Little Bee and The King’s Speech

I read an entire book this week.  It was a small book, only 288 pages, but I feel a sense of accomplishment.  I am retaining my (failed) goal from last year to read at least one book/month in 2011 and so far so good!

The book was Little Bee by Chris Cleve.  It came highly recommended by several women I traveled to Sicily with, so I was sadly disappointed when I did not completely love it.  Let me re-state. I LOVED the first 75% of it, but the last 25% was bad.  The dialogue went down hill, the characters started doing silly things, and the end was….a huge let down.

The book is about a 16 year old Nigerian girl and a well-to-do British couple who’s lives become intertwined due to a tragic event that alters all of their lives forever (of course).  The book alternates from being from told from the point of view of the 16 year old girl, Little Bee, and the wife of the British couple.

The perspective of Little Bee is well written (in a poetic voice that takes a few pages to get used to but  grows on you) and I loved the way he illustrated Little Bee’s perspective of England as a girl who grew up in a primitive Nigerian village but spent two years learning “the Queens English” in an immigration detention center.  There was great suspense and plot twists right up until 3/4 of the way through and then it just got weird.   One character entered the story that was completely unbelievable and the story just fell apart when lots of tings that made no sense started happening.  I can’t say more without giving it away, although I can’t imagine you would read it after my glowing review.

I also went to see The King’s Speech.  This is a movie I can recommend highly with no reservation.  Loved it.   True story (so I got a nice history lesson) about King George IV who was originally Prince Albert but took the name George when he became King (Albert was, apparently, not considered a cool King’s name.)   Prince Albert had a stammer (which I just learned from Wikipedia is a synonym for stuttering although Albert had more of a hesitation than what you would more commonly think of as a stutter) and he worked to overcome it with a speech therapist from Australia.  The movie is about the process of him overcoming this speech impediment and the friendship he develops with his speech therapist.  It is heartwarming and funny and deep and just a great flick.  Colin Firth is awesome, as always.  I also saw him recently in A Single Man, which I also really liked and he was also fabulous in that.  And he was of course in one of my favorite movies of all time, Love Actually.  I think he should be the King of England.  He rocks.

Is Wonder Woman Suiting Up?

Over the past month (Yes, since seeing Waiting for Superman) I have become re-obsessed with the topic of education reform.  I say re-obsessed since this happened to me once before in 1992.  I read Savage Inequalities by Jonathon Kozol and quit my consulting job 6 months later to become a teacher.  I ended up returning to the corporate world (for many reasons), but hoped to get back into education some day, in some capacity.

I have been reading a lot more about this issue of education reform and have broadened my perspective since my original post on the topic.  (I Wish I Was Superman).  I understand that this is a complex issue that goes far beyond good teachers (which are very important and very hard to cultivate, not matter how much money you throw at them.)  I understand that having good management in schools is equally as important as having good teachers and the horrible management is one of the reasons we have teacher’s unions. There are lots of other things I have learned but lets save that for future posts.

I was mentioning my obsession to a friend last week, who is a NYC public school principal, and she got very excited about connecting me with someone who is looking for an Executive Director for his Nonprofit focused on school reform.  I was of course, was terrified by the prospect, but I am trying not to let fear get in my way these days so I agreed to speak with him.  By the time he contacted me to set up a call, my job had been eliminated which put a whole new spin on this exploration activity.

I read the job description which said the ideal candidate would have X, Y, and Z.  I have many fabulous skills but not X, Y, and Z.  The day before the call, I knew I should be preparing to spin the skills I do have but instead I took a nap and watched three (awesome) back to back episodes of Glee.

The morning of the conversation I did spend a couple of hours taking notes on what might be good to say about my background, made a list of intelligent questions, and mostly told myself over and over not to start the conversation with “I know I am completely unqualified for this job but thank you for taking the time to speak with me.”

When the call kicked off, he jumped right in and talked for almost a full hour before I had to say anything.  I completely forgot that his perspective could be to sell ME on the job.  I talked about my background a little bit, but he kept getting inspired to interject (he loves Jonathan Kozol..score!) which meant less time for me to stick my foot in my mouth (yay!)   I also tool a lot of notes while he was talking (and he knows a lot about education and the NYC public school system) so that when we meet again, I have a much better idea of how to tailor my sales pitch to what he is looking for, and lots of time to read up more on X, Y, and Z.

I went in to the conversation thinking that even if I could convince him to hire me, this job would be so far out of my comfort zone and so stressful that I am not sure I would enjoy it (and there is no way it would pay enough.)  But after talking with him, I am definitely more excited about the prospect (and it pays more than I thought it would).  He is also looking for people to sit on his board which could be a great opportunity to ease my way in to it all and stay in the comfy corporate world a bit longer.

