A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

Here in Florida, none of us can plan to eat in a restaurant until at least May 8, since the governor closed them because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It won’t replace the experience of dining in, but Paul Hartford, author of “Waiter to the Rich and Shameless: Confessions of a Five-Star Beverly Hills Server,” has graciously shared an excerpt from his book about his time working in a famous Beverly Hills restaurant (referred to in the book as “The Cricket Room”). It’s available now through Tuesday on Kindle for $0.99.

A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

Excerpt from “Waiter to the Rich and Shameless: Confessions of a Five-Star Beverly Hills Server”

“What’s your taste, Mr. Depp?” said Vincent the sommelier.

“Well, I normally go for French wines, La Mission, Haut Brion, but even a really well-made Margaux might be okay.”

“Let me suggest two wines that will absolutely knock your socks off. They are both the biggest cult names coming out of Napa right now.”

Oh my fucking God, how inappropriately casual. A sommelier is supposed to be very professional and aloof, not a sports buddy.

“Sure,” said Depp.

As I turned around to go to the kitchen, I saw Vino leaning in and pointing at the menu and I heard Depp saying, “I’ve heard of them but I’ve never really tried them.”

Next thing I knew, Vino was decanting a 1997 Screaming Eagle, a highly regarded Napa Cabernet, rated at 100 points by Robert Parker. Depp asked me to bring glasses to his crew as well.

A bit later, Vino asked Depp if he would like to have him open the 1991 Harlan Estate so he could decant it for a while, and Depp concurred. Unfortunately, Johnny was not too fond of the Screaming Eagle and his exact words were: “It’s not desirable to my palate.” So he only finished one glass and his crew drank the rest.

Later on he admitted to liking the Harlan Estate a lot better, though “It’s still not really what I like in a wine but I do like it a whole lot better than the Eagle. Probably because it has some age on it, you know?” he explained to Vino. The guy seemed to know his wines, probably from living in France.

By then the “Pirate” movies must have grossed around $3 billion worldwide, so hopefully the studios were picking up the tab because the Eagle was priced at almost $7,000 and the Harlan near $4,000 per bottle. That’s a lot of cash to drop on wine you don’t like.

I told Vino later before Depp left, “Hey, man,” eyeing Johnny’s feet, “His socks are still on. WTF?”

A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

About service professionals in the time of coronavirus

Paul’s book was, to me, a fascinating look at the profession of serving as well as the celebrity world.

I suppose not all people who serve in the restaurant industry can tell Beverly Hills stories, but they all have stories, and most of them work extraordinarily hard.

They have all been on my mind amid the closures brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. I asked Paul to comment on this situation, and this is what he said:

Servers are one of the hardest-hit segments of our economy during this social distancing mandate, and virtual tip jars are a fantastic adaptation to help out-of-work servers weather the storm. I also think it’s a great idea to buy gift certificates from your favorite restaurants to be used later (that’s one of the ideas mentioned here). This wouldn’t help servers directly but could keep their places of employment afloat.

I have been giving $5 a day to a randomly selected server via the DC Virtual Tip Jar since I found out about it on March 17 (except for March 23, when I gave $3.23 to each person named Mia on the list in memory of Mia Sofia). I chose this because a) it was the first virtual tip jar I found out about and b) because Washington, D.C., has been so good to me for fun, advocacy and work (my employer is headquartered there). I think the list had about 1200 people on it on 3/17 and now, less than two weeks later, it has 4,820! My $5 a day won’t do much, but hopefully it at least brings a ray of sunshine to these people.

A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

Wrapping it up

Now that we’ve been entertained by mental images of Johnny Depp sipping wine, let’s recap:

If you’re interested in an exceptionally affordable (and good) read, pick up Waiter to the Rich and Shameless on Kindle for $0.99 between now and Tuesday.

If you want to help a suddenly unemployed server out, find a virtual tip jar and drop in a contribution. You can find the DC Virtual Tip Jar here; one for Baton Rouge, La., here; one for Gainesville, Fla., here; one for Portland, Ore., here, one for Tallahassee, Fla., (and other cities) that provides randomized results for you to give to here, and one that benefits RedEye employees in Tallahassee here. Unstoppable Software has created a master list of virtual tip jars it’s aware of here.

If you’d like to buy a gift card from a favorite restaurant that you can use later, it will help the restaurant out and you’ll have something to look forward to when all of this is over! You’re all resource full people, so I trust you can figure out how to buy a gift card from a favorite restaurant. For my Tallahassee friends, check out this “Open for Takeout” map created by our Office of Economic Vitality. It’ll give you a head start.

A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

Stay safe, friends.

Sister survivors: Moving on after abuse

Two 2018 ESPY winners, one I met in person and another I saw via video, factored heavily in my experience of the International City/County Management Association conference in October.

One was Jake Wood, co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon, who gave the opening keynote speech.

Another was Brianne Randall-Gay, who won an ESPY in 2018 alongside her fellow Sister Survivors, the women who spoke out against serial abuser Larry Nassar.

I am positive every one of the hundreds of “sister survivors” would have traded the trophy, the time on the national stage and the acclaim to have lived a childhood free of sexual abuse.

“The Girls”

I first became aware of Abigail Pesta and her book, “The Girls,” when she appeared on the October 6 New York Times Readalong.

During the readalong, Pesta said one of her goals had been to capture the experiences of some of the athletes who may not have been as much on the public stage as gymnasts such as Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney.

Pesta’s book was thoroughly researched, and the research was perfectly complemented by her human, compassionate treatment (without glossing over extremely graphic details) of the young women she interviewed (along with their families).

If a book could be said to have a mission statement, I think this one’s is: “Help heal the past while protecting people, especially children, from being victims in the future.”

As survivor Natalie Venuto said in a Goodreads comment, “…reading this book triggered a lot of painful memories, but I know that it will help me heal.”

Meridian Township apologizes

I downloaded “The Girls” on Audible immediately after hearing Pesta speak on the readalong. As coincidence would have it, I was reading the passage about Brianne Randall-Gay’s attempt to tell the Meridian Township police about Nassar’s abuse in 2004 right before I heard Township Manager Frank Walsh and Chief of Police Ken Plaga iave a presentation, “A National and Personal Apology,” at the ICMA conference. It was one of the top sessions out of hundreds of options.

