Meet Herb and Dorothy

herb-and-dorothy-largeLast night I had the opportunity to meet Herb and Dorothy Vogel, two giants in the world of modern art, despite their less than 5 foot stature. Their story has been documented in a new film appropriately titled Herb & Dorothy - which premiered last night at a local theater in my town (The Avon in Stamford) – followed by Q & A with Herb, Dorothy and the film director.

Honestly, I had never heard of them until 24 hours ago, when I happened to come across a promotional piece on this debut, and thought it might be worth a view.  Their story is impressive – Herb is a retired New York City postal worker who sorted mail by night, slept in the morning and studied art and took drawing/painting classes in the afternoon.  Dorothy was a librarian in Brooklyn Heights.  They spent most of their spare time frequenting galleries, going to art openings and cultivating relationships with artists.  They have spent their whole married lives in a one bedroom rent controlled apartment, living entirely on Dorothy’s salary, and spending Herb’s salary on art.  Their only criterion for buying – they had to be able to afford it, and it had to fit in their apartment.

So started their passion with collecting contemporary art – a passion that established close relationships with the artists over the years.  Over the past three decades they have been renowned figures in the art community, and were even recently featured alongside the Rockefellers, Rothschilds and Gettys in a new book called  Great Collectors of our Time by James Stourton.

Their overall collection is comprised of 4,000 pieces, and in 1992 when they decided to donate their then 2,500 piece collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, it took three months and 5 full moving size trucks to remove the collection from their tiny apartment.  What you see in this picture – Herb and Dorothy sitting at a small table – was virtually the only furniture in their apartment besides their bed – which over the years rose higher and higher as more art was placed underneath it.

Their collection is obviously priceless – worth millions – but they did not want or expect any compensation for their collection.  Their needs are obviously minimal; their only vice – an insanely intense art addiction.

If you get a chance to see this, I recommend it.  It truly is a one of a kind story.

Spring Contemplations

what_we_do_daffodils_flower1So the end of this weekend officially marks the end of my family’s weekly winter sojourns to Vermont. Easter in VT was a cold, blustery, partly sunny partly snowy day.  Despite the chilly temperatures, Jack (6) and Sam (4) charged out the door in their footie pajamas when they noticed an egg in the front yard – dashing around, sloshing through wet soggy spring earth, water spraying up around their legs.  But, of course, it was all worth it.  

While I’m ready to be home on weekends, it was with a bit of nostalgia and sadness that we drove away from Vermont.  But now that I’m back to reality, with loads of laundry, and an unbelievable amount of things to find homes for here, I look at the piles that have accumulated over the winter… and realize that I have to get organized. Tax day 3 days away?  Unfortunately, I think we’re filing an extension (again).  

But while I know these piles need to be addressed, my eyes are on the next thing – planning the spring garden.  I’m happy to report that my garlic is coming up (which I wrote about and planted last fall) – and am just trying to figure out the rest.  I have visions of a much more ambitious vegetable garden than I had last year – but of course nothing is easy.  I contemplate the removal of a few trees to create more steady sunshine in the back, and then contemplate how big and sturdy the garden fortress needs to be to keep the deer out.  Ideally I’d like to create a huge garden cage, but of course that probably requires a blueprint….

Maybe I should just stick to patio tomatoes….and get through some of those piles…:)

A Compliment A Day Keeps the Therapist Away

compliments

A compliment a day keeps the therapist away.

I have no idea if that statement is actually true — whether compliments correlate to mental health — but it SHOULD be true, don’t you think? The occasional kind word does wonders for my confidence; compliments that are unexpected, first-time praises and/or flattering remarks about my shrinking waist line earn extra brownie points. (Alas, too many brownies may have led to too few compliments in that last category of late.)

This contemplation about compliments was inspired by the Chicago Tribune article Purdue ‘Compliment Guys’ Can’t Give Enough of a Good Thing. Two college dudes in Indiana hang out on campus for two hours each week doling out hundreds of free compliments to passersby. Nice glasses. Great smile. Cool backpack. Their fellow students appreciate and look forward to the doses of verbal sunshine these guys offer each week.

