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Friday, February 20, 2015

There's No Place Like Hovel

There is one thing everyone in the Northeast can agree upon:  this Winter is sucking the Life out of us.   I cannot remember the last time I was so winter-weary, with so much Winter yet to come.  Michael, my youngest, and the biggest winter fan in the family, is done making snowmen and sleigh riding.  Even our dog, an active pointer-lab, has ceased to be excited about playing in the snow, and that’s saying something. 

            We try to make the most of winter.  We took a winter vacation to Disney World -- but it seems like eons ago.  We all stay physically active so there’s no Freshman 15 getting piled on.  The darkness all the time doesn’t really bother me  (to be honest, sunlight that’s too bright gives me a headache).   It has just been too cold, and too dangerous driving wise, for too long.  And pretty much everyone I know has slipped and fallen on black ice at least once.
            With a winter this treacherous, there has only been one thing to get me through:  my Hovel.  This is an affectionate term my family has given to my little area in the Living Room.  We all have our own “nook”.  Michael and I have matching comfy chairs.  Anthony has a giant Lazy-Boy type leather recliner.  Christian somehow manages to have the entire couch -- don’t ask me how he managed that one.  And of course Orion has his giant dog bed right in front of the fireplace.  And the fireplace is pointed right at me.
            I suppose I should mention that the “fireplace” is not your traditional fireplace. All right, you got me.  It’s not a fireplace at all.  It’s a space heater.  But it’s the kind that has fake logs inside and pretend flames in the background and I LOVE it.  I pick it up and bring it into every room with me.  Listen, it makes me happy, don’t judge.
            Every day, all winter long, all I can think about is coming home, getting into my flannel pajamas, having dinner and then -- just like on Downton Abbey -- we all retire to the Great Room to our respective nooks.  Except that, unlike on Downton Abbey, there are no servants.  And instead of drinking sherry, we have coconut water.  And instead of dressing up like landed gentry, we could easily pass for hobos.  The kids do their homework or their social media or whatever they’re doing and Anthony and I read iBooks on our iPads.  Sometimes one or more of the gifted musicians in my family will grace us with a song on the piano or trumpet.  Sometimes Michael, our cruise director, will make us play a card game or a board game.  And I often work on Newburgh Rowing Club “stuff”.  But mostly, we are just happy to be in the same room.  It is the most wonderful place in the world and it is our way of hibernating, I mean coping, through the Winter.
            I don’t know when we started referring to my nook as my “Hovel” (As in, “What time is it?  I can’t wait to get home to my Hovel!”)  In fact, “Hovel” is defined as “a very small, humble dwelling house” or “a wretched hut.”  Call it what you want.  I have a view of the whole house yet the walls are placed so I cannot see the dirty dishes in the sink (Score!).  I can see my family even if they are plugged into their “devices.”  My loyal hound is at my feet, and I have my fake fireplace.  It’s the best darn spot in the world and, to coin a Coach Kennedy phrase:  There’s no place I’d Rather Be.

            Have a great day, everyone and, as always, Remember to Count Your Blessings! <3 Mrs. Lo 

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Love Letter to Miss Ferber

For Valentine's Day – in a way, this is a Love Letter or, perhaps more properly, a Thank You Letter, to every teacher who has ever truly believed in a student.  Teachers, do you know that you can burn so brightly that you change a Life completely?  That you can so inspire a student that every time she feels she can’t do something, all she has to do is remember your words? 

