Episode 45 - with Caroline Hirsch - Lisa Birnbach’s Five Things That Make Life Better for May 17, 2019

You know the portmanteau for the classic breakfast & lunch is brunch, right?  Now a word all on its own.  In my family, when we sometimes had pancakes or omelets for dinner, the exhibits ™ called it “brinner.”  Today I am coining the term Sprinter,™ for Spring that feels like Winter.  Save for one heavenly day, it’s been a dreary season.  I want to put my parka away, but I don’t dare.


Never mind that.  Today our guest is Caroline Hirsch, the sleek and chic comedy impresario, and proprietor of New York’s premiere omedy club Caroline’s, and the/a producer of the new film,  “Ask for Jane.”


Before she joins us, let’s get to the five things that made my life better this week.


1) The staff and doctors of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at NYU Hospital.  They took swift care of my son’s son, and kept him in their purview for the last week.  I wasn’t allowed inside, but they helped fortify my kids’ moods when they were low, and now, have released the darling bambino.  I couldn’t be more grateful.

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2) Doris Day.  You may not know who she was.  Then again, if you’re part of this universe you probably do.  She was a wonderful actress and singer in the movies in the 50s-70s.  In the 1960s she was the number one box office star for four years in a row. Bigger than special effects. She was everything from an Alfred Hitchcock blond in The Man Who Knew Too Much to a singing advertising executive in “Lover Come Back”.  Her voice was honey; I can hear it even now.  She was cute in a realistic Kristen Bell sort of way, freckled, button-nosed, and slim.   She could look gorgeous, but she had attainable beauty, nothing exotic or incomprehensible.  She lived for 97 years and devoted the last 20 or more years of her life to animals, and particularly dogs.   If you’ve never seen her oeuvre, check it out.   

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3) Went to see David Sedaris give a reading over the weekend.  I’ve enjoyed his work in The New Yorker over the years, but I wanted to see a writer in command of a 700 seat theater.  It’s a rare skill to be a writer who can sell out a reading, let alone hundreds of nights a year.  (His anecdotes from his journal mostly concerned book signings and readings from Atlanta to London.). I wanted to see the magic.  And it’s really just him, a very good story writer, who takes you on a couple of unexpected turns before the ride ends exactly where it began.  He held the audience at Town Hall in the palm of his hands.  I have a feeling I was the last one to see David Sedaris perform.  Have you?  What do you think?

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4) The one pretty day we had, I enjoyed walking amidst the lush greenery and shrubs, and hearing birds chirping their heads off.  It’s always so unexpected for me in the midst of a busy city to hear birds, particularly the comforting trill of the mourning dove.  Nature:  it’s still here, by some miracle!

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5) Bill Nye the Science Guy.  I like him and I admire him.  He’s been making science fun for years, something that Mr. Milliken failed to do when I was in biology in the 9th grade.  In fact, I was completely turned off of science before I finished high school, but as an adult I find myself reading the Science section of the New York Times every week, and thoroughly too.  (When you’re taught that you are “bad” at a subject in school, you give it up.  Turns out I was possibly taught by unskilled teachers.). Bill Nye does more than make science fun.  He reminds us all that science is real, that it matters, and it’s not some woo woo liberal hokum.

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And now, Caroline Hirsch’s 5 Things:

1.  Her two three year old dogs Stella and Sybil – that she still calls her puppies.

2.  Her home on Long Island.

3.  Her art collection – The Nevelson piece in particular.

4.  Playing golf.

5.  Her work.

And number 6 – Colleen, her personal trainer for 20+ years.




Episode 44 - With Lori Gottlieb - Lisa Birnbach’s Five Things That Make Life Better for May 10, 2019

This has been a big week for me and for my family.  But before I begin my list of five, let me just say that I am grateful to all of you who enjoy this blog and the podcast, and when you write to me about things you enjoyed, things you didn’t, send me information you think I need, or introduce me to a new reader or listener – it makes me happy and fulfilled.  This was always meant to be a conversation between us, even when I record my podcast without a guest.  Today however I have a guest I am uncommonly excited to chat with.

Photo credit: Shlomit Levy Bard

Photo credit: Shlomit Levy Bard

It’s Lori Gottlieb, a noted therapist in Los Angeles and author of the new New York Times bestselling book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.


Here are my 5 things that made my life better this week.