I don’t think those compliments would do anything for me, however. I much prefer the random and spontaneous admiring comment. Like when my daughter came up to me at Kohl’s this weekend as I was looking for a new (translation = bigger) pair of jeans and said, “I’m so glad you’re my mother.”

Unaware that I had done anything spectacular, I asked why. Caitlin went on to explain that, while in the dressing room, she overheard another mother haranguing her daughter about the teen’s excess “rolls” and unflattering choice of outfits. I was saddened to hear about that exchange (talk about needing a therapist), but heartened by Caitlin’s words of gratitude.

What type of compliments have you experienced lately? Have they been a boost to the old ego? Or, have you suffered any of those back-handed compliments?

Learning to Like Being Poked and Tagged

facebookMy foray into Facebook began with meager intentions. I signed up in 2007 wanting to keep tabs on my teen’s presence on the online social networking site. I’d venture on to her and her friend’s Facebook pages periodically, make a mental note of what I saw, and sign-off.

I maintained my stealth Facebook presence for 18 months.

Last fall, I celebrated a birthday (mine!) over lunch with friends Karen and Janeen and listened to Janeen’s excitement about reconnecting with old friends and classmates via Facebook. Her enthusiasm was contagious, so by the end of that weekend, I had beefed up my profile and sent out “Will you be my friend?” invitations to dozens of people in my email address book.

Thirteen “new” friends later, I still didn’t get it, and my Facebook remained dormant.

This past weekend, we celebrated another birthday lunch (Janeen’s!), and now Karen was also signing Facebook’s praises, although warning of its time-wasting potential, as well. I went home and asked my daughter to give me a quick tutorial, which she graciously provided with a minimum of sighing and eye-rolling at her mother’s Facebook incompetence. I wrote on a few people’s walls and checked out which high school and college classmates had Facebook pages (quite a few!).

Now, I’m like The Candidate‘s Robert Redford in the film’s closing scene: “What do we do now?”

What’s been the experience of other Wise Women on Facebook? I see how Facebook could add an interesting, new twist in my lif, so I am intrigued …

In Thanks of Wise Women

friendshipMy last attempt to creatively give thanks on Thanksgiving took place almost 10 years ago. I had everyone in the family (include visiting in-laws) write down something they were thankful for; I then baked those slips of paper into Pillsbury crescent rolls. The Thanksgiving-version of fortune cookies.

As we sat down at dinner, we each grabbed a roll, broke it open, and read out loud what appeared on the paper. Or, tried to read. Unfortunately, I gave people a red-felt tip pen to express their sentiments, and, during the course of baking, the ink smeared and made most of the words illegible. It still makes me laugh to remember how people struggled to decipher the handwriting. We finally gave up and recounted what we wrote from memory.

Suffice to say, I never tried anything like that again. I’ve come to accept that, when it comes to crafty/creative stuff, I’m great at ideas, abysmal at execution. I’ve learned that the best way for me to express my gratitude is to simply say “Thank you.” So, here goes …

In addition to being Thanksgiving, this Thursday marks the 6-month anniversary of Anne and I taking this blog “public” and inviting you to share in our regular online coffee chat. As I reflect over the last six months, I realize that I really am thankful to have this group of women (and men) in my life. I love the fact that the blog is a way to stay connected to old friends and make new ones. I appreciate the wise, witty and, yes, creative, things people have to share. I’m grateful to the handful of people who regularly leave comments. But, I also love knowing there are another 50-60 of you who just drop by to get your “Wise Women” fix.

I am thankful that this blog is a thread that connects me to each and every one of you. On behalf of Anne and myself, thank you for being part of our Wise Women community!

