Focus On: Kitt Shapiro
Honoring her mother Eartha Kitt

Kitt Shapiro, daughter of Eartha Kitt

Kitt Shapiro, daughter of Eartha Kitt

I had the great pleasure to hear Kitt Shapiro talk about her mother, Eartha Kitt, last week.  Kitt was the featured speaker for a group I am a member of called the Women’s Entrepreneur Network (WEN).

Kitt has introduced a lifestyle brand called Simply Eartha as a tribute to her mother.  Her candles, bracelets, stationary and home decor items all feature the inspiring words of Eartha Kitt, or her “Kittisms.”

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Proceeds from specific Simply Eartha “Products That Give Back” go to the Colon Cancer Alliance to help prevent and treat this disease.  Eartha Kitt died of colon cancer in 2008.

Kitt Shapiro grew up in Los Angeles and London, and attended Barnard College / Columbia University before starting a successful modeling career.  She has been president of Eartha Kitt Productions for over 20 years, organizing and producing Earth Kitt shows and productions all over the world.

After her mother passed away, Kitt came across hundreds of what her mother liked to call “Kittisms” written on napkins, notebooks ~ whatever was close at hand.  These “Kittisms” adorn the Simply Eartha line of accessories as inspirations to anyone who buys them.

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Kitt’s presentation was fascinating.  She took us through her mother’s life from rural South Carolina to New York city where Eartha joined a famed dance troupe.  While touring with the dance troupe, she was discovered in Paris and booked as a featured singer in a nightclub.  Orson Welles saw her in Paris and deemed her “the most exciting woman in the world.” Broadway and film quickly followed.  Earth Kitt is one of only a handful of performers to be nominated for a Tony, a Grammy and an Emmy award.

One of my favorite Eartha Kitt quotes is, “Every day, tell the ones you love, how you feel.”

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For more information on Simply Eartha and these wonderful products:


For information on Serendipity Labs where this presentation was held:

Serendipity Labs ~ Rye, NY


the wry home

Focus On: Lee Woodruff
Where Rye Writers Write

The third writer I am profiling in my series “Where Rye Writers Write” is Lee Woodruff.  I met Lee in the fall of 2005, shortly after we moved to Rye from Charlotte, NC.  Our mutual friend, Callie, introduced the two of us and we had many great lunches and walks before her whole life changed in January 2006.  Lee’s husband, Bob Woodruff, was the co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight and in Iraq on assignment when an improvised explosive device went off near the tank he was riding in and Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him.

Lee and Bob wrote In an Instant together, chronicling how their lives changed and healed after this traumatic event.  Lee then went on to write two more books, Perfectly Imperfect and her first fiction novel, Those We Love Most, which won the Washington Irving Book Award for fiction.

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As if all of this, plus four kids, is not keeping her busy enough ~ Lee is also a contributing reporter for “CBS This Morning,” writing freelance articles that have run in magazines such as Real Simple, Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal and is on the road weekly for numerous speaking engagements.  Ok, I’m exhausted thinking about all she is up to, so lets take a look at her beautiful home.

What is your training?

I never really had any formal training.  I was an English major in college and always loved to write stories as a kid.  Writing was the thing that I gravitated toward and I just kept doing it, even when what was coming out wasn’t so good.

When did you start writing?

I’ve been making up stories since I was a little girl.  Then I moved to writing in the marketing field, then essays and articles for myself and finally books.

Why did you start writing/motivation?

Writing was the thing that found me.  I would have to say that the motivation was probably that it made me – and still makes me – fulfilled.  When it’s going well and it’s all working, it makes me extremely happy.

Where in your home do you like to write?

My favorite place to write is in our cottage in upstate New York.  It was my grandparent’s house and it has memories, it’s cozy and it’s my safe place.  I have an office here in Rye where I also write and I like to pull my laptop into the living room and look out the window at the sky.  Light is good for writing, but so is a dark cozy morning before the sun rises.

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What in this room inspires you?

My office is an eclectic mix of all kinds of parts of my life; pictures, books, candles, bud vases, old Mao buttons from when we lived in China, wooden antique carved figures.  It is a tangle of things that inspire and define me.

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Do you write everyday?

I wish I could.  Someday I will have more time.  I always say right now with other hats I wear, writing is the thing that happens in the margins of my life.  I don’t ever want to wish time away, but I know that when the kids are out of the house, it will be the good thing to look forward to in that weird transition.

Who has influenced your work?

So many writers and many things still do.  I constantly rip out articles or write down words I read.  I love female writers like Sue Miller, Jane Smiley, Jane Hamilton, Emily Dickinson, Curtis Sittenfeld, Ann Leary.  I could go on and on.

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Who is your favorite up and coming writer

I’m not sure how to answer that – up and coming – I think if someone is published and I’ve read them, they’ve made it!!!



Fantasy place to write?

Any place with water or the woods inspire me.  A cozy cottage, house or apartment where I am alone and can write – well, that’s a fantasy.

