Archive for the ‘Non-Fiction’ Category

Just Right at Home

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Gale Steves has more than a hunch. She has an educated observation that wherever you live right now might be just right. You see too few closets and no decent office space?  Gale sees where there’s more storage and how you can set up a working space, all in the home where you are.

For a wider glimpse of Gale’s work, see her recent column at aarp.com. For a 360-degree vista, check out her book, Right-Sizing Your Home: How to Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle (New Century Design).

(Full disclosure: Gale hired me as an editorial intern for her as food editor of “American Home” magazine when I was a pup in the workforce. She’s an amazing source of good ideas, the latest trends, and just plain fun. And, she’s still a friend and creative professional quite a few years later.)

Gale has right-sized her own home, a NYC apt, and influenced design choices for millions, currently as a home consultant, formerly as editor-in-chief for “Home” and in key positions in New York’s publishing world. She sees home in a practical light, encouraging you to make the space work for you instead of trying to live up to outdated definitions of a particular room or piece of furniture.

Nothing like a True Friend

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

A dear friend passed away a few weeks ago. I wrote about Martha in early May (See May 6, 2010). By coincidence, kismet, or simply how things have a way of working out, about the time of Martha’s passing, my octogenarian mom lent me the book, A Walk by the Sea, written by Joan Anderson, known hereafter as ‘the author.’  Mom had received the book from a friend of hers to whom Mom has been a mentor. They are true friends.

The author is a 51-year old woman at a crossroads in her life when she meets Joan Erikson, who with her huband, the psychologist, Erik Erikson, formulated elegant theories of human development. The author met Joan as they each walked on the beach near their homes. Joan, then 91, became a beacon to the author toward how to live the rest of her life.  Joan Erikson’s friendship along with her vibrant outlook and zest for life, helped the author to make bold new choices  and move into a productive, creative tension between action and contemplation. It’s a sweet spot of balance to live into, never to hold.

Martha and I became friends when I was just beginning my professional career as a writer.  She was into her second act as an interior designer. The corporate position she left behind had brought recognition and creative satisfaction. As a prelude to her independent design business, Matha traveled around the world absorbing color, texture, and light.  For the next 37 years, she gave back the color, texture, and light to her clients and to her friends.

Martha was a beacon to me, though as in all friendships, at times, I resisted her wisdom. Long will I draw upon her wisdom and belief in the ‘right idea. as well as knowing when to wait and when to act. But, always, move toward action.

Part of the celebration of a friendship across the generations lies in that the elder can openly receive the younger, not only as a mentee, but as a true friend. The author illuminates this with joy. I am thankful for Martha’s friendship and the lessons of being a friend to her.

Haiti: Action and a Reading List

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal’s 1/20/2010 Front Page has a couple of lines about Haiti’s earthquake. They direct the reader to pages A8 and A10 where there are full-page stories. Mia Farrow writes about better disaster response on the Journal’s Opinion Page.

Life goes on.

The best action is to send money to the reputable organizations who have long worked in Haiti and are best equipped to help people right now. I recommend Partners in Health, Dr. Paul Farmer’s Boston-based organization and the subject of Tracy Kidder’s 2003 book, Mountains Beyond Mountains . (I have no financial stake in either Partners in Health or in Kidder’s book.)

I find myself seeking to learn more about Haiti.  How did this country so close to the beaches of Florida become what even before the 2010 earthquake the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? Edwidge Danticat writes from her experiences as a Haitian-American, born in Haiti, raised in New York City. Her books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory

Edwidge Danticat's novel of life in Haiti and New York City

and The Dew Breaker,

A daughter learns about her father's part in Duvalier's violent regime.

capture both the immigrant experience and the heartbreak and promise of Haiti.

I’m reading, Graham Greene’s The Comedians, set in the mid-20th century in Port au Prince. From the news of the last week, I recognize the Olafson Hotel, the presidential palace, and Petionville, the upscale area the earthquake crumbled along with the rest of the city.

A portrait of Haiti under the dictatorship of "Papa Doc" Duvalier

Madison Smartt Bell’s All Soul’s Rising, next on my reading list, captures Haiti in its struggle for independence from 1791 to 1803. It’s the first in Bell’s trilogy of Haitian independence that includes Master of the Crossroads and The Stone That the Builder Refused. The author makes his own suggestions for books about Haiti, both by Haitians and non-Haitians at

“…the narrative power of history.”

in the 1/17/2010 New York Times Book Review (you may need to register to get access) and in the 1/15/2010 Huffington Post.