all about how it’s marketed.

As part of a social studies project, I had to set up a company with a team of classmates. We made “organic, all-natural, handmade soap.” By handmade I meant we purchased bars of pre-made glycerin soap, melted it down and poured it into molds, with hand-selected trinkets scattered within the forms. Technically, we didn’t make the soap, but we did do 2/3 of the work by hand. Including the branded paper-bags I created by rolling brown lunch bags through my printer. We made a killing — at the end of the assignment, we had the highest profits. As CEO and Creative Director, I was pretty well convinced I’d end up with an MBA from Wharton before my 18th birthday.

9.  Frozen pizza on Fridays is delicious, if not horrendously lazy.

10. Nothing holds more potential than the first page of a new notebook (let’s just say, I consider this a metaphor for life in general)

Hockey Players Don’t Cry and Other Things My Father Taught Me

In honor of Father’s Day, and my Dad (who despite his habit of doing embarrassing things like tripping over an installation at my opening and breakingthe piece…which he says is “in his job description as a father”… is pretty rad) here are a few of the important life lessons my Father has taught me over the years:

How to use a hammer. 

When I was 5, I used to hang out in my father’s workshop a lot. He had, and still has, a 1955 MG that he tinkers with. It’s a big flashy red car so that alone was appealing. I didn’t care much for dolls, much to both of my parents’ pleasure, so when I needed something to keep me busy and to keep me occupied while he was tuning the carburetor, my dad gave me a piece of wood, a box of nails and a hammer to play with.

Now I play with a hammer at work, hanging shows.

My dad is always there to pick me up and remind me, Hockey Players don't Cry
My dad is always there to pick me up and remind me, Hockey Players don’t Cry

Hockey Players Don’t Cry.

It was bath time and a bar of soap had gone rogue, slipping unnoticed out of the soap dish and onto the floor of the tub. I slipped. And cracked my head open. I was probably 3. My Nanny rushed me to the doctor. As he approached with the needle to stitch the gaping wound closed, I started to bawl. My father, who had escaped work early to meet us there, turned to me and said: “Hockey players don’t cry.”

The tears stopped and a few minutes later I headed out of the office with a lollipop.

Of course the irony: I never played hockey.

“In heaven, all you get is Matzo and Manischewitz. Just enjoy the hot dog.” 

Health food and my father just don’t go together — they’re like water and oil. But my father has a point: life is short, every once in a while, it’s okay to indulge a little bit.

48_514356608072_2585_nReal Men Play Rugby

My father was an international rugby player when he and my mother were a young couple. When I went to college, he started volunteer coaching our ragamuffin team, which meant I had a legitimate reason to go to games.

Sub lesson learned — rugby players have great thighs…

It’s important to have a morning routine. 

Every day, my father drives into town to the local bakery. He buys the scone of the day, a cup of coffee, and 2 cookies to split among the 3 dogs that make up the rest of the family. He comes home, spreads out a napkin and proceeds to read the entire NYTimes, cover to cover. No one can make him do anything before he finishes the paper. This is a routine I approve of, and I would take part too, except he hogs the paper…

You have to kiss a lot of toads. 

My father has spoiled me rotten. He can fix everything. He can’t really cook anything, unless it’s out of a can, but otherwise, he’s pretty ace. Standards are pretty high. Every time something goes south with the guy I’m seeing my father, in his usual way just shrugs and says: “You have to kiss a lot of toads before you find a prince.”

Since you have to kiss a lot of toads, it’s just better if you learn to do it yourself. 

And this is why he’s taught me to grout, paint, check my oil, etc. etc — because, as he also says: “How can you be independent if you can’t change a tire?”

Thanks, Dad.

Want to plant a tree? Here's how to use a post digger. Thanks Dad!
Want to plant a tree? Here’s how to use a post digger. Thanks Dad!




We All Need a Little Christmas

“Wishing people a Merry Christmas feel wrong right now,” my mother said as she put her stack of to-be-written Christmas cards aside and moved on to the monotony of ironing my father’s shirts. “It doesn’t seem like there’s much to be merry about.”

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has punched the nation in the gut, taking the air out of our collective lungs and with it, the joy out of the season. Elementary schools are more than institutions of learning. They are supposed to be community builders and safe havens for our children. Something sacred has been desecrated.

“We’re being extra sensitive. People don’t feel like celebrating. People just need Christmas to be over with,” the publisher of a news paper observed in a phone conference with me and my boss.

Indeed, our hearts are all heavy. Making merry seems out of place.

People just need Christmas to be over with.

The 2012 Rockefeller Christmas tree makes me feel like a happy 5 year old.
The 2012 Rockefeller Christmas tree turns us all into children, full of wonder

As I walked up Manhattan’s 5th Avenue from Bryant Park Friday night, watching families walk hand-in-hand to take in the Saks windows and Rockefeller tree or make their way to the Bryant Park skating rink, I was struck with a realization — we don’t need Christmas to be over with.