1) Baby Simon.  My son and his wife welcomed a son Monday night.  A new whole person!  His name is Simon.  He is 20 inches long. He is darling.  It is a thing so different from what I expected to see my first baby, my Exhibit A™ holding his baby.  Zounds!  It is strange and wonderful and a total surprise (though I had 40 weeks to prepare for this vision).


2) Baby Simon is staying in the hospital this week to ensure his lungs are working at full capacity.  We have all been pretty stressed about it, but I need to say how fully I’ve seen my son grow into his role as father: loving, worried, getting all the information he could from the doctors, and being there for his wife and us all.  My daughter in law has a child from an earlier marriage, so she already had motherhood down, but my Exhibit has overnight become a different man.  I regret that it was the worst fears that changed him, but I believe the joy he’ll have when they can take the baby home will outweigh the fears they have now.  (And though he is an extremely talented writer/director/performer, if he wants to go to medical school, I wouldn’t be disappointed.)


3) My family has come together in a new way too.  My other exhibits have been fully engaged and helpful, my brothers and their wives have called their doctor friends to get more information to reassure us.  I am so grateful to them.

4) My daughter in law has been a rock.  Though Simon rearranged his mother’s abdomen, she has been a great sport and a great mother to her 3 day old son.  (Simon was born on May 6, along with Archie Mountbatten-Windsor and Amy Schumer’s son.)


5)   The book I’ve read this week in between everything else, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, is like talking with a smart, compassionate friend.  It’s been helpful to me.  I recommend it highly, especially to anyone who wonders if she or he is stuck in patterns that are not helpful in the long run.  And I am thrilled to welcome Lori Gottlieb, its author to our show today.

Photo credit: Shlomit Levy Bard

Photo credit: Shlomit Levy Bard

Lori’s five things:

1) Emotional generosity

2) Broken-in sneakers

3) Meandering conversations

4) A specific cartoon in the New Yorker (listen to the podcast)

5) Unexpected hugs from my teenager



Episode 43 - With The New York Times puzzle editors, Deb Amlen and Sam Ezersky - Lisa Birnbach’s Five Things That Make Life Better for May 3, 2019


I have a great show this week, featuring two of the great minds who create, edit, and write about the puzzles in the New York Times!  Wordplay Columnist Deb Amlen will be here, along with her colleague, Associate Puzzles Editor Sam Ezersky.


Over the weekend we got to attend the 35th anniversary of one of my favorite comedies – “This is Spinal Tap.”  The Tribeca Film Festival brought Director Rob Reiner to the stage for introductions, and then the movie, which I’ve seen oodles of times on tv, unspooled.  It was the first time I saw “Spinal Tap” on a big screen since it first came out.  Thirty-five years ago seems like such a long time ago.  It was 1984.  I was barely an adult.

Ronald Reagan was president, Margaret Thatcher became the British prime minister, and “Cheers” was a popular tv show.  Sally Ride was heralded as the first woman astronaut in space, and Ron Howard entered the big leagues as a director with “Splash.”


Those seem like ancient, innocent times.  With this I talk about the five great things that made my life better this week.

1) Besides seeing a favorite and still funny movie, the men of Spinal Tap (Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer) performed their heavy metal music acoustically, as 70 year old men in sportscoats.  There was a real charm to it.  Especially fun was when they brought Elvis Costello to join them for “Give Me Some Money,” which he sang with punk brio. The whole evening was wonderful.

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2) Long walks over the weekend.  One had no goal whatsoever, another was a strategic walk with errands to run along the way.  Doesn’t a walk clear your head and help you think?  It does for me.

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3) My first baby shower.  I hosted it for my daughter-in-law, a term I’m still getting used to.  I decided on tea sandwiches (and cakes, cookies, cheeses, and fruit salad).  I had forgotten how much I love Arnold’s thin sandwich bread.  With this bread, anyone can make epic sandwiches.  Egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, tomato and cucumber sandwiches were all yummy.   I had some of my best friends there, as did my daughter in law.  I continue to find wonder in feeling close to this young woman who has entered  our family.


4) Amarcord vintage clothing store in Williamsburg (Brooklyn).  ExhibitB ™ saw the store windows while she was here and wanted us to look inside.  We found a riot of prints and a lot of cool pieces from the 60’s and 70’s and enjoyed the encyclopedic knowledge of the owner, Marco.

