The Life of Riley

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


new york

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


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.

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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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.


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


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.


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.

The Last Oorah

A glass of red Hungarian wine, a heated conversation on letting myself go, and an unbelievably sweet Groupon deal featuring a friend’s fitness studio led me down the road to fitness boot camp.

Standing along the East River, surrounded by a large group of twenty-somethings dressed in the latest lululemon athletic wear, I hold my head high. Decked out in my old Target jogging pants with the faded out crotch and an unraveling waistband—the same tired pants my husband and daughter christened the “uniform pants,” I try to ignore the startling contrast in age, fashion, and physique.

Five minutes in, the trainer introduces himself as G5, asks us to sign in, and then directs us to line up in rows. Before I have a chance to find a comfortable spot, G5 reaches for the whistle dangling from his toned neck in what seems like slow motion and, suddenly, a shrilling sound echoes in my ears. I sprint up the hill desperately trying to stay in front of someone, anyone, so that I will not be last. But last is where I finish each time.

Read the post in its entirety at New York Family Magazine.

Organic Success, The Holstee Way

The Holstee Manifesto

To be honest, I don’t remember where or how I discovered The Holstee Manifesto. What I do remember is the way it opened my eyes, awakening me from a mid-life slumber. A simple declaration scattered with life altering statements: Do what you love. Travel Often. Share your passion. Stop overanalyzing. Life is short.

Crafted on the steps of Union Square, brothers Mike and Dave Radparvar along with friend Fabian Pfortmüller wrote their definition of success. The three partners express it wasn’t a business plan, more so a life plan, but it’s metamorphosed into all of those things and more. Its organic success mirrors the principles that makeup Holstee’s environment and community. It’s obvious the moment you step through their doors. From employee bike credits to staff prepared healthy lunches, Holstee practices what it preaches—Lifestyle design with a conscience. I sat down with co-founder Mike Radparvar at the Holstee office in Dumbo, and we chatted about all things Holstee, the message, the growth, and the future.

Life of Riley: Shared more than 500,000 times, and viewed online 60 million times, and counting, The Holstee Manifesto resonates with so many. Why do you think people connect with it?

Mike Radparvar: We were really surprised to see how well it resonated. When we wrote the Manifesto it was for ourselves. We said let’s write down something that can be a definition of a successful life. Let’s write our own definition. There are so many different ways that everyone is telling you what you need to be successful or you’re not successful until you have this.

We thought, we’re starting a new company and a kind of lifestyle and a framework to play in. And so we needed our own definition of success. So we sat down in Union Square, and we all decided to write down different elements that were important to us. The things that came out of that mini brainstorm were reminders that we’re not financially driven: Be open to new ideas, travel, share what’s important, always being open about what your passionate about and pursuing that.

We recently had quit our jobs, and I think that because it came from a deep place inside of us, it was very human emotions we were thinking about. It was not specific to a certain organization or a demographic. This was just like in life, what things are important. And those things hold true no matter where you come from in life, no matter what language you speak, no matter what age you are.

Riley: Was The Manifesto’s success unexpected?

Radparvar: If anyone would have told us when we wrote it what would happen, we could never have guessed it.  It’s taken on a life of its own. We’ve been totally blown away by that.

Dave Radparvar, Fabian Pfortmüller, and Mike Radparvar

Riley: That was 2009. Do the founders still live by those original words?

Radparvar: That is something we’re trying to make a point of every day. It is the basis of how we are building our company.  It’s the basis of what we’re doing, the products we’re designing, and it’s the common thread between our products and the lifestyle they encourage.

Riley: Explain more about that idea of products encouraging a lifestyle.

Radparvar: If you were to look at our shop, there are no specific product categories on our site. It looks like a mash up of a lot of different products—we have a water bottle, a bag, a belt, a tee shirt, a poster. After someone relates to those products a little more you begin to see the thread of not so much what those products are but the type of lifestyle they encourage.

Anytime you buy anything you’re voting with your dollar and you’re sending a signal to someone somewhere all the way up the supply chain saying do more. I totally approve of this, and this is how I’m showing it. That is a very powerful way to drive change—people understanding what is the impact of how they’re spending money.

