I finally feel my age when I see young people I’ve known for a long time become their adult selves, where the choices they have made help codify them as the people they have always meant to be.  So it is with one of our guests today, Alexandra Mallick, whom I have known from the time she was a college student dating the son of very close friends of mine.  I always liked her verve and style and sass.  At one time she even worked for me while I had a daily radio show.  I knew wherever she would end up, she could make a real difference.


And now it is clear, that after a decade that included working in an art gallery, working in non-profits as a fundraiser, working for Spin, and owning an art gallery, Alex has found her mission.It is to help reform the way justice is meted out in California, it is to help youth who are incarcerated and neglected, and it is to promote restorative justice.She is my guest today along with the co-executive director of Re:Store Justice, Adnan Khan. I think you will understand why I wanted to talk with these two powerful young advocates.


1. Finding parking in Manhattan on the weekends in the summer.

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2. Cotton eyelet fabric.  Cool, pretty, and a good word in Spelling Bee.

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3. Hot dogs.  Don’t scream at me.  I know they’re terrible and have nitrates and filler and all that.  But in the summer, on a grill a beef or turkey hotdog is a special treat.  And I even like them with baked beans.  I’ve eaten one already over Memorial Day, and I am sure I’ll eat another before the summer is over.

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4. Straw hats.  It took me years to get over my hat shyness.  I never looked good in hats and always felt like I was wearing a costume. Oh Look, Lisa thinks she’s in a production of Oklahoma.Now I wear them a lot. For shade, for my skin, and always on a long walk or at the beach.Big brim or small, I appreciate the hard work of the summer chapeau.

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5. Shannon Watts. the Founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Shannon Watts is a mother of five who, prior to founding Moms Demand Action, was a stay-at-home mom and former communications executive. The day after the Sandy Hook tragedy, Shannon started a Facebook group with the message that all Americans can and should do more to reduce gun violence. The online conversation turned into a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that protect people from gun violence. Moms Demand Action has established a chapter in every state of the country and is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country, with more than 5 million supporters. In addition to her work with Moms Demand Action, Watts is an active board member of Emerge America, one of the nation’s leading organizations for recruiting and training women to run for office.


And now, a very thoughtful five things from Alex Mallick and Adnan Khan.


1. Cappuccino (with foam art)

2. Soft Shit. Pillows, towels, goose down comforters, cozy sweaters, couches, cashmere, etc.

3. Privilegesplaining (variation of mansplaining).

4. Comedy and humor as a survival tool.

5. The idea that an individual can change things.



Episode 48 - With Lisa Grunwald - Lisa Birnbach's Five Things That Make Life Better for June 7, 2019

Hi Kids.  It’s June!  I’m wearing white jeans like it was a job requirement, and ketchup stains notwithstanding, it makes me happy.  Our guest last week, Kim France, wrote in a recent blog that she is cursed with spilling her coffee on her summer whites, but proactively carries a stain stick with her.  You can see it at her Girls of a Certain  With this job of blogging and podding, you’d be amazed how many hours I need to put it all together.  I used to have a daily radio talk show in which I touted myself as “the best dressed woman in radio.”  Most days I’m the least dressed woman in radio, but considering there are a bajillion podcasts and that many of them originate at home, I’m sure that’s not true.  I come to our studios at The, and I assure you, I am fully clothed.


Lisa Grunwald is our guest today.  It amuses me no end that we might not have met had it not been the friendship of my ExhibitC™ with her son.  My daughter kept telling me all the similarities we shared – not the least of which is our name – careers, foreign born fathers - many friends in common. When I wrote to her,  it turns out we even went to the same sleep away camp in the Berkshires – possibly the same summer!  And now Lisa has stealthily written a novel that I read and loved.  Published next week it is called Time After Time.  You can listen to Lisa and me on my podcast - link above - (or on apple podcasts, stitcher, spotify, google play and youtube) , as we chat about her new book and talk about her five things.

Onward to the five things that made my life better this week.


1. Say Something Bunny, the play. I made reservations for this tiny, indy off off off off Broadway show when Meg Wolitzer put it in her top 5.What it is is watching a performer, the marvelous Alison Kobayashi, who in real life had to play archeologist in order to figure out who made 2audio tapes that a friend bought for her at an estate sale. And it’s so much more! There are only 20 seats in the theater and it’s a moving trip through nostalgia and a family you grow to care about.

