Junk Drawer: Week of April 22nd, 2013

Photo Source: The Flower Fields in Carlsbad by Jeff Alberts

Photo Source: The Flower Fields in Carlsbad by Jeff Alberts

Happy Friday, Wonderists!  So much great stuff to surf on the web this week!  I’ve been sitting here flipping coins over which links to include in the round-up, but I keep cheating.

Here we go:

Want to know where greatness happens?  It happens right here.

Why “thaaaanks” is the new “thanks.“  (And if you’ve been saying just “thanks” all this time, sorry, but you’re being rude.)

I was kicked out of the country for being too good-looking, baby.”  Sounds like a bad pick-up line, but it turns out it’s true.

This may be a reflection of my extreme sleep deprivation this week, but I laugh-snort every time I watch this.

The last 2 speakers of an endangered language refuse to talk to one another because they just plain never “enjoyed each other’s company.”

I don’t have much of a brain for science, but this awesome video from the International Space Station this week made me a believer. Also I love the freeze-dried astronaut food they sell in museum shops.

Why didn’t anyone tell me there is such a thing as HAPPY plane crashes?  Somehow I find these photos of miraculous plane crashes in which everyone survived a comfort.

Are you as excited as I am about Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” remake?  I am absolutely obsessed with this Gatsby-inspired fashion line and these simple steps for achieving your own 1920s pizazz!

Multi-purpose furniture that hangs on your wall and seats your guests?  I’ll take all three, please.

The United States starts measuring Gross National Happiness! That makes me happy.

And one more for the road…The Arrested Development character posters.   Only one more month!

What’s everyone up to this weekend?


Picture This: A Brown Bag Lunch Never Looked So Good


Someone get this guy a Father of the Year award.  Graphic designer David LaFierrere draws on his kids’ sandwich bags every day – over 1100 ziplocs since 2008 – and posts the photos to Flickr.  Not one to crack under pressure, he doesn’t apply the artwork until AFTER he’s made the sandwich.  And to think I can’t even make a decent smiley face with ketchup (admit it, you’ve done this), and this guy’s making a Sharpie masterpiece every day.  What a show-off.  Take a look-see at his other sandwich bags here!  Parents, you’ve been put on notice – time to step up your brown bag game.

I’m on a bit of a sandwich kick myself of late, but I knew I’d come to a fork in the road this weekend when I found myself eyeing the bologna at the grocery store.  I backed away slowly and reminded myself that I could do better than that, and so it is that I went in search of sandwich inspiration.  Here is what I found (PS – Pinterest, how do you know me so well – it’s freaking me out.):

20 Epic Sandwiches to Eat Before You Die (most dramatic statement about sandwiches ever)

30 Sandwiches to Love (this is an actual sandwich list, not a site for fetishists)

Coast-to-Coast: The Best Sandwiches

Pinterest Sandwich Inspiration (Because, as it turns out, there are some REAL fanatics out there who actually post things about sandwiches.  Weirdos.  Oh.  Wait.)

Someone ask me over for trivia night.  I will be an ACE at all the sandwich questions.

Did you know the PB&J is only the third most popular sandwich in America?  Can you guess the first two?  Or did you know that the most expensive sandwich ever sold was $28,000?  Because, you know, who needs to pay rent.  And can you believe the sandwich is 2,000 years old?  So is some of the food in my refrigerator.  Wanna know how the reuben got its name and why we have Walt Disney to thank for Mickey Mouse AND the Monte Cristo (my favorite sandwich)?

Okay, I’ve clearly fallen down the rabbit hole on this post.  What’s your favorite sandwich?  I need help.


Life Lists: What’s Yours?


Many of you are probably familiar with this thing called the Life List.  It’s essentially a “bucket list” – but with a much better stage name.  I first learned about the idea of putting together a life list from its originator, another of my favorite bloggers, Mighty GirlHers was featured on Oprah’s Blog last year, and the post totally sold me on why making this list is important.  I really encourage you to read it.

I was immediately energized by the idea…if I’ve got 60 years left on this planet (gene pool, don’t fail me now!), what do I want to DO with them?  There’s no need for shoulda, woulda, coulda’s!

So I started keeping a list on my phone – every time something popped into my head that I wanted to try, I jotted it down – the above list is the result (let the judging begin!).  The ideas range from totally achievable (plant a tree) to the truly aspirational (learn how to cook).  And, surprisingly, rather than feel daunted by the list, I feel excited!  It’s not about guilting myself into fitting more activities into my already packed schedule – as the Oprah article put it, “the theme seems to be not acquiring Big Life Experiences like collector’s items, but rather in infusing a life with a sense of possibility.” I surely won’t do everything on my list, but if I do even a few of these things, my life will be richer for it (especially if one of those things is “win the lottery”).