Here’s the police report:

Sister Survivors: Moving on after abuse

The police called Brianne’s family in after they completed their investigation, told them Nassar had confirmed his practices were accepted medical standards, and explained they were not pursuing any charges.

In 2018, after it became apparent that Nassar had gone on to abuse hundreds of athletes after Brianne, the Meridian Township in Michigan issued a public apology.

Walsh outlined five main takeaways other local government professionals should learn from this experience. The last one was, “investigate, apologize and foster change.”

Meridian Township has made drastic changes in their investigation protocol since this situation was mishandled. Walsh noted how the police report described in detail where Nassar inserted his finger into Brianne’s vagina, but it also says that he repeatedly massaged her breasts. Walsh discusses the powerpoint Nassar gave to supposedly document the medical nature of the treatment, but it does not refer at all to a breast massage. When a reporter pointed out the breast massage and its total irrelevance to the “treatment,” the reporter asked “How did you miss that?” A valid question, and the township is addressing that by the revisions to training and procedures.

Although the title of the session was “A National Apology,” and the apology was its centerpiece, the “foster change” part is undoubtedly the township’s most lasting legacy (that and whatever healing it allowed Brianne and her fellow survivors to experience).

This is a video made by Brianne that is now used in Michigan for training law enforcement and others. Even if you click out of this blog, please do it after taking the seven minutes to watch this.

A former gym mom’s perspective

The New York Times Readalong community has become a close-knit group over its four years. This was pretty candid on my part, but I am comfortable enough in this group that I knew I could say it with support. One of my first comments as we were talking with Abigail Pesta and I was processing her description of her interactions with the survivors was, “I hope as a gym mom I would have had the strength to put aside my stage mom tendencies and see what was happening to my child.”

I’m not especially proud of it, but I had my own agenda that was a counterpoint to my daughter’s gymnastics goals. (And obviously, her gymnastics life is her story to tell, but it was a significant piece of my parenting, so I’m speaking strictly from my perspective.) I had been a fat, nonathletic kid who was always chosen last in elementary school for PE, and when I realized my child was an excellent athlete with the accompanying discipline and artistry, I was mainly relieved that her childhood wouldn’t be plagued by the self-doubt and ostracism that I had experienced on the sidelines of what appeared to be an athletic world I didn’t fit in.

We (probably more me!) would seek out private lessons anytime we traveled. There was a lengthy period where she didn’t feel well most days and I would give her a motrin and a decongestant — a combination that seemed to help her get through practice. Our expenditures were probably somewhat modest compared to some competitive gymnastics programs (thank you TGC for being so affordable!), but they were significant and included doctor visits to check out little physical twinges, nights spent worrying about a variety of things and the loss of perspective regarding whether she was happy or not.

She won the Level 4 state championship in 2006 and decided to leave the sport in 2007.

In retrospect, gymnastics was good for her (even with my stage mom-ness), and she left at the right time.

Most important, she was at a gym where she did not end up being sexually abused. I can only hope if I had been sitting in a room where a “doctor” was putting his bare fingers in her vagina on the premise that it was “helping” her (Nassar often conducted his abuse with a parent in the room, by strategically placing himself in a way that he disrupted the parent’s line of vision), my good sense would have overridden my ambition and I would have said, unequivocally and persistently, “THIS IS NOT RIGHT.”

Sports culture

I also think you could delete all of the references to gymnastics apparatus, leotards and the US Gymnastics Association from this book and it would stand alone as a testament to a culture that encourages children and their parents to trade a somewhat normal childhood for a regimented one that leads to scholarships and (potentially) money.

We will always be a culture that praises accomplishment, I think, but where does it end? Where do we as parents (and relatives/friends of young people) reinforce the message that “you are enough” whether you are an accomplished young athlete or not?

Communities protect predators

Another thread through Pesta’s book and the speech by Walsh and Plaga was the way people who abuse children often infuse themselves into the community and position themselves as a “good guy.”

Walsh noted that Nassar was running for school board in his community in 2016. Nassar got “over 2,000 votes” even after the initial story about his abuse was released. Walsh also commented about the 35,000 images of child pornography found in Nassar’s dumpster in front of his house when police conducted an investigation. Walsh said many people think it may be the pornography, not the experiences of the hundreds of his victims, that ensured he got jail time.

Nassar befriended these young women (it was grooming, not true friendship), gained the trust of their families, fooled almost everyone.

Preventing future sexual abuse

When I was sexually abused by a trusted adult when I was 13, I was fortunate that my parents believed me. Yet I am still haunted all these years later by the fact that it can’t have been just me that he was taking advantage of.

It’s one of the reasons “The Girls” and the presentation by the Meridian Township officials has resonated so much with me.

What if that officer in 2004 had had better training regarding how to interview a victim of sexual abuse?

What if the guarantee of the nurse who processed Brianne’s rape kit when she worried that she would be perceived as lying “it’ll be OK – they’ll believe you” … had been correct?

What if hundreds of girls could have had their confidence and childhood innocence preserved because Nassar had been stopped in 2004 rather than 2016?

What if? What if? What if?

Here are some tips from Stop It Now! in the event a child in your life says they are being abused:

  • Stay steady
  • Believe what they say
  • Reestablish safety
  • Free them of self-blame
  • Express your rage to appropriate people
  • Get help
Sister Survivors: Moving on after abuse

Brianne gets the last word

In the video I shared from Brianne, she says, “I have a wonderful family, a fulfilling career. I still suffer severe anxiety and nightmares related to the abuse.” She goes on to say “Today, myself and over 200 of my sister survivors stand together, bring awareness to childhood sexual abuse and promote a culture that no longer enables predators but empowers survivors.”

The ESPY was nice and well-deserved, but why did things have to go so far in the first place? Why are anxiety and nightmares still a part of Brianne’s life instead of just enjoying her young family and her adulthood?

Thank you, Brianne and sister survivors, for helping change this narrative. You are more than “the girls.” You are victors in every way.

Introducing the Start-Up Guide for Online Writers

*This post contains an affiliate link. The opinion is all my own!*

“I’ve always wanted to blog but am not sure how to get started.”

