Fencers Step Out to Save Lives

On September 17th, members of the Fencing Masters NYC team joined forces with Esmeralda Williamson-Noble to raise awareness about suicide and to promote mental health and well-being. At the inaugural Get Your Wellness On! fair fencing was presented as a form of “alternative healing” — a sport that strengthens both the mind and body while also providing a supportive community people can turn to in times of need.

Members of Team Fencing Masters NYC at the Get Your Wellness On Fair (Kathleen, Kurt, Tim, Daria, Melvin)

Inspired once again by Esmeralda’s endeavors, Fencing Masters NYC stepped out on the town on October 28th to use the sport of fencing to help save lives.  After losing their infant son Alexander to SIDS, Esmeralda and her husband Hugh began the Windflower Charity Ball as a fundraiser for First Candle. Over a decade later, the well-attended Charity Gala, with its live and silent auctions, is the organization’s major annual fund-raising event.

To help First Candle in its efforts to unite parents, caregivers and researchers nationwide to advance infant health and survival, the Fencing Masters NYC co-chairs (Tim Morehouse, Daria Schneider, & Kathleen Reckling) donated 2 VIP tickets to our Hammerstein Ballroom event on November 17th. To compliment the auction winner’s introduction to fencing, Olympic Silver Medalist Tim Morehouse donated an hour fencing lesson.

Tim poses with the auction item winner! His 5 daugthers can't wait for their fencing lesson with Tim or to attend Fencing Masters NYC on Nov. 17th

The total package was valued at $750… and as the night began, Tim and Kathleen crossed their fingers! Please! Someone! Bid on us!

Do we have $500? Yes!

How about $1,000? Yes!

Can we have $1,250? Sure!

What about $1,500? SOLD!

At the end of the night, we had met several former fencers and children of fencers — a neat reminder that everyone does in fact know someone who fences. The most exciting parts of the evening? Seeing the Fencing Masters NYC donation become one of the few lots to exceed its estimated value and watching the sport of fencing raise $1,500 for First Candle and SIDS research.

Tim & I were honored to be the Williamson-Nobles’ guests and were proud our donation was able to support First Candle”s mission to “provide every baby with the best possible chance to survive and thrive.”

For those of us working on Fencing Masters NYC, there is nothing more invigorating than sharing fencing and using it to serve others. The auction results are a testament to the power sport has to do good in the community — an athlete doesn’t have to be a Peyton Manning or a Lance Armstrong to raise awareness for a cause, they just have to be ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Why Blogging Matters

Nearly 6 months ago, I wrote about my beloved dog Jessie, about how she chose to be part of my family and how eventually we had to choose to let her leave this life. Last night, a man named Greg found that now long-ago post. “I’m scanning and commenting on posts made by fellow dog lovers because it must be therapeutic in some way,” he wrote.  He recently lost his 6-year old Irish Terrier and was “reaching out to others who understand.”

Greg’s comment got me thinking. Isn’t that what blogging is really all about — reaching out to others who understand? I went back and looked in my leather-bound journal. I never wrote about Jessie there. I guess when she passed, I needed to share my loss with something less solitary than a diary.

Why do we blog? Because sometimes we need to share something personal with something less solitary than a journal.

A year ago, a young man I knew died by suicide. As a way to both cope with her grief and to provide a support network for others touched by suicide, his mother launched a blog called “Forever Invictus.” One day, she posted a proposal to hold a suicide prevention/wellness  fair in New York City’s Washington Square Park. Readers from around the country rallied together to help her realize this vision. On September 17, 2010, the first “Get Your Wellness On!” event welcomed over 1,000 participants and saved a life. The event was organized and executed by a group of people who met for the first time the morning of the fair, but had already known each other only through Esmeralda’s blog.

Tim is an Olympic Silver Medalist in fencing. He has a blog too. So does Maria, a literature teacher in Italy. They don’t talk about death. Tim talks about fencing, about traveling around the world as he prepares for London 2012, about chilling with Apolo Anton Ohno. Tim’s blog has become an online venue where the American fencing community, a diverse and dispersed group of people who share a sport, can congregate and get caught up on the latest news or pick up some training tips. Maria’s blog “Fly High” is an online book & movie club for Jane Austen and Richard Armitage fans around the world. We hang out on Fly High and gush about our love for 19th century British literature and its 21st century screen adaptations.

