Category Archives: work

Well I’m A Middle Child, So…

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When you are born a middle child, like I was (second in a line of three girls), people are never shy in sharing with you, their thoughts on why you are the way you are. You’re sensitive; you need a lot of attention; and my favorite, which I heard just last week: you’re dealing with a Jan Brady complex. A lot of it, I laugh off, but on occasion, I do find it interesting to analyze what effect my birth order actually did have on me. Maybe it is because I wasn’t the eldest, who was trusted, and handed all of the responsibility by mom and dad, or because I wasn’t the youngest, who was always given that extra nudge, coddled just a little more, that I played alone as a child and that it was me who decided to go to school 1100 miles away from home and be ok on my own for the next two decades. Perhaps there is a correlation; I really don’t know. But one thing I am pretty sure is a result of being stuck in the middle all those years, is that I always need that pat on the back that says I’ve done well—that little bit of reassurance to bolster my confidence, even when it’s for something I have no doubt I’ve executed without a hitch.

Case in point:

It was last week, when my boss put me on the task of organizing the menu for a working dinner with a new project team which included, in addition to him and a few of my co-workers, two outside consultants and a [very important] client from China. Sure, I could do this, no problem. If there is anything that I know for certain I’m good at, it’s preparing a beautiful meal. From choosing the dinner plates and table linens to arranging the flowers, and writing the place cards and crafting the menu itself, I’m your girl. I love to do it and I know I do it well.

So the meeting was on Friday and I got word end of day Wednesday. Fine. A day to plan was plenty. Before leaving for the evening I sent a kind inquiry to my point person for the Chinese client, asking if they had any preferences for our dinner, or, more importantly, if they had any dietary restrictions.

Mid-morning the following day, I received a note back that read something along the lines of: “Healthy, not too greasy…Greasy food is not good choice… Small pieces of beef are ok…as long as not greasy.”

I kid you not.

I read it three times, during which my mind toggled back and forth between pictures of a raw, Gwyneth Paltrow-style spread of “healthy” food, and the carnivore’s delight: a juicy, rare steak. I was sure that this dinner meeting with our Chinese client was not the occasion to experiment with either extreme however, so I started thinking of more universally appealing options– a menu that fell somewhere sort of in between crazy-healthy and indulgent. Ideas began swirling. I started looking at websites for all of the local ‘purveyors of fine foods’, browsing catering menus. Nothing seemed quite right. It was that “small pieces of beef” line that kept throwing me. Would he mention beef if he didn’t want beef? No! He wanted beef. Beef, beef! Citarella had a Filet Mignon platter and at Dean & DeLuca there was a Provence Grill platter or a Pan-Asian platter. (Though, a Pan-Asian platter is weird for a Chinese client, right?) Anyway, a group of eight was really too small to go the catered platters route, so I figured I’d put something together myself, prepared of course, as I don’t have a working kitchen at my disposal.

I took a venture to the nearby Whole Foods thinking skewers, and made a beeline to the dinner-ready window. Et voila! There they were, piled high, calling my name. I would do a few chicken, a few beef, a mixed greens salad and a nice side of grilled veg for the non-meat eaters, and a summer pearl couscous (or some equally delicious starch). Well, my hopes were dashed as fast as the brilliant plan had come to me—when the man behind the counter explained that the skewers need to be reheated and that the recommended method of doing so is low heat on a stovetop. Ok, so skewers were out and it was on to Plan B. At least I got the starch and the salad.

On the walk back to the office I shuffled through the list of restos in the vicinity that with some sweet-talking might make me exactly what I wanted and deliver it hot. Then back at my desk it was a call to a new place just around that corner at which I’d recently discovered (and I say this because it’s a sports bar) a surprisingly good menu that includes, what else but skewers.  So after trying to explain to two lovely Irish gals what exactly I wanted to do [and getting nowhere] I was finally connected to the chef himself.

“So I’ll take four orders of the chicken skewers… and…do you have any beef?”

“We don’t have beef skewers but we’ve got steak.”

“Hmmm. Steak could work. What kind of steak?”

“Steak Frites with an herb butter. It’s a prime-aged, grass-fed hangar steak.”

“Is that what I see in the picture on your website?”

“Yes it is.”

“Well that does look delicious. Can you make me three of those medium-rare hold the frites?”

“Three of those, medium-rare, hold the frites. Sure thing.”

