The Life of Riley

a quest for the good life in New York City and beyond

Tweezing With The Enemy

tweezing with the enemy pic 1

Why is it when we’re young girls going through puberty we’re led to believe puberty starts and ends in adolescence? We trust in hormonal wars ceasing on the callow battlefield. Why doesn’t anyone say, hey, you know how the hair on your body grows like crazy and in some strange places now? Yeah, well that starts up again later in life, and girl, it ain’t pretty. I mean seriously, we should be warned about what the future holds when it comes to aging and hair. I’ve never used tweezers more in my life than in this last decade. I mean I used them, but I didn’t use them. I remember relying on them as a tool to pull something fine out of a tricky spot, like a splinter in a finger or a tangled necklace. Oh, the days! But now, oh, now, tweezers = life.

I can’t put the tweezers down for fear I’ve missed another chin hair. And there it is. That ugly truth, no one, and I mean no one, ever tells you, chin hair is real, and at a certain point in life, it slinks across your face, stretching and gripping like facial kudzu. You can tweeze and pluck to your heart’s content, but in a day or two, a week tops, you’ll innocently glance in the mirror while grabbing your tooth brush and see where new ones have taken the place of the hair you diligently plucked what seems like mere moments ago. You’ll want to cry and perhaps you will. But then your hand will graze your chin, and you’ll be pushed back into reality, grabbing the tweezers for dear life.

Unable to escape the quest to conquer all the chin hair, the whole affair takes on new life. You start looking into new weapons, like massive magnifying mirrors. You casually pick these up in Bed, Bath and Beyond, gently caressing the smooth edges as you scout out the room before stealing a look at your reflection. And at once you hear the echo of Jack Nicholson’s A Few Good Men argument, and you realize you really aren’t sure if you can handle the truth.

Yet the urge to look, follows you everywhere. Even on vacation. Spoiler, this could be you. Once while on a much needed beach getaway I spent over an hour at the vanity mirror in my room. More than 10x the power of my compact mirror, this mirror revealed it all. At first I blushed, upset about all the wasted pre-vacation time I spent plucking. Was there a sudden surge in hormones brought on by a ten hour road trip and an innocent stop for Sugar Babies at the classic candy aisle in Cracker Barrel? Or was there simply much more than meets the eye finally revealing itself? Either way, the in room grooming session grew therapeutic. I emerged lighter and refreshed as if I’d spent all day at the hotel spa. But days later new darker and coarser hair sprouted once again, the cycle continuing.

What’s a girl to do? It’s not like there aren’t options: laser, electrolysis, waxing, creams, and shaving. Some you can perform in the privacy of your own home–some you’ll need to visit a dermatologist or other specialist. It’s a commitment I’m not sure I’m ready to make. Maybe it’s become ritual, plucking. Maybe chasing after those pesky chin hairs keeps me young, alert, and on my toes. Maybe I’ve learned to live with them, cohabiting quietly among the walls of my tiny apartment. Or maybe, just maybe, I refuse to surrender to time. Whipping out my Tweezerman sword, like Arya Stark unsheathing her beloved needle, I fight growing old by aging like a warrior, one battle at a time, never bowing in defeat.


American Graffiti

Random Acts of Tourism

Rhode Island may be small, but I always discover new things when visiting. Last year, while hanging out in Narragansett, Bill and I decided to explore a new bike trail, the William C. O’Neill South County Bike Path. Under the Route 1 overpass off MacArthur Boulevard in Wakefield, we slowed as we approached a tunnel decorated with artists and vibrant concrete tapestries. This artistic space, deemed Graffiti Tunnel, was created by and for graffiti artists to legally share their work with the world. It’s impossible not to stop and take it all in, and that’s just what every person walking or riding did. The artists offered insight about the tunnel’s history and the projects they were working on. Great energy. Exactly what you’d expect at any artistic exhibition. If you’re interested in biking the trail and checking out the tunnel, visit for more information.


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The Space Between Us

Dad gives Jord a helping hand

From my window I notice the tiny girl with strawberry-blonde hair lag behind her parents while taking a moment to examine the grass under her feet. She’s aware of her mom, who looks back over her shoulder every few seconds, and inches away each time it appears they’re getting closer to one another. The mother is alert, attentive, but allows her daughter space. We aren’t that different, I think. I mean it’s what we do all along, that tough balancing act of holding on tight while simultaneously letting go, all the while glancing over our shoulders until that one day when we steal a look back and realize that there’s no one left behind us.