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5) Robert Mueller.   He’s back!  We need him again.  I’m going to assume that Mr. Mueller will testify in front of Congress in the very near future.

Deb Amlen

Deb Amlen

Deb’s 5 Things:

1) My family. I know it's corny, but it's true. My kids are my greatest teachers. They've taught me about everything, from how to love unconditionally to how to be spontaneously creative. Also, why the DVR doesn't record my programs if I don't hit "Save." I'm also engaged to a wonderful man who makes me smile and laugh every day.


2) Food. Doesn't food just taste great? I will happily eat anything, except for cottage cheese, liver, insects and anything that still has the head on. I don't like my food looking at me. Also, since you asked, I am of the theory that French fries are made specifically to be ketchup delivery systems. Unless they are sweet potato fries, in which case they are mayo delivery systems. And even then, it has to be Kewpie mayo, a Japanese brand which puts other brands that shall go nameless to shame. O.K., maybe I'm a little picky.


3) Other people's life stories. People are endlessly fascinating. I tell stories all the time on Wordplay -- my most recent one was about how I was once asked to train a pot-bellied pig to be a service animal -- and it's lovely when readers reciprocate. I think that when people tell you their stories, it's a real sign of trust, and I'm honored that they extend that trust to me.


4) My job. I have the best job in the world. I have the privilege of trying to make people laugh and think. I get to help them learn a skill that they really want to have, and I also get to work with some of the smartest, funnest people in journalism.


5) Those endorphins that smack you in the back of the head right after an intense work out. Better than any drugs you could get your hands on, Officer.

Sam Ezersky

Sam Ezersky

Sam’s Five Things:

1) My support system. This just goes without saying; I wouldn't be where I am today without the love of those around me. I'm fortunate to have been raised by a family that has nourished me, encouraged me and challenged me to be my very best. I have a healthy network of friends of ranging backgrounds, several of whom I could trust with my life. And then there's anyone who has offered me voluntary praise or guidance over the years, regardless of context, which has given me the passion to keep listening and learning as I follow my heart. I really am grateful for it all.


2) My puzzles. Duh. They're my world. I half-seriously joke that I have quite the unhealthy work-life balance, but puzzles really are on my mind 24/7. I check tomorrow's Spelling Bee puzzle every night on my iPhone while lying in bed. When I lack signal on those long-ish subway rides, I'm mocking up crossword grids around words and phrases that are fresh in my head (some of which, let's just say, you couldn't publish in the New York Times Crossword). Even when I don't want to think about puzzles, my brain is still instantly counting the number of letters in things I see and say. Oh, look, NUMBER OF LETTERS is a "15"!


3) My headphones. Whereas many can't leave the house without their wallets or car keys, I refuse to set foot outside my apartment without my headphones. I need my music everywhere, whether it's Pink Floyd, They Might Be Giants, Nas or Kendrick Lamar. I've had these red Klipsch earbuds for several years now. Despite misplacing them numerous times -- once leaving them behind in L.A.! -- I've always managed to get them back.


4) My 'ball. I'm a shameless sports junkie; my Twitter is primarily used for puzzle purposes, but I'm never afraid to go crazy after a UVA Basketball national championship victory or mash a retweet to show love to the Baltimore Ravens' latest draft picks. Here's hoping my New York Knicks and Baltimore Orioles can be at least somewhat fun to root for next year! These past seasons have been painful.


5) My GPS. This wouldn't be up here even two years ago, but I've developed a newfound love of exploration by way of aimless walks around town. When I first moved to Manhattan, I'd set out -- with my headphones, of course -- on a lazy Saturday afternoon toward Central Park without a real destination in mind. Sometimes I could end up all the way downtown. Or cross into Brooklyn. Who knows. But my subway map could always get me back, and I've since opened up my GPS from time to time just to re-examine the layout of Manhattan, or even pore over another city I've yet to visit. I'm not sure why this fascinates me so much; I must clearly have an interest in interlocking grids.


Stay cool and act natural!