The Audacity of Hope

2805434153_93339ee783_o-11Well, my friends, I’m writing this Tuesday evening, and will post it before I know for sure who will be our next President. It’s looking good for Obama at the moment, and I had my Blue Hawaii cocktails and Obama cupcake for good luck tonight.  Obama won by a wide margin at my son’s high school and my daughter’s middle school.  Jack and Sam were very excited last night when I arrived home from work.  They were both sporting their “I voted” stickers.  Franklin beat out Clifford in Jack’s kindergarten class, and the playground won the election in Sam’s pre-school.  I sit here at the moment next to my 14 year old son David, who is on the computer “talking” to a number of friends – and there is lively chatter about the election taking place.  

There are so many positive, inspirational stories out there right now, that the title of Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” has never rung truer.  It is ever so bold to be hopeful given the current state of the economy, the wars we continue to wage abroad with the ongoing threat of terrorism, and our dismal reputation around the world. But I truly believe that Obama represents hope, and if there is ever someone at the current time to start leading us out of the trenches, he is the one that firmly holds hope in his hands.

I’ve been surfing looking for some inspirational stories to share.  There are so many. The important thing to note is that this has been a true people’s election – so many people have been empowered to campaign for their candidate … so many people understand that their one vote can make a difference.  

Here’s some closing stories on election eve – sorry this gets a bit long….but I had a difficult time choosing:

Story 1:  From Delaware County, Pennsylvania

I am a 60 year-old white Republican for my whole life. I am a Vietnam combat veteran who has never voted Democratic before. I will vote for Obama Tuesday. I am tired of politics as usual and am willing to take a chance on him. I believe he is sincere and has a good heart. I also have been impressed with his steadfastness during the economic crisis. He may be one of the most intelligent people I have ever heard. I have told no one I am voting for him, instead evading the question. I believe there are many like me.

I have not had one McCain visitor at my house, but have had 15 separate visitors for Obama. I counted them with a pad on my refrigerator.  Keep making those calls and knocking on those doors, folks. It works. 

Story 2:  From Ohio

Upon arriving at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Cincinnati to vote early today I happened upon some friends of my mother’s — three small, elderly Jewish women. They were quite upset as they were being refused admitance to the polling location due to their Obama T-Shirts, hats and buttons. Apparently you cannot wear Obama/McCain gear into polling locations here in Ohio…. They were practically on the verge of tears.

After a minute or two of this a huge man (6’5″, 300 lbs easy) wearing a Dale Earnhardt jacket and Bengal’s baseball cap left the voting line, came up to us and introduced himself as Mike. He told us he had overheard our conversation and asked if the ladies would like to borrow his jacket to put over their t-shirts so they could go in and vote. The ladies quickly agreed. As long as I live I will never forget the image of these 80-plus-year-old Jewish ladies walking into the polling location wearing a huge Dale Earnhardt racing jacket that came over their hands and down to their knees!            

Mike patiently waited for each woman to cast their vote, accepted their many thanks and then got back in line (I saved him a place while he was helping out the ladies). When Mike got back in line I asked him if he was an Obama supporter. He said that he was not, but that he couldn’t stand to see those ladies so upset. I thanked him for being a gentleman in a time of bitter partisanship and wished him well.

After I voted I walked out to the street to find my mother’s friends surrounding our new friend Mike — they were laughing and having a great time. I joined them and soon learned that Mike had changed his mind in the polling booth and ended up voting for Obama. When I asked him why he changed his mind at the last minute, he explained that while he was waiting for his jacket he got into a conversation with one of the ladies who had explained how the Jewish community, and she, had worked side by side with the black community during the civil rights movements of the ’60s, and that this vote was the culmination of those personal and community efforts so many years ago. That this election for her was more than just a vote … but a chance at history.

Mike looked at me and said, “Obama’s going to win, and I didn’t want to tell my grandchildren some day that I had an opportunity to vote for the first black president, but I missed my chance at history and voted for the other guy.”

Story 3:  

I have a confession to make.  I did not vote for Barack Obama today.

I’ve openly supported Obama since March.  But I didn’t vote for him today.

