The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Audrey Hepburn

Audrey_Hepburn_black_and_whiteI always wanted to have Audrey Hepburn’s voice with its unique European lilt. Or those distinctive eyebrows. Or that elegant, impeccable style. Alas, the only quality I share with Ms. Hepburn is size 10 feet.

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) dreamed of becoming a prima ballerina, found herself in front of the camera as a model, and made her first Hollywood movie, Roman Holiday, in 1953. Not only did she get to rollick around Rome with the dreamy Gregory Peck, she earned an Academy Award. She went on to star in such memorable movies as Sabrina, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, and My Fair Lady.

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1992—Audrey in Somalia

But Audrey felt her greatest role was as UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador. Having lived through the German invasion of Holland during World War II, she knew real hunger and suffering. For five years, Ambassador Audrey traveled to over 20 countries witnessing innocent children struggling for survival.  Today the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund continues her work of bringing help and hope to the world’s children.

Audrey Hepburn Quotes:

• For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his hands through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.

• People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw anyone out.

• Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands—one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.

• The “Third World” is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering.

• Taking care of children has nothing to do with politics. I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicization of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanization of politics.

• Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist. I have seen the miracle of water which UNICEF has helped to make a reality.

You can read about Audrey Hepburn here and here.

Or watch this documentary about the iconic Hepburn style.

DDM coverIn case you missed it…

The winner of the DUCK DUCK MOOSE Giveaway was announced already! Click here to see who won.

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Diana Nyad

DianaLong-distance swimmer, Diana Nyad, caught the public’s eye in 1975 when she broke a speed record by swimming the 28 miles around Manhattan in under 8 hours. In 1978, her dream was to swim from Cuba to Florida, but she failed on her first attempt. She continued to break world records and retired from swimming at age 30. Diana became a television and radio broadcaster, author, and motivational speaker.

After her mother’s death, Diana reached age 60 feeling “closer to the end than to the beginning.” So she recommitted to pursuing her dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida and resumed long-distance training. In September 2013, on her fifth attempt, Diana reached her goal by swimming the 104 miles in 53 hours at age 64 (without a shark cage)! See the The Other Shore film trailer here

Diana Nyad Quotes:

• You never are too old to chase your dreams.
• You can’t start to get into negative spaces…telling yourself it hurts too much, maybe another day… because even people with an iron will [can] talk themselves out of stuff and quit when things get tough.
• All of us suffer heartaches and difficulties in our lives. If you say to yourself, ‘find a way,’ you’ll make it through.
• Life is not over at this age [64] by any means.
• I believe endurance grows and we can never discount the mental…the powers of concentration and perspective of what it all means. What you are capable of is infinitely higher at this age [64] than when you are a young twenty-something.
• So many people discuss the journey and the destination. The destination was always my vision. The journey that took me several years was thrilling. The discovery, the people, and the looking inside at what you’re made of made reaching the destination euphoric.
• Whenever you’re pushing through the tough moments, find a way. If something is important to you and it looks impossible and you’re up against it, step back for a minute and ask yourself if you have the resolve to think of every -nth degree to get through this. And most times, we do.
• I wanted to teach myself some life lessons at the age of 60 and one of them was that you don’t give up.
• I am willing to put myself through anything; temporary pain or discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level. I am interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers, an often painful process.

Diana Nyad’s website has links to her blog and to videos, including TED talks, so that you may enjoy the fuller experience of this Quotable Nerdy Chick. She is also a contributing writer to the Huffington Post.

Quotable Nerdy Chick: Caroline Kennedy

Caroline with her father in August, 1963

Caroline with her father in August, 1963

In November, our nation commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. His daughter Caroline wasn’t quite six years old when her father died. Over the years, she faced other tragedies—the murder of her uncle, the loss of her mother to cancer, and the airplane accident that took her brother’s life. Through it all, she remained strong, quietly out of the public eye. Caroline Kennedy became a wife, a mother, a lawyer, an author, and was recently appointed Ambassador to Japan.

To honor the memory her mother, Caroline helped publish The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 2001. She has since edited other poetry anthologies, including the recent children’s book, Poems to Learn by Heart.

Caroline Kennedy Quotes:

Caroline was recently appointed Ambassador to Japan

Caroline was recently appointed Ambassador to Japan

• Education was the most important value in our home when I was growing up. People don’t always realize that my parents shared a sense of intellectual curiosity and a love of reading and of history.

• I think my mother… made it clear that you have to live life by your own terms and you have to not worry about what other people think and you have to have the courage to do the unexpected.

• As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need a prosperity of kindness and decency.

• The arts are really one of the things that make this country strong. We always think it’s our economy or our military power, but in fact, I think it’s our culture, our civilization, our ideas, our creativity.

• It’s true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you’ll find you’ve created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.

• The biggest problem is people are afraid of poetry, think they can’t understand it or that it will be boring.