What we need is a little Christmas.

Christmas is about family. Christmas is about togetherness. Christmas is about healing. Christmas is about transcendence.

Think about it: here we are in the middle of winter, the trees are bare, the thermometer low, and yet the world is lit-up with beams of multicolor lights. Christmas is something we can rely on — it comes back, year after year, no matter what the circumstances. It’s a time to remember and to be thankful, and this year we must all be thankful for each other, for having a Christmas to share.

26 families in Newtown, CT are having a hard time in finding joy in the season, of this there is no doubt. For those of us that are lucky to be with friends and family, this is the year to hold everyone we care about a little closer and acknowledge how precious these moments of togetherness are.

Life is short.

Embrace the season.

Let yourself be joyful.

Get caught under the mistletoe.

Drink that extra cup of cocoa.

Hug your child/parent/spouse an extra time.

Leave cookies & milk out for Santa.

Look in wonder at your bedazzled Christmas tree.

Be a kid at heart.

And at the end of the night, say an extra set of prayers — one for the families in Newtown, whose Christmases will never be the same, and one to say Thank You for the Christmas you have today.

christmas time 2009 002

When It’s Time to Ask Yourself: Do I want to Try to “Have it All”

About a month ago, my closest male friend from college married the woman that became his better half. They’re a lovely couple, best friends really. They’re also both smart, funny, and driven career people. I admire them.

Marriage is an interesting thing. It changes everything. About a week ago, my friend’s new wife launched a call for help on facebook:

“To my ladies: do you think it is possible to have it all, amazing career and family life? Cause I really don’t see how one or both won’t suffer. Send some tips my way if u have any.”

We’re all her contemporaries, women in our late 20s, so most shrugged but praised their own mothers for somehow managing both a career and motherhood. Someone shared the famously talked about article in the Atlantic. Appropriate. I shared some advice I had heard a few days earlier from the keynote speaker at a luncheon…

Cut to the buffet spread in an upper crust Westchester suburban yacht club. Enter Judge Judy Sheindlin.

Judge Judy had some advice for the young women in the room about “having it all”

Yea, that’s right. THE Judge Judy.

I was at the Her Honor Mentoring 2012 kick-off luncheon. I had just re-met my mentee, a 17-year-old high school senior with a passion for all things art and aspirations to travel in adulthood. My fellow Mentors were the county’s leading businesswomen and government leaders. What was I doing there?

No matter. On to the speech:

“You may hear that you can’t have it all – a career and a family. But I’m living proof that you can have it all… if you learn how to negotiate…

In my day, you only left the house in either a white dress or a pine box. But I’m telling you that you don’t have to get married as a high school senior. Or as a freshman. Or as a sophomore or junior. Maybe, by the time you’re a senior you can start to look around to see if there’s anyone you find appealing. But just remember: you may have your act together when you’re 22, but they, well, they may not have their act together at 55.

So have your career. Set the bar for your career high and go out and achieve it. And then, and then start to look to have that family.”

It was a message I was surprised Judge Judy would share with a room full of college seniors yet to make their way and professional women who had all pursued unique paths in their lifetime. On the subject of “having it all,” it was surprisingly pragmatic. As I chuckled and applauded (I was the soul “ain’t that the truth, sister!” shouter in the room), it occurred to me that I was the youngest mentor.

I’m just starting in my career. Sometimes I feel like a little girl trying on her mother’s shoes…

Unlike the other “dynamic,” successful career women in the room, I was really just starting out.

My mother married my father when she was 17 and he was 21. Two weeks ago they celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. If you do the math, that means they were married some 24 years before I was born. Over that quarter century, my mother made a career for herself, allowing her to retire as a top banking executive when I was starting high school.

Since the Atlantic article came out, there seems to have been another resurgence of feminist talk — or maybe it’s more of another re-evaluation of feminism.

Did you catch this Sunday NYTime’s Opinion piece by Alissa Quart? The one about women hiding their pregnancies in the professional world?

What about the brief speech by a new character on the Good Wife?

What about that other op-ed piece about the “Myth of Masculine Decline” in the work place?

I guess I never questioned the idea of “having it all.” I grew up with Judge Judy’s advice as my own game plan because it was a successful path I had watched unfold.

But then my own life began to happen.

I don’t have an answer for my Californian friend. Or for any young woman in our position. Frankly, no one really does.

Here’s what I can say…

The women of our generation are lucky because we have choices. We can choose to be career women. We can choose to be career mothers. We can choose to be both careerwomen and mothers. None of the above paths are easy — none are achieved without sacrificing or without negotiations.