I wanted to vote for Ronald Woods.  He was my algebra teacher at Clark Junior High in East St. Louis, IL.  He died 15 years ago when his truck skidded head-first into a utility pole.  He spent many a day teaching us many things besides the Pythagorean Theorem.  He taught us about Medgar Evers, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis and many other civil rights figures who get lost in the shadow cast by Martin Luther King, Jr.
But I didn’t vote for Mr. Woods.

I wanted to vote for Willie Mae Cross.  She owned and operated Crossroads Preparatory Academy for almost 30 years, educating and empowering thousands of kids before her death in 2003.  I was her first student.  She gave me my first job, teaching chess and math concepts to kids in grades K-4 in her summer program.  She was always there for advice, cheer and consolation.  Ms. Cross, in her own way, taught me more about walking in faith than anyone else I ever knew. But I didn’t vote for Ms. Cross.

I wanted to vote for Arthur Mells Jackson, Sr. and Jr.  Jackson Senior was a Latin professor.  He has a gifted school named for him in my hometown.  Jackson Junior was the pre-eminent physician in my hometown for over 30 years.  He has a heliport named for him at a hospital in my hometown.  They were my great-grandfather and great-uncle, respectively. But I didn’t vote for Prof. Jackson or Dr. Jackson.

I wanted to vote for A.B. Palmer.  She was a leading civil rights figure in Shreveport, Louisiana, where my mother grew up and where I still have dozens of family members.  She was a strong-willed woman who earned the grudging respect of the town’s leaders because she never, ever backed down from anyone and always gave better than she got.  She lived to the ripe old age of 99, and has a community center named for her in Shreveport.  But I didn’t vote for Mrs. Palmer.

I wanted to vote for these people, who did not live to see a day where a Black man would appear on their ballots on a crisp November morning.

In the end, though, I realized that I could not vote for them any more than I could vote for Obama himself. 
So who did I vote for? 
No one. I didn’t vote.  Not for President, anyway. 

Oh, I went to the voting booth.  I signed, was given my stub, and was walked over to a voting machine.  I cast votes for statewide races and a state referendum on water and sewer improvements. I stood there, and I thought about all of these people, who influenced my life so greatly.  But I didn’t vote for who would be the 44th President of the United States.

When my ballot was complete, except for the top line, I finally decided who I was going to vote for – and then decided to let him vote for me.  I reached down, picked him up, and told him to find Obama’s name on the screen and touch it. And so it came to pass that Alexander Reed, age 5, read the voting screen, found the right candidate, touched his name, and actually cast a vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Oh, the vote will be recorded as mine.  But I didn’t cast it. Then again, the person who actually pressed the Obama box and the red “vote” button was the person I was really voting for all along. It made the months of donating, phonebanking, canvassing, door hanger distributing, sign posting, blogging, arguing and persuading so much sweeter. 

So, no, I didn’t vote for Barack Obama.  I voted for a boy who now has every reason to believe he, too, can grow up to be anything he wants…even President.

P.S.  It’s 11:00PM.  Obama won.  Unbelievable!

Sad, Mad, Glad …

cs-con-mad-sad-glad-board1Last fall I attended an event sponsored by my children’s pre-school, and the guest speaker was an accomplished child therapist.  In part due to the increasing rate of teen suicide, she recommended that we create an open daily dialogue with our young children, so they become comfortable sharing things that may be bothering them.  To do this she suggests having this conversation:  ”Is there anything that made you sad today? “What made you mad today?” … and finally “What made you glad today?”  I did start doing this with my 4 and 5 year old, although not regularly, and while it is sometimes hard to get them to respond, I think it is an interesting way to try to get children to discuss their feelings. 

So anyhow, I thought I’d use my wise women community to share my current thoughts on being sad, mad and glad….

I’m SAD:

1.  The headlines in our local paper on Sunday was “Stamford Theater Works Closes its Doors.”  Stamford Theater Works is a local high quality theater that puts on 4-5 plays annually.  My husband and I have been subscribers for probably 16 or 17 years.  The productions are in a rustic barn – and we are always impressed by the set creativity and the productions themselves.  It is so sad that something that has been such a fixture in our town for so many years can no longer support itself.  In light of the economy, state, corporate and private donations are waning.  This is probably just the beginning.