I have a lot of thinking to do, but I am starting to think that I CAN be Wonder Woman!!!  (because clearly that Superman suit would look ridiculous on me.)  Well, I always knew I had it in me, I just wasn’t sure when I would strap on my lasso and get in my invisible plane to make it happen.  Looks like I might be getting closer to putting on that suit.  Which means I should definitely hit the gym after the holidays.

Happy Hour For Absolutely No Reason

It’s the final day of my 7 day experiment to not watch TV for a whole week.  I have been keeping pretty busy these last few days so I haven’t missed it that much….until today.  Today, I am a bit hungover and would LOVE to just chill on the couch and turn on the TV, but I am not caving in on the home stretch!

The reason I am a little bit hungover is because I left my comfort zone AGAIN last night and hosted a happy hour that turned in to 6 hours of “happy” with a lot of vino.  It was much easier than throwing a full blown party.  I just sent a Facebook invite to (almost) all of my FB friends in NYC titled Happy Hour for Absolutely No Reason (because I couldn’t call it Help Me Step Out of My Comfort Zone by Hosting a Social Gathering.)   I was scared when I hit the “Send Invitation” button, but I really wanted to make the most of the time I got back for myself this week by not going to Turkey, which gave me the courage to put my social invitation out to the universe!

The bar I picked near my office turned out to be very cool and quite a few people showed up.  Most of the attendance was was due to my sister and her husband who are both “fun in a can” and have a lot of friends who like to drink.   A handful of my other friends also showed up  and they all mingled together well and had a great time!   My plan was to make it a regular event if it went well and since this was a smashing success, it will happen again in the New Year.

Since I can’t just veg out and watch TV, I will be heading out again this evening for more socializing at the holiday party of a friend of a friend.  Tomorrow, I might have a huge TV binge (I am craving Fringe right now !!) but I feel like I might have established a habit of choosing things other than TV that could become a more regular thing.

I did accomplish quite a bit this week during normal TV hours.  I changed a light bulb, I read a few chapters of a book on my Kindle, I completed many blog posts, I went to the movies (Black Swan – disturbing but very good), I did some super hard Yoga, I hosted a Happy Hour, and I took a nap.  Next week I have even more activities planned!  Stay tuned…

Deep Thoughts During Savasana

I started taking a Yoga class that is beyond my level of expertise.  When I say “expertise”, I mean “what I learned from 8 years of  Inhale with Steve Ross,” a Yoga show on the Oxygen channel. (That’s Steve below there.  I do love him.  We spent a lot of time together.) I might have over estimated my Yoga ability a bit in Sicily when people who had not done much Yoga were saying to me “you look like you have been doing Yoga for a while.”  When I got to this highly recommended Level 2/3 class, it was clear that I was in above my head.

Yoga is supposed to be about loving yourself and accepting exactly where you are (and probably other things too) but it is really hard for me to love myself when I am the only one in class falling over every time we go directly from side angle to half moon and the teacher is adjusting me more than anyone else.

But tonight, when I was lying in Savasana, thinking (when I was supposed to be clearing my mind) I reminded myself that this Level 2/3 class is taking me out of my comfort zone which is exactly what I am trying to do with my life right now!  If I only do the poses I am good at (which is very few), how will I advance myself spiritually and literally stretch myself in new directions?  I need to keep going to this class and pushing myself to get better and work on feeling like less of an idiot when I fall over.

I also realized that just the fact that I am going to a studio and taking a real live class is a huge step in the right direction.  Yoga at home with the TV is not Yoga.   Better than nothing, but not great. I was going through the motions and not paying much attention to what I was doing at all.  When I am in this 2/3 class, I am not thinking about anything else (except during Savasana, obviously).  This teacher is amazing and fills my mind with positive, powerful thoughts as I am attempting to twist myself in to poses that will align my spirit with my body.  THAT is what Yoga is about (and probably other things too.)

So I will keep plugging away at it which will be a compliment to moving out of my comfort zone in other parts of my life.  It is all coming together….

I Wish I Was Superman



I had the day off today and finally fulfilled my pledge to see Waiting for Superman, a documentary about the horrific state of public education in our country and what we need to do to fix it.  The film also a grass roots movement to “build public awareness, ignite personal involvement and inspire real social change.”