“I’m going to blog someday when I figure out where to start.”

“People always tell me I should be blogging about [insert incredibly riveting experience/expertise/fashion sense here]”

If the above statements sound like something you would say, I am happy to recommend a great resource!

Online Writing

Author Kate Motaung has put a lot of devotion, sweat (and maybe a few tears — doesn’t the process of birthing something incredible always come at a bit of a price?) into an e-course that compiles all of the resources she recommends to online writers in one comprehensive resource.

The course is, as Kate reminds us, not a “how to” but a “what-to-do.” The specific recommendations she makes help the reader walk away with an action plan and increased confidence in their ability to join the online writing community (if they haven’t done so already).

One strength of the course is its ability to inform beginners and advanced writers alike. Each section provides “action steps” that the reader can cater to their level.

Here are a few highlights from each section to give you an idea of what to expect:

Begin with the Basics

You have to start somewhere, right? The basics section lays the foundation for setting up a website, beginning to interact on social media, and filling your online writer’s toolbox with the right resources.

Takeaways I especially liked: This section encouraged me, as a veteran blogger (really, has it BEEN EIGHT YEARS?), to do some needed maintenance and clean-up on my website and to lay the groundwork for having an email newsletter (I’m still resisting that, frankly, but Kate makes a compelling case).

Find and Build Community Online

As you can imagine, this was a favorite section of mine (I’m a fan of building community online). This section covers how to build your online influence by finding and creating community online.

Takeaways I especially liked: The main thing this section reminded me of is the power of Facebook groups. Beyond the fact that they are powerful, I realized I have become a bit scattered — I belong to so many groups — I may be better off to pay closer attention to the ones that matter most and jettison some that no longer are a fit for me.

Grow Your Knowledge

This part of the course is brimming with resources that will help online writers improve their writing. Kate recommends listening to podcasts, taking courses, and — my favorite, reading — as ways to become more effective writers.

Takeaways I especially liked: I would love to take one of the online writing courses or join one of the groups Kate recommends. It has been a while since I have had gotten deep feedback on my writing (note: this does not apply to my freelance position summarizing news stories — I get fantastic feedback there frequently — but my entire writing life is broader than two-sentence summaries so I need to put myself (and my writing) under someone’s editorial microscope again).

Engage With Others

This section helps writers have a plan for becoming a more active part of the writing community. Suggestions include writing support groups and includes in its recommendations the Five Minute Friday group (which is how I met Kate).

Takeaways I especially liked: Kate encourages us to submit to that publication we really don’t believe would ever accept us or to invite that blogger we have on a pedestal to share a guest post. This is important to me as I make a plan to work toward getting more paid writing opportunities. You have to ask to get (duh!).

My Amazon review and the reviews of others are available here.

I would also note that the course has its roots as a resource for Christian writers, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any writer; the only thing you’ll get pressured into with this course is believing in yourself a little bit (or a bunch!) more.


The course is available through Tuesday, September 19, for $19.99! (Click here to buy.) After Tuesday, the price will go up to $29.99.

Again, here’s the link!  I look forward to hearing reports of online writing successes!

Online Writing


All About Audiobooks

Note: This post contains affiliate links to some of the products mentioned. If you purchase a book through that link, I will receive compensation.

The first time I really remember adding audiobooks to my listening habits was years ago (I think it was 2005) when I was returning from dropping Tenley off at gymnastics camp in Athens, GA. Back then, it was not uncommon for me to listen to audiobooks on cassette. Over the eleven years since then, I’ve migrated from listening on CD, to listening to them on my old iPod, to finally listening to them through the Audible App on my phone. There’s usually still a cassette involved, as I use an adapter to send the sound through my car’s audio. (Right now I have a rental which routes it through a USB and I feel all techie when that happens!). The first book I prominently remember reading via audio was Life of Pi. I’ve lost count of how many there have been since then. Hundreds?

Audiobooks Are Big Business

Just how “big” are they?

According to the Pew Research Center, 14% of Americans have read an audiobook in the past year.

The Wall Street Journal says audiobooks are the “fastest-growing format in the book business today,” citing the Audio Publishers Association as stating “sales in the U.S. and Canada jumped 21% in 2015 from the previous year.” I can say I’m certainly doing my part to make that true.

For more on the history of audiobooks, this On Point show is really interesting.

That Voice In My EarAudiobook Readers

This post is partially inspired by a conversation I was having with other reading fanatics. Some of us had read Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale in a traditional format, and I had read it via audiobook. I had shared how much I loved narrator Amy Landon’s voice, how I liked it so much I could listen to her read the phone book. That led to a discussion of other narrators we love (or don’t love….).

Another of my favorites is Cassandra Campbell. She has narrated many notable audiobooks, including being part of the ensemble narrating The Help, but it was her narration of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that really blew me away. Just the way she said “culture” (which is said OFTEN in that book) was worthy of “I could listen to her read the phone book” status.

I also typically enjoy it when authors read their own memoirs. Memorable books in this category include Between Breaths by Elizabeth Vargas, The Diva Rules by Michelle Visage (visit my blogs about this book here and here), Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, Troublemaker by Leah Remini, and Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew.

I also credit Jenna Bush Hager’s reading of Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope with giving me a deeper picture of her as an individual, and by extension, her family. She has some VERY particular pronunciations of things (like saying “buddon” instead of “button” but for that one book it worked).

Narrating an audiobook is a skill (and art), for sure, as demonstrated here by Amy Landon:

What Is It About Voices?

Since I don’t plan (right now) to post about it separately, allow me to take a slight detour on the topic of voices in general.

I wonder what it is about voices that lead us to conclude they are “pleasant” or “unpleasant.” As audiobook readers who frequently pay discretionary income for books (there are some sources of free audiobooks out there I must mention), we certainly have a right to voice our preferences.

For my mother-in-law, who was blind, and listened to many of her books as voiced through the impersonal generic narration of the books on tape she received from a talking books service for the visually impaired, I’m pretty sure she would have agreed that variety is GOOD (as technology improved, she was able to listen to audiobooks with a variety of narrators. I really regret that she didn’t live long enough to take advantage of easily clicking on a book she really loved, with narration she also really loved. She was so close with the ownership of an iPhone. SO. CLOSE.)

