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The Life of Riley

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

A League of Their Own: ZogSports Plays It Forward

“When I conceived ZogSports post 9/11 everyone was asking what they could do to give back,” says founder and CEO Robert Herzog.

The Life of Riley

During the weekends, especially spring and summer, Roosevelt Island’s Fire Fighters Field, Octagon Field and Pony Field come to life courtesy of the Zoggers. Like a rare breed of exotic bird descending the fields in their colorful sneakers and occasional old-school knee-high socks, Zoggers congregate, strategize and ultimately play ball—be it kickball, dodgeball, football, or baseball. Styling team colored tee shirts with cool names like Catchers in the Rye and Purple Reign, the Zoggers, whether on the field or in the local Bar & Grill afterwards, make their presence known. They’re loud, really loud—laughing, talking, and cheering . . . nonstop. And it makes you feel good just being around it, little snippets of laughter sneaking in through open windows or tapping you on the shoulder while walking by on a sunny day. You begin to look for your favorite player or the most engaging team, high-fivers, and talk…

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Be the Light: National Suicide Prevention Week

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As a writer, some of the work I’m most proud of is the time I spent volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Serving on the Central Florida Chapter Board of Directors alongside an amazing group of individuals, I created the Life Support Newsletter, working as editor, collecting stories from survivors of suicide.

Listening to the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, friends, classmates, and colleagues tell the story of a loved one who had died by suicide, was never easy. But it was here, during these gentle moments, that I learned the most about suicide awareness, prevention, and the harsh reality and effect of the stigma associated with these losses. It is here that stories beginning with loss, ended in hope. It is here that dark turned into light and survival turned into activism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2010(the most recent year that statistics are available). There were 38,364 reported suicides in 2010. Today numerous organizations—TWLOHA, The Trevor Project, AFSP, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—many spearheaded by survivors, work tirelessly to break the stigma of suicide and mental illness and to promote suicide awareness and prevention by educating the public.

In honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, take a moment to learn more about the warning signs of suicide. Consider volunteering with a local organization. Talk about it. Listen. And tonight at 8pm, join others around the world and light a candle near a window to show your support for World Suicide Prevention Day.

The Final Countdown

#BackToSchool
#BackToSchool

I could consider it ironic that my husband and daughter used to sing Europe’s “The Final Countdown” to mark the beginning or end of events. It was one of Bill’s favorite 80s songs and the minute Jordan heard it, she fell in love. They’ve always shared quirky things like that. And back in the day, I laughed and even awaited the chorus when it was almost time for vacation or for a visit from family or something like that. But as it turns out, the 80s are gone and so is the nostalgic flavor of this particular song.

As we navigate Jordan’s final year of high school, Bill and I are bombarded with reminders that it’s only 14 months, 13 months . . . a cute countdown reminder for Christmas but a sad reminder of the end of something beautiful. And I get that right now Jordan doesn’t get it. But it doesn’t make it hurt any less or feel any less brutal when the heaviness of those words hangs in the room.

It’s not that we’re not excited for her. Of course we are.

But the countdown makes it official. The countdown forces me to hit rewind, over and over, stealing glances of her childhood, trying to remember if we got it all right. And even more than that, wondering, did we do enough to wrap her tightly in the knowledge that we loved her in a way that we’ll never love another. And will that knowledge bring with it the confidence she needs to march on successfully without the handholding or the lecturing.

This morning she breezed out the door, peeking back around the corner to remind us, as if she had to, that today’s her last first day of school (required school, she reiterated). I snapped a couple of photos, like I’ve done every year of her school career, and fought back the rush of tears, offering a smile instead.

“Don’t get all emotional and parental, Mom,” Jordan half-joked.

“I’ll write about it,” I replied.

She laughed. We all said I love you. The door closed behind her.

I didn’t rush to the kitchen window, as I’ve done every year since she was six, to take a photo of her walking away. I didn’t ask her to text me once she arrived at school. I didn’t remind her to grab breakfast or eat a good lunch, protein never uttered from my lips, not even once. I didn’t tell her to be safe. I didn’t ask when she’d be back home.

Thirty minutes later the sarcastic text, “Yay School,” pops up on my phone.  And I know she’s arrived, safe and sound. 3-2-1, lift off . . .

 

Total Ellipse of the Heart

are-you-readyThe elliptical machine and I have a complicated relationship. Days go by without so much as a passing glance between the two of us. And when we do “share a moment,” it’s hard to gauge how things will end up at the end of the date. I want to love it, but I’m afraid of commitment.

What can I say? I’m a player. I’m guilty of yo-yo exercising. One week I’m hot and heavy, working out, feeling the burn, and loving every minute of it. The next week . . . well, not so much. An old knee injury makes running, another past love interest, a true challenge. I do run occasionally, but I’m unable to give it my all the way I’d like to. So I alternate exercises, trying to push past the monotony of same old same old. I’m not a one exercise kind of girl. And that’s where the elliptical came into my life.

The first time I tried it, my teenage daughter, Jordan, actually introduced us, and walked me through the steps of setting up a basic workout. I couldn’t help noticing how comfortable she was with her elliptical–taking breaks to adjust her iPhone settings, brush hair out of her eyes or grab a sip of water. She and her elliptical were a team. Jealousy grew as I watched their ease with one another. Too much pressure. I swore I’d never double date again.

