Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Family To Do List

Simple and sociable things to do around a table in winter that don't involve eating:
  • Cutting out paper snowflakes in all kinds of colors.
  • Making orange and clove pomanders in untraditional patterns.
  • Decoupaging bottles, plates, trays or cigar boxes with cutouts from holiday cards and magazines.
  • Making bird feeders from pine cones, peanut butter and seed.
  • Playing games like Boggle, Smartmouth, Scrabble, and Spit.
It's surprising how these basic pleasures can truly engage all ages, and become  the high point of a holiday at home.

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Simple Homemade Gift No. 2

    A jar, can, or bag of homemade granola with the recipe  It's simple to make and always well received.  
    Our homemade granola recipe can be found here.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Simple Homemade Gift No. 1

    A pretty cork-stoppered bottle filled with a simple vinaigrette.  My crowd pleasing recipe came via the chef at a house we stayed at on Mustique while on one of Bill's shoots for the Conde Nast Traveler.  She said she got it via the New York Times years ago.
    6 TBS (or parts) Olive Oil

    3 TBS (or parts) White Vinegar
    1 TBS (or part) Sugar
    1 TBS (or part) French’s Yellow Mustard
    salt and pepper
    dried basil
    1 or more crushed clove garlic

    I include the recipe on a hang-tag, crediting Matilda form Mustique.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    Chappy Chanuka

    It’s December 9, and Christmas-mania is upon us.  As a mixed-breed family (Andrea Jewish, Bill Catholic), we have forged our own holiday traditions, customizing a meaningful way to celebrate both special times with our family.  Now, truth be told, Chanuka, which begins at sunset on December 11th, just can’t compete with Christmas in terms of the decorative possibilities, the music choices, the lights and the pageantry. So, from the beginning, we’ve never tried to equate them. We intentionally set up a low-key, yet ultimately satisfying and meaningful way to celebrate the Jewish holiday of lights.

    Early on, we learned that trying to make Chanuka more special by giving gifts all eight nights was a recipe for tears.  The holiday became about what they were “getting” that night.  Somehow, there was built-in disappointment, as so much rode on that one gift.  An unattractive greed seeped in, no matter how carefully we explained to the kids how things were going to work over the course of the eight nights.  So, here’s what we began to do, and it gave Chanuka its own shape and specialness, separate and distinct from Christmas.

    The primary activity for each night of Chanuka was the lighting of the candles.  Each kid had his or her own menorah, whether an old family one or a homemade one.  They got to pick out their own candle color scheme, put them in themselves, and most exciting, light them.  On the first night of Chanuka, each child got a stack of gifts, big and small, but a nice pile to tear through.  And that was it for the gifts.

    Aside from the menorahs, the constant for Chanuka every year was a big jar of dreidls that came down from the attic, along with a stack of Chanuka books and videos collected over the years.  After that, we had something out of the ordinary planned for each of the other seven nights.  One night we’d have a party with each child allowed to invite a friend and their family, with latkes (the smell, oh, the smell), decorations, dreidl, candles, and the exchanging of small gifts (dollar store type stuff).  Every year, we’d find some Chanuka-related crafts.  (Check the internet, there’s plenty of them!)  Another night, we’d have dinner with friends.  It didn’t matter if they were Jewish or not; the idea was to share our traditions with others.  One night we’d go ice-skating or night sleigh-riding, or to a movie.  Another night, we would do some charitable activity, whether it was to provide meals to a homeless shelter, or bring donations to a community center.

    Usually, by this point, it was enough for the remaining nights to light candles and eat more latkes.  Everyone was happy and sated, and it was, for all, a Happy Chanuka!