We all know that we need better teachers but these were some other take aways:

  • The teachers unions suck and keep bad teachers in their jobs
  • The two big teacher’s unions together are the highest contributors to the democratic national party
  • Poor “at risk” kids can learn in good schools
  • Middle class kids are also drastically under performing, they just have more smart kids in their schools that boost up the average
  • It would be A LOT cheaper to send a child to a private school  for 4 years than to pay for his prison stay for one year
  • Kids will remember anything if it is incorporated in to a rap song (maybe only kids who like rap music)

It  loved it.  I was holding back tears at the end.  My mouth was agape during a scene where they showed the “rubber room” in NYC where teachers who have been removed from the classroom (for reasons from tardiness to sexual harassment) are getting paid to sit in this room all day and do nothing while they wait for their cases to be heard.  I am paying these people’s salaries!  (They looked like a scary lot, too)

When I walked out of the theater, I thought, how can we abolish these teacher’s unions?  Can’t we just put it to a vote?  Then I realized I have no idea how things even get on the ballot.  That is pathetic.  Or maybe we need to start an anti-teacher’s union organization that will donate MORE money than the teacher’s unions to the politicians if they promise to get rid of them?

I think I need some more information here.  We can all check out the Waiting For Superman website and learn lots more about what we can do!..and if the movie is still playing near you, SEE IT!!!  Please!!!!!

My New Little Friend

I met my new mentee tonight and it went swimmingly well!

I signed up to mentoring a student throughout the Student Sponsor Partner program last Spring and have been waiting forever to get started! SSP partners 9th graders with mentors who help pay their tuition to a private school (usually catholic because it is affordable) and support them on their quests to be academically successful and attend college (at the moment my mentee wants to attend a school called “Truth University” that she saw in a movie called “Stomp in the Yard” so there is some work to do there.)

My mentee, her mom, her little sister and I ate dinner together at Burger Heaven this evening. Apparently, they slipped me a cheat sheet in the brochure they handed me at the SSP office with questions to spur conversation, but I did not see it until I got home. It was a bit hard to make conversation with a shy 15 year old, but I think we did ok and I covered most of the suggested topics. They gave her a whole folder to give me with info on her school, her report card, and her class schedule. Very organized! (she completely forgot about it of course, but her mom pulled it out and reminded her of all of the things she wanted to tell me, too cute.)

She seems like a good, smart kid with a supportive mother. There is some “drama in her neighborhood” we will have to watch out for and her grades could be better but she likes her new school and the teachers said she has the potential to make honor roll next semester so we are all over it! (I am already proud and I just met her!!)

When I said, “I don’t want to force you to hang out with me all the time,” when broaching the timing of our next meeting, she said “that’s ok.” so I think I passed the cool test (even though I had never heard of this “Stomp in the Yard”).

A much more positive experience than that non profit I still have not heard back from. So far SSP gets a big thumbs up and I am looking forward to mentoring my new little friend!

Good Friends, Good Times, and Sangria

My favorite thing to do when I am not watching TV is to hang out with the few people on the planet that I love spending time with.  This weekend, I traveled to Boston to see two of my favorite college friends, their amazing saint-like husbands and their adorable children.  It is always nice to spend time with people who think the same way I do, make me laugh, and are interesting enough to actually keep me awake until 1:30 in the morning.  These people are hard to find and it is important to turn off the TV, leave your apartment, and travel as far as you need to as often as you can to spend time with them! (I do thankfully have a small handful of these people in NYC and I treasure them dearly!!!)

When you spend time with your best friends, it is extra special when you have delicious food and tasty drinks.  The food I am never responsible for, but I played a large role in the construction of a pretty sweet Sangria this weekend and I would like to share this recipe with the ~5 blog fans I have.

Surprisingly Delicious Sangria

  • 2 Bottles of Red Wine (we used Charles Shaw Cabernet, aka Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 Lemons cut into wedges
  • 2 Oranges cut into wedges
  • 2 Lime cut into wedges
  • 1 Cup sliced strawberries (we used frozen)
  • 2 Apples cut in to slices
  • 3 /4  Cup Sugar
  • 2 shots of Peach Schnapps (original recipe called for a a fruit flavored brandy, this is what we had)
  • 1 bottle of ginger beer (surprise ingredient combined with the seltzer because ginger ale was not available)
  • 2 cups lime seltzer

Pour wine in the pitcher and squeeze the juice from the lemon, orange and lime wedges into the wine. Toss in the fruit wedges (leaving out seeds if possible) and add sliced apples, strawberries, sugar and schnapps. Chill overnight. Add ginger beer and seltzer and serve over ice just before serving. (We did not prepare the night before.  We threw it all in together and put it in the freezer for about 20 minutes and served it over lots of ice.)

