January 2013

A fairy garden

a fairy garden

Our very own fairy garden.

My daughter has been obsessed with The Girls’ Book of Flower Fairies for years now, and is always scanning the pages for fun activities and ways to bring the magic world of fairies into our humdrum daily lives.

Her latest obsession is the flower fairy garden, and she insisted that we make one IMMEDIATELY. Which was a bit of a challenge, because it is the dead of winter. But I hit Jamali, my favorite prop house in the flower district in Manhattan, and then bought a couple of lovely easy-to-care-for indoor leafy plants at Sprout Home ( a polka dot plant and some kind of fern) and we were in business. You can see the results above. — Read more

Cecil the Pet Glacier

Cecil, the Pet Glacier

Cecil, the Pet Glacier. A marvelous and mysterious picture book by Matthia Harvey.

My friend Ellen Harvey, an extraordinary artist in her own right, has a sister who is a poet. Which is about as cool as it gets, if you ask me. Their parents should be over the moon.

But I digress. Matthea Harvey (the poet) has recently published a beautifully weird and wonderful children’s book about a little girl who tries to be normal (despite the eccentricities of her parents, who make topiary and tiaras) but only raises her oddball profile when she is strongarmed into adopting a glacier as a pet.


Although one might say, “With parents like these, who needs a pet?” — Read more

Tea for flu


Cold and flu season has hit us hard this year. Just about everybody is sick, was just sick, or feels like they might be getting sick. Plus the temperatures around these parts are barely reaching 20 degrees, which makes for a brutal combination.

So what do you do besides get enough sleep, take your vitamins and wash your hands like a maniac? Oh and get the flu shot, if you are so inclined?

DRINK TEA. And lots of it.

Here are my three favorite teas for battling this onslaught of viruses. All delicious, all effective and all kid friendly. Because lets face it, your kids spend all day in a petrie dish… oh no wait… school… and are bringing all sorts of stuff home with them besides homework.

Elderberry: According to a 2001 study from Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital, this herb activates the immune system and may be effective against over 10 strains of flu– considerably more than the annual flu shot. (Just sayin’…) In fact, it has been used for centuries by Native Americans to reduce fever and other symptoms. It is rich in both antioxidants and vitamin C, which we all know are super helpful in fortifying the system against catching colds and flu. And, if you are unlucky enough to come down with something, drinking this tea can significantly reduce the time you are sick. Like in half. Which doesn’t suck. Plus it is delicious and sweet, making it super easy to convince the little ones to drink it. Add a spoon of honey and it’s basically candy.

Ginger: Widely known to ease nausea, Chinese herbalists have long used this root as an antihistamine and a decongestant, two substances whose services are much in demand around this time of year. My favorite way to make ginger tea is to roughly chop up a good sized root, put it in a pot of water (3 or 4 cups) boil it till the whole kitchen smells like ginger (20 mins or so), then pour it into a mug, adding the juice of half a lemon, a big spoonful of honey and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I drink loads of this whenever I feel a fever coming on and I swear it makes me feel better.

Lemon balm: The anti-viral qualities of this herb make it ideal to drink when you are feeling under the weather, and it has been found to combat mumps as well as to bring on a sweat that helps reduce fever. A member of the mint family, this herb is really easy to grow, so you can easily keep a fresh supply going in a pot in your kitchen. It is also known to be a bit of a tranquilizer, so it helps you get the sleep you need to heal.

Oh and if you want to know where to get this great teapot pictured above (a favorite holiday gift from one of my husband’s colleagues) read on… — Read more

Tiny steps

clear bookshelf

This is, currently, the only non cluttered space in my office.

WARNING: This is a post about cleaning up my office (or trying to) which may not be at all interesting to any of you. So feel free to move on and check back in a few days when some other, potentially more interesting topic is on the table. Or read on, if you’re curious.

At the beginning of this month (and of this year, actually) I made the grand resolution that I was going to clean my office. And I started following the steps on Apartment Therapy’s January Cure, narrowing the scope from the entire apartment to just my little home office.