It’s quite impossible for me to write about voices, though, without thinking about NPR’s underwriting-credit announcer challenges. I have to admit I can’t remember what Frank Tavares, who did it for years, sounded like, but I vividly remember the uproar when Sabrina Farhi took over and illuminated vocal fry’s moment in the spotlight. I’ve always felt a little sorry for her, even though I, too, was not a huge fan. I never criticized her via social media, but I certainly sent her successor, Jessica Hansen, a congratulatory note praising her work. Jessica Hansen has another voice I love.

Is it Reading or Listening?

I’ve often heard the debate: is consumption of an audiobook reading or listening?

That’s easy: IT IS READING.

Although I feel strongly that it is reading, I can understand why book lovers ask if consuming an audiobook is “really reading.” Forbes takes a stab at answering the question here, asserting that “reading and listening are strikingly similar cognitive processes.” (It’s a fascinating article; I encourage you to click through and read it.)

While I am somewhat alarmed at my diminishing focus on reading paper books, I cling to the idea that listening is still reading. Audiobooks have kept me in love with reading and expanded my exposure to ideas, people, and concepts while pushing my imagination to new horizons.

To that, I say, turn the page; click the button for the next chapter. Whatever you do, JUST KEEP READING.

Audiobook Readers


Banned Books Week 2016

Banned Books Week gets me fired up every year, and that passion has only grown since last year’s Curious Incident Incident.

Since 2014, I have participated in the Banned Books Week Virtual Readout (which, by the way, can be done anytime — not just during BBW). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants; in 2015 I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and this year I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out.

I am a bit of a newbie when it comes to “clipping” passages via Audible, and I found the passages I had intended to share in my readout, after the readout. I want to expand on those a bit (the read-out is limited to 3 minutes) before I pass the paper version of the book along to a friend.

Other Important Passages

The three passages I shared were from:

Jessy, who was born as a girl and now identifies as a male. Jessy spoke about how he enjoys life “from a different perspective.”

I can see the world simultaneously from a male and a female perspective. ~ Jessy

Wanda, mom of Jonathan, who is gay and Christina, who is transsexual. As a parent, Wanda’s statements really resonated with me.

Hug your children. Hug them. ~ Wanda

Luke, who was born as a girl and now identifies as a male, and whose poem inspired the title of the book. Luke said coming out trans is “very exposing. It opens you up to a lot of mockery.” It was important to Luke to come out via a poem.

Said, ‘What are you?’ said, ‘you gotta choose’

said, ‘Pink or blue?’

and I said I’m a real nice color of magenta.

The passages I couldn’t find due to my Audible clip-finding incompetence and the ones I did not have space for are:

Wanda, Jonathan’s and Christina’s mom (again). [in response to a man who had physically attacked Christina]: “You’re not from here, right? In America people are used to this. There are gays, there are lesbians, there’s transgender. There are all kinds.”

Wanda continues, “…when I’m in the train with her, I still hear little kids say, ‘Mom, is that a man or a woman?’ I don’t want to hear that. I sometimes have to remind her not to show her Adam’ apple, and that’s so sad. I don’t want to have to remind her to keep her chin down.”

These passages about Wanda’s response to the man who had attacked Christina, and about the interactions she and Christina have with strangers on the train, resonated with me. I think it was because Wanda had an opportunity to educate the man who had attacked Christina (obviously it’s horrible that an attack is what led to that educational moment). Secondly, talking about the train made me think of how we can jump to assumptions about one another and the absolutely moronic (and hurtful) things people can say to one another when silence would be a better choice (but I understand that kids ask filter-less questions…).

Mariah, who was born as a boy but is transitioning to female: “A lot of transgender girls feel that they look like a boy and they try to fix it. The thing is, real beauty comes from the inside. You could be the most passable trans woman ever. Real beauty from the inside!”

The thing is, real beauty comes from the inside. ~ Mariah

I just loved this because …. it’s so very true.

Cameron, who was born as a girl and, at this point, requests to be referred to with pronouns such as “they, them, and their” talked about being treated with male privilege: Because I’m perceived as a male, I get male privileges. Male privilege means I don’t have to prove myself for my opinion to have weight. People assume that I’m intelligent. People assume that I have something to say. I get a fair amount of respect.

Cameron continues, “By being male, I’m automatically given some kind of validity that is weird. ‘Wait, guys, I haven’t said anything yet. And besides, you shouldn’t be giving me male privilege because I’m not really a guy — at least not by your standards, I’m definitely not.”

Why did this section intrigue me? Honestly it’s because there have been a few times in my life when I wouldn’t have minded just a few moments of “male privilege” when I was treated condescendingly.

A Few Closing Thoughts About This Book and This Topic

This book gave me insights into being transgender that I have not had previously. At the same time, as a parent, I found myself mentally sorting out some dynamics that were specific to teenagerhood and family dysfunction. It must make teenagerhood, which is already fraught with its share of difficulties, even harder to be so misunderstood.

In all honesty, though, I struggled with pieces of the book. Maybe it’s because my journey of understanding what it is to transition and to be transgender is fairly new. I do see why teens who want to supplement their transition with hormones and/or surgery have to go through intensive counseling. I heard their impatience to “just move things along” and worried that they had not developed the critical thinking skills and self awareness necessary to make such life-changing decisions.

I guess no book about such a heavy topic SHOULD be neatly tied up with a perfect bow. That’s why I feel so strongly about access to all kinds of books, and am such a staunch advocate for the freedom to read.

AND … I have to commend author Susan Kuklin for her photography skills as well. Perhaps Audible has that stuff in “the files” (those things I never look at after reading an audiobook) but it was a special pleasure to hold the pages (and images) in my hands, especially the ones at my beloved NYC High Line!

A Great Banned Books Week Video

I thought this video from Phillips Academy Andover (which mentions Beyond Magenta, I might add!), was creative!

Their summary statement echoes my position pretty well:

In honor of #BannedBooksWeek, the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library and Phillips Academy encourage students to read and obtain knowledge from all sources. At Andover we believe in the First Amendment and that we should not censor what is available to our students.