Jordan began her sophomore year in college this week. She discussed classes and her schedule, but she never asked for advice or assistance when planning out the semester. I didn’t expect her to. Figuring out the whole empty nest scenario last year helped me work through this new phase in my life. Trust me, it’s still a work in progress. As I hear friends talking about their kids venturing off to college this week, I’m grateful to be in a different place. And I know the next semester and the semester after that will be easier and perhaps harder all at the same time.

Soon, I will be a mere spectator in my daughter’s life rather than an active participant. Little by little I’m mourning the loss. That’s not to say I’m not excited for her future. There’s no doubt that she will go out and rule the world in her own special way. If I’m honest, I do, however, lust for one more minute to go back in time, ensuring I did things right, offering that last golden nugget of advice, and stressing once more the depth of unconditional love her dad and I hold for her, and that it will always be here. Did I stress all of these things enough? The worry creeps in as we near the final stretch. So I share these “juicy tidbits,” advice, wisdom, and inspiration in one quick swoop as a love letter of sorts for Jordan. I couldn’t finish writing this piece last year when I was right in the middle of enormous change, but today I was able to finish.

Savor “delicious ambiguity.” Be brave. Express yourself. Allow yourself options and take chances. Go makeup free as often as possible; know that you are beautiful. Use your beauty and intelligence for good instead of evil. Take care of yourself and care about others. Be genuine. Independence equals strength; wear it like a coat of armor. Stay curious. Fill your life with laughter. Never stop looking for your passion. Life without passion is lackluster. Admit when you’re wrong. Dust yourself off and move forward. It’s a learning experience, a necessary part of every day living. Try to find the good in everyone. Make friends easily; it’s not as simple as it sounds but worth the work. Be drama free–the last thing the world needs is more drama. Read. Listen. Trust your instincts. Learn when to move and when to stand still. Relish the little things. Be bold. Be compassionate. Be yourself. Be fearless of failure. When it presents itself, take the road less traveled and create your own path. Ignore the urge to glance over your shoulder in search of support or encouragement . . . those exquisite elements fill the space between us.

NYC’s Treasure Island

Roosevelt Island Meets Manhattan

I’ve called Roosevelt Island home for the past four and a half years. It’s been named everything from Minnahanonck by the Native Americans to Hog Island by the Dutch and then Blackwell’s Island and Welfare Island before the renaming in 1971, honoring President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Perhaps a more appropriate name would be Treasure Island. A somewhat mysterious, quirky Manhattan neighborhood, nestled under the Queensboro Bridge, Roosevelt Island often times goes unnoticed and underappreciated by New Yorkers and tourists alike. I’m asked routinely if it’s strange living on the island, and my answer is always the same: yes and no. It’s rich history and checkered past includes the city’s Lunatic Asylum, riddled with patient abuse, a penitentiary, and a smallpox hospital. It’s no secret; Roosevelt Island was a mandated sentence for the discarded people of New York City.

All of that changed in the 1960s, and today more than 14,000 residents, including second and third generations, call this piece of the rock home. It mirrors New York in that it is a mixture of old and new, a metaphorical fork in the road where the past intersects with the future. Indeed a hidden treasure, the island offers some of the best views of Manhattan. You still feel the bustle of the city while being able to catch your breath and slow down a few paces. Whether you’re visiting NYC, or you live here and simply haven’t ventured over, it’s worth the trip. Here are 9 must see island spots.

The Tram

Dueling Trams ease across the East River
Dueling Trams ease across the East River

For the same price as a subway ride, swipe your metro card and board the tram. With spectacular aerial views over the East River, the tram provides you a front row seat to see the city up close and personal. At 250 feet, you literally feel as if you can reach out and touch the Queensboro Bridge as you hover over the traffic below. The Roosevelt Island Tram is one of only two commuter trams in the United States– the Portland Tram holds the other honor.

The Octagon

The Octagon dome
The Octagon Dome

New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis designed the octagon shaped building for The New York City Lunatic Asylum, which opened its doors in 1841. Perhaps the most infamous building on the island, The Octagon has endured a troubled past, including scandal, fire damage, and demolition threats. Now a National Historic Landmark, The Octagon operates as a thriving luxury apartment building with 500 green designed rentals.