I almost fell twice, trying to adjust my feet just right, because, well, I didn’t want to fall off. As sweat pulsed through my pores so did the worry over fainting or crumbling into a heap on the gym floor, my spaghetti noodle legs dangling over the side of the machine, a true metaphor for defeat. All of the other people in the gym looked compatible with their machines. Was it just me? When the workout ended, I strolled out of the gym, playing it cool, without even a second glance at my machine.

The next day I jumped back on. Steady, steady, I whispered to myself, trying to gain my balance and composure while maneuvering the beast. Although the work out felt harder than the first time, I assumed it was normal for the second day. My legs burned, my entire body trembled but I continued on, remembering “no pain no gain.” Nearing the end of my workout, Jordan walked in and hopped on the machine next to me but stopped and stared. I knew the look on her face well–that embarrassed look she’d get whenever I did something she thought was totally uncool, like singing all of the words to “Ice Ice Baby” in front of her friends.

“Have you been working out like this the entire time?” She asked in amazement.

“Yes,” I answered, “Why?” I looked down to where she pointed, recognizing the awkward movement of my feet.

She leaned in to me. “You’ve been doing the elliptical backwards.”

Explaining later that the pain I felt while working out meant that I wasn’t doing something right–”it should never hurt,” she said–Jordan gave me some tips on working through the awkwardness of learning a new piece of equipment, especially one so complex as the Elliptical.

For a time, I did everything to avoid meeting up with the elliptical. I wasn’t ready. I ran stairs, walked and jogged my neighborhood, worked out with weights and if I’m putting it all out there, did nothing on many days. All the while, longing for one more chance to make it right.

I’m back in the game again. It’s only been a few days, and I’m still 100% awkward and uncomfortable on the elliptical. I continue to watch others with their ellipticals, hoping for pointers in making my relationship better, stronger. This time I’m in with both feet, feet that are moving forwards not backwards. And when I play our song–yes, we have a song–I forget about all of the baggage, the missteps, the awkwardness, and simply hold on, enjoying the bumpy ride and anticipating another day of discovering the nuances of the elliptical and myself. After all, isn’t that how love begins?

7 Ways To Find Yourself After Losing Your Job

New Haven Harbor Light
New Haven Harbor Light

Layoffs, poor economy, budget cuts . . . words that look less intimidating when we see them in the news but show their brutality once they belong to you. We moved to New York because of an incredible job opportunity for my husband, and now, several years later, the job no longer exists. Days turn into weeks and eventually into months, and the weight of unemployment takes its toll, pulling us under. I can’t deny that I’ve allowed it to affect me on more than one occasion, especially when I witness it delicately devour Bill.

Who knows how long this will last. And because of that reality, we’ve been working on strategies to battle the disappointment and the unknown. Having this simple plan of action provides a sense of normalcy to the situation. Just this past week Bill’s gone on several interviews and he’s talking to recruiters—on these days he feels optimistic. And in between the hard work it takes to find a new job, he’s had time to visit his sister in Pittsburgh, road trip it with our daughter for a college tour, and reconnect with his wife over badminton, batting cages, and bike rides. Not a bad way to spend his days.

Stay Calm with a Daily Routine

Between retelling the tale and spending hours applying for one job, keeping your head as Kipling encouraged seems a bit out of reach. Try to keep a daily routine. And dedicate a specific block of time to job searching. That way you’re not spending all of your time in the role of jobseeker. Take a few moments each day to meditate, sit in silence or listen to a favorite song. Just give yourself that chill moment.

Grieve

Researchers have long known that major life events like losing a job require time to grieve. No shame, no guilt in releasing all of your emotions. Let it out. Allow yourself that gift.

3.     And then move on

Wearing your loss on your lapel only weighs you down. People in general, but especially employers, are drawn to those who are positive, happy and confident.

4.     Socialize

Embrace your circle of friends. Now more than ever you need to laugh and connect with the people in your life.

5.     Cocoon

Don’t feel guilty about those days you just want to chill at home with a pizza and a movie.

6.     Plan for the future

We all need things to look forward to in life. Make plans for small things, like a night out or a staycation. Continue discussing the future and your 5-year, 10-year and 15-year plan.

7.     Embrace the moment

Yes, embrace it. Use this time wisely. Go outside more. Get in shape. Read. Keep a journal. Spend time with family. Connect with colleagues. Reconnect with your passion. Treat your unemployment as an opportunity.

A National Book Lovers Day Homage To Didion

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We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
― Joan Didion

What unpredictable things would you feel lost without . . . tangible items that most often have little value except to those who know the stories behind them? I recently asked friends this very question about “prized possessions.” Brief but beautiful, honest descriptions filled my Facebook comment stream. And why did I ask? One, it’s for an upcoming story and two, I had been spurred by something I read or overheard, I can’t even remember now, but an idea that lingered as I considered my own list—family photos, delicate mementos of my daughter’s childhood, the first note my husband wrote me (long before he was my partner), a worry Buddha statue and books. One in particular that sits on the bookcase above my desk, sometimes dusty but never forgotten, is a signed copy of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays.