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2. Alex Trebek – I can honestly say, I have spent almost no time in my life consciously thinking about the host of Jeopardy.  I did once have a dream in which I the bride came down the aisle and was surprised and embarrassed to find that he was our officiant, I woke up after saying “What is I Do?”  But now that he’s announced his illness and has brought his huge audience with him as he bravely works during treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer, I am only filled with admiration for this guy.  SNL used to parody him and I don’t know what his other accomplishments are other than being handsomely paid to host a game show for years and years.  But his humility and gratitude for the support of his fans has turned me into one too.


3. Bandolier. The good news:  Two of my best friends have been wearing their cellphones like a cross-body bag for years.  At various times they recommended I get one.  They are made by a company called Bandolier.  I never wanted that much equipment, but after a couple of close calls when I almost lost my phone, I decided to try it out.  The bad news:  the Internet kind of figured that out all by itself because one day I started receiving emails and promotions about Bandolier even on Instagram, the app that costs me the most money.  Reader, I think I like it.  It makes the subway hands free.  I also like very much my old holder, which held more cards and tickets than this one, but nothing’s perfect.


4. People who respond to emails in a timely fashion.  That is becoming rare. I even enjoy a rejection email if it comes quickly after the proposal.  It just seems kind and thoughtful. Some big whigs in the media business don’t bother responding at all, whatsoever, ever.  I consider that rude or no very rude.

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5. Graduation Ceremonies.  I am so touched by all the people I’ve been seeing in New York the last few weeks in mortarboards and gowns, trailed by family members and friends. I think of how hard it is to head off to school some days, when you know you’re going to have a hard day.  You know your classmate is mad at you, or you could have written a better paper, or they’ll be a popup quiz, or a head lice outbreak, or an embarrassment in gym or the locker room.  Every day is challenging.  And then there’s a ceremony to celebrate the end.  I’m tearing up.


And now, Lisa Grunwald’s Five Things:


1.  Coffee.

2.  Treasure Hunts – searching and finding.

3.  Giving presents.

4.  Finite accomplishments.

5.  Upside of the internet – connecting with people.



Episode 47 - With Kim France - Lisa Birnbach's Five Things That Make Life Better for May 31, 2019

I don’t even technically have an exhibit™ in school this semester, but my body is still hard-wired to respond appropriately to the universal school calendar.  Therefore, it feels like I’m rushing to finish up a lot of projects now, as I’m getting ready for end-of-the-year exercises.

Weird, right?  I have no exercises – not even Pilates lately.


But I digress.  I’ve been eager to speak to today’s guest, writer and editor Kim France for a while now.  She is the creator of the now mourned Lucky Magazine that I’m sure many of you remember.  And she has been writing a blog, Girls of a Certain Age since 2012.  I read it slavishly.


Five things that made my life better this week:


1.   Generosity:  Just after we finished last week’s podcast I had a V8 moment.  I forgot to mention the generosity of graduation speaker Robert F. Smith, the billionaire investor ambushing the Morehouse College graduation with his excellent news that he and his family decided to pay back every single outstanding student loan for members of the class of 2019.  That could reach as high as $40 million dollars.  Mr. Smith, a graduate of Cornell University and Columbia Business School said, "On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we're going to put a little fuel in your bus. This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans," Smith said. "I know my class will make sure they pay this forward ... and let's make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community."  Incidentally, Robert Smith is the first black man to sign Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge.  Wow.  What a guy!

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2. GENEROSITY:  You don’t have to be a billionaire to be a giver.  Case in point, altruist Courtney Holmes, a barber in Dubuque, Iowa, has been giving free haircuts to kids who will read to him.  That’s right.  He’s helping kids get interested in reading, in becoming better readers, and feeling like their winning something at the same time.  Kudos to Mr. Holmes, who is now receiving unsolicited donations from strangers, as well as boxes of books for the children.


3. What the Constitution Means to Me play.

I dare you to find an evening at the theater that sounds more like a homework assignment than this (more or less) One woman show, but the writer/performer, Heidi Schrek, spent her teens giving speeches with just this title at Elk lodges and Kiwanis and so on all over the northwest and midwest.  With great presentational skills and confidence she won enough money to pay for her entire college tuition.  The play is 15 year old Heidi giving one of those talks along with 48 year old Heidi of today. And today’s Heidi feels disenfranchised by the words she has come to care deeply about.  Her own feelings of disappointment and despair are pretty raw and moving.  As a bonus, everyone gets a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution.  Maybe after we read it, we should send it to Lindsay Graham or William Barr?