The Lighthouse 

Lighthouse Park
Lighthouse Park

Constructed of stone quarried from the Island, the 50 foot lighthouse sits at its northern tip. Noted architect James Renwick, Jr. designed the lighthouse in 1872. Within the park there is a green lawn for playing frisbee or just hanging out and grills surrounded by numerous picnic benches. On the weekends you’ll spot families enjoying the laid back setting.

Meditation Steps


As you head towards the North end, you’ll spot wooden steps carved into the island. Here you can stop, gaze out at the East River, watching the colorful tugboats ease by. Islanders use this sacred space to sit quietly, exercise, meet up with friends, and yes, meditate. Get your Zen on.

South Point Park

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You’ll need to walk through this 7-acre park in order to get to Four Freedoms. But don’t just breeze through. Geese flock to South Point Park, a wildlife oasis, and each year goslings take over as they learn to walk and fly.

The Small Pox Hospital Ruins

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Designed by James Renwick, Jr. in Gothic Revival style,  The Small Pox Hospital is the only landmark ruins in New York City. Both a reminder of the island’s dark past and rich history, the beautiful Ruins stand strong even after years of neglect.

4 Freedoms Park


Taking 40 long years to come to fruition, Four Freedoms opened in 2012. It stands as a tribute to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his historical 1941 Four Freedoms speech. Tranquil and majestic, It’s my favorite place on the island, and one of my favorite places in the city. This southernmost tip of Roosevelt island proudly claims a spectacular view of some of the city’s most iconic buildings: The United Nations building, the Chrysler building, and the Empire State building. As you explore, 120 Littleleaf Linden trees provide shade and beauty, as well as contributing to the New York City Million Tree Campaign. The park’s most recent claim to fame was 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivering her official campaign launch speech to a massive and energetic crowd with a Manhattan skyline backdrop.

Cherry Blossom Trees 


Every April, 400 cherry blossom trees burst into life, blanketing the island promenade into a pink and white paradise. The island hosts an annual Cherry Blossom Festival to pay tribute. To walk among the colorful trees feels as if you’ve been transported to a Secret Garden.

Coming Soon . . . Cornell Tech Campus

Future Cornell Tech Campus Under Construction
Future Cornell Tech Campus Under Construction

This is the future of Roosevelt Island. After the city shut down and then demolished Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital south campus, construction began on the new Cornell Tech campus. Although the campus isn’t set to open until 2017, amid the steady construction, you can picture how Cornell Tech will become a prominent structure on the island. More than the bridges, the subway, or the tram, the Cornell Tech campus may be the one true thing that finally connects the island with the city.

Shortly after moving to New York City, I had the honor of meeting Maya Angelou. Unlike the random glimpses of celeb elite on crowded streets or in dark corners of restaurants, a simple author event turned into a powerful life lesson.

It happened on the cusp of a losing battle with the New York public school system, and after I’d been handed over  and reluctantly accepted the honorary title of homeschool teacher/mom. Defeated, I worked hard to create an environment that took the sting out of the fact that my daughter, Jordan, wasn’t surrounded by peers in a classroom. We’d been discussing poetry and creative writing for her English requirements, when I heard about the next author event at Barnes & Noble, Union Square. Maya Angelou. The only caveat, she was promoting her latest book, a cookbook, Great Food, All Day Long. And I quietly worried that her appearance and conversation wouldn’t be  in any way focused on all of her others works. Hesitation proved brief.

Quickly we organized our lessons around Angelou’s works. I shared my knowledge from my time in college, and from reading her books, articles, watching her in videos and in conversations with Oprah. Jordan read her biography and shared facts and daily trivia with me, like, did I know, “Maya Angelou worked as a street car conductor in San Francisco?”  I didn’t know. And so the student taught the teacher too. This continued for weeks until we made our way through the crowds, finding prime seats in the first few rows. We awaited her arrival like family at an airport watching for that first glimpse of a loved one we hadn’t seen in ages.

Surprising us all, Angelou arrived in a wheelchair, appearing fragile and aging. Then she smiled at the crowd as she glanced around the room, happy to see her fans. She wore a black dress with dangling pearl earrings and dark red lipstick, looking elegant as always. Once she was settled on stage, she began speaking, and the strength of her words and her voice filled the room. You could no longer hear whispers, shuffling in seats or the buzzing traffic outside, only Maya Angelou speaking to us as if we were old friends. And all of a sudden you knew you were a part of something special, larger than life, something that couldn’t be captured in any other form, really, but being in that moment and savoring the lovely memory.