When I started blogging, I was really only in it for myself. I wanted to write about me. I wanted people to read my writing. I wanted someone to love my writing enough to offer me a book deal. My alter-ego blog, “They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband,” has been more successful in this endeavor. It’s where I write about the way we love and are expected to love now. Thousands of WordPress readers responded to my post “You Borrowed My Dylan CD and Stole My Heart, I’d Like them Back Now Please” — a little piece about reclaiming the intangibles when a relationship ends. It seems every past relationship leaves a trail of damaged songs in its wake.

Reading Greg’s comment put Esmeralda’s and Tim’s blogs and the outpouring of response to “They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband” in perspective. Turns out, when I write about myself, I’m writing about you, and him, and her too. While blogs may be the vanguard of political analysis or the source for the latest entertainment news, at the end of the day, blogging is about community — at the end of the day, we want to read about things we can relate to. Bloggers and their posts remind us all that, no matter how unique each of our lives are, living is a common experience. In this digital community of words and comments, there’s always someone we can reach out to who understands.

Saying Good-Bye to Man’s Best Friend

I was in the 6th grade when my mother thought it might be fun to browse the local pet shop. Even though we were really on a rather mundane quest to acquire a new harness for our escape-artist of an Irish Terrier, and even though I had really wanted a pony, as an 11 year-old-girl, I was easily satisfied with the more realistic prospect of a new puppy. I was game for the adventure.

Jessie always knew she was short. The dining room table offered a better view

I can’t say we picked Jessie.  As soon as she saw us enter the puppy-pen area, she climbed up her cage, hovering dangerously over the edge of the crate, and woofed at us. She was a muddy-looking, scrawny Carin Terrier that suffered from the ugly duckling syndrome and a general refusal to stay caged up. I was originally eying the fluffy lasso-apso, but when my mother said “what about that one,” my attention was immediately diverted. We took her into the “puppy play room.” She pounced on the rope and brought it to me for a tugging game. She chased the ball, brought it back, and dropped it in my hand. She understood games were better with playmates. We already had a dog, a female who was a territorial Irish fighter, and we were afraid how she’d handle a puppy. So the little Carin went grudgingly back in the cage. But that wouldn’t do. She climbed right back out and ran to us. We had no choice. My father’s firm refusal to get another pet had to be ignored — Jessie wasn’t going to let us leave without her.

It’s not fair. We make the decision to add a pet to the family, and from the day we name them become the dictators of their fate. They become a part of the family and then one day, they have to go, and we have to play God.

Jessie playing her favorite ring game, being chased by a puppy-version of Korrie, her winggirl

Jessie was a consummate playmate — she’d play Frisbee with you until she collapsed. She was the ring-leader of our three terriers, dragging the other two into trouble or putting them firmly in their place. She was our morning alarm clock and weather forecaster (whenever a thunderstorm was approaching she hid under the couch). She greeted us when we came home and followed us to bed in the evening. For the last 13 years, the scruffy, bright-eyed, emotive eared, joyful Carin has been the Recklings’ best friend. For 13 years, the majority of my life, Jessie was the most loyal little fighter. But on Thursday, we took her to the vet — she hadn’t been herself the last few weeks — and by Sunday, we let her go. Her immune system had gone haywire and there was no getting it under control.

I made the decision to stay with Jessie as they euthanized her. “Euthanize” — they make it sound so peaceful, so innocuous, so humane. My father held her, and I scratched her favorite spot. She had refused to let us leave the pet store without her, and I refused to let her leave this world with out us beside her. As her breath stopped, the room fell silent. It was as if cotton had been stuffed in my ears — for the first time in 3 hours, I couldn’t hear the cars whizzing by outside. And then her heart stopped, and with it mine. A numbness set is that I just haven’t been able to shake. When it was absolutely all over, my father left the room. I wouldn’t leave  until they came to take her. I stood there, holding her, apologizing, weeping into her matted fur. Her eyes were still so bright. I felt I’d betrayed her. As Maugham’s character Larry Darnell said, “the dead look so terribly dead when they’re dead.”

When it’s not their pet, people are always willing to tell you that when they’re this sick you have to put the animal down, that it’s cruel to let her suffer, that it’s the right thing to do.  Jessie never got to tell us that she was ready to die, she never got to say whether or not she wanted another transfusion, or that she was willing, if it worked, to go on with a life on meds. We had to decide that for her.

