A Journey into the new year…..hope, perseverance, new beginnings uncovered on the streets of New York City


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I am standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway on New Year’s Eve. It is almost 12 noon. In twelve hours the ball will drop one block from here, the iconic symbol of a new year, a new start, a tradition I remember first watching on a black and white 20 inch television screen over fifty years ago.

There are two schools of thought if one should be standing here this day.

One bent comes from one who protects these streets, and has been diligently for the past 72 hours that I have been in this city.

“If you want to be herded in here like cattle, not able to eat, drink or pee for this next 12 hours, then do it.  My advice: watch it on TV.”


The other bent stems from those who crowd these streets. Those pulled magnetically to this city of promise and hope for years for the same reason: to leave all behind and to start over in hope, a fresh start. Lady Liberty a few miles down the street has drawn millions to her torch with the same pull, drawing in those who speak Italian and Spanish and Indian and Chinese and Haitian. Those who sell handbags under awnings and 2016 glasses on street corners. Those who get caricatures drawn and wave American flags and take selfies on the corner with the Empire State Building, lit up in its Christmas colors, behind them.


This city, this ball drop has ushered in new hope for decades.

Even though helicopters hover above, barricades block streets, bodies lined ten deep line up to go through security screenings, no bags in hand, this ball will drop.  The year’s past shadows will not hinder this light’s descent.


6000 police officers line the blocks, grouped on every corner. 

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Some revelers are dishing out $50 a ticket from the Comedy Club Central hawking promises of a view, others have dished $5000 for champagne in a penthouse suite to witness this spectacle. Most will wait for the confetti party shoulder to shoulder in the streets right there in the middle of the square.

Naysayers say, “Why would you stand in line for 12 hours to watch a ball drop for 60 seconds.  It’s just a ball”.

The one million that gather here say differently.  Not just a ball.

A promise of hope.

A promise of a fresh start.


A spirit of courage, despite the terrors of the past year push the masses on from all across the country and the world towards the crystal beacon of a new beginning.


Twelve hours later, we sidestep from our restaurant like Aladdin through city blocks, bodies, and barricades, towards the ball, the epicenter of the new year, where thousands have lined up along the streets that radiate to the center, even blocks away. Our room key to the hotel on the corner is the lucky ticket past the barriers.


On the corner of 41st and 7th, barricades keep the crowds from the intersection where  crowds have lined up for hours for the view behind the ball. Sometimes the route to what you want is through the back. Even from backside the crowds stand and push toward the center, for just a glimpse of the crystal ball from any angle.

“Please, please, officer,” begs an Indian man, his family behind him, “please just a few feet more, we just want to see, we just want to see.”


The officer relents a few inches, but as the crowds push in, he stops.  “That’s enough,” he says, “I’m trying to be nice, but you keep pushing in!”

In the swarm families and couples huddle together, fathers hold up their children. I hear Italian. I hear Japanese. I hear French. I hand my noisemaker to a little Indian boy wearing a spiderman hat, another NYC symbol. I hear a wife whisper to her husband “It’s ok we’re in the back. This is as close as we are going to get. This is a once in a lifetime thing.”


“Please, please”, the man begs again, “let us get closer.”

“Look up!” I say to him. “It’s right there.”

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The 2,688 sparkling waterford crystals of the ball shine towering two blocks above us, and to a throng of shouts its multicolor facets begin its descent.

The crystal ball drops, and fireworks usher in the new year.  The Behind the Scenes crowd doesn’t see the flashing signs, but from the fireworks and cheers we know the new year has begun.  The policemen who themselves were enthralled by the spectacle now remove the barriers and let the crowds into the streets. 2016 is here.


Hours later we ascend to the highest point in NYC, the One World Observatory, where, 104 floors up we catch a different perspective of Times Square and all the iconic points of New York City.


Familiar outlines lay before me from this height, yet my eyes are drawn to one place below the foot of the tower. It is the square of the green around of St. Paul’s Chapel. the church where not one window was broken the day the Twin Towers fell, protected by an old sycamore tree in the cemetery. The chapel that served as a sanctuary for recovery workers after 9/11.  The chapel that serves as a memorial of photos and police and fire insignias.  The chapel that survived the Great Fire of 1776.

Surrounding this small chapel are the signs of fresh starts and new beginning.  The skeleton of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the Oculus, rises at the corner. 