Riley: Holstee has been experiencing amazing growth. As you bring new people on board, can you tell readers how you select the ideal employee?

Radparvar: Every new hire is a big deal to us. We take it very seriously. It’s like bringing someone into your family. We want to build something long term with our employees. Every single person on the team can change the dynamic. We look for someone who is not afraid to do anything. Open-minded. Interested in creating positive impact through good design.

Riley: Speaking of family. I noticed your mom’s comment on a recent blog post, which I thought was pretty cool. Has your family been supportive in this venture?

Radparvar: At first our parents were a little cautious of our quitting our jobs.

The recession was getting worse. The company I worked for was laying off people. My mom was really happy I didn’t get laid off and the next week I was telling her I was planning on going in and quitting. But I think we flew under the radar because my sister was getting married in a couple of weeks. So all the attention was on her.

There was a little bit of ‘are you sure this is a good idea?’ We just explained how this was important to us. We had been setting aside money. And we told her this is what we’re going to do now for the next few months. When you really think about it and say what’s the worst thing that can happen to me in the next 2 to 3 months, all of a sudden you’re free to take some risks. When you’re in a position to take a calculated risk like that, a smart risk, you almost have a responsibility to do so.

Now our parents are our biggest supporters. Anytime we post anything on Facebook our mom’s the first one to like it. Her Facebook profile has been the Manifesto for the past two years.

Riley: Your site is uniquely diverse. Do you keep that in mind when you create or promote products? Or does it organically happen?

Radparvar: It kind of organically happens, now that there are so many great companies with a kick ass purpose.

Riley: I know from our last interview that you’ve been working on the product story. What exactly does that mean? And how will it impact the end user?

Radparvar: Looking forward we want to do something that helps build the story of the products you buy. The yarn came from this place and the button came from this place . . . Building a platform.

A lot of the products we have probably traveled more than most people have traveled in their lives. And they come from more places and have been touched by more hands. There’s such an incredible story of how they got to where they are. If we really knew the story, from raw material to its current state we’d have more respect for that plastic bottle.

Riley: What can we expect in the near future for Holstee?

Radparvar:  We’re looking into milling our own paper. We are letter pressing a lot of posters and cards. We’re cautious about the types of paper we’re using. We’ve built a very strong relationship with those we’re sourcing them from. If we do our own milling, then the options really open up—Paper made from tee shirt scraps, jeans. People could send in their jeans, or we could work with a large company that makes jeans and take their dead stock.

Riley: Okay, I’m just gonna ask: How does it feel to be so cool?

Radparvar: It’s kind of surreal. So many people know the Manifesto.

People come over to our place for dinner, and we have the manifesto in a frame when you first walk in. And they say, oh the Manifesto, you’ve got that too.

And we say actually wrote it. And they’re amazed. If we’d ever tried to create something with the intention of it going crazy it never would have. It’s because we wrote it for ourselves, and it came from a very real place—people connect with it. You have to just do it and do what feels right.

Fabian, Mary, Dave, and Mike

To learn more about Holstee and their eco-friendly products, visit You can also connect with Holstee on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Changing Course

by Guest Blogger Tracy Kaler

I went to work for the last time today. My final commute to New Jersey–I am certainly happy about that. What will I do tomorrow? That is the question.It’s never easy changing routine, even if it’s welcome change. But I do have an agenda.I will go to Alvin Ailey for my dance class.
I will spend time with my dog and cat.
I will buy an iPhone—finally.
And I will write–something.
God-willing, I will continue to write and I will not look back.
And I will probably watch “The View”.What will I miss? People and a paycheck.
But I will focus on the positive. I still live in the greatest city in the world, and the possibilities are endless.The future is my own.
Tracy Kaler is a columnist/freelancer for, a contributing editor for The West Side Rag, and writes for small businesses. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Mike, a neurotic Chocolate Lab, Bogey, and a food-obsessed cat, Mimi.  Tracy’s also working on her first book. You can read more about Tracy’s New York adventures on her blog Tracy’s New York Life.

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