Episode 42 - with Ariel Leve - Lisa Birnbach’s Five Things That Make Life Better for April 26, 2019

The illustrious E. Jean Carroll - Illustration by João Fazenda

The illustrious E. Jean Carroll - Illustration by João Fazenda

The saying (I’m bad at remembering sayings) about how if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person?  I so agree with that.  Now that I’m working more,  selling more writing, I feel better, more confident, and better prepared to tackle challenges. Getting published by the New Yorker last week was a treat (, but so was confidently cooking, preparing, and hosting a Passover Seder for 26!  I almost equate the two achievements, although my success ratio in the kitchen is much much higher than my acceptance rate at that particular magazine.

Ariel Leve - Photo credit: Catherine Talese

Ariel Leve - Photo credit: Catherine Talese


In any case, I am revved up and happy to inform you that my guest today is journalist, columnist, and memoirist Ariel Leve.  She published her memoir, An Abbreviated Life last year.  It is now available in paperback.


What was best this week?  It was a good week.  Frankly, when I’m feeling this upbeat I don’t necessarily want to unpack it and parse it; I want to enjoy it.  But that’s not the point of this exercise.

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1) The smell of other people’s French fries. Let me explain.  I am mad for French fries.  I don’t care if you call them pommes frites, chips, strings, or anything else.  I eat far too many of them.   I know how they smell and they smell divine and irresistible.  However, I wouldn’t eat from a stranger’s plate.  I am not a monster, I was raised with manners.  So other people’s fried potatoes give me the aura of successful self-control utterly fraudulently.  But I’ll take it.


2) The King Koil Florence mattress.  My back was happy when I woke up every morning at my friend’s guesthouse.  I had to know the name of this magic cushion.  And so I have.  When I buy a new mattress, it will definitely be on my to try list.


3) It’s lilac season, and I bought my first blossoms – in what was called a bale.  It weighed about 30 pounds and was the size of a tall round bush.  So while my kitchen resembled a compost heap for a couple of hours, the smell of lilacs intoxicated me.  When I sniff them up closely, all I can say is “Oh My God!”  It’s just a visceral and deep pleasure.

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4) Speaking of which, since the weather has improved about 1000 percent, I walked through Central Park this week with Exhibit B ™, and that was a joy.  Whenever I do walk through the park I feel envious. Of myself.  It’s hard to explain but maybe you actually understand what I mean.

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5) Community within community.  I mean the little circles of friends and colleagues that become our immediate word.  It could be anything that brings us together – former classmates, co-workers, ex sorority sisters or even a friend of a friend of your ex’s.  It doesn’t matter.  Some of these people become your family of choice; others become your go-tos for your reality check.  One thing I know:  it would be hard to survive without them.

Ariel Leve - Photo credit Yaeko Masuda

Ariel Leve - Photo credit Yaeko Masuda

And now, from our guest, Ariel Leve.


1) I was given an electronic milk frothing machine as a gift. I was hesitant to try it. My morning coffee was already pretty great — how could it possibly get better? With a warm, light foam that makes life worth living. The only downside is, (are we allowed a downside here?) the best part of the day is now over by 8am.


2) Eavesdropping. I love listening in to other peoples conversations. In the elevator, on the subway platform, walking down the street, standing in line, sitting at a restaurant; it’s free entertainment. 
This week’a highlights: two old ladies discussing Mark Morris, one millennial telling another millennial a story with “do you know what I mean?” after every sentence, and a guy on the subway confessing to a murder. That’s the eavesdropper’s jackpot.


3) Bringing things to Goodwill. I’m always amazed at how much stuff I don’t need.


4) Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. She recreates with forensic detail and excellent reporting the story of the fire in 1986 that scorched hundreds of thousands of books at the Los Angeles Public Library and got very little coverage because it occurred the same day as Chernobyl. It’s an ode to libraries and books and it’s really good.


5) Ugly oranges. I don’t know if that’s what they’re called (Sumo maybe), but that’s what I call them. The pock-marked, cellulite dimpled rind is easy to peel and they’re sweet and seedless. Trader Joe’s sells them for less than anywhere else which also makes life better.


As always, stay strong, and act natural.


1 Comment

Lisa Birnbach's Five Things That Make Life Better for Friday, April 19, 2019

Listen to the PODCAST


Sometimes, you just need a change of venue. You need to leave home, go somewhere else, and give your brain and heart a break. I just did that; having returned from a weekend with my daughter, #ExhibitB™ in Los Angeles. We were basically velcroed together (minus a few hours) the entire time I was there. It wasn’t a time to socialize (although we did go to her friend Sarah’s 25th birthday party at a Tiki Bar in Hollywood), or do business of any sort. My agenda was to be with my kid. And we had a blast. Michael said when I returned home I had a giant smile on my face. That’s the point. Or as Exhibit B and I say, “the pernt.”