Easy peasy, right?

Well here it is, 2 weeks later, and I haven’t really done all that much. Which is more like my 2012 operational style than I care to admit. I did tidy up a bit, so that I have room on the floor to push back my chair and I can see a bit of the surface area of my desk. And (see photo above) I cleared off one shelf, exposed the high-gloss red I’d painted it when we first moved in here, and put just a few of my favorite things on display… in other words, I made the kind of tiny space that looks like the rooms in the magazines I drool over so jealously. When I look at that little area, I feel better about myself, somehow.

But I fear I have strayed from the path and must now get back on track. By the end of the month, I’m supposed to be done with my two self-appointed tasks (clear off the desk and clear off the piles of stuff from the floor) but at the rate I’m going, I’ll be lucky to get half of one done.

So today is the day to regroup and to get back on track. I’m going back to Apt Therapy to see just how far behind I have fallen…

Ok so week one of the January Cure asked us to make a list of projects, set up an outbox, stock up on green cleaners, clean the floors and get fresh flowers. I did everything except the floors because my office is so cluttered that I couldn’t really even get to the floors to clean them. Oh well.

Week two asks us to get a fresh perspective on the space, choose one task to do this month, chose some art to frame and get going on that, work on the party we’re going to have to celebrate the new clean space, clear out excess from the kitchen, buy flowers and cook a meal.

Actually, I did a lot of this stuff too… Took not one but 5 things to the framers (though none of them are going to end up in the office, so does that count?) I’m probably not having a party just to celebrate the tidy version of my office. That seems kind of lame. Though maybe I’ll invite my husband, because the current chaotic state of my office bothers hi to the core. Now while I should have cleaned out excess from the office, I couldn’t resist attacking the kitchen, so I cleared out one shelf, got rid of 9 bottles of old grains, expired boxes of food, etc. Didn’t get fresh flowers because the old ones still look good.

Week three is where I faded out. I was supposed to create a landing strip, that mythical place close to the entrance of my apt where I sort through the mail put my keys away and prevent any unnecessary clutter from getting all the way in. I really need one of these, but am far from having it. Then I was supposed to work on my goal project (nope), try a media fast (hah!), declutter books and media (no comment) and clean my bedroom. Oh and more flowers. Of course, I have done none of this.

Translating this to the office, I’m thinking the media fast and decluttering is easy. I could use an inbox (hello landing strip, office style) and, well, I did clean out my bedroom fairly well because my in laws just came to town and I like to put our best foot forward, clean-home wise, when they visit.

Day 14 and 15 are all about getting files together (a year-long project, in my case) and controlling the chaos of the cords. Both need to be done. Badly.

Hmmmmm. Lots to do. Got to get realistic, pick one project to do in the office (desk! desk! desk!) and think of anything else as a bonus. Wish me luck, as I have 10 days left. Plus I’m trying to write other, normal, far more interesting posts as well. That involve stuff outside of the limited sphere of my apartment. So you guys won’t all get bored and stop coming to visit.

And hopefully, by month’s end, I will be typing these missives from a clean desk.

Fingers crossed.

The great communicator

American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968)

Remember when phones all had cords?

Imagine what this man got done, without the aid of the internet, or twitter, or even answering machines, for that matter. Kind of humbles you.

In honor of the great Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday lets remember what a truly inspired movement can do, how love and tolerance really can triumph over hatred and bullying, that the work of forming “a more perfect union” is never done, and that Cinderella isn’t the only person who gets to have her dreams come true.

When I look at my daughter’s classroom full of mixed race kids, I know we have come a long way. But when my dad hears a pharmacist in the supposedly enlightened Hamptons refer to Michelle Obama in derogatory terms I am reminded of how far we still have to go.

While jailed in Birmingham, AL, Dr King wrote an open letter to a group of white clergymen who had expressed disapproval of the non-violent actions he spearheaded. This letter remains one of the most important documents of the civil rights movement. If you’ve got a few minutes, I’ve included the entire text below. It is one of the most direct and beautifully argued letters ever written.