“You don’t want her to suffer do you?” Good God, I hate the people the say that.

You’ll never make me wholeheartedly believe that I, or we, because really it was a we, made the right decision. I’m not even sure you’ll make me even halfheartedly believe it. To put her down may have been the most reasonable decision, but I can’t ever say it was the right decision.

After they whisked her away, I thanked the staff at the emergency vet clinic for being so kind — they had donated their own dogs’ blood for the transfusions that had kept Jessie alive over the last two days. I wiped my tears, rinsed my face and put on my “strong” demeanor before joining my mother in the parking lot. I wrapped my arms around her and reassured her that we had done all that we could. The vet agreed that “helping Jessie along” was the best thing to do.

The sky had been gray and threatening all day, but only then did the raindrops start to fall. They mingled with tears as they hit the pavement. Such salty puddles.

In Memoriam

It was the night of Santa Con and Greenwich Village was ablaze with red faux velvet, an undulating lopsided ocean of woolly-white artificial beards. The chill in the air was bone-cracking, the wind unforgiving, and it was unlikely that my parents and I had braved the narrow streets of Manhattan’s lower westside to participate in this costumed pub-crawl. Our mission was more deliberate and more solemn. We were bound for the famed Bitter End, in part to do what all Bitter Enders do, to listen to a band play a set, but mostly we were there to say good-bye to a young man lost too early.

On November 3, 2009, Andrew Williamson-Noble, a 20-year old Junior at NYU, committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of his university’s Bobst Library. He was lonely, reports said. You might have read about it; you might have noticed the name; you might have seen his picture in the paper; but you probably forgot about Andrew and grouped him in with that flulrry of NYU jumpers that had been lost before — tragic, you probably said and left it at that. We refuse to leave it at that.

My parents and I met Andrew when he was high school student at Irvington. He had been instrumental in getting a fencing team started there and my mother had been its first coach. At the time, she and I were also coaching at Ardsley, and how she managed to survive the two-practice nights I still wonder. I know Andrew’s support made it easier. He had that take-charge attitude that made him a reliable leader, a wicked sense of humour that made him fun to be around, and a passion to win that made him a dangerous competitor. Of the many kids that have come through the fencing teams, Andrew remains one of our favorites.

That night at the Bitter End, as we listened to Ippazzi sing for Andrew, my mother and I , in a teary moment of inspiration, decided to establish an award in his memory — an award that would remind kids that as long as they’re a fencer, as long as they’re an athlete, they’re never alone. For the last few weeks we’ve been immersed in organizing the Andrew Williamson-Noble Spirit Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship — a scholarship that will be bestowed on 2 students from each of the 5 high school teams that make up the New York State Section I Varsity Fencing League. Tomorrow (Sat. Jan 30), at the League championship tournament, we’ll present a total of approximately $3,000 to 11 very deserving athletes.

In the letter to the recipients we say: “The Award remembers his spirit and leadership and recognizes those fencers who, like Andrew, contribute to the sense of community and camaraderie on their team. The best leaders don’t just contribute wins – they are team players who promote unity and inspire excellence…Fencing is a community, a place to belong regardless of background, age, ability, or aspirations.” And it’s true.

I remember walking onto the Columbia campus as a freshman and being terrified about, well, everything. Would my public school education match up to that of my peers? Would I make any friends? These are fears we all have when we start college, but there was one advantage I had most freshman don’t: when I walked through the gates at 116th, I already had 20 friends in my teammates —  I’d known most of them since I started fencing as a high schooler. Sure the sport has been the cause of some strife in my life — I can’t say I’ve smiled the whole way through the “athletic journey.” But it always provided me with a safety net to fall back on. It was always a stabilizing force that kept me focused, taught me to recover and to move forward. It taught me how to be the “master of my fate,” “the captain of my soul.”

After high school, Andrew moved onto Drexel before transferring to NYU. In that time, he moved away from fencing — an activity, his mother said, that always brought him joy. We can’t look back on the last few years and say, well if Andrew had been fencing… “What ifs” are entirely inappropriate. We can only look forward with the hope that tomorrow’s award presentation and Andrew’s story touches those it needs to, so that The Andrew Williamson-Noble Spirit Award will remain the only of its kind.