I managed to take a short video, featuring the last few things she shared with us. Next we were invited, as is customary at book signing events, to form a line on the side of the stage. I asked Jordan to calm down. She was nervous about meeting her and what she’d say. I didn’t want her to be disappointed and let her know that usually the process was quick with the assistant placing the yellow sticky note with your name on the page the author signs, and a brief exchange of words, usually not much more than a smile and a thank you.

But Maya Angelou was different. There were children touching her, drawn to her wise soul, and adults having conversations with her, laughing and lingering for more than mere seconds. Fans handed her flowers that she gladly accepted. And she looked completely in her element, at home with it all, comforted, perhaps, that she’d made such a difference in the world and people knew it and appreciated it. When it was Jordan’s turn to walk up the steps and stand in front of her, I stood off to her side, allowing her the moment.

“Where do you go to school in the city, Jordan?” Angelou asked.

Jordan looked at me nervously. “I don’t yet. I recently moved here and have to do homeschool until next year.”

Maya & Jordan.jpg

I know she felt embarrassed as did I. But that didn’t last but a few seconds as Angelou looked at me, drawing me into the conversation. She caught Jordan by complete surprise as she took Jordan’s hand in hers and said, “Oh, that gives you time to read and study so many wonderful things.” And she began to give Jordan and me the name of a few books to study, allowing Jordan time to write them down. “Never stop learning,” Angelou reminded in a soft but urging voice. She chatted with the two of us for a few more minutes, sharing her thoughts on education and being a life long learner, not just in school, and not just from books. She asked questions about what I was teaching in homeschool and what Jordan was learning, smiling and nodding, whispering words of encouragement.


This morning when we found out about Maya Angelou’s passing, it felt personal, like we’d lost an old friend. I immediately pulled out the photos, the video, and even the cookbook from its perch on our kitchen counter where it’s been since that day in Union Square. I closed my eyes, thinking back to how she reached across the table and held Jordan’s hand tight in her own, reassuring us both about where we were then and the glorious path unfolding before us. Of course she was right as Jordan skipped a grade, due to our hard work, and now prepares for graduating from I.C.E., her NYC high school, and then an exciting move to Ithaca College in the fall, a glorious path indeed.

Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now. ― Maya Angelou

What's Love Got To Do With It
Love Statue, John F. Kennedy Plaza, Philadelphia. Photo Credit: Maria Riley

Renowned artist Robert Indiana created the LOVE image in the early 1960s, inspired by the God is Love inscription in the Christian Science churches he attended in his youth. While Philly is one of the most well-known places to get up close and personal with the iconic four-letter word, Indiana’s LOVE sculptures can be found all over the world. And though this may be Indiana’s most famous piece of art, his poetry, frescos, and watercolors prove that there’s more to love about this artist than what sits on the surface.

Life Lessons Among Waterfalls and Jagged Rocks

A few days before we dropped off, our middle daughter, Elizabeth and her stuff in Bozeman, Montana for her first semester at Montana State University, we embarked on our last family vacation together with Yellowstone, a place we’ve always dreamed of visiting, as the ideal backdrop. Along the way I accumulated a few life lessons, gaining a deeper understanding of my family and myself.

gibbon fallsLife lesson number 1:  It’s REALLY hard to plan a family vacation with grown-and not grown-children.

Our oldest daughter, Samantha, in her third year of Chemistry at University of Oregon, had been accepted into two summer internship programs. She was the first student using the internship to count for an undergrad and masters program, and all the brains in the Chemistry department couldn’t figure out how to work the dates for her. It took three long months to finalize dates so she could join us.

Ben, our youngest child, was chosen to be a student leader, mentoring the incoming sixth graders this year. His excitement turned to disappointment when we found out that the mandatory training was the exact time frame we’d be visiting Yellowstone.  If he couldn’t be there for the mandatory training, he couldn’t be a student leader. He’s left feeling resentful because once again his big sisters’ plans vetoed his.

driving yellowstone

Life lesson number 2:  Thar she blows!

With firm dates for our trip, I planned out everything, and tried to get my kids to actually start packing. Meanwhile . . . Elizabeth worked herself into a frenzy over leaving home and going off to college, to the point of paralysis. Samantha stressed over internship work, her math class and managing sloppy summer roommates. Tempers were high and tears were in abundance.

