Secret NY Times Features?!?

September 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

When I was in 6th grade, one of the other home-room teachers gave current events pop-quizzes all the time.  The way to be prepared for these quizzes was to read the inside of the front page of the New York Times where there is a brief summary of the major news stories of the day.  That wasn’t my teacher so I didn’t really come to appreciate this amazing cliffs-notes of news ’till much later, but appreciate it I did.  Of course you don’t want to only read the cliffs-notes of anything, but when time is tight, I’d rather have a little bit of a clue about what’s happening in the world than none at all.

More recently, I stumbled across two great features from the New York Times online: Your [day of the week] Briefing and New York Today,  As you might surmise, the former provides a round-up of national and international news of interest and the latter does the same for the NY region.  I figured I was the last to know about these but, after speaking to some smart, news-savvy people recently who weren’t aware of them, I figured I should let everyone know!

These columns can be tricky to find and I think that’s why more people aren’t aware of them.  I generally read them on the NY Times app on my phone in the morning and they show up in the Top Stories column, but once you get towards noon, they disappear from the Top Stories feed.  New York Today lives on in the New York section but the only way I’ve been able to find the daily briefing is by going to the website and doing a search.  Here are today’s Your Tuesday Briefing and New York Today so that you can take a look.

But wait! There’s more!

  • The NY Times recently rolled out a new feature that’s similar to the two above in boiling down the top issues/events but with a focus on politics.  It’s a bit longer and more in-depth as well.  The Upshot.
  • While looking for a better way to direct you to Your [day of the week] briefing, I stumbled on Your Evening Briefing which I’d never seen before.  I can’t really vouch for it except to say, if you’re a night owl, maybe keep an eye out.  Here’s Tonight’s.

Thanks, New York Times!

There are LOTS of problems with the news and with news coverage but I’m always glad to be more informed rather than less and I appreciate the occasional short-cut.

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Eat it! (Chocolate edition)

September 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

Let’s not mince words.  Here is the chocolate you should be eating:

  • Michelle Cluizel – French. Neither too adventuresome (avoiding hot peppers, bacon and the like) nor too staid.  A box of these chocolates is about as close to perfect as a box of chocolates can get.
  • Kee’s – A New World selection from NYC.  These chocolates are particularly fresh and benefit especially from buying a smaller amount that you can eat more quickly.  The flavors here feel a bit fresher and more experimental but they never loose their balanced flavor or elegance.
  • Fika – My brother turned me on to the surprisingly good chocolate selection from this Swedish-influenced coffee-and-chocolate chain (there are 10 locations in NYC) that first opened in 2006.  Like Kee’s these chocolates bring a fresh energy in keeping with their relative youth compared with the other chocolatiers listed, but they manage never to come across as the new kid on the block.  The coffee’s good too!
  • Neuhaus – I’ll be honest, after my first experience with Neuhaus a few years ago, I wasn’t that impressed but there have been two or three subsequent boxes of chocolate and they’ve all been very enjoyable.  This is Belgian chocolate.  The chocolates from Nehuaus tend to be much larger than any of the others listed above, which is maybe a pro and maybe a con depending on what you’re looking for in your chocolate experience.
  • Leonidas – Also Belgian and also delicious.  I’d say that these are the most traditional of the chocolates I’ve listed both in form and flavor but in a way that skews “classic” and “dependably wonderful” as opposed to “ho hum” and “boring”.  Like fellow Belgians, Neuhaus, they tend to skew a bit bigger than the French of American chocolates.

Honorable mention to La Maison du Chocolat, Jacques Torres & Fran’s (although the winners at Fran’s are the caramels).

I am no chocolate expert, but every evening, my husband and I share two fancy chocolates.  We split them in half so that we both get to taste everything.  It is from this many-years-long ritual that I have developed my opinions on the subject.  We call this “the chocolate ritual” and, to ritualize things further, we never eat the fancy (or “formal”) chocolate without one another.  We buy casual chocolate for that.  Yep: formal and casual chocolate.