My guest this week, Andrew Friedman, is one of the country’s preeminent food writers. With his podcast Andrew Talks To Chefs, his blog, Toqueland, and his collaborations with many influential chefs on their cookbooks, he’s a real go-to when you need a recommendation or help securing an impossible reservation. (I’m talking about for myself; not for you.) I can’t wait to hear what his 5 Things are. So stay tuned.


In honor of Andrew, I’m going to do a special list reflecting my favorite dishes (taste tested multiple times by yours truly).

A stunt- double of my beloved breakfast.

A stunt- double of my beloved breakfast.

1). Bega Bakery Egg & Cheese: When I think of my life’s favorite foods, my list changes from day to day. Now that I’m ‘quote unquote allergic’ to some foods, I have to make new favorites that are tolerable. But I can never forget the sublime egg and cheese (and spinach and tomato) sandwich that was served at Bega’s Bakery in West Tisbury, (Martha’s Vineyard) Massachusetts. When my exhibits™ were little, we would spend August on the island, renting the same house on Indian Hill Road for nine years. And a five or seven minute walk away was the tiny weathered bakery, prized for this sandwich, pizzas, and I think cookies. I never tried anything but the good coffee and the sandwich. We loved that sandwich! I think it was the intensely flavorful roll, sour and chewy that made all the other ingredients taste so good. In any case, R.I.P. Bega. No photo on the web. No indication online it ever existed except in our memory.


2). Fried chicken at Root & Bone, in the East Village of New York. Allegedly brined in sweet tea with cayenne and paprika and dusted in lemon powder, this chicken is the treat of all treats for me. You know that I’ve admitted that fried chicken is my kryptonite. I’ve never made it myself. I cannot resist it on any menu, even though not all fried chickens are created equal. I still have more kryptonite to try in New York and Brooklyn, and everywhere else.


3). The burgers at J.G. Melon’s. A classic fixture of the Upper East Side, Melon’s has served their excellent hamburgers since 1972 to preppies, grandmas, neighborhood families, and tourists. They serve chili, steak, salads, and club sandwiches too, but most people come for the great burger and distinctive round fries. (Actually, I just read online that they make a fried chicken sandwich. Will have to research.) (What I don’t do for my readers.)


4). This is the kale salad at Il Buco, a wonderful Italian restaurant in Noho, Manhattan. I don’t want to give the (correct) impression that I pursue an unhealthy, ungreen diet. I will have consumed one of these babies before this week is done. I cannot tell you why it’s so good. For. a long time I tried to love kale salad and failed. My friend Jamie told me about this one, and she was right. It’s almost a meal by itself, except then you would deprive yourself of Il Buco’s pastas and entrées.


5). The nachos at Tallula’s in Santa Monica. As required by #ExhibitB. The place, the relaxed vibe — it’s just a block or so from the beach — the kind women who work there… all good. It’s just a cool and inventive Mexican restaurant. Add the nachos and a margarita and you can almost bliss out. Just don’t drink and drive.

5 1/2. The spaghetti bolognese at Jon & Vinny in West Hollywood.


And now Andrew Friedman’s Top 5! His are surprisingly utterly not food related, but they are great, and he explains how he came up with them on our podcast.


2). Meditation — his own kind, which works.


3) Walking, especially the streets of New York.


4). Tennis (playing and watching, but mostly playing) and going to the movies. With families with lots of moving parts, and kids that need to be. chauffeured everywhere, you still have to make time for the things you love.


5). Openness to Change. Please listen to Andrew on the podcast. He makes some important observations.

Stay cool and act natural!

1 Comment


Lisa Birnbach's Five Things That Make Life Better for April 12, 2019

A classic list. Not my own.

A classic list. Not my own.

Howdy do? Don’t you love when you can check every item off your To Do list? I love it. Which doesn’t mean I do it all the time or even frequently, but I had a very productive day yesterday, and it boosted my energy. (Long ago I got to work with the legendary director and lyricist Martin Charnin (heard of “Annie”?), who wrote down every task in a bound book, and when he accomplished what he needed to do, he’d strike each item out, with a black Pentel marker. I loved that once he did it, it was gone.)