The part where this becomes even better is that people are meant to share their life lists with one another and “sponsor” each other’s goals!  Say, for example, you have a ranch.  You invite me over to ride Flicka and help me tick “go horseback riding” off of my list.  And maybe one of yours is “visit a film set,” so I invite you to NYC and get you a walk-on role in one of my shows! Think how good it would feel to help someone achieve a life goal!

I can attest to the fact that your life list will also be a fun thing to revisit when you’re in a slump or in need of inspiration!  Ride an elephant today?  Why not!  (The only elephant I’m likely to ride in Brooklyn is the musical one for kids in front of the pizza shop. Brace yourself, instagram.)  I suspect we all carry fragments of our life lists around in our brains, but put it down on paper.  Being intentional about it sets the wheels in motion!

So take some time this week to think about what’s on your Life List (now that I’m a blogger, I’m bossy). And when you’re ready, email it to me at thewonderistblog@gmail.com.  As you can see, I’ve created a page on my blog for Life Lists.  I will share yours with The Wonderist community, and one by one, we will build a community of people creating positive, life-affirming experiences for each other!

And if you enjoy this process, here are some more lists you could make:

Your Magic List

The Bliss List

The Done List


What’s Your Secret: Happy Days!

Photo Source: fanpop

Photo Source: fanpop

I like lists, can you tell?  I think it’s genetic – a maternal birthright that has plagued husbands and coworkers for centuries.

Today, I wanted to put together a list of simple ways to make average days feel like somethin’ special.  We’ve all seen embroidered pillows imploring us to “Seize the Day” and Hallmark card wisdom that says “Live every day as if it were your last!”  But how?  HOW!

Here are a few ways I do it, and please add yours to the list in the comments section!!

  1. Be a kid!  When I was 23 and had just moved to Washington, DC – 2 friends and I ran out into the rain and jumped in puddles like complete yahoos, and it was SO FUN.  Sure people stared, but you’ll be smarter than I was and won’t wear a white t-shirt.  Or you can roll around in the dirt with your friends playing Kick the Can (favorite pastime of Midwestern children).  Something about getting mud on your clothes (intentionally) is awesome.  I love how Liz Stanley at Say Yes to Hoboken has “Never Grow Up” mornings with her son where they do all the crazy/messy /loud stuff that’s usually off-limits.
  2. Drink your morning orange juice out of a wine glass.  It’s a small thing, but it makes waking up feel like a day at the spa instead of a medieval torture trap.  I once dated a fella who brought me OJ in a wine glass when I was sick, and it seemed so absurdly extravagant that it immediately lifted my mood.  (This is the same person who let me sleep in a baseball cap at night because I didn’t want him to see the Mt. Vesuvius-sized zit on my forehead.)
  3. Learn something new.  My mom always told me I needed a hobby (I suspect that’s a thing all mothers say).  When I turned 32, I got 8 of them (hobbies, not mothers).  She was right – it feels good to be learning something new at my age!  A quick 5-minute French lesson or two before bed, and I fall asleep dreaming about baguettes and fields of lavender.  Check out the app Duolingo for Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese – I’ve studied languages all of my life, and this free tool is outstanding.  If language isn’t your thing, try picking up a musical instrument, learning to sew, volunteering, playing club sports, upping your photography game, etc. etc.
  4. Buy a plant! Studies say caring for houseplants, gardens, and freshly cut flowers makes us feel happier, healthier, and even more creative.  But don’t fret, if your thumb is more black than green, silk and paper flowers are making a comeback – I think these are stunning.  And here are some ways to arrange them on the cheap from one of my favorite bloggers A Cup of Jo!
  5. Sing or dance like you’re crazy.  Grab a hairbrush microphone, put on your favorite record, and cut a rug.  I recently started doing “dance breaks” with my students when they are lacking focus, and it gives them a great jolt of energy and positivity without fail.  One of my students, Ronnie, even says it makes him feel more confident.  Can’t argue with that.
  6. Make a root beer float.  I mean seriously – when was the last time you had one?  For me, it might have been the A&W in my hometown where the waiters came to the car on rollerskates.  I realize you now think I grew up in Pleasantville in the 1940s.  Not that into root beer?  Here are some yummy alternatives! Sluuuurp.
  7. Ride a bike with a basket. If you’re like me, you enjoy pretending you’re an American novelist living in the English countryside, and you’re about to peddle your bike right into Mr. Darcy.
  8. Lay on a lawn or a roof at sunset with binoculars (not you, peeping toms) or a digital camera.  There are few things as peaceful as a beautiful sunset or a clear night sky, and too often we don’t stop to appreciate them.  How about these incredible sky photos?!  If you want to take it up a notch, “buy” a loved one a constellation – you can’t actually do this, I’m told (companies that say you can are a scam) – but nothing’s stopping you from making a sweepingly romantic gesture by printing up a certificate with the coordinates of the constellation you’re “dedicating” to your loved one and giving it as a gift.  You would literally be giving them the universe.  How’s that for metaphor.
  9. Give a stranger a compliment, and practice compassion and gratitude actively.  Not only will you feel good doing it, but you’ll probably live longer.  Win-win!
  10. Make something thoughtful – like these heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches and put the comfort into “comfort food!”
  11. Leave post-it notes for your favorite people – on the bathroom mirror or your friend’s computer or anywhere really.  Several of my coworkers leave me notes on my monitor in the morning – something as simple as “You inspire!” or “Fill the Damn Candy Bowl,” but it always puts a smile on my face.