    Thursday, November 26, 2009

    Thursday, November 19, 2009


    Our children do not love our chickens like we love our chickens. They don’t share our pleasure in the beauty of these funny fowl.  They don’t find the humor in their poultriesque profile the way we do, with their oversized breasts, skinny pale white legs, and ungainly gait (the chickens, not our children). We worry about our hens in the middle of a frigid night.  We feel sorry for them when daylight runs short come late October, and think how boring it must be to be so cooped up for so many dark hours.  Pity them after a rainy day around the pen, their bright white feathers  so bedraggled, sodden, and dark with mud. 
    When we insist that someone else open their hatch in the morning, we wonder if they greet the chickens with a “Good Morning, Girls!” like we do.  Or, at night, if we can compel someone else to go lock them in, do they wish the hens a “Goodnight, ladies?”  (Don’t think so)  Who else but Bill and I stand rapt as they race down their gangplank, our noses pressed up to the mesh, to study which bits and pieces of freshly dumped compost are considered the choicest morsels?  (No one else.) Doesn’t anyone else in the family get that a simple pizza crust, or the soggy remnants of their leftover cereal, or the skins from a peeled apple can brighten the day of a chicken otherwise faced with scratching around the same patch of barren dirt day after day?  And, by the way, it is not crazy to bring home a restaurant doggy bag for the chickens.  You know the saying:  one man’s leftover salad is a chicken’s feast.
    Our children generally tolerate our attitude toward the chickens--except when it involves them.  The open bucket on the counter in which we collect every crumb and scraping and remnant of food is a frequent source of conflict.  “Get it out of here,” Zander commands as he eats his breakfast nearby.  “I can smell it, and I don’t want to look at it.”  Don’t you care about the chickens?  “They are low on my list of priorities right now,” he’ll say.  Sure, they’ll eat those delicious eggs everyday, but what are they willing to pay for those eggs? Too little.
    These days, our children are pretty useless for closing down the coop after dark.  Having recently seen a spate of scary movies and having been introduced to the delicious terror of the Ouija board, they will not set foot out near the coop in the blackness.  So it’s me or Bill, unless the kids can be coerced to go as a team, armed with flashlights.  We just can’t risk leaving the hatch open over night.  The chickens are sitting ducks against those clever creatures of the night, the foxes and raccoons.  During the day, should the chickens make a break from their pen, which sometimes happens, it’s as good as serving them on a silver platter to the hawks that find their heads the most delectable part.  (These are some of the ways we went from an original flock of 30, down to six.)
    People wonder why we keep chickens?   “Lawn art,” we’ve always said.  They’re beautiful to watch.  We’ve never given them names, as it’s just too hard to discern one from the next.  But there was once one very special chicken who stood out from the crowd.  It was easy.  She was the only one left of her crowd; they’d all been eaten somehow.  read chicken's full story here.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009


    OK.  This is not a scam.   It doesn’t cost anything.  It is not hard. It doesn’t involve extra time.  But it works, and it works really fast.  Take it from Bill and me.   We started this trial last Friday, and by Saturday we saw changes.  At first it was directed at one of our children who was being, shall we say, difficult.  But it was so effective, it made sense to apply it to all three of our kids, and we wonder: why we didn’t figure this out sooner?

    The secret to better relations between parents and teens?  Good old fashioned “behavior mod” as psychotherapist Dr. JoAnn Magdoff calls it.  We are doing something called “LISTENING” to our kids. We are not offering unasked for opinions, positive or negative.  We do not make helpful suggestions.  We do not tell them how they can do things better than they’re already doing them. When asked for help in making a choice or a decision, we offer two or three options (all options we’d accept) just like when they were toddlers.  Remember, “Do you want to eat apple slices or carrots?”  “Do you want to wear your purple fleece or your gray sweater?”   “Do you want to take your nap on the bed or the sofa?” We put our kids in control of the decisions they make, while making all outcomes perfectly acceptable ones.

    Our kids do not want to hear how we would do something.  They do not want to hear that their plan to meet at this one’s house to go to that place makes no sense.  They do not want to hear that the lunch bag you put their lunch in is more practical than the one they'd rather carry.  Get it?  “Sit on your hands,” says Magdoff.  “Keep your opinion to yourself.”  They will do stupid things.  They will make bad choices, yes, and often.  They will, however, be much more willing to tell you things, show you things, and even ask what you think if you refrain from telling them how what they’re doing is not the best way, your way, or in any way not good enough.