            There is no doubt in my mind that Teaching is the most noble profession.  And there is no doubt in my mind that I had the greatest teacher who ever lived, Miss Ferber (I’m sorry, I know you married my senior year and changed your name but I forget exactly what your married name is, you will always be Miss Ferber to me). 
Just as I was finding John Jay public high school (yes, the honors classes), so stultifyingly boring that I often dozed off, Miss Ferber transferred to our school from Brooklyn.  It was like the North Wind had shot through the school and blown all the doors off.  She stood up in front of our English class and talked about things that made our mouths drop open.  She talked about the student atrocities at the public school in Brooklyn which made her want to move to the “country.”  She talked about Love, about Truth, about Trust, about how when you love someone you gather all your weaknesses and hand them to the other person and say, “here, these are weapons.  You can use them against me but I trust you not to.”  No adult had ever talked to us like this before.  Like we were – capable, mature, smart.  And because Miss Ferber saw us that way, we wanted to be all those things and more.
            We had been reading crap prior to her arrival.  She assigned us A Separate Peace, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Hunter S. Thompson.  We loved it.  She gave us additional suggested books.  I read them all.  We read Shakespeare and Greek tragedies aloud in class and dissected A Catcher in the Rye as if our very existences depended on cracking the code of Holden Caufield.  Miss Ferber also began teaching us to write.  Not just book reports and essays but she taught us  to keep journals and to be true to our feelings and experiences. 
            I loved her Contemporary Literature class; I got special permission to take it twice.  She consulted with us, her students, and got the School to add a class called College Prep English, which spanned the course of two years.  She taught a special class after school on her own time to help us understand how you study in college (not like you study in high school), and how to work on our time management skills.
            Most important of all, Miss Ferber believed in us in general and in particular, she believed in me.  After almost three years together, she had turned me into a good writer.  She encouraged me to apply to all my reach schools and urged me to pursue a career as a writer.  When I told her I was going to NYU, on a full ride, to study Journalism, she was thrilled but begged me to still work on producing a novel.  More than 30 years later, I have kept every paper she ever graded. She was pretty tough on me at the beginning, but as I got better at writing, she didn’t hesitate to write encouraging notes. 
            I had strong grades but nothing extracurricular to make me stand out, other than horseback riding after school and one unfortunate season on the Volleyball team.  “Do what you love,” said Miss Ferber.  “But I love to write,” I said miserably, “and that doesn’t make me a scholar-athlete.” 
“Of course not.  It makes you better,” she said.  And so with her help, I started writing for the School newspaper.  And the local community newspaper.  And the IBM Employee Newsletter (my dad actually was the hookup on that one).  I helped the Drama Club write an original screenplay.  I even founded my own magazine and published several editions.  It was discouraging to find them on the floor of the hallways with footprints on them.  No one was reading my magazine.
            No one at my high school.  But the Admissions Office at NYU loved it.  They specifically told me one of the reasons I was getting a full scholarship was the fact that I had fully pursued my passion for writing, which they found to be very “genuine.”
            The last time I saw Miss Ferber was at my high school graduation at the Civic Center in Poughkeepsie in 1983.  It was a huge ceremony and only a few teachers went.  I was hoping to say goodbye to her before I left for NYU.  I was running down a hallway with my girlfriends when I saw her.
            “We did it Miss Ferber, we did it, I’m going to NYU!” I exclaimed.
            “It’s Mrs. Goldstein, dear, but yes, YOU did it,” she said hugging me back.  “Promise me one thing.  That you will send me a copy of your first novel.”
            Imagine having a teacher who knows you that well, and having that much unshakeable faith in you.  It does something to a young public high school grad  going off to the Big City.  Many times at college, I was surrounded by people who had much better high school educations.  Kids who had gone to prep schools, private boarding schools, kids from Beverly Hills and the Gold Coast.  But they didn’t have what I had.  I had Miss Ferber’s faith in me.  And because she had faith in me, I had faith in myself.
            I like to think that Miss Ferber would have been proud of me.  I have not written the great American novel.  But I have been a productive member of society.  I went on to Fordham Law School, and have been a lawyer for 24 years, a Mediator for 25 years, and have founded several successful businesses and a not for profit organization.  I have dedicated myself to championing the underdog.  I have tried to follow her motto, to do the right thing and not the easy thing.
            I saw the article in the Record about our area having the highest paid teachers in the area and all I can say is, good.  Why wouldn’t you want the highest paid teachers?  Why wouldn’t you want to attract and maintain the Miss Ferbers of the world?  I am a successful business owner and I advise other business owners all the time.  You want to save money on things like ink and toner and postage.  Not by skimping on teachers’ salaries or benefits. 
            So, Thank you, Miss Ferber, for believing in me.  Your faith in me has sustained me for decades and continues to sustain me.  I am sorry I did not write a novel.  I do have this little blog though.  And wouldn’t it be great if you saw this Little Blog.  And maybe you will give it a passing grade <3 Mrs. Lo f/k/a Juliana Muyot, John Jay High School, Class of 1983.
(Photo of Miss Muyot and Lola -- my mom -- at NYU graduation, that's Washington Square in the background).
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Friday, February 6, 2015

My Journey, from NYU to Newburgh

MY JOURNEY FROM N.Y.U. TO NEWBURGH - I am sitting in a puddle of college marketing letters.  There are over a hundred.  I should note that my oldest son is a freshman, at Don Bosco Prep High School, and took the PSAT’s last Fall, his freshman year.  Apparently, he did pretty well, and also checked off a lot of boxes, because he gets more mail now than we do.  But my heart stopped for a beat when I was the familiar purple torch and the embossed logo.  NYU. It brought me back to the day, in Spring of 1983, when I got my letter.  NYU was my Dream school. My grandmother went to NYU undergrad and got her Doctorate in Education from NYU.  But to have a Legacy, you need to have a parent who went there.  Even if I got in, would I get enough scholarship money to be able to go to my Dream School?  I had my mother open the letter.  I won’t keep you in suspense:     I got a full ride to NYU, full scholarship for all tuition and room and board for 4 years, all I had to do was to keep up a 3.5 GPA.  

