Monday, February 18, 2013

Olive Us

I recently discovered this sweet video from the Olive Us online web series and have been popping in from time to time to catch up on the six Blair kids' adventures as the American family learns, makes, and settles into life in Normandy. This one, of 6-year-old Betty skipping around Paris, is a particularly charming episode and I loved exploring the city of lights through a child's eyes. Visit to catch seasons 1, 2, and 3 and check out the blog for behind-the-scenes peeks into each week's episode. (via Prêt à Voyager)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Missed Connections Party

If you're still searching for something to do tonight, the New York Transit Museum is hosting a Valentine's Day Missed Connections at Grand Central Terminal. "A love-in-transit party," the event will tie in to the station's centennial, but with a romantic twist. New York Times Metro writer Alan Feuer will read poems inspired by Grand Central-themed posts from Craiglist's Missed Connections and Sophie Blackall, who illustrates Missed Connections-inspired stories, will be signing copies of her subway poster. She's even planning an en masse crashing of this connection attempt!

Vanderbilt Hall will be filled with music, art, sweets, drinks, and hopefully the right vibe to either stumble upon a previous missed encounter, discover a new muse under a (backwards painted) starry sky, or finally meet a secret admirer by the whispering wall. And if it turns awkward as hell just grab the next train and hightail it out of there.

Thursday, Feb. 14 6-8pm, Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal, Advance Tickets: $10/$7 members; All tickets $15 at the door.

Image: Sophie Blackall on

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Strangers Project

Many times when I'm at a restaurant or bored during a long commute, I start making up stories about the people around me. I wonder what their lives are like, imagine where they work, if the awkward couple sitting a few tables away are on their very first date. Do you do that, too? Lately I've also been wondering if anybody in the crowd is silently facing some terrible hardship invisible to the rest of us.

In 2009, Brandon Doman found himself sitting outside a coffee shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan and suddenly consumed with this need to know other people's stories. So he wrote up a sign and asked strangers to write something about their lives in his notebook and so The Strangers Project began. Doman now lives in New York City and Lord knows there's no shortage of interesting characters passing by you each day. He's collected more than 5,000 anonymous entries from people all over the country and has recently relaunched the site with these stories for us to browse through or contribute one of your own. (My favorite are the handwritten ones.)

And, of course, like all good concepts, the project has been turned into a book. Hearts, Minds, & Flesh is a collection of 693 entries gathered during the first two years of The Strangers Project. You can nab a print version from Amazon or name your own price for a digital version.

Speaking of strangers and stories, four years after meeting through the blogosphere and sharing endless thoughts through snail-mailed letters, I finally met my friend Tooje in person. I've watched her adorable kids grow up (and miss that she no longer blogs) and she was the one who virtually motivated me to attend the blog event where I would meet A. She and her husband joined us for dinner Sunday evening and on Monday I invited her out for some hot chocolate because the dreary day just called for warmth and more catching up.

As sketchy as some people think it to be, the Internet can be a wonderful thing and there a few people who would've never entered my life had it not been for this expanse of World Wide Web.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Saying What I Need, Shunning What I Don't

Since coming out with my diagnosis, some people have taken it as permission to chime in with opinions and advice I never asked for. On one hand I can understand the need for them to dish it out if the feeling of helplessness is too uncomfortable to bear. Instead of sitting in silence, they'll say anything in the hopes of being useful. But on the other hand, shove it? I'm sure it comes from a place of good intentions, but instead of feeling better I actually feel worse when my lifestyle is suddenly under your microscope.

"Stop cooking fried stuff." "Why are you eating that?" "Drink this cancer cell-killing tea." "It's because you don't eat enough."

Yes, I got cancer because I don't eat enough. Good God.

I'll laugh and smile and hear them out of politeness, but once I'm back home I'll realize that wow, that didn't help me at all!

As I've been bringing this annoying phenomenon up in conversations, there's a good suggestion that's been made several times, one I'm going to heed as I enter the treatment stages: saying what it is I need and being clear about what isn't helpful. You'd think common sense would keep friends and family from coming at me with say, "hurry up and get pregnant" or "see, you always said you didn't want to have kids" after I've mentioned several times that being on Tamoxifen for five years means no pregnancy until I'm 36, but alas. So to protect myself from crying every time someone offers up an insensitive comment or medical advice that's more quack than fact, I letting them know where I'm drawing the line.
What I Need...

1. Understand that no one wants to talk about their sucky bits 24/7. I sure don't. While I'm happy to give updates, I don't want it to be the sole reason why you're reaching out. If we had good conversations about deep stuff, life, silly randomness, our hopes, our goals, the whole lot, I so need to keep that in my life.

2. All this has made me realize how tired I am of difficult friendships. You know, the ones that take Herculean efforts to arrange a meet-up because everyone's too busy, too broke, too lazy to put in the effort. So lately I've been nurturing the ties that are healthy, genuine, good, wholehearted, fun, where everyone's equally invested into strengthening those bonds. That's where I want to spend my time and mental space. More happy, less anxiety.

3. If you can or are interested, read up on what I'm going through. It's such a nice relief to talk with someone who has an idea what I'm referring to when I mention BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes or what the side effects of radiation will be.

And What I Don't

1. Random health advice that comes from hearsay and what I like to call woo woo shit. Before you suggest something I should try, do some homework and know that just because someone else did it, doesn't mean I have to do it or that it will produce the same results with me. Run everything through a bullshit detector. Ask questions - especially if it sounds too good to be true.

2. Criticisms on personal and medical choices, past or present. You're free to ask questions about how I came to my decisions, but there's really no place for judgment here.