2.  My company, Pepsi-Cola, just had a massive lay-off.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many of my friends lost their jobs – people who had been at Pepsi for 10, 20, 30 years.  People who were talented and passionate employees, and only lost their jobs, again, because of tough economic times.  I am even further touched by the high road these folks are taking – trying to put bitterness aside, and remember that Pepsi probably gave them one of the best work experiences they will ever have plus a dynamic group of fellow co-workers/friends.

3.  I’m sad that people’s political views have disrupted long time personal friendships, relationships between parents and children, relationships between priests and parishioners.  I just hope that when we come out of this election, that whomever wins, that we can be a nation united again, and move things forward.  We can’t afford not to.

I’m MAD:  

1.  Every time McCain is questioned about Palin’s qualifications to be Vice President, he ends up talking about “How Proud” he is of her.  Does this strike anyone else as weird?  Most of the time when you talk about being proud of someone, you are referring to your children.  I dare say that he would not be using this language if his running mate was a man.  I find it very patronizing.  

2.  The fact that Wall Street is holding billions of dollars (of our taxpayer money I might add) in reserve to pay out end of year bonuses just blows me away.  Enough said.

I’m GLAD:

1.  The good news is, with the election less than a week away, and in light of Elaine’s blog on Monday, I don’t think this country has ever been as electrified and passionate about an election – ever.  People who have never really engaged or bothered to follow the issues – have for the first time.  More and more people have registered to vote than ever before – and hopefully there will be more voters than ever before going to the polls, understanding the issues.  

2.  I’m so glad the election will be over next week.  This has probably been the longest campaign in history. And President George Bush?  Who’s he?  He has totally slipped away and what appearances he has made have been so insignificant.  It’s time to get started…I’m not sure we can even afford to wait until the Inauguration.

Ok, thanks for the venting session!  Feel free to reciprocate.

Mentoring for Idiots

mentorLast week I was at a training, and one of the group activities had us think of a mentor in our own life and share a bit about that person(s) with fellow participants.

A mentor … a mentor … huh! Whom would I call a mentor in my life? I listened as others quickly shared their experiences with mentors. My mind was coming up blank, and I started to feel uneasy.

Then, my mind jumped to the dozens of people who’ve requested my guidance over the years. But, no. No! The question was who was MY mentor, not the other way around. Argh! Why was this question so hard for me?!?!

Next, I considered the many people who’ve given me career advice. I regularly sought out those individuals, and they offered me mentoring-like guidance; however, these consultations were always around specific questions. The process looked like this: I’d arrange to meet, bring in my list of questions, solicit their opinions, ask additional questions, thank them profusely, and follow-up with a note expressing my appreciation. It was the “Wham, Bam, Thank you, Ma’am” version of mentoring, I guess.

Finally, it dawned on me: I have never had an honest-to-goodness mentor in my life. A person whom I felt I could call upon to talk about specific bumps-in-the-road, strategic moves, my career path, and everything else one might discuss with a mentor. Someone willing to be there for me over the years, not just for drive-by advice.

Clearly, the fault is mine, not of would-be mentors in my world. I am uncomfortable asking for help without being able to offer something in return, particularly when it involves approaching the same person repeatedly.

Have any of you turned to a mentor? When did you realize you needed/wanted one? How did you approach the person? What benefits have you gained? How has that relationship fared over time? And, if you experienced similar hesitation about “bothering” a respected colleague/boss, how did you get over the internal hurdle?

Thank you, in advance, for the “Mentoring for Idiots” tutorial.

The Wonderful World of Blogging

blogs-illo1I was recently thinking that it was just one year ago that Elaine and I hatched the Coffee Chat with 1000 Wise Women idea.  We both had decided to attend the More Magazine “Reinvention Convention” – a full day of key note speakers to panels of women speaking across various topics – from finances, to changing course mid career, to starting your own business, to health care, etc. It was a fun and inspiring day – just nice to have a time out from our normal routines to meet new women and hear their stories.  