Here is the full text of the letter:

— Read more

The sketchbook project

the sketchbook project 2013 brooklyn

Here’s my sketchbook, still drying at the 11th hour.

There is an excellent place in Williamsburg called the Brooklyn Art Library which is, first and foremost, the home of The Sketchbook Project– a library of thousands of sketchbooks filled with original drawings, paintings and photographs made by artists of all stripes over the past 7 years (it all started in Atlanta in 2006, but moved to Brooklyn, like so many do, in 2010)

Each year all sorts of doodlers, be they professional artists, designers, hobbyists or, for example, my daughter, fill the 32 pages of a blank sketchbook with their work, send it off to Brooklyn to be catalogued, digitized (if they so choose) and then sent off on a national tour, to be checked out by like minded souls all over the country.

It’s an awesome project, and I have wanted to participate for years, but have only now, just this week, finally gotten it together to hand one in.

At the last minute, of course. (See above photo of the spray adhesive drying in front of the heater before I take the book in)

But I had a blast doing it. My daughter and I both got our books at the same time. This summer. She finished hers in a day, and it is brilliant. (mind you, I’m biased, but still…) Another day for the collage on the cover and she was off to the races.

I had a more complicated concept that involved photos (because lets face it, I can’t draw to save my life) which I had to edit, print and affix to the pages I had decorated (that’s where the doodling part came in.) I started in August, finished the backgrounds over the weekend and then did all the rest of it on Monday night, between  the time my husband came home from work and took over (bless him) and… um… 5 am. Just like college!

Here’s a sample page, haphazardly shot right before I had to run out the door to hand it in. The left image is of some amusement park on Long Isand and the right is of one of the best performances of an operatic duet I have ever seen, at a community center on the tiny island of Ilseboro, ME.

The book made it to it’s new home just in the nick of time and will now go on tour and spend the rest of it’s days surrounded by other bursts of human creativity.

A few more pages. These were all shot in Mumbai:

And these are two different displays of items for sale. One at MOMA, the other in Rockaway:

Here’s hoping that this sketchbook will help inspire some other people to make something creative. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

Oh and here’s a cute video that the Art Library folks made about the project. Not sure when the 2014 sign ups begin, but you should all think about doing a book… it’s fun… and you don’t have to stay up till 5 am to finish it, I swear…

A longer read

wind in the willows and the jungle book

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy these stories.

We have been reading more long form books lately, especially now that we have finished our Lord of the Rings marathon. (sob!) Talking animals have replaced elves and hobbits in our two recent favorites: The Wind in the Willows and The Jungle Book. Both classics, available in a multitude of formats, abridged and uncut, Disney and otherwise.

I always go for the original version myself, as the language of the authors is so much richer (and so much more interesting for the grown ups to read!) And Penguin and Puffin, two aptly named and beloved publishers of literary classics, have given us two lovely versions of these volumes to enjoy and maybe even keep around the house for awhile. Actual books. Made from paper. That you hold in your hands. With pages that turn. Crazy.

This edition of The Wind in the Willows is part of the Penguin Threads series and features a front and back cover that is an embossed representation of a crazy embroidered Mr Toad driving madly away in a car. The inside cover is, appropriately, the back side of the embroidery. The physical object of book itself is a pleasure to hold in your hand… thank you Penguin. I never read this book as a child, so I was just as enthralled with the mysterious world of these animals as my daughter, and also just as sad when it was done.

But we drowned our sorrows in The Puffin Classics edition of Rudyard Kiplong’s The Jungle Book. Which I also never read as a kid (What was I doing?) Who knew that after the seminal story of Mowgli and the Tiger there were a whole mess of other, equally captivating stories of animals in the Indian jungle?

Another lovely thing about the Puffin Classics is that they include an afterward, with facts about the author, more in depth information about the various animals (who knew that wolves have three eyelids?), and activities and questions to further spur imagination. And they are interesting, intelligent questions. Not the dumbed down squeaky annoying stuff you hear for kids on TV these days.