So these are just a few ways to spice up any-ole-day – please share yours!


The Ball Drop: Neighborday!


Photo Source: GOOD

Happy Monday, everyone!  Hope you had a beautiful weekend!

I made several discoveries this weekend:

1)   ACTIVE DISCOVERY: That sometimes trying on new clothes requires the dislocation of several limbs,

2)   INCONVENIENT DISCOVERY: That I am still capable of having boogie-monster-in-the-closet nightmares (shouldn’t have watched Django before bed), and

3)   ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY: That I have a new favorite magazine!

That last one is what I want to write about today.  I stopped by Barnes & Noble this weekend to pick up some reading material for my students when a magazine I’d never seen before caught my eye tucked on a shelf beneath the customer service desk. (I teach filmmaking to kids on the weekend – they are only 10-13 years old, but they are taller than I am and had blogs first – so they’re kinda the bosses of me.)

GOOD is the magazine and www.good.is is its online presence – a social network of “people who give a damn” (actual tagline).  Both are filled with pages of inspiring, smart material about people and organizations doing good things.  It is basically the print version of the feeling you get when you’re wearing your flannel jammies while watching a Muppets movie and eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.  In other words, it is GOOD.

When I cracked open the magazine, I found a fold-out insert advertising “Neighborday” on April 27th for readers to hang on their front doors – a way to grab the attention of the people they share sidewalks with (or, in my case, a paper thin wall) and start a conversation!

Growing up in Wisconsin, I knew what it meant to really have neighbors.  The family next door had two sons, (the youngest was my first kiss, and the oldest teased me about it for 4 years), and were basically an extension of my own.  I miss that – knowing there’s someone just across the way whose door is always open – that means something tangible in an age when many of our “friends” are a digital headcount on Facebook, doesn’t it?

But as an adult in a big city where we live stacked on top of one another, it is easy to be invisible. Despite seeing each other in the hallway fairly often, I only know my neighbor’s name because I sometimes mistakenly get her mail.  So this year, I’m going to make an effort to meet each of my neighbors and to let them know (assuming none seems mass-murdery) that my door is always open (it’ll actually be locked, but I will open it).

How will you celebrate Neighborday?

And here is a little sampler of the great stuff you can read on GOOD’s website:

The Biological Advantage of Being Awestruck – if you click on no other links today, click on this one.  It’ll make you see Monday morning (and life!) in a whole new way.

Why these people have turned their apartment into a part-time restaurant.

Postcards to the Future – early 20th century predictions of 21st century technology.  I particularly love the weather control machine!  If only.

A story about how this guy attempted to draw every building in New York City and why.

The Girl Scouts now have a “Game Developer” badge to get girls excited about technology and science!

Have a great day!  (Oh, and shameless plug – tune in to National Geographic tonight at 9pm EST for the season premiere of my series “Brain Games” – in keeping with today’s theme, it’s SO GOOD!)


Junk Drawer: Week of April 15, 2013

Photo Source: The WonderistLes Puces (Flea Market in Paris)

Photo Source: The Wonderist
Les Puces (Flea Market in Paris)

TGIF, Everyone!  Go ahead – call out sick, grab a Bartles and Jaymes, and pull up a seat for this week’s link love…

Blow-up dolls are so passé!  THIS is the next big thing!

Roger Sterling, you complete me.

Paint by Numbers for real grown-up art.  I am doing this!