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The squares of the two Memorial Fountains that commemorate the towers of the World Trade Center lay distinctly below.


I descend to the south tower fountain. A white rose marks a name.  A white rose, a symbol of remembrance and new beginnings. Somber reminders of loss and pain and destruction are beneath every footstep on these grounds. Standing here on this New Year’s Day of 2016 testifies what can be made new from the ashes of suffering.

“Suffering shakes us to the core…leaves you vulnerable and exposed….gives you a sense of your own limitations…In this new year we look back on what has shaped us, we look forward to what is ahead, we look up for strength and guidance, and we look down to examine our own hearts….”

In the quiet pew of Redeemer Church two days later these words are spoken into the tranquil sanctuary.

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Outside these walls, down the streets this city continues its pace into the new year.

The sky is blue and crisp and fresh this Sunday morning.  Sunlight casts golden on brownstones and barren trees.


Across the street Central Park is bathed in this light.  Only a few days ago, my son asked his lovely girlfriend to be his wife on the terrace of Bethesda Fountain.


The other day in Chelsea Market she found a photograph of the fountain taken on a winter day in the 1930’s.  “Did you know the story behind this fountain?” she asks me with her beautiful smile. “The Bethesda Fountain is named for the pool in the Bible where people came to be healed.”

Healing.  Restoration.  New beginnings.


As my flight ascends into the night sky that evening the places trodden these few days outline below me……Times Square, Central Park, and at the tip of the peninsula, the One World Tower.  Barely perceptible in the shadow of the bay is a faint figure.  The Statue of Liberty.

Her torch of hope a speck of light shining in the darkness.

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Photo credits: Daniel Mogg, Vina Mogg

Fresh Start

20140829-060651.jpgHis race has been called.
The swimmer approaches the blocks
Steps onto the platform, anticipating the start.
He is called to mark, fingers reach then curl around the edge of the platform
Get set….muscles fire, from toes to calves to hamstring, shoulders arms, anticipating, anticipating….

The buzzer sounds, simultaneously the machine that is the body springs forward, fingers, toes reaching reaching for aqua liquid
and once entering the channel propels forward, every muscle, ligament, tendon, breath pushing the skeleton toward the wall 50 meters ahead.

It is the start that initiates the motion.

Before this start, there is much anticipation.
There is much waiting…

in the tent, on the pool deck, waiting for the race to be called, for the heat to be called.
Before the waiting there is the warm up hours before the race.
Before the warm up there are the hours of practice
called when Morningstar still hovers
finishing as light breaks the sky
called again mid afternoon until dusk

and always repetitions
of stroke, of yards put in
building stamina and strength…

all of this
before the start.

My son’s last race was one month ago
one month before this fresh start.

and as I watched that last start,
forgetting to turn on the video camera,
waves of emotion overcome….
of sadness watching one last race
of pride for all he has accomplished in this sport
of all he has learned about discipline, perseverance, pushing self past limits to the end
to the last touch of the wall.


Now a fresh start
another highly anticipated moment.
This one preceded, with hours of preparation
not only with test scores and hours logged studying,
of honors and awards and diploma,
but also with the weeding out
the choosing, of what he will take and what he will leave behind.

The things left behind, the tokens, the trophies, the T-shirts that label his past years
litter the floor, the dresser in the now empty room.

and the things chosen to go with him
boxes, bags one by one filling the car–the books, the photos, the new college T-shirts
the new sheets and towels and containers and journals
that will now fill his college dorm

will drive away in the car with him and his dad
on the journey 1000 miles to Texas.


I asked him to humor me one last time, during that last hour of anticipation
for although he had his things organized and ready to go for weeks
his dad did not.

So as dad scrambled around that last hour
he took a selfie with the dog, and scratched the cat behind the ears just how he likes it
and sat on the steps with me to browse through the album I made for graduation,
the one hastily thrown together to cover 18 years
from the first hospital photo to the senior portrait only taken months ago.


There is a page with cowboy boots, hints of the land he will travel to now.
It was his Toy Story party when he was five.
I ask him, “Do you remember Toy Story 3, when you laughed at me bawling in my 3D glasses, crying, ‘Is this how it’s going to end!’ as Andy drives off to college!”