Oh, Canada

To most Americans, Canada is something to laugh at. It’s a non-threatening country to the North of us, with a people who punctuate clauses with “eh” and pronounce “ou” like they’re tooting a horn. For the record, real Canadians don’t say aboot. Canadians have a lovely lilt in their speech — a rhythmic change of intonation that sounds a bit like the Irish and a bit like the French. If you listen to a proper Canadian pronounce “a-b-o-u-t” you’ll notice a deepening of their voice — the “ou” is more internal, lower in pitch, and is the same sound you make when you stub your toe. When most Americans think of Canada they think of bacon, the RCMP (most Americans call these fellas Mounties), lumberjacks and John Candy (or Mike Meyers if you’re under 25). But Canada has a lot more going for it that pork products, plaid and SNL (though, let’s not lie — those are pretty awesome things to lay claim to). Here are a few things I love about Canada:

1. The Big Wild
Canada has an amazing park system. Ontario alone boasts 1000 lakes and provincial parks larger than the state of New York. Banff, Jasper and the other National parks in Alberta boast some of the most ruggedly spectacular scenery in the world. Rock-climbing, hiking, kayaking — whatever, you can do it to excess in Canada. Nearly one quarter of the planet’s wild forests are inside Canada’s borders; 20% of the world’s fresh water and 24% of the planet’s wetlands are Canadian, too. Canada is so self-consciously defined by it’s nature that the citizens chose a maple leaf as its flag and a beaver as it’s national animal.2010 Olympic Jersey Logo

2. The Flag
You may think that maple leaf is a lil hokey, but man, can you do a lot with it. Check out the design Musqueam artist Debra Sparrow created for the Canadian 2010 Olympic Hockey Team — it includes First Nations design elements within the borders of the leaf.

3. Men
Okay, ladies, I’m going to let you in a secret — Canadian men are real men. Let’s remember Ryan Reynolds, here. Sure, they try to start camping fires with gasoline (not sooo safe), but at least they go camping, regularly. So far in my interactions with Men to the North, I found them to be well-balanced, interested in a variety of things, outdoorsy and funny….

which leads me to…

4. Sense of Humours
Canadians are funny — they have to be to live up there. Almost the entire population is concentrated along the border. The winter is longer. They have a lot of mosquitoes. Their national animal has bucked-teeth. They have to be able to laugh at themselves. Only 1 in 10 Canadians are too serious (this is not an official statistic, but I think it’s reasonably close to accurate)

gouda lady

Artisan Cheese from PEI

5. Cuisine & Beverages
Canada does have some uniquely Canadian food. Buttertarts and date-squares for one. Buttertarts can be compared to a pecan pie, with raisins instead of pecans, but less offensively sweet. They’re ridiculously delicious. The Maritime provinces also have tremendous seafood — Prince Edward Island mussels are world famous (and their potatoes are pretty damn good too) and there are some fantastic chefs working out there. Vancouver is one of the hottest cities in the world for food right now, thanks to a diverse immigrant community and increasing prosperity. Canadians also take their caffeine very seriously — they have their own coffee chains and cities boast lots of tea shops. Oh, and their beer has more alcohol.

6. DetailsShane's cottage adventures 09 008
Canadians pay attention to the small things. Lawns are well-maintained and landscaped with flowers — regardless of the size of the home. Air Canada stocks its on-flight bathrooms with sanitary napkins and mouthwash. They consider the small things and take personal pride in meeting an exceeding standards.

7. Universal Health Care
This one needs no defense or explanation. No citizen is left without coverage. If they can do it, we can do it.

8. No global dimmingCottage on a lake part 1, 09 027
The sky is different in Canada. Clouds are fluffier and better defined. Orion and the Big Dipper are not the only stars in the sky. Why? Because Canada doesn’t suffer from global dimming in the same way the US does. Less heavy industry, fewer cities and a more dispersed population are the primary reasons why the Canadian sky is brighter and cleaner. It certainly makes for a prettier horizon.

9. Farms
There is a lot of stunning farm land in Canada. Ontario produces such a wide variety of goods, that it can effectively stock the entire produce section of supermarkets. Everything from carrots to peaches can be grown within the province. The farms are also beautiful and well maintained. And somehow, the Prairie provinces lack the monotony of American corn fields.