“And do you have any sort of vegetable?”

“I got a roasted vegetable– chickpea, tomato, artichoke hearts, asparagus…”

“I’ll take three!”

And at that, everything had fallen into place.

At 6:30 my culinary work of art was finished—the paper takeout cartons were traded for ceramic serving dishes and made pretty with sprigs of watercress and bright purple leaves of radicchio, and under the lights, gently dimmed for effect, our minimal black dinnerware looked elegant. The glasses had a delicate sparkle to them, and somehow the silverware looked shinier than usual. Any trace of Whole Foods or sports bar menu had disappeared, and now it was nothing less than a gorgeous feast. I opened a bottle of white and a bottle of red, fluffed the lettuce greens one last time and smiled to myself, content with my little masterpiece, pleased with my mission accomplished. But of course, there was still one thing I would wait for….

The next morning at work, there were the expected rumblings around the office about how the meeting had gone, and from the boss-man, there were a handful of thank yous—to everyone on the team, for all the hours they’d put in, for all the hard work. Of course, my contribution was minor in comparison—a day of my life instead of weeks—but when it came to me, there was no acknowledgement at all, like the dinner had never happened…or better, as if I’d tossed my hands up and served McDonald’s to our guests, paper wrappers and Happy Meal boxes included. So I fixed dinner. Still, it was my effort. And I wanted that reassurance that my effort was appreciated; maybe even impressive. When noontime came, there was still not a word. Was it that he had forgotten? Or had he said nothing on purpose? Was my version of beautiful so far from his? My ‘masterpiece’ really nothing so special at all? My mind began in a downward spiral. But wait… There was still hope. The day was not over. There was still his goodbye.

And then there before me, it happened. Or… it didn’t. “Good night,” he said, buttoning his raincoat. “I’ll see you Monday.” My heart sank. And from behind my blank-faced “goodnight” in reply, my inner Jan Brady set off in hysterics—one part frustrated, one part confused and the rest just sad. And I felt like chasing after him in search of an explanation.

Wait a minute here? What about me? Did I not do well? Didn’t you mean to thank me?

It was an hour later when the note came. Via email. A thanks for a beautiful dinner and a job well done.

So, in the end, however late it arrived, I got what I wanted… or, being the middle child I am, what I needed. I guess that the lesson this time—because there’s always a lesson, no matter how grown up we are— is that beyond always trying to do my best, I should learn to live with the possibility that I might not get the pat on the back and feel content enough with the knowledge that I have done the job well.

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Once, years ago, I had a doctor friend of mine tell me that if he hadn’t chosen medicine as his path, he’d have gone the route of architecture or some kind of design. I laughed to myself, hearing his “if”, thinking how I, then a creative project manager, had so many times, wished I could do what he did. I sob, watching television dramas like ER and Grey’s Anatomy thinking, I want to save lives. I want to be a doctor.

At 17, I decided I was going to be an interior designer. That was it. And of course I assumed it would be my job—or my career– forever. I never imagined that at 30, I’d stop and question it and the whole direction my life was going. But I did. And now here I am working on being a writer. This is it. For real. (Or so I’m thinking.)

My mind still wanders though. If I could be anything…

It happened just the other day at work– at the architecture firm where I’m office manager (which ordinarily is just fine by me, as it provides me the freedom to leave with enough brain-power to be creative by night). It was during our office-wide meeting, when a line of architects stood up, one after another to present their projects. I was in the back of the room, craning my neck so to get a peak, and hear at least mumbles of what that had to say. One of them talked about their design for a clothing boutique in Japan, another about a penthouse apartment in the West Village; one was working on a flagship store uptown, and another on a beach house in the Hamptons. I felt a twinge somewhere between envy and longing as I stood there in admiration of their work, saying to myself, I want to do that. Architecture! I quietly slipped into a daydream– a ridiculous one of course– where I saw myself carrying tubes of drawings wherever I went, with a pencil always in hand, or twisted in my hair at all times that I could reach for at a moment’s notice to sketch random ideas as they came to me, on cocktail napkins or pieces of mail; I pictured myself adopting a wardrobe of all black and wearing my glasses every day, with great commissions coming my way from the US and abroad. I snapped back to reality.