    Our kids are opening up to us more.  They're telling us things.   They're in a better mood!  So what if they don't wear a warm enough jacket today? If they are cold, tomorrow they'll make a better choice--without us even telling them to!

    How could we not have been doing this all along?

    NOTE: Our kids are definitely not following this blog, so the secret of our technique seems pretty safe. Don’t give it away!

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    I Travel

    My work involves travel. It used to be constant. That wore thin. Now I'm more careful about how much I travel and for what reasons. Traveling takes a toll on a family and a relationship and even a carefully monitored schedule can create serious problems. For someone like me who goes on location to earn a living, I have come to realize that distance creates distance. No matter what the means and frequency of communication, being gone creates a gulf that can become a rift.

    When our first son, Zander, was born, he and Andrea and I moved about as a compact unit. Accompanied by my photo assistant, we'd move from assignment to assignment throughout the Caribbean and Europe, touching back home between trips to throw in a couple of loads before heading back out to the airport with fresh clothes. By the time Zander was 18 months, we figured he'd been on almost 200 flights. Tucked into a backpack with the sheepskin ("Lambie") that was his bed, Zander slept on floors, under tables, and in corners at some of the finest restaurants my work took me to.

    When Simon came along, we simply upgraded from a single stroller to a double. Week after week in hotel rooms, eating out, and being part of a photo crew kept us together as a family, even though we weren't home. "We ARE their home," Andrea told her mother who was concerned about the effect on the kids. We always said our kids became what and who they are because of all the places they have been, the cultures they have experienced, and the people they have met along the way.

    By the time Maxie came along, Zander was starting school, and the expense of traveling with a group that size was prohibitive. I did not need to major in Economics (which I did before art school) to know that a job should not cost more than you're paid. The closeness we held dearly as a family had to change. I continued to travel but now it was only me and an assistant. After 13 years of doing it all the time, I had a jarring revelation. Zander fit into a backpack only yesterday and is now applying to colleges, his stroller-mate brother is a varsity soccer star, and little Maxie’s wearing makeup and stressing over what to wear to school. Over the years, I made nearly every soccer, lacrosse, or softball game and felt I was as connected as someone as jet lagged as I could be and the living was a good one for us.

    I still love to travel but now, when someone asks me what exciting place I’d just come from, I might still be able to say, the Greek Islands or Patagonia, French Polynesia or Monte Carlo, but I most likely will admit that I’ve been trying to stay home.   I almost always sense a bit of disappointment but while what I do can seem like a dream job, what I like best and what I miss most is being here every morning as they go to school knowing these mornings will soon end.   Then another phase will begin--it'll be Andrea and me back on the road as a unit finishing off the list of all the places we’d love to go or taking on another assignment together.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    Our New Halloween

    Halloween once loomed almost bigger than Chanuka or Christmas in our house. For months, the children would mull over their costumes.  I insisted on making all costumes, a project which fulfilled the needs of my inner craftsperson, but multiply that by three kids, and I was buried under my Halloween to do list.  And one costume was never enough--we needed a costume for school and the parade, and then another for trick or treating.  

    Years ago, I realized that my kids were just as excited to buy their get-ups at Party City, and put aside my prejudice against flimsy store-bought costumes as irrelevant to their enjoyment of the
    holiday. Sometimes I’d get suckered into a too-early trip to the store.  The selection would be great, but by Halloween, the costume would have lost its power to thrill, and then there would be a last minute scramble to put together something else. Or, we’d go to the store too late, and our choices would be limited to an M&M outfit or some unrecognizable superhero disguise.

    Logistics were always intense. They’d get home from school and help then put themselves together for the parade very quickly. After the parade, we’d down pizza before hitting the Farms,
    Bedford’s favorite destination for trick or treating--a neighborhood where houses are reasonably close together.  There would be various groups we’d need to meet up with at various times.
    Bill and I would stand back from our kids on the stoop gently reminding them to say “trick or
    treat” and “thank you” before shuffling them along to the next lit doorstep. As an avid collector of candy as a kid, I was always shocked and disappointed how early they’d give in to cold and fatigue. "How about three more houses?” I’d urge, as if they needed more candy. “No, it’s fine, let’s go home,” they’d say.