So go out there and get these books. Or get other ones. (and then let me know which ones you love) And read some of these longer classics to your kids. You’d be suprised how willing they are to sit and listen when it’s a captivating story. And how nice it is to carve out a little analogue time in this digital world we live in.

The January cure

Words cannot even describe...

Words cannot even describe…

Happy slightly belated New Year everybody.

The world didn’t end on December 21st and we are now forced to reckon with our realities for yet another year. Usually, by this time in January, I have made a long list of resolutions attacking every failing I have ever had in my life, determined to change the way I eat, work, spend, relate, create, exercise, etc in the space of one year. It never works.

This year, I have decided to be more realistic. I have two resolutions that I figure are enough to keep me busy all year. And if I finish them early, I can always add new ones. But at least, if I keep it simple, I may actually have a shot of accomplishing them. Not that they are easy, but at least they are not numerous.

First off, I am determined to become more mature about the way I deal with money. Enough said. This one is private, so I’m done talking about it here. Just wish me luck, because I’m going to need it.

Secondly (and here’s where the blog comes in because you are going to hear all about this one– sorry!) I am determined to clean up my office. Because I am currently giving the Collyer brothers a run for their money, and it’s only getting worse (see photo above for proof.)

This is how I plan to begin. I am not going to go my usual route of coming up with my own plan. Instead I am consulting the experts. Apartment Therapy, the wonderful home design online universe, (started by my high school friend Maxwell Gilligham-Ryan) has a thing they call the January Cure which, if followed, will result in you having a cleaner, clearer more organized home in just 31 days. I’m taking it down a notch, and just concentrating on one room. My office-from-hell.

Now of course, I’m starting the whole thing late, and as such, have several days worth of chores to get done in order to catch up, but I’m going to give it a go. And hopefully, by the end of the month, there will be a much improved version of the above panorama (taken with the wonderful app Photosynth, which you should all get, by the way) at the top of my post.

Click below if you want to hear about the first couple days worth of tasks.

Ok so this first week of tasks has been crammed into a couple of days in a desperate attempt to catch up to the rest of the folks who are faithfully completing their assignments in a more timely fashion.

First up, The List of Projects. We are to go through the house (or in my case, the room) and ID trouble spots. My list is absurd and includes something about every inch of my office. Ugh. I then am to take that list and pick 3 to 5 specific tasks that will make a big difference in the way I experience the space. I picked two, that are probably too big and will have to be broken down further, but at least I’ve committed to them in writing.

I’m going to clean my desk and then clear up (most of) the floor space. Right now, there is barely room for my desk chair to push back. You may hold your applause till the end of the month.

We then are instructed to Create an Outbox (a brilliant concept.) This is a place in our house where we put the stuff that we think we want to get rid of. It’s a kind of limbo. If, in a week, we still don’t want it, it goes. Mine is in our entry and already includes the birthday sign I made and used for my kid’s past two birthdays and the advent calender I made in 2011 that is now falling apart. Obvious choices, maybe, but you have to start somewhere.

Next we are supposed to clean and vaccum/mop, but I can’t do that because the room is TOO MESSY. Oh and buy flowers, which I’ll totally do– I swear– when I finally get out of the house today.

Next up, get a fresh perspective on your space by sitting in some kind of new spot and taking in the fresh view, visualizing the room empty and then mentally rebuilding it from scratch. This shit is hard, and the only reason I’m going to actually do it is so that I’m not caught lying about it here on this blog.

10 minutes later…

Staring at the mountain of clutter for 10 minutes straight was daunting, but I discovered a couple of great things. I have a Monopoly game here already, so I don’t have to go buy one. Also, I have a huge box of thermal fax paper from the nineties that I can totally get rid of, instantly freeing up shelf space. Who knew?

Ok taking a break now. I promise to keep you all posted as the saga continues. I know you are thrilled.