We did not get huge buzz from this Sangria but a nice relaxed feeling.  You could add more liquor (triple sec, schnapps, brandy, etc) to give it more kick if you really want to tie one on.  We also had an abundance of fruit so you could use less, but Sangria soaked fruit is super delicious. You will love it.  I promise!

A special shout out to T and Keffrey for hosting us this weekend, taking me to buy Godzilla sneakers so I could go on the beautiful fall hike, introducing me to the “This American Life” iphone app, and feeding me that best veggie chili I have ever had.  Which requires a thanks to Deli who’s provided the veggi chili recipe. And Deb & Tom, thanks for just being you and producing children with such beautiful, contagious smiles.

Back in the USA

I am home.  Yesterday was 17 long crazy hours of travel and I still feel a little bit out of it, but I feel like I should sum up my vacation before I move on to other non vacation posts.

Overall it was a great week in Sicily.  Delicious food.  Amazing Yoga.  Beautiful scenery.  Learned about a different part of the world and a different culture.   Met new people.  Yadda, yadda yadda.

After yoga class on Friday I was feeling overwhelmed with gratitude.  Thankful for being able to afford this vacation.  Thankful for the ability to move my body in to those crazy yoga poses.  Thankful that I had survived the week with minimal to no anxiety.  Thankful that no one on the trip was extremely annoying.  Thankful that I had successfully managed to make small talk and not get completely bored out of my mind or come off like a buffoon.

At dinner on Friday, Erica gave each person a gratitude related quote and we each had to read the quote aloud and then say one or two words that summed up the week for us to help us remember the trip.  Two ideas came to my mind.  First was to repeat Erica’s quote about risks from the yoga class earlier in the week (and in an earlier post), because those words really resonated with me, but I was afraid I could not say them without getting emotional.  The second idea was to say “Disco Warrior” which was a pose we did in class, clearly the more amusing choice.  I stupidly decided to go with the more meaningful words and as expected, I got so emotional I could barely get them out.  People had to wait for me to be able to speak and then I finally managed to say them.  I don’t like to get emotional in front of other people, even I those I have known forever, so this was a big deal for me.  I did not feel close enough to these people to open myself up that way and for the rest of the night I felt very uncomfortable.  It was not as cathartic as I thought it would be.  Other people also got emotional with their words and I doubt anyone gave much thought to my emotions because people were all wrapped up in their own stuff, but I would love to go back to that moment and make the “Disco Warrior” choice.  The lesson learned was that it is not all rainbows and unicorns every time you put yourself out there.

The whole week was a study in human interaction for me.  I would have paid money to get inside people’s heads and find out what they were thinking.  I watched some of the women fight to be heard at the table and others sit back and observe more of the time like I did.  I could listen to three conversations at the same time (like being at home and multi tasking!)   My first impressions of people changed over the week which often happens so I have to always remember to keep an open mind.  The people I think I would be most likely to hang with in real life don’t live in NYC, but I expect some of us New Yorkers will get together again and we will see what happens.

My goal is to try to maintain the feelings of gratitude I had at the end of the week and try to fight off my glass half empty persona.  I am armed with a great NYC yoga teacher recommendation and some guided meditations to try.  Fingers crossed…

A Quiet Day at L’Olmo

Greek Theater in Taormina

I decided to stay back today while the rest of the Lululemon ladies went for a chilly hike on the most active volcano in the world.   I spent most of yesterday wondering what the heck I was thinking taking on this exercise vacation with strangers.   We spent the morning walking around the quaint town of Taormina in small groups.  It is always a little awkward when you are with a large group you don’t know and you are set free to wander.  It is kind of like partnering up in gym class when you are young, but thankfully, much less traumatic.  I mingled about with some of my travel mates in the drizzly but not horrible rain.  The Greek Theater was beautiful (don’t ask me anything about it since I read no guidebooks before I got here), the town was cute,  and I was quite proud of myself for not buying anything except gelato (everything in Italy tastes better that at home).

At lunch I got bored of the conversation.  This seems to happen to me a lot.  It is not like I have some extremely interesting topic to discuss on the tip of my tongue.  When I am with people who have similar interests and observations that I do, conversation can be quite engaging.  I have realized that not a lot of people talk about observations.  They love to tell stories about themselves.  It often feels like everyone is just trying to get in their story and not interested in anyone else’s.  Small talk is big of course.  Lots of “what do you do?” “where do you live?” comes with the territory on a trip like this.  Yesterday someone gave me such a pained expression when she felt obliged to ask me what I do after I asked her, I tried to cut it as short as possible.  We have had at least three conversations about when everyone’s flights depart on Saturday.  Lots of talk about marathons, triathlons, trainers, swim coaches, boot camp classes.  These things are not part of my world.   I am the clearly only one who keeps forgetting the “shape” of Escape to Shape when I book the trip.  What I do know is that this crew is constantly talking.  I have no idea how they come up with so much to say and I do know is that it gets more interesting with my new favorite digestif, Limoncello (its like drinking lemon sorbet.)