    Halloween is another mile-marker on the road towards their independence. Joni Mitchell sang, “And the seasons, they go round and round."  This year it didn't even occur to me to bring down the big box of spooky decorations.  No one asked for them either.  My 13 year old daughter planned her costume (Native American) with her friends, went shopping with them, and put it all together without the least bit of my involvement. My middle son drew up a concept of his Halloween look, a Badminton player, with a sketch that could be turned in as an assignment for the Fashion Institute of Technology. My oldest is planning to be a boy from the 20’s with his friends, and he culled his whole look out of pieces from around the house. Not a penny of investment. 

    No more carrying their plastic pumpkins when they get tired.  No more holding their hands as we cross the dark streets of the Farms.  No more watching as they sort through their candy, and watching as they carry out extensive trades, Nerds for Laffy Taffy, Sour Patch Kids for Skittles.  Tonight, they've all got their own plans.  Bill and I are going to the movies.

    Thursday, October 29, 2009


    While on Santorini, Bill is working and it is just not in my nature to sit back and relax.  I have an innate need to “justify my existence,” in the words of an old friend.  So for me, relaxation comes from running, taking walks with my camera to scout for my Shoot in Santorini website, checking emails, and perhaps most satisfying, editing photographs of my daughter Maxie's bat mitzvah.

    All that done, I sit down have to write.  Bill is off helping our friend repair his boat after damage wrought by last night’s wild thunder and lightning storm.  The air is cool and breezy, and clouds have blocked in the island in a way we could never imagine possible from the typically blue sky days of August and September on so many trips with our kids.

    So many pictures from so many vacations!  What do we do with all those snapshots?   The beauty of digital photography is the freedom to shoot a lot.  The downside is if we trust our albums to an electronic form, with the rate of technological change, that computer, and the files therein, will someday no longer be accessible.  A line in the book I just finished (The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby) put it well: “Fragile as it is, paper seems to be the only thing left in the end.” That must be seen as true for our family photographs too.  Unless we print them they’ll eventually disappear in a technological black hole.  So learn the art of the edit.  Delete the bad ones, the redundant ones, and print the rest, through any one of the many on-line processors. (My Publisher is a favorite of ours).  That way, they’ll always be there to retell your family history. 

    (As the holidays approach, Bill is often asked about cameras.  He recommends the Canon Powershot G10, at about $400+ dollars.  It's neither terribly expensive nor overly elaborate--an excellent buy and in the right hands offers magnificent results. Our son, Zander, made beautiful use of his during his recent semester in Sicily.  Take a look at his Sicilian Portfolio here.)

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Hiding Away

    Being the wife of a photographer, one who has made a good part of his living for many years with travel assignments, has many advantages.  Bill’s schedule is flexible, and we have long periods of time with him home.  Our walls are covered with his amazing black and white images of our family from all over the world.  We’re privy to knowledge about places, both the most affordable and the most exclusive, before most people are.  One of the best perks of Bill’s career is getting to visit the kind of destinations that others dream about.  We’re at that kind of place right now, which, coincidentally while we’re staying here, has (again) landed on the front cover of November’s Conde Nast Traveler Top 100 Readers’ Choice issue: Perivolas in Oia, Santorini Greece.

    The purpose of this current trip was many-fold.  It was a chance to get away for our 20th anniversary. Bill also taught a private workshop, and we continued work on a project that has been underway for four years.  From the ruins of an old pumice factory on the island of Thirassia, our friend Costis Psychas has created an elegant private villa, situated in the embrace of a broad cove with the most extraordinary view in the Aegean, 180 degrees of sea and sky and those famed white cliff-side villages of Santorini, a five minute boat ride away.  Bill is the first to photograph the house and I will write the story.  Perivolas Hideaway becomes available for clients next summer.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    These Acts of Love

    A mother’s life can be boiled down to one very simple overriding theme.  Our friend Linda once said, “It’s what we do.  Mothers move things from here to there.”  We move laundry from baskets to washer to dryer and back to basket.  We move groceries off shelves, into the cart, onto the belt, back into the cart, into the car, then out of the car.  We put them on our shelves and into the refrigerator, so those shelves and that refrigerator can be emptied again, and so begins the cycle again.  We move our kids from school to appointments and classes and games and friends’ houses and then we bring them home again.  We move piles of stuff from one room to the next, and on the way back, we move other stuff the other direction.  Even a trip to the bathroom is an opportunity to multi-task.  Change that roll, refill the tissue box, recycle these magazines.