Amidst the drama, we finally packed up the truck, and headed off to Yellowstone. And almost immediately, everything changed and a calm settled in. Stresses forgotten, worries left behind, as we gazed in wonder at geysers shooting water into the air, pools of boiling hot aquamarine water, bubbling pots of mud, and Bison, elk, and a coyote cavorting in a field. Sunsets and sunrises that amazed the senses, and the sounds and smells of the earth boiling and burping noxious fumes and steam from her bowels to reshape the landscape.

aquamarineWe hiked countless miles, stared at waterfalls that rivaled Niagara, and joked and laughed about the awful smells that coated our skin by the time we returned to the cabin each night. We’ve always been a close-knit family, and Yellowstone brought us even closer, knowing that soon we’d be down to just one child at home, and both girls off on their own. Our family was growing up and leaving us, and that’s as hard on the parents as it is on the kids.

Our time at Yellowstone came to a close much too quickly, and we headed to Bozeman. We moved Elizabeth into her freshman apartment, and discovered that her three other roommates were no longer coming to the school, and she had a roommate she’d never met before. The roommate spent the weekend with her family in a hotel, leaving Elizabeth alone at night. There were tears, phone calls, and texts. We seriously wondered if we could even leave her on Sunday. Did we really not prepare her that much? Could she handle being so far from home? Leaving her behind proved brutal.

the girls yellowstoneLife lesson number 3: Letting go, and keeping in touch

When Samantha left for school two years ago, it was just as hard. We spent the first year texting daily. I ‘got the hint’ the second year when Samantha wouldn’t answer right away, my cue that I was too much helicopter, not enough absent parent. But she felt comfortable texting at 3 am when she was lonely and sad that first year. I must have done something right if she felt she could reach out to me at all hours, especially knowing that I go to bed at 9:30 every night. Elizabeth’s reaching out to us right now as she tries to settle in and make new friends. But that too will change. And that’s good—and bad. It’s hard to let go, and yet still be part of your grown kids’ lives.

I am a geyser, erupting into tears and anger at my aging family, going away and leaving me. I am a deep aquamarine pool, bubbling underneath with worry, but showing a calm surface to the people who need me quiet and reflective. I am a waterfall, letting fears flow past the jagged rocks, cutting deep and carving new places to explore. I hope they still want to come back and explore us—enjoy us– as we grow independent of them, too.

E & nesbitt kids

BIO:  Emilie is a married mom of 3. She currently resides in Bend, OR, where she volunteers with Scouts and school, hikes and camps all around Central Oregon, and tries to keep sane as her family grows and changes around her.

A Literary Journey with Jay Asher

In honor of #BannedBooksWeek, the Life of Riley interview with author Jay Asher


The Life of Riley

Suicide is a taboo subject in our society. So it’s refreshing and yet somewhat surprising when a novel—a young adult novel to be more specific—finds its way into the hearts of people all around the world, achieving a coveted spot on the New York Times Bestseller lists, numerous literary awards and an upcoming film adaption. Thirteen Reasons Why tackles a teen’s suicide by unveiling its complicated layers. The novel has sparked a much needed conversation and continues to attract new followers every day.  

While working as a newsletter editor for a suicide prevention organization in 2009, I reached out to and subsequently interviewed Thirteen Reasons Why author, Jay Asher. He was humble, kind, and elated with readers’ reactions and feedback.  He spoke of the fans who stood in the back of crowded rooms after readings, waiting to thank him personally for writing a book that encouraged them to reach out…

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S.N.A.P.: Signs Among Us

by Barry Fidnick

Each and every day it is amazing to count the shear number of signs that we encounter with every step, on every block, in every aspect of our lives. I encountered these signs in and around Tribeca within a few short hours.  Most often the signs themselves were not remarkable, but upon a closer look, many became thought provoking.

Sign A. Burger & BathroomSome signs are so very similar, yet so extremely different.

Sign B. High & Low Some signs are hung so high they are easily missed and some signs are placed so low they are easily missed as well.

Sign C Past & PresentSome signs are a sign of the past and some signs are a sign of the times.

Sign D. Too Many Words & SignsSome signs have too many words and some places have too many signs.

Sign E. Odeon Standing NoticedSome signs can’t help but be noticed and some signs are just simply ignored.

Sign-F. Hava a nice day copySome signs need no explanation.

This photo essay originally appeared in The Tribeca Citizen, July 2010.

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