At first, it was a struggle.  I was dropped into the Greatest City in the World, but I still had hay between my teeth.  It was culture shock.  But I adjusted super quick, and just like that, NYU turned out to be the Best Four Years of My Life, bar none.  NYU was a Dream come true in every way for me.  I wanted to get the heck out of Fishkill, which was a Cowpie Town at the time (yes, dear readers, this was WAY before Starbucks and all the box stores).
NYU made me fall in love with learning and writing.  I literally jumped out of bed every morning and couldn’t wait to get to class.  I walked out of my dorm on Fifth Avenue and strolled the 4 blocks to WSUC, which is contiguous with Washington Square Park (there, you could get a different education “Hey, Little Momma, you need some reefa, some cheeba?”  No thanks, Larry, gotta get to class.  “You go, Little Momma!”)  It was the culture, or the "cult" of NYU that makes it the place everyone secretly wants to go to, and will forever set us alumni apart from all other alumni.  Because our campus was actually the Big Apple itself.  Every single NYU student has a 4 year love affair with New York City.  
NYU students got free rush tix to Broadway plays.  I saw everything.  Students read Moliere and Joyce for pleasure reading.  And we drank a $&*% load of coffee:  Turkish coffee, handmade Espresso, Armenian coffe, cafĂȘ con leche, you name it.  We hung out for hours in NON trendy coffee shops (we were always looking for authenticity, not trendy stuff favored by “B & T’s” -- Bridges and Tunnels) on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village.  There, we spent hours people watching, and debating philosophy, literature, politics, and whether we would do a semester at NYU in Spain or NYU in France.  So many friends, so beautiful, so intellectual, so talented.  I ate lunch with Adam Sandler and supported NYU film grad Spike Lee when his first film came out.  An up and comer named "Madonna" used to sing at the Peppermint Lounge on 14th St on Friday nights and I almost interviewed her but she canceled at the last minute.  I got my hair done next to the Royal Princess of Saudi Arabia and we compared notes on fashion.  One of my best friends was the son of a diplomat and also the “right hand man” to David Rockefeller.  Yes, I dined at Mr. Rockefeller’s home with my friend, and he got us tickets to lots of Grand Galas like openings at the Met, which meant I would fuss over my outfit for days.
And the clothes, oh the Clothes!  I was a size 0, Betsy Johnson had a shop in SoHo and Patrcia Fields had a shop right on 8th Street.  They weren't even a little bit famous yet and they used to dress my friends and me (yes, that is the correct grammar, look it up!)  Designers gave us "extras" and told us to wear them to clubs (Ok, if you insist).
I was beginning to make a name for myself as a campuswide fashion icon and a promising writer for the very respected school newspaper at NYU.  Life just got better and more exciting every day.  Then I graduated.  And, as my Grandma always said, “Big girls know when it’s time to leave the Party.”
Fast forward 28 years and here I am, neither a fashion icon nor a famous Journalist but a very happy wife, mom, entrepreneur and lawyer, best known for my rowing and charitable activities.  I think the reason I like the City of Newburgh is because it’s authentic.  It’s gritty, but it’s straight up.  Architecturally, I feel really comfortable around all those brownstones, as dilapidated as they may be.  And I have always been drawn to Downing Park, which after all was designed by the same man who designed NYC’s Central Park.  I could never live in the middle of a bunch of box stores.  
And here I sit with a letter from NYU addressed to my son.  How is this possible?  It’s a basic marketing letter, it’s way too early for me to establish the Legacy connection (a Legacy basically means as long as either of my kids wants to go there and their grades are good enough, they will automatically get in).
Over the decades, many parents and would-be students have drooled over my NYU diploma on the wall, along with all the NYU activities and awards.  But would I want either of  my sons to go there?  I am not sure about that one.  Fortunately, I don’t have to think about it right now.  And I may not ever have to cross that bridge, as I am sensing a real trend with the letters:  University of Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee, UCLA, you get the idea.  My oldest one wants to go somewhere warm.  And who I am to stop him?  As my grandmother always said:  “You have a Dream, now work for it.  Pity anyone who doesn’t dare to Dream.”  
And so it begins.
Have a great day, everyone and, as always, Remember to Count Your Blessings!  <3 Mrs. Lo   For more of the Mrs. Lo Blog go to