• When you’re going through something, whether it’s a wonderful thing like having a child or a sad thing like losing somebody, you often feel like ‘Oh my God, I’m so overwhelmed; I’m dealing with this huge thing on my own.’ In fact, poetry’s a nice reminder that, no, everybody goes through it. These are universal experiences.

• In a funny way, poems are suited to modern life. They’re short, they’re intense. Nobody has time to read a 700-page book. People read magazines, and a poem takes less time than an article.

• The biggest problem is people are afraid of poetry, think they can’t understand it or that it will be boring.

Caroline may have been speaking to me in that last quote. I definitely need to check out her latest poetry book and face my fears.

If you’d like to learn more about Caroline Kennedy’s life, please go to this bio.

kennedy_poems_WEBTo read more about Poems to Learn by Heart, go to this interview with Caroline.

Facing the Blank Canvas of NaNoWriMo

nano_hoodieNovember ended and I hung up my NaNoWriMo hoodie. For the first time, I had participated in National Novel Writing Month—the month when writers around the world challenge themselves to write a 50,000-word novel.

Outline in hand, I burst out of the gate on November 1st and, at the end of three days, I had cranked out 9,120 words. Since I work full time and my only writing time would be weekends, I did the math and found there was no way I could hit 50,000 words. But I committed myself to completing a first draft of a middle grade novel, no matter what the word count.

To write that novel in a month, I couldn’t sit and agonize over finding perfect words while the clock was ticking. I just raced ahead and wrote, banning my Inner Editor (as the NaNo staff suggested). Instead of slowing down to make time-consuming decisions, I wrote notes to myself such as [DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?] or [MORE FARM STUFF GOES ON] or [SHOULD HENRY AND MARIGOLD NOT EVEN BE IN THIS NOVEL?] and kept moving.

During the NaNo month, I realized I was writing the way I paint. When I paint, I don’t start in the upper left hand corner and fill that corner of the canvas with every minute detail, and then move to the next part of the canvas, finishing every section until I finally reach the bottom right hand corner. Instead, I work all over the canvas. Using broad strokes, I block in areas, and then build up layers, pulling some elements forward and pushing some back. Finally, I fine tune the details that bring everything into focus. (See the two stages of my painting of our dog that I gave to my daughter)

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The lovely Princess Zisk, in broad strokes and then with final detail.
You may see more of my work here.

With writing, I do the same thing. I write in broad strokes to the end, then jump around in time and rearrange things, enhancing or playing down elements, leaving holes and filling in gaps, adding details and texture. Working around my canvas of words, I revise and revise until it is done.

When NaNoWriMo was over, I ended up losing the official challenge, as predicted. But I won my personal challenge and wrote a 28,412-word first draft.  I’ve got the broad strokes. Now it’s time to move things around, add layers and details, and finish my masterpiece (or at least maybe a queryable manuscript).

NaNoWriMo was a quick and focused way for me to put aside a project that I’ve worked on for four years and to try something completely different. I know I’ll have the courage to face a blank canvas again next November. How about you?

Oprah, Carpe Diem, and Motherhood

Years ago, I was a self-employed graphic designer and feeling a bit unsettled about my work. So I tuned in to watch Oprah because her show that day was about finding fulfillment in life.

After discussing the idea of self-fulfillment, Oprah said to me, “Why did God put you on this Earth?”

I responded, “To be a mother.”

Wha??? Not the response I was expecting.

I was single and had given up the hope of marriage. My biological clock had a dead battery. I wanted to be a mother?

italypaintingI have always been a life-is-short-seize-the-day kinda chick. When a new job turned out to be not what I expected, I quit after 18 months and went to study art in Paris for the summer. When a dear college friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, I looked at my own life. Carpe Diem. I sold my condo to buy a little house with my own grass and trees. I spent a month in the medieval village of Urbino, Italy, painting landscapes in oil. I ticked those things off my Life List (I hate the label “Bucket List.”).

But I hadn’t realized that Motherhood was on that list. Not until Oprah. But once it was on my list, I took action.

I found an adoption agency that dealt with international adoptions. I wanted to adopt a toddler, thinking that would back up my age of motherhood a little. The agency advised that toddlers were most available from Russia, so that was where my search took me. After months and months of paperwork, a picture of my daughter arrived in a Fed Ex envelope. It was my last chance to say yes or no to motherhood. I took the photo to my own mother, who said (as I posted here ) “She just needs a mother to put a smile on her face.” I sent my acceptance paperwork back to the agency.

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Our first Christmas as a family.

Two months later, I flew to Moscow and waited four days for my daughter to arrive from another city (it was a long, painful labor). After knowing my three-year-old daughter for only 36 hours, I flew home with her. I call it my Nine Hours of Hell. Anna was a constant ball of energy, racing up and down the aisles, not eating or sleeping, and going from laughter to tantrums in seconds, almost throwing my watch down the toilet as I tried to change her pull-up in that tiny restroom, and ripping out every page from her new picture book, One Hundred Words in Russian. At one point, she and I sat on the floor at the back of the plane as I cried to the attendants, “I’m too old for this!”