Daffodils are just inherently cheerful, but this makes me love them even more!

Colbert on the Boston Marathon – couldn’t have said it better!

Don’t toy with me, Iran.  Have you invented time travel or not?!

Thoughtful, easy homemade gift for Mother’s Day!

This guy discovered his dog was insanely good at balancing on things, and amazingness ensued.  I’m terrified of dogs, and I’m in love with Maddie.

I don’t care if you’ve already seen this, watch it again and then dance.  This country needs a pep talk.  Thanks, Kid President!

You are more beautiful than you think.  I find this really, really powerful.

What do you have planned for the weekend?


Bookworm: SWF Seeks Romance, Murder, and Time Travel

Photo Source: http://lifeinahighschoolartroom.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html

Photo Source: http://lifeinahighschoolartroom.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html

There’s something I really love about passing around a reading list.  It’s like sharing a secret family recipe or reading an old love letter; it tells you so much about the author.  This is what my list will say about me: I love a good 19th century bodice-ripper, I go all Sherlock Holmes for mysteries, and I believe in time travel.  (I suspect right now you are feeling relieved that we are separated by the internet.)

So I present to you this Top 31 List! (My dad routinely quizzed me on prime numbers for his own amusement, so I don’t do Top 10 Lists.  It is you who will now suffer for it.)  These are the most mainstream books on my list – if you, dear readers, have a hunger for lesser known titles, I will follow up with another list some day soon.  Take a look, and PLEASE, post or send (thewonderistblog@gmail.com) your lists.  I have been in a bit of a reading slump lately and am looking for that special book that will keep me up all night (and asleep on my keyboard all day).

(Bookworm is a regular feature highlighting the literary arts.)

Happy Reading!


The Book Thief – Zusak 
(The book jacket on this one totally misses the point, which is why I picked it up and put it down multiple times at the bookstore before finally reading it.  That and because I’m commitment-shy.  I’m sure we all feel we’ve read just about as many WWII novels as we can bear, but this one is so different, so beautiful.  More than anything, it’s an incredible story about humanity.  Top 5 books of all-time for me.)

Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay – Chabon
(Really unique book about 2 cousins growing up in NYC before/during/after WWII, who write and illustrate comic books together.  I can’t even describe this one – read the synopsis on Amazon.) =)

The Historian – Kostova
(Now, you don’t have to be part-Transylvanian, like I am, to like this book.  Long before there was Twilight and Vampire Diaries, there was “The Historian.”  This is a spellbinding book about Vlad the Impaler, whom many have come to think of as Dracula.  Great historical fiction.)

The Birth of Venus – Dunant
(Great historical fiction about a female (!) painter in the Medici era.)

The Imperfectionists – Rachman
(Book about journalists in Rome between 1940 and present day – the chapters alternate between the history of the newspaper they work for and profiles of the different paper employees.  An entertaining, quick read.  Makes you wonder about the private lives of your own coworkers!)

The Namesake – Lahiri
(At this point, I’m not even sure this is Lahiri’s most popular book, but it’s the only one I’ve read.  Great book about family and identity and better than the movie, as most books are.  This said by a film/tv producer.)



What’s Your Secret: Let’s Get Handsy

Source: Michelangelo

Source: Michelangelo

Last month, I was in Chicago visiting my sister and her family when my youngest nephew, Wells (2 feet of Grade A baby cuteness!), came running toward me out of nowhere – a huge gap-toothed grin on his face – and wrapped himself around my leg in a tight squeeze.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about that moment in the last few weeks.  What a fun place the planet would be if grown-ups felt such spontaneous joy and  – imagine this – EXPRESSED IT (in a completely legal way, of course).

I first noticed how touch-deprived I was a couple years ago when I found myself leaning in to hug a complete stranger on a packed rush hour train just because I was tired, and, well, because it seemed like there was a 20% chance he might hug me back.  When you find yourself packed like sardines into tight spaces that lend themselves to that peculiar intimacy between strangers, you can’t help but be acutely aware of the body heat inside the pant leg next to yours.  But growing increasingly concerned about the likelihood that I would one day unleash a Fifty Shades of Grey fantasy on an unwitting commuter, I decided to talk to a friend about it.