Literature Challenges

The Diva Rules Sparkles: A Book Review

Michelle Visage, co-host of RuPaul’s Drag Race and author of The Diva Rules, was allowed to do something as a child that I will not allow my child to do.

When she moved from New Jersey to Manhattan to attend drama school, she continued returning home on the weekends to be part of the teen club scene in New Jersey. One weekend, her mother refused to pick her up at the train station, insisting that the only way to have a life in New York City would be … to have a life in New York City.

“But how will I get into clubs?” 17-year-old Michelle wondered.

Before long, a package arrived at her dorm (the Beacon Hotel) which contained a fake ID and a notarized fake birth certificate to back it up. Michelle Shupack had rapidly “aged” a few years and been rechristened a student at the University of Texas. Yeehaw.

Although I would never do the same for my daughter or son, and never would have sought out the same thing for myself, it worked out pretty well for Michelle (who didn’t drink then and doesn’t now). She says that once she got into the NYC clubs, “it was there, in those dark, sweaty, legendary dance halls at The Underground, as well as the Palladium, the Copa, the World, and Tracks, that I started working it every night, and where I made all the connections that would lead me to where I am today.”

When I bought The Diva Rules, I will admit it was because the audiobook was on sale on Audible and I was out of credits. It didn’t take me long to be glad I ended up listening to the book (which I’ve listened to twice — a rarity for me), and I now own the hard copy.

I loved many things about this book. Here are the main takeaways, one thing I disagreed with, and a piece of advice:

The NYC Pier/Club/Vogueing Scene

If you’ve known me for more than thirty minutes, it’s likely you know how much I deeply love New York City. That’s probably one of the reasons I was in intense like with this book within a few pages. The New York City Michelle experienced is one I never did, but I loved learning about the sense of community she felt in the clubs, how she was part of the vogueing trend, and the pier queen scene. What she described about the community and family structure helped me understand why so many patrons considered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando as more than a club; it was a safe place. It was family.

Presence Trumps Perfection

This was one of my favorite lines from the book. It addresses one of my constant struggles, the struggle to not let myself get paralyzed when things aren’t perfect enough. It addresses the fact that pretty much every supervisor I have had has, in one form or another, said “you need to have more confidence in your decisions.”

In the “Presence Trumps Perfection” “T (Truth),” Michelle writes what she would tell her 19-year-old self (“stop being so hard on yourself”) and shares one of her favorite RuPaul quotes, “What other people think of you is none of your damn business.”

Exposure Won’t Put Food on Your Table

If you’re at all involved in blogging circles, you’ve probably been a part of the recent discussions of why working for “exposure” (something some brands offer instead of cold hard cash) doesn’t put food on the table. Well, here’s Michelle echoing that, word for word (see page 99). “…when it comes down to it, exposure won’t put food on your table.”

I have been part of several multi-thread discussion recently among bloggers about the fact that a brand that offers you “exposure” rather than monetary compensation is not recognizing your worth as a blogger. That said, there are times when exposure is helpful. I am new enough to blogger land, especially sponsored blogging, that I have chosen to do some projects for “exposure” or in exchange for product only in the hopes that it will help me be more prominent as a blogger and prove myself.

What I still have to force myself to shut up and not say is, when I have done a cause-related project for which I was compensated, saying to the brand/cause, “I would have done it for free.” Because if I choose to write for a cause it is probably technically true that I would have done it for free — I don’t accept assignments that I don’t believe in. But even causes/non-profits have budgets for communication and what favor am I doing myself if I hint at the fact that they really didn’t need to pay me in the first place?

But About Those Dockers

When I decided to listen to the book a second time so I could narrow down which takeaways I wanted to focus on, I kept remembering “but there was one thing I disagree with.” I didn’t recall what it was … until I got to Diva Rule #18: Never trust a man in Dockers. After reading WHY she doesn’t ever trust men in Dockers, I have to say the one bad apple clad in khaki really did give her a compelling reason to distrust guys in pleated tan Levis.

Given this small glimpse into my husband’s closet (believe me, the rest looks pretty much like this), I can attest at least one Dockers-clad guy out there isn’t all bad!

Book Review

Doing Things Differently Brings Joy

Here’s something that gave this book a spark of joy I have rarely felt from books recently. It’s DIFFERENT! It’s UNIQUE! It makes me think in terms of glitter and hot pink zebra print!

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The sparkly glitter starts on the cover!

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What you see the minute you open the book!

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Even the Table of Contents is different – color blocks instead of lines of text!

Audiobooks Rock

One recommendation I have if you decide to read The Diva Rules is to get the audiobook version. It’s just different hearing Michelle Visage herself narrate her life story. I mean the Pier Queenese lesson on pages 62-63 is SO much more entertaining when you’re listening to Michelle give it verbally rather than just reading the words. (But as you can see from the images I’ve shared from the hard copy of the book, it also has its fun points too (glitter, zebra, etc.!).

Other books I recommend on audio because authors narrate them include:

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Troublemaker by Leah Remini

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush

Bringing Things to a Close

This post was inspired by a Mama’s Losin’ It prompt: Talk about something you were allowed to do as a child that you will not allow your child to do. I wrote about how Michelle’s mom had gotten her a fake ID and accompanying fake birth certificate.

Inspired by Michelle’s unique style, here’s a little green zebra treatment of that question! What’s your sparkly answer?

Book Review

Mama’s Losin’ It

Everybody Matters: A Book Review

Quick! When you think “perfect place to work,” what workplace characteristics come to mind? Lucrative compensation? A great product? How the idea of saying “I work for [insert name of organization here] makes your soul leap?

I don’t think there actually is a perfect place, but Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family captured ideas and concepts about management that are surely worth a try.

Book Review

It took me a long time to read this book, so the processing of its tidbits happened in small “a-has” rather than instantaneous epiphanies. This pacing was well-timed given my two-year odyssey of trying to process my choice to leave my full-time job and evaluate my next steps.

The Power of Everybody

Because it took me so long to read this book, I had the opportunity to type the title repetitively as I logged my “Friday Reads” on Facebook and Twitter every Friday. Almost every time, I could remember the “Everybody Matters” part but I am sure I mangled the rest (which is technically “The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family”), never remembering if it was “extraordinary,” “incredible,” or some other superlative! As the book states early on, though, even if I couldn’t remember that level of specificity, “everybody” really does mean “everybody,” and “not just the fortunate few or the exceptionally talented.” 