    Such is the stuff of a mother’s life.  It can feel like such drudgery, and for a time for me, it was.  The morning alarm was a cruel jab.  Time to get up and make the donuts.  The  laundry was a personal affront, and god help the kid who was discovered putting clean jeans into the basket rather than refold them.  The empty refrigerator felt like rebuke.

    But then I came across something that shifted my perspective just a few clicks, and it made all the difference in the world for me.  Acts of love.  I began to look at the planning of dinner, the packing of lunches, the food shopping and the laundry as acts of love.  For me, these words were an incantation.  These are ways I show my love for my family.  And, what a gift that I'm here to show them my love this way.

    Granted, we are self-employed, and work at home many days.  Our schedules are flexible.  And, ok, we do pay someone to come in every other week to do the work no amount of love could make us happy to do.  But this is the stuff of a mother’s life, and with our oldest boy in the throes of college applications, we are fully aware that the days of this full house  are numbered.  Our nest will be down to four birds next year.

    And so, bring on the lunch requests.  Get your clothes dirty and grab a fresh towel.  We’ll gladly fill the refrigerator with stuff you love and plenty of it for your friends, too.  We're happy to drive you to Applebee’s and Connor’s and Brooke's and the eye doctor and for shin guards.  Acts of love.  Lucky us.

    (For those of you who don’t feel the magic, there’s always people like Amanda Salles, with a background in interior design and organization whose business, Wife for a Day, can relieve you of some of the pressure of your to-do list!)

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Staying Warm

    When we get home from Greece, we hope it'll still be warm enough to sleep outside.  We have a screened porch off the kitchen and from May until November we move our bedroom outside.  We've already had some snow, the nights have dipped into the thirties and the heat in the house is on.  In past years, getting to November has been a challenge but this year, we added a heated blanket to the bed and making December the goal.  A few minutes before going to sleep and heading from the warmth of the kitchen, we turn the blanket on to warm up the bed.  Every night for the past few months we've gone to sleep with the hooting of migrating owls--Barred, Screech and the current migrant--the Great Horned.  It's the perfect sleep machine and totally energy efficient.  In the morning, we dash back inside before sun rise to a warm kitchen.

    Keeping the house warm but conserving fuel is an important issue for us.  We've learned through years of involvement in environmental organizations and efforts that conservation help can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.  Last year at the Bedford Environmental Summit we learned about a device called a fuel economizer and shortly afterwards learned that Stuart and Karina Warshaw, friends of ours in Bedford along with Raymond Raphael, had started a new company called Rauw Energy.  Rauw was begun for the best of reasons--they know they can do well by doing good.  Their device--the Intellidyne Fuel Economizer  will cut heating oil consumption an average of 12-18% and at a cost of $695 (installed) will pay for itself in two years.   The RauwLetter they produce also offers tips and insight on affordable conservation solutions and ideas.  We installed a fuel economizer on our furnace and expect not only to save money but to help in reducing CO2 emissions and play our part in helping our town reach its goal to cut carbon emissions 20% by the year 2020.
    Rauw Energy is offering A+B SEE readers $100 off the purchase of their Fuel Economizer.  Simply enter code ABSEE when you checkout.

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    A Trip Without the Kids

    Next week we'll be going back to Greece.  We were there in August as a family.  This time, it's just the two of us.  I'm teaching a private photography workshop in Santorini and shooting a remarkable new luxury hotel on a neighboring island.   Andrea will be scouting new locations.  The real reason we're going together is to celebrate our anniversary.  Greece was our first big trip as a couple.  What a way to mark our 20th. 