But so quickly, I fall again into la-la land. Maybe it’s an athlete that I really want to be. That is my wish whenever the Olympics come around. Or I’d love to be a musician… or better an actor, where I could be so many different things without really being them.  My “If” list could go on for days.

Really, though what’s the point? Don’t get me wrong– I’m all for changing your path if the one you’re on is getting stale. But come on…sometimes it’s just gotta be said that reality bites. In a lifetime, there is no way for any one of us to do all that we’d like to do. It would be easy if we were all born with one-track minds. Unfortunately, I was not; and there is never a shortage of things I want to try and do and be great at. But since eventually we all must choose, I suppose we should just trust ourselves, that the choices we make, are the right ones for us.

My Happy Dwelling Place

It’s nuts to me that I’ve been living in my new apartment for five months already.

My process of settling has been slow, but so far the adjustment has been great. This is true, first because it is a place of my own after too long a time spent being a nomad, and second, because it is so satisfying to really take the time and make a house—or…a 550 square foot, partially subterranean apartment—a home. I know—most people, after five month’s time, would have everything in place and every detail sorted out. Those of you who know me, understand why this is not the case here. I’m particular to the point of being borderline irrational about everything in my life—from the décor in the office I work in, to the brand of jeans the guy I might be dating is wearing. So why would I not be just as particular about every individual thing I put inside my home in order to make it a happy dwelling place? In my last real apartment it took me sixth months to find the right chairs for my marble-top kitchen table that is the most beautiful piece of furniture I have ever owned and because so, happens to be one of my most prized possessions. Likewise here in this place, it’s taking some time to find just the right pieces.

In my defense, this is the first time my apartment actually includes a living room, thus, there is a lot more furniture to be found. So far I have the sofa, which arrived a few weeks ago, and not only made it safely through the window and into my living room, but also, looks as good in the space as I had imagined it would and is a rather cozy piece to curl up on when I actually allow myself to be lazy. The new blinds are up, the jute rug is down, and the armoire to hide my part-time guilty pleasure of TV watching, arrives in two weeks.

I have a ways to go.

The reality of the situation is that for the past nearly ten years, I’ve been living in a dream world. Let me clarify. For the past nearly ten years, I have been working in the high-end/luxury/(unrealistic for most of us) field of architecture and interior design. This is a world in a galaxy far, far away from Home Depot, Lowes and Do-It-Yourself/Design on a Dime. This is a world where a new sofa costs fourteen thousand dollars and if you want to reupholster an old one, the textile for it costs $300 per yard. This is no joke.

At my last job, my friend/desk-mate and I found it sickly humorous that we spent our days designing bathrooms for which we would specify bathtubs that cost forty-thousand dollars and faucets that cost two-thousand, while in our own homes, our bathrooms were literally falling apart. I had the pleasure of discovering one day that my ceiling had collapsed into my bathtub and he, that his sink had fallen off the wall, and into his boyfriend’s lap no less. For months he was haunted by nightmares of his toilet falling through the floor below him (with him on it of course).

Ah how the middle-class live.

Even funnier to us than these domestic mishaps however, was that over time, we became comfortable with the idea of a ten-thousand dollar table or a twelve-thousand dollar pair of chairs. And so the crazy truth still today, is that regardless of what my bank account says I can afford, I dream big. These luxuries, even though I’ve only ever bought them for other people (who happen to fall within the mega-wealthy bracket), have become a norm for me. Because as much as no one is deliberately brainwashing me, I am in a way brainwashed–that this is the standard, and that I of course have to have these things too. My wish list includes line item after line item of things I cannot and likely will not EVER have.

Case in point…

First night here in the apartment. After a long day of lugging boxes, climbing up and down steps, in and out of doorways and feeling like I was about to keel over, I treated myself to a bubble bath. It was a slice of heaven there in the steaming water as I relaxed my weary bones and felt thankful to simply be home. And then, amidst this humble moment, I had the most ridiculous thought. I was extending my foot to turn off the tap, exhaling a breath of relief as the words just fell out of my mouth. “I do love this place,” I said to myself. “Now if only these tub fittings were Lefroy Brooks…”

Above: Lefroy Brooks MH 1270 Mackintosh Wall Mounted Three Hole Bath Mixer, Approx. $2400


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Three-Day Weekends Forever

I know I am not alone in wishing every now and then that I lived in Europe. The draws are endless. There’s the ability to travel from one country to another, easily and affordably, the picturesque countrysides and ancient villages we Americans usually only see in the movies, and let us not forget those mellifluous accents that make us swoon. Yes, these are enough to make some of us want to pack up and go right now. But what I am talking about is the holiday. This is not to say that in Europe they are not working hard. No. But with all those paid days off and the lovely long lunches (in parts of France at least), it is my opinion—and likely not mine alone—that they definitely have a leg up when it comes to achieving the work-life balance.