But I had Seized the Day. I was a mother and nothing would ever change that.

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Fun with new glasses last month

19 years later, my Anna is a smart, funny, beautiful, dog-lovin’ photographer and certified pet sitter. Anna and I celebrate Adoption Day every November 11th, the day we arrived at JFK after those airborne Nine Hours. But this November 11th, instead of Hell, we’ll be enjoying a Heavenly platter of gnocchi Bolognese at our favorite restaurant.

We both continually seek self-fulfillment—Anna with her photography and me with my writing. Like motherhood, self-fulfillment is a job for life.

How do you seize the day?

mom01Cover_smAuthor’s note: In 2001, my picture book, The Best Single Mom in the World: How I was Adopted was published by Albert Whitman & Company, although it is no longer in print. If you’d like to read more about my adoption experience, read this article in Adoptive Families magazine, or an interview with me at ComeUnity.com.

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) is one of my favorite artists, not just because of her beautiful paintings, pastels, and prints, but because of her courage to break into the male-dominated French society of artists near the end of the nineteenth century. Cassatt was from a prominent Philadelphia family, but lived much of her adult life in France, where she befriended Edgar Degas. She said of his work, “I used to go and flatten my nose against that  window and absorb all I could of his art…It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it.” Degas invited her to join the Impressionists and said to her, “Most women paint as though they are trimming hats. Not you.”

Mary_Cassatt-Selfportrait_letter_bath_medrez

From left to right: Portrait of the Artist, 1878; The Letter, 1891, The Child’s Bath, 1892

Mary Cassatt Quotes:

• “I am independent! I can live alone and I love to work.”

• “I think that if you shake the tree, you ought to be around when the fruit falls to pick it up.”

• “There are two ways for a painter: the broad and easy one or the narrow and hard one.”

• “If painting is no longer needed, it seems a pity that some of us are born into the world with such a passion for line and color.”

You can read more about Mary Cassatt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art  and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

99 Years—A Picture of My Mother

On October 5, my mother turned 99 years old. She lives in a nursing home, comfortable and clean. Her mind is in a different world, going places and doing things not possible from her wheelchair. She loses words and I don’t always understand the words her mind invents. She always gives me a big smile of recognition and love.

When I think about how much the world has changed in her lifetime, it’s as if her life has mirrored the history of photography.

M_mayflower

A sepia-toned studio portrait shows my mother as a baby, the first of her family born in America, with a boatload of Italian immigrants—her parents, sister, cousin, aunt, and uncle. No, they didn’t arrive on the Mayflower, but passed through Ellis Island to New York City for a better life, living in a tenement apartment with a toilet down the hall, and communal baths down the street.

M_lenore_flapers_poconos My mother’s family managed to survive the Great Depression. Her father was a tailor and her mother was a seamstress—two needed professions in NYC. Out of high school, my mother worked as a secretary six days a week for $7 (weekends hadn’t been invented yet).

MnP_wedding_glamIn the early forties, she met a funny, bespectacled young man and married him before he was shipped out to India during World War II. She sent him a Hollywood-style glam portrait, so he would hurry back home to her.

M_williamst_fairLike many post-war young families, we followed the American Dream and moved into a brand-new suburban split-level house in a neighborhood with dozens of other split-level houses. My mother was the model housewife, with a tidy, fashionable home and spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove for hours on Sundays. Photography turned colorful. My mother nurtured and supported me, encouraging my creativity (even letting me paint flowers on her car in the sixties).

MnP_catherdral M_anna2Seemingly in no time, my parents celebrated 50 years of being married to their very best friend. When I hadn’t found a best friend to marry, I knew I still needed to be a mom. My mother was the loving voice of reason when I decided to adopt a child. I cried to her about the photograph of a sad little cross-eyed Russian girl with a buzz cut who might become my daughter. “She just needs a mother to put a smile on her face,” my mother wisely said. And she was right. She became a doting grandmother to my Anna. Even in her present, confused state-of-mind, she lights up with a big smile when she hears Anna’s name.

In 2002, both my parents had emergency surgeries at the same time, landing them in adjoining rooms in the intensive care unit. My father recovered, but my mother was on a ventilator and feeding tubes for four months. In rehab, she was unable to sit up or speak, but she kept fighting. Then, her dear husband died of a heart attack, but I know it was a broken heart.

thanks_christ That was 11 years ago. My mother’s tenacious will to live got her out of a hospital bed to a wheelchair to using a walker in assisted living. She had many years of activities, family holiday dinners.

M_baby_99 From a seemingly-ancient sepia photograph to a color digital image of a smiling, 99-year-old birthday girl, my mother has been the picture of a full and loving life. Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.