It struck us that when women come together and share their stories, most often we leave those conversations with the wheels in our brain turning a little bit faster.  So there in hatched our idea.  The original premise, which hopefully we’ll still achieve, was to write a book – a compilation of stories and wisdom by hundreds of wise women.  But to jump start us on our path, we decided – why not start a blog…and see what happens.

I remember last year at this time, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why anyone would blog surf and read a blog, let alone write one.  But here we are, and I would say our journey so far has been quite rewarding, and we appreciate all the support we’ve received along the way.  And for someone who has had publishing aspirations my whole life, it is rewarding for me in my own small way to feel like I’m “publishing” something every week.

So more on the world of blogging.  This blog world never ceases to amaze me – the literally hundreds of thousands of blogs that are being passionately written today, across a wide range of themes, with all sorts of different missions.  There are some clearly being written as a way to document one’s life, others are angling with the hope of being discovered and hitting it big.  Take Living Oprah, for example.  A Chicago yogo instuctor decided that she would watch Oprah for a year, and do exactly what Oprah tells her.  She reads the books she recommends, she buys the clothes that Oprah says to buy, she adopted a cat from the shelter…I think so far she’s $3,000 in the hole since watching Oprah.  But yet, it’s hard not to argue that she has found an amusing niche for herself – and she got an appearance on the Today Show for it last week (and yes, did confirm that Matt Lauer was really nice.).

Another site I came across was palinaspresident.us.  This is an only mildly amusing representation of Palin sitting in the Oval office.  You need to scan the mouse over the picture to make things happen.  What gets me more than anything is that someone took the time to create this, and updates it daily until the election.  The creativity that this blog world has unleashed is really utterly amazing.

This blogging world is certainly an easy one to get lost in…exploring so many points of views and personal styles – a quick stop on the computer can quickly turn into 2 hours.  But all in all – blogging is a wonderfully easy way to give many frustrated writers a forum to be expressive, to build a community, and explore new creative frontiers – all in a relatively fun, forgiving environment. 

The Thing About Breast Cancer

dsc_02631It’s not often that you can think about the dreaded disease of breast cancer … and laugh. But one brave and insightful friend, with a diagnosis barely 6 weeks old, is marching straight into the upcoming storm, head held high and trying to find the humor in the everyday of dealing with her illness. She has launched her own blog, The Thing About Breast Cancer, which gives her the opportunity to share her observations and experiences, which in turn can hopefully help others that are going through the same thing.  

The magic about The Thing About Breast Cancer is that it not only provides a cathartic diary for my friend, Grace, to explore her own feelings, but also opens the door to all of her own friends – who can stay up to date on what is going on with her life, and breaks down the uncomfortable barriers that naturally exist when someone we know is going through something difficult – and we struggle with the right things to say.

As Grace maintains – it’s just another card in life that she’s been dealt, and she’ll deal with it.  After all, at least it’s a cancer with a good color – pink… and with that has come many gifts of pink M & Ms (by far Grace’s favorite food).  And she’s given her husband full permission to stare at other women’s chests – as she starts thinking that she may be facing a double mastectomy.  During a conversation with her young teenage daughter (who doesn’t know exactly what is happening yet), her daughter exclaims that she hopes she doesn’t end up looking like Michael Jackson after her plastic surgery. And she also muses that it is so unfortunate that cancer strikes such lovely things as women’s breasts…Instead, “why can’t women get cancer of the cellulite on the back of the thighs?  cancer of the love handles?  cancer of the “muffin top”, that lovely piece of flesh that hangs over your low cut too tight pants? cancer of that fleshy part of your upper arm that sags like the neck of a turkey?  cancer of the double chin?”

So, you usually never use laughter and breast cancer in the same sentence.  But laughter is one of the great healers – the ultimate homeopathic medicine – and we all appreciate Grace’s approach to bringing some levity to this very serious illness.

 

It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.
JK Rowling

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