He nods and laughs along with me. I jump up, suddenly remembering something found the other day. I bring back to him two small plastic figurines, one of Woody, one of Buzz Light Year. As a joke I write Michael’s name on Woody’s boot. “Keep them in your car,” I kid, thinking they too will be left behind. I promised him last night I would let him go with not too many tears. I will let go. He is a grown man now.

He smiles and stuffs them in his bag.


We stand for one last hug. “Be the agent for change,” I tell him. “Your gift is helping others. Be the one that changes things for the better.”

One more squeeze and we walk out the door.

And the highly anticipated moment for the past weeks, months, happens.

No call to the platform, no call to set, no buzzer.

He waves goodbye, climbs into the overstuffed Civic with his dad,
backs out the driveway that once launched scooters and rollerblades
and drives away.






double exposure

This has been a season of extremes, ones recorded in front and behind the lens of a camera. These extremes were precipitated by two questions, by two calls I had always wanted to answer but never had the courage to follow through. A contest. A writing workshop. I gathered up the courage to formulate two answers. I prepared two responses that would change my life.

The first question loomed at me from the pages of MORE magazine in a contest I had been wanting to enter for ten years but never did. This year I abandoned the fear and answered. So in this question, “What makes me beautiful, more now than ever?” I search for the truth of what beauty means to me. I write words, words that reflect the complexity and beauty in this season of my 50 something life:

The joys of motherhood, raising four beautiful children
The commitment to caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s living in my home
The pain and joy and moments entwined in both
Pain and sorrow, joy and laughter meshed together to create something beautiful, birthing something new out of parts that have been crushed.

I press send.

And that transmission begins a transformation. Transformation, initiated through words. 300 to be exact. 300 words about beauty, joy, grief, pain mixed with the healing of painting, boxing, writing to release all going on inside.

Sharing these words lands me in a studio for MORE. Exposing my life in a few vulnerable words now brings me exposed before the lens of a camera.

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The photographer, Ari, encourages me out of me my nervousness. Before this moment, standing open before the camera, there was a lot of anticipation and excitement and preparation in the studio: meeting the editors and publisher of MORE, choosing and trying on designer clothes off the rack, sitting in front of the vanity, having perfect shades of makeup and nails applied, taming my wild mane with the stylist. I laugh when I ask Mark, the stylist, “What look are you going for?” He answers, “Tina Turner.” Perfect. Her look, her strength, her killer legs. Let’s go for it. Let’s go rolling on this river.

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It was easy to present this look, but a little harder to project it. Slowly Ari coaxes life out of me, brought to life in a Valentino lace dress that I absolutely love and Steve Madden heels. Tousled hair, wind machines, polished make up and nails complete the metamorphosis. Uncomfortable at first I listen to the music playing, slowly relax. As I relax, I’m able to look straight into the lens of the camera.

That’s when I feel most myself. Looking right into the camera, praying the lens would reveal what is inside me, not only my beautiful transformed self that is giddy with the thrill of flaunting designer clothes, stumbling in stilettos, having my hair blown out and shaped in big rollers and makeup and nails flawlessly done. I’m in awe of the process of becoming outwardly beautiful, not only for me, but for the other three contest winners. I am aware from their smiles and their eyes that their beauty comes from within before we even exchange words. I’m moved by their stories, also brought here by words of beauty and pain and perseverance. I’m moved by the fast bond we share in sharing this dream experience together.

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So I keep looking, looking, looking into the eye of the lens hoping it will reveal
the innermost me, altered by joy and sorrow, made stronger by both. Yet this outward transformation sparks a self-assured, more confident me, confident to stand tall in these 4-inch heels and truly, fully smile from the renewal I feel inside.

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After all the excitement of the shoot, another photographer, Matt, takes a shot of me in my robe, in the background, waiting. “You look so wistful and pensive. What are you thinking about?” he asks.

“I’m trying to hold on to this moment,” I say.

He smiles.

A snapshot of a moment I will preserve.

Three months later, another snapshot. This time, on the other side of a camera lens. I stand 5000 miles away from the studio in Brooklyn on the shore of Katmai National Park in Alaska.

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I am here because of my answer to the second call; another transmission of carefully chosen words has secured me a spot in a wilderness writing workshop near Kodiak. Two commercial jets, a prop plane, a bush plane, a 25 ft skiff, and a 4 seat float plane have transported me to a remote tide flat where a river meets the Shelikof Strait off the Alaskan coast.  I am wearing three day old jeans, three-day-old hair, no makeup, and hip wading boots. Behind the lens of a camera, I am observing life as it unfolds in the wild, watching Alaskan brown bears in their in their natural habitat, no platform or fence between us.