A story that stays with you long after you’ve gobbled up those last delicious crumbs of perfect sentences, raw emotion, and haunting, flawed characters, Play It As It Lays heightens your appreciation for literature and great writing, pushing writers like me to pay more attention and to write fearlessly, even when it hurts.

Didion’s appearance at the Union Square Barnes & Noble last year ranks at the top of my best moments list. Although fragile and small, Didion grew larger than life as she talked writing, reading and loss, a topic of her two most recent memoirs. I took photos and jotted down notes, hanging on every word, trying hard to capture them all like fireflies in a jar. But then I stopped . . . I simply savored the moment and listened, comforted in the knowledge that years from now I’ll open my book and hear Didion taking over the pages, retelling the story.

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Designing A Dynasty

Mickey Conlon and John Lyle celebrate

The Season 7 premiere of Selling New York airs today at 11:00am EST and features my favorite NYC designer and dear friend, John Lyle. I’m proud to say that I helped the team and participated in this major project by shining a chair, but that’s as far as my decorating skills took me. Invited to witness the work in progress, I watched the John Lyle Design team and their dedicated colleagues transform a posh but tired midtown apartment into a vibrant, happy home–the place literally sprung to life. I hope you’ll tune in today or at least catch the replay, which I’ll add a later date. There’s really nothing quite like  a makeover, especially one created by so many talented hands.    

Riley: What can we expect on the show today?  

JLD: The usual Selling New York format, but this time with a diva . . . and Joan Collins.

Riley: How did you feel when HGTV approached you?

JLD: Thrilled. This will be my third gig on HGTV.

Riley: What was the most stressful aspect of this event?

JLD: Pleasing the other diva.

Riley: …the most fun?

JLD: I think that will happen later today. And the party was pretty swell. Really the absolute best part was meeting Mickey and Tom.

Riley: Were there any pieces you chose for the apartment that were very personal to you?

JLD: The items from my collection that I staged with were personal to me. The players who helped pull it all together are very personal to me. I am so thankful for their help and generosity.

Riley: Who were some of the other artists featured in the remodeled apartment?

JLD: My sidekick, the talented Michael Stromar worked magic all over the apartment and made curtains. Farrow and Ball donated paint and paper. Rio Hamilton from Niedermaier loaned key upholstered items. Leah from The Antique Center loaned some fabulous antiques. Ronnie Sconto from Illume New York loaned hot lampshades. The lovely Connie Lee (formerly) from Doris Lelslie Blau loaned the most exquisite carpets. My talented artist friends Gary Moran and Jae Yoon Kim loaned their great paintings. And Jawed Farooqi of ROOQ Fine Art & Custom Framing for all of the amazing frames.

All the Frills Upon It

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Since the mid 1880s, Easter in New York City brings out the most extravagant costumes and personalities, celebrating the Annual Easter Parade. Fifth Avenue from 49th to 57th streets is closed to traffic, allowing participants and spectators to take the streets to strut their Easter best.

Chinua Achebe: Let there be Light

When I was 35 I left a career and started college for the first time. Surrounded by 18 year olds, I worked hard to find my place in the most unordinary circumstances. It wasn’t always easy, and I wasn’t always happy. Yet the more I learned, the less all that mattered. I’d loved literature and writing for such a long time, and it was surreal to be spending my days writing creative stories and essays, reading Russian Lit, performing poetry, and discussing it all with others who loved it as much as I did. It fed that part of me that had hungered for longer than I cared to admit. I left Rollins College, carrying with me a new sense of the world, a constant curiosity and of course a ton of books.

Fast forward three years later.

I walk into the New York City Department of Education offices as a concerned mother, fighting to get her child into a middle school, after being treated like I’m from another world—I leave as a disgruntled New Yorker (fitting in so soon) with a brand new career, homeschool teacher.

Pulling out logoed spiral notebooks, scribbled post-its, and dog-eared Nortons, I created a lesson plan and built a blog for housing it all. School was in session. As Jordan and I started working together in our unordinary circumstances as student and teacher in those first days, nerves and missteps were the norm.  Together, though, we discovered a natural rhythm through stories.

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Jordan reads Achebe. 2011

Embracing the warm sun on our rooftop terrace overlooking Manhattan, we began with the first reading assignment, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It had been one of the last stories I studied before leaving college and one of the most meaningful. As she read and we discussed, the world readily opened in a special new way for her. Perhaps offering reflection on her misconceptions of homeschooling. Or maybe she glimpsed the way we were mistreated at the Department of Ed. And I even guessed she thought about her excitement over our recent move and how she would no doubt experience a fantastic transformation into a true New Yorker, adapting in ways that her parents probably never will.

Seeing the good and the ugly side of things is not a bad thing. It helps the light shine through. I hope I was able shed a little light into Jordan’s world, sparking a lifelong curiosity and a sincere compassion for others, a true lesson from Achebe.

The Rollins Motto is Fiat Lux, Let there be light, fitting words to honor the legacy of such an important writer and inspirational individual. You will be missed Achebe.

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