We’ll call him Flynn O’Toole (his name has been changed to protect my integrity) – I asked him, “Why is it that we, as a society, shy away from touch the older we get?  Now I’m not suggesting the relative-who-kisses-too-long-on-the-mouth or creepy-boss-who-pats-your-butt-at-the-water-cooler kinds of touching…but gentle, subtle contact – a hug when you’re happy for someone at work, a hand on the elbow as you hold a door open, or a clap on the shoulder after a good joke?”  It was at this point that “Flynn” reached across the table and touched my hand.  I’ll admit that I immediately recoiled in my booth and made some crack about catching cooties, but in truth, it was actually quite lovely.  I don’t like that I’ve been conditioned to withdraw from friendly affection!

It turns out I’m not the only one thinking this way.  I’ve started seeing articles popping up all over the place about the power of human touch – to heal, to placate, to energize.  Take a look at this recent article on the health benefits of casual human touch.  I encourage you to take the One Week Challenge – just touch someone every day and report back about how it made you feel.  I, for one, know how good it felt when Wells gave me that bear hug, drool and all.  4 weeks later, and it still puts a smile on my face.

(What’s Your Secret is a regular feature exploring the different things that make people happy.  Please submit YOUR ideas to thewonderistblog@gmail.com!)


One in a Million: Finding Polaris

Photo Source: Copyright 1957 CBS Television

Photo Source: Copyright 1957 CBS Television

I have been thinking a lot about how fragile the order of things is since yesterday. Scrolling through the headlines and photos from the Boston Marathon bombing, it is easy to feel scared and uncertain.  In recent years, we’ve had many heartbreaking reminders that our personal safety cannot be guaranteed, and the landscape shifted again yesterday. Yet in the process of reorienting ourselves, I hope that we can find a way to focus not on the fear, rather on the immense body of proof that says we can and must rely on each other – that we are inherently good and are made up of countless men and women who run toward danger to save lives every day. Just as the North Star has guided many a traveler toward home, so should we allow the good in people around us to bring comfort when we are feeling helpless. And if you don’t believe me, even Mr. Rogers (men in cardigans don’t lie), is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

So it’s in that spirit that I’d like to share my own personal Polaris.  It involves men in ill-fitting spandex (as do most things that make me happy) – yet I find it really touching. I realize the spandex comment could take us any number of places, including several beaches in Europe, but oooobviously, I’m talking about…real-life superheroes!

You’ve probably read about them in your local news – men and women who dress up like superheroes and fight crime and injustice in their own communities.  We have several of them right here in Gotham – regular working stiffs by day and vigilantes by night!  Some protect the homeless, some target the war on drugs, and some are simply trying to teach people a little compassion.

And while they may not be taken all that seriously and it is certainly hard to quantify their impact on crime, to me it’s more about a state of mind.  These men and woman believe in protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Forget super powers (I checked – none of them actually has one), they believe that there’s an epic strength inside each of us, and that we have the power to do herculean things with it.

And so, as we get our bearings again in the wake of yesterday’s terror, I’m going to take a moment to think about the superheroes in my life.   I am surrounded by them – the gorgeously big-hearted women in my Arts & Media program, my mom who is fighting cancer with the wrath of a league of superheroes, and a very good friend who is – simply put – the finest kind of human there is.  While there are very complicated politics at play in what happened yesterday and they, too, require thoughtful reflection, it is very UNcomplicated to take the time to recognize all the positive things happening around us.

I would LOVE to hear who your superheroes are and why.  I think it would make everyone feel a little better today.  Please tell me in the comments below!

And here’s a link to 2011′s Real-Life Superhero Project - just reading some of the superhero profiles makes me feel like putting on a breast plate and goggles right now, so if you’ll excuse me…


The Coloring Book: Mondays…


Photo Source: Cerise Doucede

Good morning, Wonderists!  I hope you had a great weekend!  I spent mine rediscovering the series “The West Wing” (and, incidentally, my college crush on Josh Lyman…er…Bradley Whitford).  If we’re going to talk facts and figures (and Aaron Sorkin would want me to, I assure you), I cried 4 times in the first 7 episodes my 2nd time around – a record matched only by the Izzie/Denny season of Grey’s Anatomy.  (I’m embarrassing myself here, aren’t I?)

After spending most of Sunday swimming in political dialogue as relevant in 2013 as it was in 1999, I’m feeling a bit at sea this morning.  I’d say, this photo of a woman lost in thought just about sums up my current attention deficit.

One in a series of photos meant to capture her subjects in the act of daydreaming, desiring and doubting (I did all three before breakfast), the French artist (tender-aged, 20-something Cerise Doucede), beautifully suspends everyday realities on the verge of fantasy – on strings, but as if in amber.

Here is another of my favorites – this one has a particular Monday vibe, don’t you think?

Tell me – what would your favorite suspended reality be?

And check out more great photos after the jump!