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A mother bear and cub are near each other. Resting, then cajoling with each other. The guide says the cub is three; he’s surprised he’s still there. By three they are usually on their own, kicked out. Why do they kick them out I ask. So they can continue mating.

I laugh at that ritual, considering the lengths it takes to mate with my husband of 32 years with teenagers and my mother in my home. Maybe I should kick them all out.

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For two hours we watch the bears in their habitat. Beautiful, powerful, just going about their everyday business, wandering up and down the stream searching for food… a salmon dance. They eye movement in the stream, then rush over and crush the movement with their heavy paws, Playfully they grasp the salmon in those same life crushing paws and chomp it in their mouth, wild salmon ritually swimming upstream from the ocean, pushing against the current, traveling miles and miles to lay their eggs then die.

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There is evidence of death everywhere here in this wilderness. But as I stand only 30 feet from this brown bear I am not afraid. I am only a bystander of this life behind the lens. Though only steps away from its powerful jaws I continue to watch. As I step across the soft silt sand of the riverbed, I look down at my feet. Even on the ground there is evidence of this cycle of life and death. There perfectly curled in the sand is the entire skeleton of a salmon. It reminds me of an old Indian carving or etching, the kind that fascinated me as a young girl growing up in the northwest. The Indians faced life and death and recorded it all in beautiful etchings…imprints of their daily life.

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Here in my hip wader boots I record imprints of this life, preserving this experience, firing 600 photos in an attempt to capture the perfect shot of a bear in the wild. Even professional photographers have travelled for miles and for days to this very remote area to document a bear in the wild. A group of them are 100 feet in front us in camouflage, with tripods and huge 200 mm lenses. One sets his tripod on the bank. A bear plods by, only a few feet from the camera, close enough to send the pricey equipment into the water. Still and silent, we remain observers. The moment passes uneventfully. We exhale. Certainly the photographer is triumphant in capturing his images.

I laugh at the extremes we will go to capture the perfect moment… the beauty, the fierceness of a brown bear staring you in the face, when he cares nothing about you, only the salmon he wants for a snack.

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Shivering in the dampness we continue to observe. Now the float plane is 500 yards away. Our guide must use his inflatable kayak to paddle out to the plane and coast it back to our position on the bank. The tide is quickly coming in.

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We climb into the float plane shivering and damp, exhilarated at what we had just witnessed. We scroll through what we have just captured through our lenses, thrilled at the moments of beauty we have recorded of life raw, in the the wild.

Another day we take a walk along Seven Mile beach, again recording snapshots of raw beauty in the wilderness…the shapes and forms and colors of the rocks and driftwood, the rainbows across the bay, the bear tracks in the sand, the family of seals bobbing their heads above the surf, observing us on the shore.

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photo (36)At the end of the beach there lay a skeleton. 60 feet of bones, laying perfectly curled on the sand. At the moment we arrive the sun breaks through the clouds, shedding a different light on its curves, its reflection in the puddled water, still graceful and majestic.

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A skeleton on the beach
A fin whale
The second largest whale in the ocean
Washed up on the shore intact

Flesh has rotted
Exposed bones resting on the shore in motion
Baleen that once sucked in its sustenance for life
Now scattered in chunks, in pieces on the ground

Vertebrae long and graceful winding on the ground
A silent keyboard once carried the sounds of the massive body echoing through the ocean

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The skeleton, the shell of who I once was
Worn down
Exposed over time and stress
And fighting the prolonging of life
Now emerges with a new song.
A new voice.

Beauty is formed from exposure to the elements of time, vulnerability, conditions we may or may not choose, as we adapt and move on, improvising and overcoming.

Exposure. Double exposure.
Both exhilarating. Both life changing. One manicured, made up, hair dolled up, blow dried, tousled by fans, dressed in Valentino and 4-inch heels. The other nails grimy, three- day-old hair blowing in the Alaskan wind, dressed in rain gear and hip waders.

Exposure unearths us beautiful, before and behind a lens, as we record the moments of life. Exposure renders us strong and powerful when we gather the courage to answer a call.

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