It should also be noted that it is worth it to store your chocolates in the ‘fridge to keep them fresh longer but then to take them out about 20 minutes before you want to eat them so that they warm up a bit.

Here’s Time Out’s list of the 10 best chocolate shops from earlier this year which has some overlap with mine and, hey, I’m just a lady who eats chocolate; enjoy doing your own research!

Let us know your favorite chocolatiers in the comments!

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My Top-Three Home-Grown Mantras For Feeling Pretty Good About What I Do All Day

September 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

To be clear, I’m not a mantra person – I’m not even a yoga person – but this year has been rough and I find that I’ve inadvertently developed some mantras that seem to be helping me through.  Broadly, I find that things are better when I navel-gaze less and actually take steps to move whatever-it-is forward more.  So, as you’ll see, the first two are really just about helping myself get out of my head and get stuff done.  The third one is about dealing with the results (or non-results) of whatever stuff I did.  I’m sure that lots of smart folks have already come up with their own mantras that are roughly equivocal to mine.  Still, my own are the ones that I’m currently finding helpful and so here they are for you to use, re-write, riff on or discard according to your own needs and temperament.

 

It’s not gonna take that long.

This one started out as the perfect get-it-done mantra for household chores: washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, putting in a load of laundry . . . all the stuff I need to do that I waste time avoiding doing.  It doesn’t take that long and if I just do it, it’ll be done.  However, I find more and more that it applies to many of the things I’ve decided I need or want to do but am still resisting.  The toddler will be napping, the clock will be ticking, and I will be paralized by a choice about what items on my to-do list I ought to accomplish.  Reminding myself that these tasks probably won’t take that long helps me stop thinking about what I should do and in which order and just gets me doing.

 

It doesn’t have to feel good, you just have to do it.

I stumbled (haha) onto this one when I started jogging.  I’ve never been a good runner and I’ve never particularly liked running BUT I was missing exercise and a jog was the best option for squeezing some in.  I was on board intellectually but once I was out running and out of breath and with a stitch in my side, a loud voice in my head would try to get me to stop.  I needed to keep going.  It didn’t have to feel good in the moment, I just had to do the run (I later developed the sub-mantra: any run is a good run).  Recently, I’ve been working on forming a new discipline around working on my craft as an actor and it involves incorporating some new techniques.  It makes me so uncomfortable but I believe that doing this work will really help me, so . . . it doesn’t have to feel good (in the moment), I just have to do it.  Because that’s the other thing:  every run I’ve done has felt GREAT afterwards.  I have yet to regret the effort.

 

Give up the illusion of control.

When my mom’s health was in decline, I shifted into high-gear.  I was intense about researching her treatment and healthcare options and advocating for her every day in every conceivable way – from agitating for one doctor to actually pick up a phone and call another, to pestering dieticians to give her more palatable food.  Still, her health declined.  One day, I heard a voice inside my head say “give up the illusion of control,” and it dawned on me that  I couldn’t make my mom well through the sheer force of my will (although I was surely trying), I could only do my best and the hope for the best.  It’s the same every day.  We can contribute to and impact situations – this mantra isn’t about passivity – but we can only control ourselves.  I find remembering this – that the most I can do is my best – very relaxing.  At least by comparison.

 

Drink to forget.

Ah, I jest.  This is a faux-mantra but when I find myself – darkly, sarcastically – saying it to myself, even though it’s a joke, it is a good reminder to lighten up, let myself off the hook long enough to take a little break, and then . . . get back to work.

 

What do you think?  Do you have mantras – either your own or someone else’s that you find helpful?  What does the most helpful voice inside your head say to you?

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Patience & Fortitude

September 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Did you know that Patience and Fortitude are the names of the lions who adorn the entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library?  I learned that from Salvatore Rubbino’s A Walk In New York which I borrowed (with my son) from . . . the library.