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4. Levi’s 724 high waisted jeans.  Like buttah.  I live in jeans – something I want to talk to today’s guest Kim France about, but first my number 5.

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5. Coyo non-dairy yogurt.  Hurrah!  I found it!  Something I can eat without grimacing about the lack of dairy.   I fear I won’t find it again.  It’s like all those indy bra companies that spring up online.  I don’t feel they’ll still be in business next week.


Since 2012, my guest Kim France has written and put together a great looking, and user friendly blog and shopping site called Girls of a Certain Age.  From her I’ve learned about Cocofloss, and the Israeli designer Nili Lotan.  Prior to that Kim was the founding editor of Lucky magazine – one of the few living people whom Si Newhouse allowed to start an entirely new title that ran for 5 years.


Kim France’s Five Things:


1. Pasteis de Nata (a Portuguese custard tart)

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2. The band Yo La Tengo


3. The commenters on my blog, Girls of a Certain Age


4. My dogs, Sammy and Mister

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5. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator of Killing Eve and Fleabag


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Episode 46 - Lisa Birnbach's Five Things that Make Life Better for May 24, 2019

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Just when I thought I’d have to keep my parka on all year, the weather changed, and so did I. I put that thing in the back of my coat closet, sorted out my cold weather clothes, got strict with myself about what I didn’t need, wear, or like any more (not to mention what didn’t fit). And I gave it all away. I thought about thanking the clothes that had served me well, but let’s face it; didn’t I serve those clothes too? Who should be thanking whom? I wore them; they didn’t wear me. You know who gets my thanks? Doctors, nurses, servicemen and women, police officers, firemen and women, and teachers. They spark gratitude, if not joy. Goodbye old clothes! May they suit another woman and make her happy.



 There’s a 14 second “Hello Gorgeous” clip from Funny Girl on line.


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Simon.  In personal family news, my g g g grandson is out of the hospital and just his mere existence is providing joy to our extended clan.  When I spoke to his mom earlier today I could hear his tiny little coos and grunts, and whispers, and I have to say they are delicious!  These sounds couldn’t be replicated anywhere but in nature.  No instrument or computer can come close.  


2)   Tradition.  We celebrated the baby’s bris this week.  As my longtime friend Elise said to my happy tears, “it’s a tsunami of emotion, isn’t it?” It was and I barely knew what hit me. But let me say this:  we held it at my mother’s apartment, where my brothers and I were raised.  I was so grateful that my mother could witness this milestone.  And tremendously moved by the outpouring of her friends, all of whom had attended my own Exhibit A’s™ bris.  They connected us all back to my dad, whom I miss every day and would have been so proud.  The point of traditions; they link you back to your past.  It was an epic experience for me.  I only wish that #ExhibitB and my brother Norman had been there.

Before, and after

3)   Animals. We capped the night off at a benefit for ANIMAL HAVEN, a great rescue and rehabilitation for pets in New York.  The turnout was huge.  It is clear that people have a large place in their hearts for animals.   I know quite a few individuals who seem to prefer animals to humans.  I would never go that far. I love dogs so much.  I can’t wait until we have another.  

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4)   Via.  This is a car-sharing app that is way cheaper than Uber and Lyft most of the time. It’s even possible to get a private ride.  When I was commuting south and east to the hospital to see the bebe, it was for more affordable to go by Via.  Also, going from upper west side to lower east side took about as long as it takes to get to Kennedy Airport or Greenwich, CT from where I live.  CRAZY.


5)    Jennifer Hudson singing the theme song for the Jeffersons live.  Full of joy and nostalgia and obviously lots of rehearsing and preparation. I am not a Jeffersonsologist, but I think the theme song to that Norman Lear show was prerecorded, as all theme songs were.  I only saw that single clip, introduced by Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear, of Jennifer Hudson shimmying and singing her spectacular voice.  It made me happy.  And what about 96 year old Norman Lear?  Am I right?


Have a great week.  Be cool and act natural.

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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.