    For weeks, we've been preparing to leave our children and our house for a week.   There's a lasagna cooling on the counter, and a huge pot of pea soup simmering on the stove.  The freezer is stocked with shrimp and ravioli and Bagel Bites (by request), and the refrigerator and pantry are bursting with breakfast and lunch items.  They will not have to scrounge for food, and somewhere they'll know that in or absence, this food is a sign of our love. 

    We are flying together.  We have always flown together, though it's something we've always debated.  The risk of parents dying in car crashes is much greater, and you never hear of parents driving separately to parties or the theatre.  We look forward to sitting quietly together for ten hours, reading and watching a movie, splitting an Ambien to sleep.  We will breathe a sigh of relief upon landing.  Whew.  Made it.  One flight down, three to go.

    But all our separation anxieties will not be soothed.  Our oldest, Zander, is in the throes of college applications.  Some are due while we're gone.  Having never gone through this process before, we had no idea what this time of year would mean.  (Let's just say we'll be around for all of October when Simon is at this stage two years from now.)  Aside from leaving Zander and his college applications, there's the usual gamut of logistics to maneuver in a house with three teens and all these animals: sleepovers, pickups and drop-offs, schedules and coverage, in this case, our beloved and thoroughly competent assistant, Chris, whom the kids adore.  Oh yeah, we also have to ensure that our businesses continue to operate in our absence. 

    A trip away from the kids is sweet and sour, but the need to reconnect with each other on a regular basis is vital.  There's never a good time to leave.  But, always putting kids first can wreak havoc on a relationship.  A couple can become like colleagues in the corporation that runs the household.  Not very sexy.  Between two freelance people, where business travel is a constant, the phrase "like two ships that pass in the night" takes on all too real meaning.  At one point not too long ago, we realized that we had just stopped making out, long lingering kisses like when we first met.  So, we're back to kissing, hugging, groping, and it's fun.  And sexy.  And the kids HATE it.  Well, too bad. We were here before you, and that hugging and groping is how they got here.  And if they want us together for a long, long time to come, they're going to have to forgive us our hand-holding and long-kisses. 

    We're going away to be boyfriend and girlfriend for a few days, no distractions.  Of course, mostly what we'll talk about is how much we miss our kids, wondering what each of them is doing at that very moment, hoping they didn't forget to bring something to school, and planning when we'll Skype home.

    The above 1988 photograph is from The Greek File.  We spent part of our honeymoon in this room.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    What me blog?

    When it was suggested that I blog, the scowl on my face was quite plain.  For Andrea, it seemed natural.  For years, she wrote essays about her life that appeared in the New York Times and other national publications, and was a Contributing Editor for Martha Stewart Living in its earliest years. 
    She's always had people telling her that she should write more--she has no shortage of ideas (or opinions) and people seem interested in hearing from her.  Andrea's a hub, constantly communicating with and connecting people.  Now with Andrea Raisfeld Locations, she continues to work with magazines,  advertising and design agencies, and the world's best photographers, finding locations for shoots in the NY area and in Santorini, Greece, where we have been traveling for 25 years.

    I am the quieter one--the visual communicator.  For twenty years I've been a Contributing Photographer for Conde Nast Traveler, and in over 25 years, I've worked for nearly every lifestyle and interiors magazine published.   My photography has taken me all over the world, and put me in front of some of the most beautiful places and things on earth.

    But why blog?   Print media is shrinking but the flow of ideas has not slowed.  We've spent a lot of time bringing stories to magazines, and seeing the world through an editorial lens.  Through our work, we continue to see new things everyday. Andrea and I have built a great life and two homes for our three kids (plus three dogs, cat, numerous chickens and hawk) and we have a storehouse of knowledge to share--not only from our own experience, personal and professional, but from our friends' lives as well. 

    A+B See is our new way to do that.  Read it, share it, and anytime, let us know what you think.

    Of note: In the 2003 photo above, Today's Word was incantation