I have mixed feelings about the library which mostly amount to feeling fussy about due dates and fines.  In college, senior year, you could keep the books for the entire semester unless someone else requested one and then you’d be notified to return in – that seemed so fair and sensible to me! Also, in college, the books were organized according to the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) as opposed to the (highly inferior) Dewey Decimal Classification (DCC)(don’t even get me started!!).  So, as a young adult person (read: in my 20’s) in NYC, I tried the library, but we quickly fell into conflict and I took to buying my books or borrowing them from friends and that worked out great . . . until I had a kid.

There are just too many not-very-long and maybe-not-that-great books for kids to go around buying every single one that interests you.  I feel lucky to have a kid who loves books and reading almost as much as I do, so we enjoy visiting the library every few weeks to expand our repertoire.  When we find one we *really* love, we return it and make the investment.

The other thing I used to do as a young adult person in NYC, was kill time reading children’s books at whatever book store was nearest where I needed to be.  A lot of children’s books are really mediocre but the good ones are such a pleasure.

So, whether you have a kid or whether you are just killing time somewhere, I encourage you to check out these very recent discoveries (via the library!) which I could happily read a zillion times each.

13 Words by Lemony Snickett – A despondent bird, a haberdashery, a mezzo-soprano . . . I get the nerd-tingles just thinking about it.

Inventor McGreggor by Kathleen T. Pelley – That joyful feeling you had as a kid from believing in magic?  This book makes you feel that way about believing in yourself.

Uncle Elephant by Arnold Lobel – Arnold Lobel wrote the Frog & Toad books and so many others for kids of a certain age. This one feels so extra-special; Lobel writes about difficult feelings with gentle candor and without embellishing them with interpretation or solutions. Read this before you share it with kids you know, but read it for yourself for sure.

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Writer’s Block, Raccoons, and Life Lessons

September 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

For the past few days, I’ve been casting about trying to figure out what I’d write about in my next (read: this) blog post.  When I became a Neo-Futurist and had to produce roughly 3-5 new short plays a week, through trial and error I came into the following process:

  1. Have an idea. Write it down.
  2. Repeat.
  3. As the deadline draws near, visit the list of ideas.  Are any of them more easily developed?  Has having these ideas in the back of my mind resulted in my brain working them out for me on the sly?  In most cases, the answer is: yes!
  4. Pluck those more developed ideas from the list and write them.  Leave the other ideas to keep growing.
  5. Continue to add ideas to the list, repeating the process from #3 any time some writing must be produced.

I think of this as planting seeds (ideas) and seeing which ones come up first, and I do pretty much the same thing with my blog.

So. For the past few days, I’ve been trying to figure out which of the little growing idea-seeds I should choose to write into a full-blown post (plant) and none have been especially forthcoming.  In a move of either cowardly procrastination OR genius intuition, I turned to Paper Girl, the blog of Mary Fons.  Mary is wonderful and was a huge source of inspiration in even starting to write my own blog – she’s so great and she makes it look so easy.  Anyway, I was catching up on some posts that I’d missed and I came across this one: Grace Coolidge, Raccoon Whisperer (see what I mean? even all of her titles are outstanding!).  Mary writes:

The goal for me with the ol’ PG is to never let it be about one thing. Life is not about one thing, after all.

Yes! I realized that part of what was hanging me up was wondering if the things I was thinking of writing about fell under the self-imposed umbrella of my blog: my life in the arts.  But, duh!  Very little doesn’t.  Moreover, as I thought about what Mary said, I realized that the more I take that attitude with my whole life the better things go.

I used to feel like I had to unwaveringly, passionately and demonstrably dedicate myself to acting.  But, when you’re trying so hard and wanting to make sure everyone can see how hard you’re trying . . . well . . . let’s just say that doesn’t make for a great audition.  I’m no less committed to acting now, but knowing I don’t have to prove it or show it and trusting that that passion is always there has brought a lot more ease to my professional endeavors – and more pleasure and success as well.

If you didn’t already click over to Mary’s blog, I encourage you to do so.  She’s a treat!

And with my refreshed sense of permission, I look forward to sharing posts about back-to-school, children’s literature, and Steven Pressfield in the coming weeks along with who knows what else – those idea seeds can be unpredictable.

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