And sure, saying this makes me sound like a lazy, spoiled brat, who shows no gratitude at a time when, being that I’m employed, I am amongst the lucky ones, but gosh do I miss not working. I’ve acknowledged the obvious over and over—yes, that said situation would mean no steady paycheck and no health benefits. But it would also mean a clearer head…and motivation to be excellent even if collecting unemployment might have me feeling otherwise. These days I feel like I’m digging for motivation in rocky ground.

Ah but the three-day weekend. That’s where it happens.

Would it be so bad if these were regular? Shall not every weekend be three days long? Sure one might argue we would get comfortable with it too quickly and before long be wanting four. But I think not. Three days would be just perfect. In all sincerity, I plead: our current two are not enough. Factoring in the hours of a real-life, [at least] New York City work-week, adding commute time, prep time in the morning and at night getting ready for the next day, and then a decent night’s sleep, there is little/practically no time for self. It is simply not possible to fit it all in—the gym, a dinner with friends, running errands (both those out of need and those for pleasure), reading the paper, reading a book. Gosh never mind writing.

But with that extra day tacked on to Saturday/Sunday, we’re golden. This past long weekend—for which the positive effects on my being are slowly fading—consisted of Saturday fun, Sunday sleep (all day!) and Monday all for me, writing for 12 hours straight. How I wish I could boast such productivity more regularly. The way things are currently, sadly I don’t foresee this being a reality.

So I’ll gather the votes. Three-day weekends forever, yeah! You in?


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Manic Monday

At work this morning, I started my day—over coffee of course—in my inbox, going through yesterday’s emails, checking to make sure I’d addressed everything that needed addressing. There I am clicking, reading, clicking, deleting and I come across one in which I was apologizing to this guy for having forgotten to include the necessary attachments. If you can believe it, (brace yourselves people) I actually wrote to him: “Ooops. It’s been a manic Monday.”

Yes, I wrote that!

We all know the song. Susanna Hoffs. The Bangles. I’ve been singing the lyrics since my preteen years, long before I had any business characterizing any of my days as being manic, when my stresses amounted to a heavy backpack of books and having to run suicides at basketball practice. I think, probably like most kids, I was singing because I liked the sound, but in actuality had no idea what this manic life they sang of was really all about. These days, I get it. And yesterday, because Mondays are inherently rough and because I, for some reason was feeling extra flustered—felt like they had written the song for me.

Six o’clock already I was just in the middle of a dream…

At six o’clock I was indeed in the middle of a dream, though instead of kissing Valentino (yeah, yeah—by a crystal blue Italian stream), I was on an operating table getting surgery. Kissing Valentino would have been so much nicer. Kissing any handsome lad for that matter, I know. Surgery? Don’t ask! Nevertheless, I was still in my slumber dreaming, and the alarm that signaled the week’s beginning was the last thing I wanted to hear.

But I can’t be late ‘cause then I guess I just won’t get paid. These are the days when you wish your bed was already made

Right. Can’t be late. This is still a new job. Late = bad and I like getting paid. And yes, if only my bed could already be made. This would save me at least five minutes of precious prep time. Of course some might say forget the bed. Leave it and go. But no, not I. The thought alone makes me cringe.

Just another Manic Monday. And yes, I wished it were Sunday.

Have to catch an early train is the story of my life and yeah even if I had an air-o-plane, I still wouldn’t make it on time. Cause it takes me so long…. Uh huh, uh huh….to figure out what I’m gonna wear. Blame it on the train but the boss is already there! What on earth am I gonna wear? This is the ever-present thorn in my side. Standing in my closet staring at my choices, I feel like I’m in high school again after years in private school wishing that I could go back to wearing my uniform. If only I had one today. Is the MTA hiring?

And so we arrive at the end. I still sing the lyrics but in my mind we’ve come to a screeching halt. My lover, his bedroom voice, saying to me honey, “let’s go make some noise.”  Oh oh oh oh. Oh wait. What? Somehow this part is way off.