Anyway, as Spring is showing signs of possible arrival here in the mid-Atlantic, my energy seems to be increasing exponentially, which is a good thing.

Here are this week’s five things that made all the difference.


1). Teaching! I was a guest teacher at a class on podcasting at Stony Brook University (part of the S.U.N.Y. system). Those were the students, above, including the great interviewer and journalist Gail Sheehy, standing to my right. Everyone there is making his or her own podcasts, and their range of interests are astounding. I enjoyed hanging with the class, and stayed after to learn more about this universe of podcasts. I have also applied to teach a college writing class for a month next year, so this could be a new direction for me.


2) Plant Shed 87th Street. Is a florist-nursery-café, gift shop a thing? As in, are they common hybrids? I saw an awning that said “Flowers. Plants. Coffee” and I was led to it as if by a magnet. The space smells divine. There are flowers, and lots of pottery, and 3 rooms of plants. I saw an area where you can learn to repot your plant in a cool vase or pot if you don’t want the standard clay vessel. And then there’s the cafe which is bright and pretty and busy! Afterwards, I also visited the Plant Shed’s main store on West 96th Street, a hugely busy resource for New Yorkers with terraces, balconies, window boxes, and just a desire for more green. I bough a delicate looking jasmine plant. I’m crossing my fingers that I can keep it alive.

Say hi to Jasmine

Say hi to Jasmine


3). I’ve told you all that I’m developing some food allergies or sensitivities or something, because as in my whole life, I’m a late bloomer. I don’t have stomach aches but I’m trying to eat better. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but I love salty food. Until I’ve reached the point where I’m just eating salt from the shaker, I’m looking for new forms of saltiness. to try. Love, Corn is pretty tasty. I know nothing about it, or who makes it, but it’s crunchy and made in Spain! So there!

Keri Russell and Adam Driver

Keri Russell and Adam Driver

4) Burn This! on Broadway. I first saw this play in 1987, when John Malkovich left us astounded by his performance. Even then we knew we were seeing something rare on stage, and so memorable. It’s a domestic love triangle sort of play, in which Anna a dancer (originally portrayed by Joan Allen now Keri Russell) mourns her roommate Robbie, a closeted-to-his-family gay dancer. She has a boyfriend, but her life is turned around when Robbie’s brother, Pale (Malkovich and now Adam Driver) shows up at her loft. I was eager to see it again — not sure it had been revived since the 1987 production. It’s different, plays differently, and times have changed us, but still has some rewarding moments. Adam Driver is a star, though. Bigger than life, and very manly. Hopefully when you see it, the squealing will have died down somewhat (don’t count on it) and you’ll be able to hear all of Lanford Wilson’s clever dialogue.


5). I come to praise The Atlantic Monthly. Founded in 1857 in Boston by a group of writers including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it has published serious, important, and entertaining long form pieces for 162 years. I have never written for The Atlantic, but I read it all the time, especially online. But I think it’s time I subscribe … you. know, to encourage them to keep at it.


Thank you for reading. Thank you for subscribing.

Stay cool and act natural,




Lisa Birnbach's Five Things That Make Life Better for April 5, 2019

Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer

I take the work of finding five things to appreciate seriously. Especially now that I do not have a permanent #5. In order for the exercise to do any good, the items have to be real and bring some actual meaning to me, otherwise, this becomes a shabby chore.

But this week I’m full of hope. I have been looking forward to having my friend Meg Wolitzer on this podcast. The author of about 11 novels for adults, she has evolved over the years as an assured, confident storyteller. In books like The Position, The Wife, The Ten Year Nap, The Uncoupling, The Interestings, and The Female Persuasion, we see the zeitgeist, textures, and conflicts of the America we know right now. The Female Persuasion will be released in paperback in May.


Flower Flash,

Florist Lewis Miller’s way of sprucing up NYC.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt

1) Floral Community Service. I have not had the pleasure of seeing one of these en plain air displays in person, but I am totally taken with them. Lewis Miller of Lewis Miller Design takes leftover flowers, and repurposes them to beautify the streets and neglected corners of New York. What a cool and generous thing to do!

This is the set.

This is the set.