The Power of Clear Communication

There is a lot of writing out there about clear expectations and how if you don’t have a goal, you probably won’t get there. I love how this book took that concept one step further — how clear expectations are the catalyst that can help people motivate themselves.

“When people know their goal, they are inspired to express their gifts, and they discover capabilities they didn’t even know they had.”

I also appreciate the organization’s utilization of the power of storytelling, self-awareness, and vulnerability: “We believe that real people telling real stories creates real learning.” I concur!

The Power of an Abundance Mindset

Many of the businesses Barry-Wehmiller acquired had been run into the ground, organizationally, financially, and morale-wise before the acquisition. One of the most challenging hurdles Barry-Wehmiller faced was helping staff in the newly-acquired organizations believe that business could be about more than budget reductions and process modifications designed to cut corners.

We don’t have to win every project. We need to enter into responsible relationships with responsible people who value what we bring to the table.


The Power of Honoring Life Outside of the Workplace

This topic is huge to me. As a worker who has recently transitioned from a “traditional” workplace to a virtual one, I have been thinking even more than previously about the configurations of the work parts of our lives and the non-work parts of our lives. The way we divvy up our energy is simply not black and white.

The authors write, “We don’t draw a line between behaviors within the workplace and how people can apply them at home. What surprises participants is that we encourage telling stories about our home lives as much as we talk about the things we do in our leadership roles at work.”

The passage below is not so much about time and energy as it is about the actual essence of the self. I love it:

An important take-away for participants learning our approach to leadership is that they can be — indeed, must be — the same person at work that they are at home. They don’t need to wear a mask to work. The Leadership Checklist is not just for the eight or ten hours people spend in the office or in the factory. It’s for all twenty-four hours and every aspect of their life.

The Power of Reciprocal Commitment

The book interweaves a theme throughout about how co-workers should regard one another and their roles. In their Leadership Fundamentals classes, “We ask participants to set their organizational identity aside for the duration of the course; they don’t know if the person next to them is a CFO or a plant leader…..We specifically say, ‘Please do not talk about your title or the actual day-to-day work that you do. We want to know who you are as a person.”

Along with that effort to peel away “title” identities for the purpose of learning and growing, the authors remind leaders, “if you think you are too busy to give time and energy to your people, then they’re too busy to give time and energy to you. It is a balanced equation.”

The Power of … Well, POWER

As I mentioned above, when an organization is in the business of acquisitions, there is a constant “newness” for the personnel at the acquired organization. Reading these sentiments made me think of a time in my previous organization. I had a new supervisor, who reported to the Executive Director. We had been discussing some decision that had to be made, but apparently my co-workers and I were consistently expressing a tone of “but what if the Executive Director doesn’t want it that way?” You could have heard a pin drop in the room after he asked:

Why is everyone so afraid?

I can only imagine the fear at an organization that has experienced adversity after adversity, broken promise after broken promise. Therefore, I appreciated this sentence: “The cycle of caring begins with you,” as well as “since when do you need a memo from corporate that tells you that it is acceptable to be good stewards of the lives in your care?”

It is hard to build trust again after it has been broken repeatedly. That’s why it was so heartwarming to read one person’s opinion on page 229: They’ve done everything they said they were going to do.

Finally, something I think about often as I watch my 16- and 19- year olds grow up is personal accountability. I see them and their peers simultaneously sharing minute and intimate details of their lives with an extremely broad array of people via social media, but also being disconnected from looking people in the eyes, having to research facts without Google, and not necessarily having defined long-term goals (not that you have to have that when you’re a teen, it just seems different than the outlook I had at their ages). I hope they grow to understand this: 

I am the message.

These four words, to me, show recognition that you may be “fed” information, given instructions, old where to go and what to do. But ultimately what the world sees is the message through you. You are the message, in everything you say and do.

And when it comes to messages, everybody’s extraordinary message does indeed matter. 

Book Review

All proceeds from the sale of the book are being donated to Our Community LISTENS, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing powerful Communication Skills Training to communities throughout the United States.

This post is a response to Kat Bouska’s writing prompt: BOOK REVIEW! Book Review

NOTE: I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes. These effusively positive opinions are all mine.


Mashed Potatoes: A Book Review

How long has it been since your dreams contained adventure instead of the panicked feeling that you have failed to handle some obligation?

Mashed Potatoes: A Little Brother Story rekindled my belief in the power of lofty dreams to fuel our goals and fantasies. The book was self-published by my friend/co-worker, Carrie Koens and her husband, Peter.

Book Review

Although my kids are now 16 and 19, I can just SEE their younger eyes lighting up at the idea of getting all. they. wanted. of. their. favorite. foods and being rescued from the ill effects of gluttony by the simple act of rousing from sleep.

When she was little my almost-20-year-old loved We Like Kindergarten, a book that had worked its way into our collection somehow. This classic was published the year after I was born (1965)! The illustrations were definitely not 21st century, but the story was timeless: Big sister Carol got to go to Kindergarten and her little sister had to stay home. The book was already VERY LOVED when we got it, but that didn’t reduce its charm at all. This little golden book truly was GOLDEN.

Another favorite of my kids was a board book called Jamberry. One novel feature of Jamberry was the two-page passage with NO WORDS. I would summon up all my imagination and whatever drops of dramatic tendencies I could and make the passage FUN as the characters went over blueberry falls.

When another blogger, life as mom, talked about how Mashed Potatoes was one of her children’s perennial favorites, and how when she took it out of the mothballs to take a picture recently, the (now older) children each exclaimed “oh I LOVE that book!!,” I could relate.

Book Review: Why Mashed Potatoes is a Keeper:

  • It conjures up images of how, when we were little kids, we desperately wanted more, more, more of the things we loved (even if they weren’t good for us in unlimited quantities!)
  • The disarmingly adorable yet not too sappy-sweet illustrations
  • The fact that as the reader, you feel the protagonist’s struggle between right and wrong as he tries to figure out how to respond to his dad after his act of disobedience
  • The outer space reference (because I’ve been in a big space-lover mode recently thanks to my trips to NASA)
  • As I mentioned in the beginning, the reminder that our “child” spirit, whether we are 5 or 51, has the capacity to dream big, as high as the sky!