Hopefully someday soon it won’t be and Mr. Lover, Valentino or whoever he is, can help me through my manic Mondays for as long as they come. ‘Cause here, I know…they’re not stopping any time soon.

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Furniture Co

Once upon a time on the corner of Greenwich and Jane, there was a beautiful place called Furniture Co. It was New York City, 1999 and I was looking for my first real job, fresh out of college, eager for this new phase of my life to begin. Naïve, or perhaps more accurately, not yet really knowing myself, I figured the pursuit would take three months. Ha! Me, ‘Miss Particular’, find my first job in a matter of three months? The first job, that I had started illustrating in grade school, while picking up pieces of a business woman’s life from characters like Elizabeth Perkins’s Susan in ‘Big’ and Diane Keaton’s J.C. Wiatt in ‘Baby Boom’? I didn’t necessarily want to go the corporate route those ladies went, but I knew exactly the kind of place I wanted to be. Or at least I knew I’d recognize it when I had found it.

So my search began, days passed, weeks passed, the three-month mark passed and I was still without. That of course was a result of my own doing. (Thanks to the ‘Miss Particular’ thing). The way it went, I would be sitting in an interview thinking, “No way am I working here!”, smiling to hide my objections about a place— at one, the dingy office, at another, the barking co-workers. So one afternoon, when I suppose it had been decided that I deserved to finally get my break, I walked up to the storefront at 818 Greenwich Street, and into this modern furniture store aptly named Furniture Co. Inside, it looked more to me like an art gallery. At the same time, it looked very much like a place I would have liked to live. There were white walls, a rich, brown, wide-plank Walnut floor, and in careful arrangements, the most beautifully simple furniture I’d ever laid eyes on—a red chair, a yellow chair, a teak bench, a maple table. And then the special objects to soften the modern—a giant Akari light glowing like a full moon made out of paper, an elegant glass vase, a collection of grey-blue ceramic bowls, each object more beautiful than the next. It was one of those ‘choir of angels singing’ moments. With my jaw dropped to the floor, I thought, “Where have you been all my life?” I had finally found my place. *If you were a fan of Sex in the City and saw the episode when Carrie met Aidan in his furniture store, you know this place. Yes, that was Furniture Co. And yes! I got to be there with Sarah Jessica and John Corbett the day they filmed the episode. That was, indeed, an exciting bite of my New York life for sure, but in truth, only a momentary glimmer next to what this company was to me.

Furniture Co was the dream-come-reality of a designer I had the privilege of meeting very young in my working life. He was my boss, my unofficial teacher and mentor, and the molder of my design mind. I think David was born an artist and a creator, with a design sensibility like no one else I’ve ever known. To this day, he’s one of my favorite people on this earth and I often wonder if I’ve thanked him enough. How was I the lucky one,who after stumbling upon this place, worked my way up to a spot on the design team of such a talented artist and had a regular glimpse into his creative brain? Sounds crazy, I’m sure, as this was in fact work. But it was so much more than just any old job. Like a perfect mate or a perfect house that brings a smile to your face and peace to your mind, this place was my perfect match, a jigsaw puzzle piece, that fit with me so exactly. Me, the little girl who had always wanted to be an artist. The teenager who dreamed of being an interior designer. The picky girl who spent forever looking for just the right first job. Here it was! And how much better than I had ever imagined.

I remember the early days, being in awe at the opening parties, standing among these artists and their work, wondering how it was I got to be there, thinking how I had never before seen such beautiful things in my entire life—once, giant, hand-hammered sterling silver vases made by a pretty, young jeweler from London, another time a show of baskets woven by a collection of artists from all over the world, from as close as upstate New York to as far away as Japan and the Isle of Skye, and another time pottery by a man who lived in a farmhouse in the quiet English countryside.

I was thinking about Furniture Co a lot recently as I revisited the job search and re-visited my resume, subsequently traveling down the various memory lanes of my past. I think if the company was still in existence I would probably be there today. But I know all good things eventually must end. And as I write this, I wonder if any words I could choose would ever accurately convey what a truly special place it was. It was special to me, of course, but I think that anyone who knew it or was a part of it, felt it just as special. But since most of you who will read this never did know it and never will, I suppose this is simply an homage that I am finally getting around to writing.