2) I saw a play I’ll remember for a long time — “The Lehman Trilogy” (@PAALehman) which is being produced at the Park Avenue Armory for just a month or so. Using the saga of three German brothers who humbly made their way to America in 1844 to start a new family business in a new country of hope as the lens through which to see America from then till the financial crash of 2008 — playwright Stefano Massini and adaptor Ben Power tell a story as familiar as any Horatio Alger tale and as fresh as something original and new. A cast of dozens is performed by three singular actors, Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles, and Adam Godley. Sam Mendes directed. The music, the scenery, and the script are transformative. And though the play has been performed all over Europe, it has a real power here, being performed in a building that has been standing in place since the Civil War. It’s quite extraordinary.


She’s back; they’re back. Life feels better as a result. I’d rather watch this jaundiced but hilarious take on politics than watch what’s really going on in our White House. In this way, this fantastic comedy is a kind of meta escape; it certainly has taken us behind the curtains of the inner turmoil and chaos in a pretend administration of a pretend president. Julia Louis Dreyfus makes it look easy. It’s on HBO.

4). Exhibit C™ and I went to see the Hilma af Klint exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum this week. I had never heard of this Swedish artist, (1862-1944) until this retrospective was put up. A talented artist who became very involved in a spiritual quest all her life, her work would fit into the category of “abstract art” but was way ahead of its time. As a woman she achieved heights in the art world when being female was a liability, or at least made success difficult. She embraced theosophy, rosicrucianism, and other philosophies and isms that I was Googling from the museum. The best part of her story and work is how af Klint imagined the kind of place in which she would want her paintings to be displayed. She basically described the (as yet unbuilt and probably not yet conceived) Guggenheim.


5) Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum

I grew up around the corner from the Guggenheim, and no matter how many times I’ve been inside, the building never fails to thrill me. Considered widely to be the “greatest American architect,” Frank Lloyd Wright led a fascinating life, some of which I’ve learned by reading, some of which I’ve learned from a fantastic docent at Taliesin West, the Arizona branch of his architecture practice, and where his institute and school are to this day. It is where Wright lived the last 22 years of his life. I have also interviewed people who knew him and one of his biographers. His vision of this building to hold the modern art collected by Solomon R. Guggenheim was beyond modern when he won the commission to build it in 1943; it must have been thoroughly shocking to its neighbors in 1959 when it opened. Unfortunately, Wright died about six months before it opened. It is a magical place in which to look at art.

Welcome, Meg!

Welcome, Meg!

My guest this week is author Meg Wolitzer. Her Five — no make that Six Things are:


1) Lawrence O’Donnell’s show on MSNBC. They tried to get rid of the show, but the viewers rose up as one, a la Friday Night Lights. And I particularly love the moment of overlap between the end of Rachel Maddow’s show and the start of his, when their separate talking heads, in individual halves of the screen, talk to each other for a transitional moment, kind of like a political version of members of ‘The Brady Bunch’ looking at one another from their different angles during the opening credits.


2) “Say Something Bunny,” a new interactive play at the UNDO Project Space in New York, through July, 2019.


3) The Spelling Bee puzzle in the New York Times Magazine. There is a word to be made up only using the letters in the circle (i.e. HTKIENC = KITCHEN) and then lots of words using fewer of the letters, but definitely including the letter in the center. (The N is in the center of this particular example.). My husband, my mother, and I do it every week. I call my mother after the paper comes, and say, ‘Did you get the word yet?’ Usually, she has gotten it, and often before I do. She’s 89.


4) Black garlic. I order it online, and add it to anything. It’s like some weird fudge for umami enthusiasts.

Game show presenter, Victoria Coren Mitchell

Game show presenter, Victoria Coren Mitchell

5) The best British TV show that no one in the US knows… ‘Only Connect’. It’s a British quiz show with unbelievably smart and odd people on it, hosted by the divine Victoria Coren Mitchell, who is married to the comedian David Mitchell (not the novelist), from ‘Peep Show’, et al. You have to find the connection between seemingly random things. Here’s one: Bach, Aria, Mills, Ono. (Answer: they are all the second wives of Beatles.)

One of Headspace’s sleep sleepcasts, “Rainday Antiques”.

One of Headspace’s sleep sleepcasts, “Rainday Antiques”.