10. Compassion
For me, going to Canada is like going home. Part of it is in my blood, I know. But I’ll always remember the weekend I drove to Montreal in September of 2001. It was 2 weeks after the World Trade Center attacks. My car, with its New York license plate was parked outside the hotel on Rue Sherbrooke and as I was unloading the luggage, strangers stopped me as they passed — “Are you from the city?… We’re glad you’re here, have a wonderful vacation.” One after another after another stopped to wish me well. They weren’t looking for details or an insider’s view. They just wanted me to know I was safe here and that they cared. That’s the thing I love most about Canada, they just seem to care.

And soonest our best men with thee doe goe

“DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so”

Senator Ted Kennedy lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday, August 25. On this rainy, gray day, a nation gathers to mourn the end of an era and to celebrate a life of strength and selflessness.

Michelle Singer lost her battle with cancer on Tuesday, August 25. There will be no wake, no funeral to celebrate this life of strength and selflessness. She asked that her four children not be put through that process, that the memories they maintained of her be ones of life before she was sick, not ones of caskets and black umbrellas.

How do you summarize a life? How do you capture in words the vast influence a single person has on the people and places she touched? It’s not my right to eulogize my cousin Michelle — there are far many in the family that knew her better and were more directly affected by her life. Yet I have much to thank Michelle for and I feel the need to express that gratitude in some form.

I grew up an only child with no immediate family in my country, let alone my town, and only a few vague memories of my grandparents. I knew of cousins and an aunt to the north in Canada, but other than a few weddings and a funeral, I had no real relationship to any of them. Michelle changed that. She brought me to my family. She introduced to my cousins, her siblings, and their children. She threw reunions and family gatherings that demanded my parents and my presences.

The family bbqs, the weekend cottage excursions, the cruises and the like were not only her way of bringing together the scattered descendants of the Gentle-Carmichael-Tobin clan. They were a way of building a network of love and support for her children, her nieces and nephews. None of those children have ever known a holiday or a long weekend without the shared joy of their aunts and uncles and cousins. A birthday or accomplishment will never go unnoticed. No family is perfect, this one included (the only reason you think your family is crazy is because you’ve never met mine). But thanks largely to Michelle’s efforts, this group of strong-minded individuals is one loyal family unit that will always be there to pick you up when you fall or find you a bed when you’re tired.

So thank you, Michelle, for introducing me to the family I never knew I had and would now feel empty without.

The Man of Summer 2009…

…Looks an awful lot like a lost Beach Boy. beach boys

Seriously. The skinny ankle-skimming jeans, the boat shoes, the stripped/plaid shirt tucked in behind a slim belt, the floppy hair — the whole look is there. The only things he’s missing is a surf board (not practical in NYC) and his little deuce coupe. I was crossing at the corner of 74th and Madison this morning, when two guys, in their mid-twenties, both dressed in the uniform described above approached from the opposite corner. They were moving like they had just run away from their barbershop quartet rehearsal. Yes, men in the city have a new uniform, and it’s no longer the powersuit.

Hipster men have killed the plaid. Have emasculated it and made it so ubiquitous that its lost its appealing campy quality. Plaid used to have a statement. It used to be associated with an outdoorsy lifestyle, and all-Americaness. Now… it’s urban and hipster.

(I’d just like to say, that I was on the plaid band-wagon before there ever was a plaid bandwagon. It’s because I’m part Canadian. Plaid is in my blood)

This is the problem with hipsters in general. They colonize trends and render subcultures that had meaning meaningless. There was a piece in the Times today about men and their hair. It said that once upon a time a man’s hairstyle was a mark of particular associations. In 1969, long wavy hair with a beard to match meant the fella probably listened to Hendrix and was antiwar. Today, a hairstyle says nothing about the man that wears it, perhaps only that he’s a freethinker? While I’m not crazy about the Adam Lambert/Flock of Seagulls coifs, I’m glad fuller hair is back in for men. It’s our turn for us ladies to have something we can run our fingers through.

The general theme of today’s Times Style section was New York men and their clothes. I think it’s time to accept that fashions for men are pretty standard, and in no season are the more standardized than in summer. Jeans, sandals and a white tee have been the go-to warm weather ware for men since Levi Strauss stepped on the scene. You know fashion writers have run out of trends to talk about then they start calling a pot-belly the latest trend in men’s wear. Seriously, couldn’t the explanation for the exceedingly number of bulging bellies in Brooklyn simply be that there are only 3 chain gyms in all of Brooklyn… and that none of them are in the hipster parts of town?

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