As for me, well, the question of “having it all” isn’t as relevant now as it will be later. But I will say Nicole Sheindlin’s words from that luncheon have stayed with me.

A career is a woman’s insurance policy for independence and self-confidence.

True that, sister.

The Loose-Leaf Worries

carton (c) The New Yorker

At 4AM my eyes shot wide open for no particular reason, as far as I could tell. For the next several hours, until my alarm clock went off, I spent the minutes tossing and turning, my brain operating at full-speed, dreams mimicking all the awake moments of days past and days to come.

It’s a scene I’m used to: Late August Insomnia.

Sometimes, I sit up in bed and read or write until my body finally agrees to a system shut-down. Other times, I attempt yoga breathing exercises hoping to force a blank-slate on my brain. In theory, I’m supposed to wipe it clean of my thoughts and hide the chalk. This is a method I’m new at and therefore find it largely unsuccessful. So most nights, I just try to tough it out, hoping the physical exhaustion of flipping from my right side to my middle to my left will eventually put me back to sleep.

I realized this is an annual occurrence. A sort of seasonal allergy. But instead of ragweed or pollen, the root cause of sleeplessness is loose-leaf.

Yes, loose-leaf.

I used to believe that my Late August Insomnia was the result of excessive sleep stores. Perhaps I had slept in too much in July and my body was some how trying to return to equilibrium? No. It was because of loose-leaf.

Loose-Leaf. The root cause of my Late August Insomnia

It was usually around mid-August that I began my back-to-school supply shopping. It was, as the Staples commercial is so keen to say, the most wonderful time of the year. Fresh notebooks. Clean binders. New pens and just sharpened Ticonderoga pencils. It was exciting: Nothing holds as much potential as a clean first page in a brand new notebook.

But with back-to-school shopping and my new stacks of loose-leaf, so came a boatload of concerns to keep my head spinning into the wee hours of the morning.

Worries that I hadn’t completed all my summer reading assignments on time or to standard.

Insecurities about lunch-time cliques.

Aspirations for athletic glory.

Hopes for young love.

Concerns that I hadn’t bought enough loose-leaf.

All of it kept me awake at night.  The funny thing is that it’s been nearly 4 years since I’ve had to do back-to-school shopping, and yet I still find myself suffering from Late August Induced Insomnia.

First-day-of-class anxieties have been replaced with real-world “grown-up” worries. In the art world, a gallery season often kicks off in September. My next opening looms right around the corner. Offices return to full-steam-ahead. Galas and fundraisers sneak in before the close of the fourth quarter. Holidays creep closer. Somewhere in all the hullabaloo of responsibility, I have a social life, a family life, and a romance to maintain.

It’s past my bed time as I put my head to my pillow on Labor Day night, but I’m far from sleepy. For a fleeting moment, I wish my biggest worry was a book report on The Great Gatsby due in class tomorrow.

…But maybe that’s only because I know the grown-up me would ace it.

A Catholic Confesses: Father, Forgive Me, I’m Addicited to Matzo

Matzo -- the perfect vehicle for anything you want to eat.

“Planning a big Seder dinner?” Ivane, my favorite check-out lady at Whole Foods asked as I unloaded the 10 boxes of matzo from my shopping cart.

The pound of pork tenderloin, the 5-lb ham, and the 2 packages of bacon which I also unloaded were a clear tell that no, I was not celebrating Passover. I was merely stocking up on my favorite seasonal cracker before the lack of demand would take away my supply.

“You only like matzo because you don’t have to eat it every day,” my Jewish friends always tell me.

Maybe. Arguably, us Catholics get off easy. “No bread” is one of the many paths to self-denial we can chose from during the Lent season. And since I’m an “Only When She Flies” Catholic, giving up bread for 40 days is less about religious doctrine and more about getting ready for beach season.

For me, giving up bread for Lent is less about religion and more about beach season.

Then again, if Catholics had to replace every slice of bread with communion wafers during the 40 days of Lent, and I saw a friend willingly consume the tasteless disk of starch, I’d probably think she was crazy too. But a communion wafer doesn’t come close to matzo on the utility scale.

Matzo’s chalky tastelessness and sturdy physical presence make it a great vehicle for anything you could possibly want to stack on top of something before you eat it. Peanut butter and honey. Chocolate and caramel. Smoked salmon and chives. Aged Gouda and ham. A slab of butter.

Or you can crumble it into stuff, like soup.

Matzo’s lack of flavor means it doesn’t interfere with what you really want to eat. Its crunch is an appealing bonus characteristic.

As I unpacked my groceries and tried to make space in my pantry, it occurred to me that 10 boxes might have been excessive. Apparently, besides making a lot of crumbs, the big drawback to matzo is that it’s packaging doesn’t fit in a breadbox.

Maybe if the boxes of matzo fit in my breadbox, it'd be less obtrusive in my kitchen.