This is More Than a Book

In addition to sharing the qualities about Mashed Potatoes that made it a “hit” with me, I also want to note that all proceeds from the purchase of this book (here’s the link) are going to the authors’ adoption fund. They are planning to adopt five siblings from Costa Rica, and of course that brings with it expenses. Read more about their adoption journey here.

Please join me in wishing Peter and Carrie blessings and success on their adoption journey. I can just imagine five little heads on five little pillows, dreaming big dreams in their slumber and knowing the big love of family when they wake up!

Book Review

Design by Rachel Royer

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Book Review

Darn, My Dog is Dead

At the end of the 2014-15 school year, my son told me that his assigned summer reading was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. This book was the summer reading selection for all grades. I ordered it on May 29, and it has been in our home since we received it. I wish my teenager were one of those go-getters who had his summer reading done before the July 4 fireworks, but he doesn’t roll that way.

When “Mandatory” Became “Optional”

On August 4, all families of students received this email from the principal:

School System Literature

My son was jubilant that the mandatory reading had been made optional. I, on the other hand, was not.

Trying to Understand

The day after the email explaining the new status of the summer reading assignment, I sent the principal an email inquiring about the decision. He called me the next morning, August 6 (and I very much appreciate the return call). To paraphrase, he said that upon further reflection, a decision had been made that the book, which contains multiple incidences of the “F-word,” “set the wrong tone, especially for incoming freshmen.” He said approximately 20 parents of incoming freshmen had called or emailed to register their displeasure, and that summer reading should be “fun.” He also said that apparently high schoolers often don’t start their summer reading until the last minute (I guess this was related to the fact that this decision was made once some students started discussing the book with their parents).

In response, I suggested the school could have done a disclaimer at the beginning of the summer and explained from the very beginning “this book has language which some students may find offensive. If they prefer an alternative they can request this through an instructor.”

The Public Discussion

Every Friday, I share what I am reading (paper and audio) on Facebook and Twitter for Friday Reads. This week, I abandoned the audiobook I had been reading (for now) in order to re-read “Incident” and announced that as my Friday Reads selection. It has been so long since I read the book, I felt like I needed to familiarize myself with it again, especially if I am going to be championing it publicly. In that post, I explained that it HAD been a mandatory assignment but had now been made optional.

School System Literature

Today, the Tallahassee Democrat published an article about this issue (read it here).

This Parent’s Opinion

My concerns center mostly around the process surrounding the decision to lift the mandatory requirement for the book. An email from the principal 13 days before school begins, stating “I am lifting the mandatory requirement for this novel” is not the ideal solution. Ideally, back when the decision was initially made about summer reading, the faculty or administration would have familiarized themselves with the book sufficiently to acknowledge that some parents and/or students may be uncomfortable with the language. They could have then developed an alternative book choice with accompanying assignments.

I read in the Tallahassee Democrat article that one parent was alarmed by the “foul language and the religious skepticism. She went on to say “I am not interested in having books banned … But to have that language and to take the name of Christ in vain – I don’t go for that. As a Christian, and as a female, I was offended. Kids don’t have to be reading that type of thing and that’s why I was asking for an alternative assignment. I know it’s not realistic to pretend bad words don’t exist, but it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure that my daughter knows what is right or wrong.” While I respect this parent’s opinion, and the choices she makes on behalf of her student, these factors would not cause me to seek an alternate assignment.  

I think it is realistic for a school to consider the frequency of obscenity in a book when making that book its single choice for summer reading for all grades (although I think it is highly likely that the majority of students entering high school are aware that people use this language). From the very beginning, when I started re-reading the book and realized that the first f-words were uttered by a woman who has just discovered that her dog has been murdered and has a garden fork sticking out of its carcass, I thought to myself, “well, I wouldn’t likely say “darn, my dog is dead.” I would be more likely to be overcome with shock and grief and say something relatively out of character. But I will concede there are probably other books that are just as worthy from a literary standpoint which have milder language.

On the issue of religious skepticism, however, the role of literature is to expose us to varying viewpoints. I want my children, who have been raised in a Christian household, to read books about people from all walks of faith, including NO walks of faith.

Since beginning to re-read the book, I have been reminded of its ASSETS in addition to the components which appear to have caused concerns: a reinforcement of prime numbers, explanations of the literary mechanisms of simile and metaphor, and a detailed insight into one person’s experience of the world from the viewpoint of someone with an Aspergers-like condition. These are all things I want my rising junior to learn.

To quote my friend Yolanda, “Literature is meant to make you think.” Thinking is most comprehensively fertilized when seeded with a VARIETY of thoughts, ideas, and viewpoints, not just those with which we concur.

School System Literature

Ultimately, I want my child to be able to analyze literature, learn from it, and discuss it respectfully with those who agree AND those who disagree. As parents, this situation gives us an ideal opportunity to role model HOW to interact with people of diverse opinions. Let’s not blow it.

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review

You should never draw conclusions about a book you have not yet read based on the sound bites from morning infotainment shows. If I had relied on morning show blurbs to summarize Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir, I would have thought it was all about wife bonuses. In actuality, “wife bonuses” are mentioned in one paragraph on one page of a 242-page book (page 161 to be exact). (Sparked by the publicity of the “wife bonus” in the book, here is one woman’s version of how this plays out for her.)

I have now read all of the other paragraphs on all of the other 242 pages. I read the book because a friend plans to read it and discuss, so I invited myself along for the discussion and rapidly read the book while on vacation.

I found myself skeptical, entertained, and bereft.


The author presents the book as an academically/sociologically based analysis of life among the female spouses of ultra-wealthy Upper East Side Manhattan men who could claim to be part of the “1%.”

I will be the first to say I have never traveled in the circles of that 1%. My handbags usually come from Target, as opposed to Hermès. In my thirty-four months in New York City, I relied on my feet or mass transit to get me from Point A to Point B rather than car services. I do not doubt the degree of excess the author describes in this book, but I doubt that anyone who is part of that world will ever willingly participate in publicizing the specifics.I am skeptical that the particular excesses the author chose to highlight really represent that world accurately.