6.’s odd sleepcasts, really boring stories designed to put you to sleep. They are called ‘Snowville,’ ‘Rainday Antiques,’ and my personal favorite, ‘Cat Marina.’ about a dock with a series of houseboats that each have a resident cat. Just writing the last part of that sentence bored me so much I want to go to sleep.



Lisa Birnbach's Five Things that Make Life Better on March 29, 2019

Greetings Peeps.

L-R: My grandma, my mom, and me, circa 1981.

L-R: My grandma, my mom, and me, circa 1981.

I’m remembering my grandmother, Ruth Salit, pictured above, because I’m writing this on what would have been her 115th birthday. Born in 1904, she was a remarkable woman for her era: a college graduate, funny, athletic, independent, smart, adventurous, feisty, and opinionated. I loved her very much. I often think about how she would cope with these times. When she died, in 1984, she had been widowed for over 20 years, but had filled her life with family, friends, weekly trips to the ballet, symphony, and theater, and many trips to play golf in Portugal and the Berkshires. She loved to “play the stock market” and enjoyed a cocktail before dinner. She was loyal and judgmental. She hated phonies. She would be appalled, I think by our president’s behavior and values, and the kinds of people he brought with him to wreak havoc on our democracy. She' would not approve of swiping on one’s phone to meet a date. She would not like the extra-long buses that slowly make their ways east and west in Manhattan. She would probably still be wearing Adolfo.


But this is an exciting week for …. waiting. It feels we do a lot of that here at Headquarters. Waiting for reports, waiting for the plumber, waiting for our vestibule to be finished, waiting for the ink to dry on a contract…. . Let’s go straight to my list of the five things that made my life better this week.


1). Robert S. Mueller, III


Look, things didn’t turn out exactly as we had planned. It was as if the investigation — threatened with termination every single day of its long existence — was a pressure cooker that instead of popping a valve, just shut down. It didn’t end with a bang or a whimper, but dutifully, with its submission to Attorney General Barr. If we want to be mad at someone, it’s Barr, who summarized the hundreds or thousands of pages in a cavalier and expeditious paragraph essentially exonerating the president. We know that Barr was appointed to this job with the goal of finding a lawyer who would protect Trump, and that he did.


2). Robert S. Mueller

The man hasn’t had a life in two years. He hasn’t taken his focus off the assignment he had, one which took him away from his very high paying partnership at WilmerHale, a law firm with offices around the world to. the high. stakes intensity of poring through millions. of documents under daily threats. Mueller usually pulls in about $3 million per year, according to Money magazine. His work for the United States paid him a not shabby $161,900. And don’t forget the death threats!


3). Robert Mueller

Mueller and his report gave us a focus. When we’re addled every day and every night by an administration that likes to control us with no news, fake news, lies, and distractions, thinking about Mueller and his crack team of investigators gave us hope and a way. to organize ourselves with some optimism. Now what? Mitch McConnell is refusing to release the report even after his fellow Republicans (every one in the house; the vote was 420-0) voted to share the report to the public. Can he. get away with stonewalling forever? If Trump did nothing wrong, then why not show the report to everyone? If Trump’s campaign did nothing wrong, why wouldn’t you want your fellow Americans to see that in black and white? Now those of us who were counting on the report to help clear the web of entanglements must wait to see who can peer inside the report and the tax returns or whatever evidence is subpoena-able.


4). Bob Mueller

Hey, what about the indictments? Without Mueller, we wouldn’t have the pleasure of seeing Paul Manafort. and Michael Cohen heading for the pokey. And if Roger Stone wants to get a tattoo of Donald Trump, he. might as well wait until he arrives at the clink — I hear the.inmates are great tattooers, and the price can’t be beat. No matter how disappointed you feel now, I truly believe that groundwork was laid to prepare for more names. of other bad actors. Finally, may I remind you that the investigation didn’t leak, dribble, or drool at all? It was iron-clad and clean as a whistle. Thanks to Mueller for that.


5.). Robert Mueller

On a personal level, I am grateful to my permanent #5. When weeks were full of stress. and worries, I knew I only had to come up with four great things [not as easy as you would think] because my knight in shining pinstripe was holding down the fort. After. he turned in the report, Mueller and his. wife Ann. went out for dinner ( scallops for him) at Salt & Pepper, a favorite spot of theirs. On Sunday they went to church. Let’s leave them be for now. With thanks for a difficult job well executed. And with hopes that I will find five whole new things every week to lift me up.