Yesterday afternoon, we had a very nice power walk on the vast grounds of L’Olmo (our villa).  Lemon trees, ocean views, and a few scary looking beetles.  Sadly, this nice walk was followed by a “boot camp” arm workout.  This hard core Canadian firefighter fitness lady is all business.  She is very sweet but clearly insane.  She can really cause pain.  If anyone tells you that you are going to do 90-60-30’s, run!   When we got through the hard part and we were  finally to the stretch, Erica brought in the owners’ new puppies and the workout was over.  I am one of the very few people in the world who does not love puppies.  The ladies went crazy.  I ducked out while they ogled and  took my super tired arms to my room for a rest.

Today, I decided I did not want to ride in a bus for an hour and stress about how I would pee on a freezing cold volcano (that did not look like it had a lot of trees.)  I joined the ladies for breakfast and spent two hours bundled up by the gorgeous pool.  I got eaten alive by mosquitoes (even through my clothes) and it got a bit chilly but I had to stay out there after I made one of the very nice staff stop his breakfast clean up to put out all of the chair cushions and umbrellas for me.  I just sat there for most of the time doing nothing; something I am only capable of on vacation.  At home I can barely make myself do one thing at a time much less sit and do nothing.  It was fabulous. For lunch my amazing hosts prepared some mozzarella and tomatoes just for me AND I got to have my salami sandwich I was supposed to have on the hike (I LOVE all processed meats).  I even got a delicious almond granita.   I felt very pampered and almost rewarded for my laziness!  Erica and Francesco have no judgment.

The chatty ladies are on their way back and after my very enjoyable and relaxing day I am looking forward to hearing about their adventures and ready to re-engage with my social exercise vacation.

Surrounded by Lululemon in Sicily

I’m in Italy.  It’s beautiful.   It’s not an Eat, Pray, Love thing.  There will be eating and yoga, but no official praying and not likely any love.  I am on a group trip with mostly women and one man (who is part of a couple) and no cute guys magically appeared next to me on the plane (I swear that only happens in the movies!)  I was introduced to this travel company (Escape to Shape) by a high school friend who knows the owners.    I did my first E2S trip to Morocco 1 1/2 years ago and now I am in Sicily with 17 strangers (and Erica and Francesco who run the show and are the sweetest people and best host and hostess on the planet.)

Fruit Market

I am way in to the Escape part (and when I say “way in to” I mean terrified to fly across the world and spend a week with strangers but simultaneously excited about seeing new places and learning new things) and the Shape part is good for me and comes with the trip so I rise to the occasion.  Today the occasion involved a 3 mile walk to small town food market and a 3 mile walk back followed by a 1 hour lower body boot camp class (yes, after 6 miles of walking).  Before dinner we go back to the mat for yoga, then wine tasting, cooking class and dinner.   That will add up to more exercise than I have done in a month.  I am a fan of moderate exercise but don’t have one of those “push yourself” personalities when it comes to working out.  This week I will push it a bit and I am sure it will feel great (not during of course, but after.)

My fabulous room (pic does not do it justice)

As you can imagine the trip attracts mostly single women, around my age (late 30s early 40s).   Everyone is from the US and about half from NYC.  Lots of interesting women that I would never meet in my current circle of life (which is not very big.)   Magazine editor, casting director, financial planner, psychologist, professor, director of operations for the Alvin Ailey dance company, fitness company owner.  A semi diverse group (for white women who have all enough money to buy Lululemon yoga outfits and travel across the world.)  It is a lot of time with strangers, which can be exhausting for an introvert, but also good for me and aligned with my goals to make my world bigger.  Most people don’t know each other and everyone is friendly and chatty.  I generally I do more listening than talking with people I don’t know, but I have gotten in some words here and there.    It’s only day 2 so we will see how it all pans out.

I am already sore from this morning’s workout and it is time to get ready for Yoga.  I might need a little prayer to make it through this one.

Addendum: I survived yoga and Erica taught me this today:  To get across the fire, you have to take risks, and the other side is never as scary as you think it is going to be.  Awesome. Great mental and physical workout.  That is what is awesome about yoga if you do it right.  PS:  Sicilian wine is delicious as was our pasta alla norma dinner followed by the best Cannoli I have ever had.