3. Don't overwhelm me with info, stats, or questions about freezing my eggs. I can only handle one step at a time and any more could just freak me out.

But I think the following applies when trying to comfort anyone going through a difficult time: when in doubt, ask before rushing in.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Three Cozy Throws

Aside from an old quilt, my warm bedding options have been pretty meager. Maybe others had somehow noticed too because in a matter of weeks I gained not one, but three new throws that have made my home so much cozier this winter.

1. This Chelsea Throw Blanket (Bed Bath & Beyond, $40) was so nice, it actually gifted twice. A., who'd been complaining of my bed's lack of warm and comfy bedding gave me the grey one as a Christmas gift. When we flew to Los Angeles days later, I discovered his sister had also bought the exact blanket, but in blue. Now I have one in both apartments.

2. My sister included the knitted Quotable Throw (Barnes & Noble, $35) in her incredibly thoughtful cancer care package. As soon as I pulled it out of the oversized Jonathan Adler Booked Bag Canvas Navy Tote (Barnes & Noble, $20) it all came in, we unfolded it and tried to guess which classic book contained each famous line. Then we did the same for the bag.

3. While I was having my lumpectomy last month, Dad took it upon himself to give my home a mini makeover with new bedding, curtains, and bathroom décor. My favorite item is this plush throw that's so soft, I love wrapping myself in it like a burrito before falling asleep. (Linen Outlet, 1447 St. Nicholas Ave. between 182 and 183 St., $15)

Friday, February 8, 2013

The City Bakery's Hot Chocolate Festival

This month, the City Bakery (3 West 18th St.) is celebrating the 21st Annual Hot Chocolate Festival with a special flavor each day. Yesterday, my friends and I went in for the espresso hot chocolate and it was so thick and rich I almost wanted to scoop it up with a spoon. The huge blocks of fluffy marshmallows were a yummy touch, but make sure to order yours on the side so they don't skimp on the cocoa.

Friday's flavor du jour is bourbon, which will probably warm you right up as winter storm Nemo makes its way into the city. Moulin Rouge, Love Potion, and Ode to the Polar Bear all sound interesting, too, though we're wondering what exactly is the secret ingredient behind the Happy Hot Chocolate. Last year's Sunken Treasure, on the menu again this month, had submerged caramel coins and chocolate truffles and it sounds so decadent that one might have to be shared.

If you miss a flavor you would've loved to try, check the calendar to see if it's one of the handful that will reappear later on in the month. There's plenty of seating available in the café so it makes for a great after-work meeting spot or to just a break from the cold.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ayla Nereo's "Feathered Bow"

A few days ago A. sent along a link to Ayla Nereo's "Feathered Bow" and I've simply fallen in love. The effortless quality behind the harmonies, the playful nature of the beat, how hope seems to weave its away through the song like a is beauty.

Today I'll be at the hospital for a CT scan, radiation planning, chats about drugs, and to finally hear what the oncologist has to say about chemo versus no chemo. I'll be holding onto these lyrics when what I'd really rather do is transform into liquid, into vapor, and flow out as fast and as far as I can from this corner, to leave behind all this heaviness.

And she sings:

"There was a flame, there was a flame, drawn deep within her chest, rest and rise, praying burned every moment. 

There was a spark, there was a spark, come from the same place, billions and billions of years ago, and she knows it. 

There was a while where it was wide, there was a wide waterfall down, water fall round her, only just born. 

There was a light, come from her eyes, there was a light, let it come in, choosing her sin every morning. Choosing to be saved, saving herself every morning... choosing her name, naming herself, every morning... And she sang, 'Don't unstring the arrow, I'm a feathered bow, I've got a long long ways to go still, long long ways to go…'"

Have a listen:


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hand-Drawn Maps + Collecting Places

If you're a map lover or just want to learn a new creative skill, Anne Ditmeyer of Prêt à Voyager is teaching a map making class on Skillshare this month. No worries if you're not a professional designer or super computer literate as you can use any type of media for your creation.

The virtual class, Map Design: Learn to Communicate Places Beautifully ($20), will take place over three weeks starting Feb. 18 and is divided into three units: Hand Drawn Maps + Concepting, Mapping in the Digital Age + Alternative Guides, and Office Hours, which includes a Q&A segment and participating in a Google Hangout with the class.

By the end you'll not only have a map that plots out a memorable corner of the world, but will also interact with people from all over and discover their own favorite haunts. As it stands a nice mix of photographers, illustrators, designers, magazine writers, and "generally-non-creative-but-still-awesome-types" from 11 countries have signed up.

I think a hand-made map of my favorite neighborhood in the city would be a fun gift to give when guests come to visit. Or perhaps plot out any of my many travel adventures for an awesome addition to a scrapbook.

To enroll, click here. And while you're there, might as well check out all the other cool (and affordable!) classes Skillshare has to offer.

P.S. If you look at Anne's Paris map above for eight seconds, a little pink surprise will appear.

Image: courtesy of Anne Ditmeyer

Friday, February 1, 2013

Love Notes from Porcupine Hugs

We might be working hard behind-the-scenes for our launch, but we're still rolling out the goodies. Check out Porcupine Hugs' Love & Friendship cards on sale now for Valentine's Day! The Little Town greeting card is a personal favorite and one that would work for friendly messages year round.

In the meantime, here's a sneak peek of the cards that will be making their way into the shop soon.

A. has been helping me design a website and fingers crossed that our relationship can withstand the partnership because holy crap has it been trying at times. Both because of my expectations and because he likes to remind me that I'm not a web designer every chance he gets.

Have you ever tackled a big project or handled business with a significant other? I hope mine knows I plan on paying him back in kisses and lemon chicken.