I also must mention the discussions of exercise classes at Physique 57 and SoulCycle. The author uses these two examples of cultish “subtribes” to demonstrate how the Primates of Park Avenue subject themselves to “grueling group endurance rites” in order to maintain their appearance. Again, I have never been part of that world but have observed the following in Manhattan:

1) When I took step aerobics there in the early 90s, everything about the classes I participated in was tightly structured. When you walked in, you had to sign up for a spot, and if you were “spot 35,” you didn’t want to wander into spot 36’s bubble. But that comes with the territory of how space is regulated in Manhattan; it is always at a premium and you just learn to deal. It wasn’t that business’s way of being elitist.

2) While I have only taken one SoulCycle class ever, it was on the Upper East Side. It was a great experience, but I have a hard time seeing how the environment I experienced there would ever transmute into one where we participants “hooted like subversive rappers and called one another ‘thug’.” (And it must be noted I was wearing tights from Marshall’s that I had bought on clearance …… at a SoulCycle Class …… on the Upper East Side. Just call me blasphemous :-).

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review

That time I wore Marshall’s instead of Lulu to SoulCycle!

My skepticism is bolstered by the fact that the publisher appended future editions of the book following The New York Post’s fact checking (which had at least one inaccuracy of its own) to clarify the fact that some of the memoir’s details and chronologies had been changed (read more about the fact checking and subsequent changes here).


Once I shifted the book in my head from “non-fiction” to “possibly revised piece of writing based on the author’s interpretation of events,” I was able to just revel in the New York-ness of it all! New York City is my favorite place, my “happy place,” and the almost-three-years I spent there were life changers in every way. Although the New York City the author described apparently took place in expensive luxury abodes protected by building staff from mortals like the rest of us, I managed to see glimpses of it. I saw the nannies pushing babies/children around in their expensive strollers; I saw the opulent furs and jewelry; I saw hints of a lifestyle worlds apart from my own. Ironically, the building where I rented a room (with my own bathroom, which was a BIG DEAL in late 80s New York City), had a manned elevator, with a staff person who operated the elevator to my apartment on the 17th floor. (That worked out great except for the time I arrived home from a trip, suitcase in hand, to learn that the workers were all on strike. That was a long trip up 17 flights of stairs, suitcase in hand!).


NOTE: There is a little bit of a spoiler in the next paragraph. Although the book is not a suspense/mystery, I did not anticipate this part at all, having only heard about the “mommy bonus” prior to reading it.

A critical shift in the author’s relationships with her Upper East Side peers occurred when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 43.

At first, she was going to abort the baby, then she decided she wanted to keep the baby. At around six months of gestation, the fetus developed severe issues that resulted in the author having a surgical procedure to remove it (I assume a D&C type of procedure) and proceeding to grieve the loss of her daughter.

In the course of grieving this loss, she discovered that some of the women who had previously been the most cold and haughty turned out to be warm, supportive, and empathic.

This chapter threw me into so many emotions, many not because of the author but because of the topic. My third and fourth pregnancies ended when the embryos failed to develop, resulting in D&C procedures to end the pregnancies. Future efforts to have a third child ended when my body (surprise!) decided to go into menopause at age 43. Therefore, this is a complex topic for me.

While of course I support a woman’s right to choose, I would be lying if I didn’t share that my absolute first thought was, “but she was so LUCKY to get pregnant at 43,” and to be sad that she was going to end it.

Then I cheered her on as she decided to keep the baby, who she was going to name Daphne, and I grieved with her as she went through the agonizing medical procedures related to the way the pregnancy ended, and the even deeper agony of dealing with her emotions. Having post-pregnancy hormones without the compensating joy of a newborn is like being on an emotional tightwire, for sure. I don’t envy any woman who has to do that.

As she noted, when something like this happens to you, people come out of the woodwork who previously had appeared to have perfect lives. You find allies you would not have anticipated, and you learn to cut others a break. That part of the book I loved.

Final Thoughts

I have such a mixture of emotions/thoughts about this book; some of them don’t fit into the Entertained/Skeptical/Bereft trio:

Here’s the thing: I struggled with the whole premise. The author and her husband wanted to move to the Upper East Side from the Village because they felt so committed to public schooling for their child, who was still an infant, that they “wanted to be in the best school district.” Given that the next chapter was dedicated to her total panic that he wasn’t registered for a prestigious preschool yet, and the reference to the fact that these preschools were critical to getting into the right private schools, I felt disconnect about that from the get-go.

First of all, as a public school product, married to another public school product, who successfully raised one public school graduate who is navigating college successfully and who is quasi-successfully raising a public school eleventh-grader (fingers crossed on that one), there are many more decent public schools in this country than the one in the 10021 zip code. MANY. Then she ends the book by saying (and I am paraphrasing) “well, the boys ended up getting accepted to schools on the Upper West Side so we moved there” which left me wondering “then why the heck did you go through all those contortions (not to mention the outlay of so many millions of dollars and all the emotional trauma of getting “charged” (see page 80) by these ‘primates’)”?

The author writes, “If childhood is unusual here, motherhood is beyond bizarre. I learned firsthand about the “gets” that define life for the privileged and perfect women with children I lived among.”

Although I may crave the occasional splurge and have never had exactly what I dreamed about in the way of wardrobe or ability to travel, I know the “gets” I received from almost three years in NYC had everything to do with what I saw and learned mixing with all kinds of people, in all kinds of places … these “gets” cost no more than the willingness to walk city block after city block or buy a bus or subway token. Something tells me those were the best “gets” of all.

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review

An image from my March 2015 visit to NYC.

Writing a book review was one of the prompt options for this week’s linkup at Mama’s Losin’ It. I’ll be linking up … would you like to join? Here are the other prompts, and the linky will be up early on Thursday, July 9!

1. List 7 things you’d rather be doing this summer.
2. Write a blog post inspired by the word: challenge.
3. Book review!
4. How is Summer Vacation different for your kids than it was for you growing up?
5. Take us somewhere local spot in your city and show us what we’re missing…you’ll be saving us thousands of dollars now that we won’t need to take that trip!

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review