Favorite guilty magazine or blog?

I’m still a hard copy girl – I spend so much time on my computer that’s not where I like to read.  Vanity Fair and New York Magazine hands down!

Favorite way to relax?

Read, hike, garden and red wine!

Dream accomplishment?

I think the New Yorker would be a dream.

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Are you working on anything now?

Yes – working on finishing a novel now and hoping to get it polished up soon.

Here are links for more information about Lee and her books:

Website ~ www.leewoodruff.com

Facebook ~ www.facebook.com/LeeWoodruff

Twitter ~ @LeeMWoodruff

Instagram ~ leewoodruff

the wry home

Two Designers, One Estate

Photo credit Cutty

The Jay Estate (Photo credit: Cutty McGill)

Festive holiday events abound this time of year.  But when my friend Suzanne Clary invited me to dine with designer Alexa Hampton and landscape architect Thomas Woltz at a luncheon to celebrate the landmark Jay Heritage Estate, I jumped at the chance.

Photo credit: Cutty McGill

Thomas Woltz and Alexa Hampton (Photo credit: Cutty McGill)

This dynamic duo is helping Suzanne Clary (President of the Jay Heritage Center) and her team with restoration projects at the historic Jay Estate in Rye, New York.  Alexa Hampton has one of the most recognizable names in interior design.  Frequently included in “Best Designer” lists for the likes of Architectural Digest, House Beautiful and New York Magazine, Alexa runs her own design firm Mark Hampton, Inc and has product collections with Kravet, Hickory Chair, Visual Comfort and Stark Carpet.

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Alexa joined the advisory board of the Jay in 2010 and is assembling the soft furnishings for the Jay Mansion’s dining room to compliment the 1870 period.  She is an expert in all things classical, but knows how to make elegant, historic places modern and accessible for today’s use.  Alexa is a board member of the NY Landmarks Conservancy, The Institute of Classical Art and Architecture and the NY School of Interior Design.  The 1907 Classical Carriage House on the Jay property is another special project Alexa will work on to bring it back to its original splendor.

Thomas Woltz

Thomas Woltz

Thomas Woltz is another incredible talent working at the Jay Estate.  Thomas is the Principal owner of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects with offices in New York, Charlottesville, and San Francisco.  Named 2013 design innovator of the year by the Wall Street Journal, Woltz is a landscape architect who describes himself as a “storyteller,” embracing the complexity of modern life while responding to the conditions of each project location.  Currently at work on the $15 billion New York City Hudson Yards Development, Thomas is designing the 6.5 acre Public Square in the middle of the site, describing it as the “City’s Living Room.”

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Thomas first came to the Jay Estate as part of a sustainable landscape symposium organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, DC.  Thomas was one of the speakers, outlining the challenges and opportunities inherent in preserving historic landscapes like the Jay Estate.  Suzanne immediately recognized his approach to revitalizing gardens as a clear fit with what she envisioned the Jay “campus” to become.

P1050925Suzanne and her board want the Jay gardens to educate and help tell stories of American Heritage.  Since Thomas’approach is a perfect match, things clicked between them.  Thomas and his team will create a concept plan and a 3D model in early winter 2015 for the fifteen historic gardens at the Jay Estate.

The luncheon was a celebration to announce the exciting news of a $500,000 matching grant to restore the Jay gardens and the stewardship agreement between the Jay Heritage Center, NY State and Westchester County.

Over 160 guests attended the luncheon.  Champage flowed, books were signed.  Everyone was in the holiday spirit!

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The venue was stunning.

Beautiful views for all the guests.

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Gingerbread houses, designed after the 1849 AJ Davis Cottage that once graced the property, decorated all of the tables.

Suzanne Clary and Alexa Hampton (Photo credit: Cutty McGill)

Suzanne Clary and Alexa Hampton (Photo credit: Cutty McGill)

Suzanne toasted Michael A. Kovner who received the JHC’s 2014 Preservation Award and he, with his husband, contributed a gift of $150,000 during the luncheon to help complete the gardens.

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NY State Assemblyman, Steve Otis, spoke about his support for preserving the Jay Estate and was instrumental in helping secure the $500,000 REDC Award from New York State Parks.

Thomas and Alexa both wowed the guests with slide shows of their incredible projects.

Suzanne and her daughter Taryn

Suzanne and her daughter Taryn

It was a wonderful event and so inspirational to see what this dedicated group has done to preserve this gorgeous historic property!

Gingerbread house modeled after original in the B/W photo

Gingerbread house modeled after original in the B/W photo

If you want any additional information on the Jay Estate, click here.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  The Wry Home will be back in 2015.

Jay Heritage Estate (Photo credit: Cutty McGill)

Jay Estate (Photo credit: Cutty McGill)

the wry home

Focus On: Annabel Monaghan
Where Rye Writers Write

The second writer I am profiling in my series “Where Rye Writers Write” is Annabel Monaghan.  With three successful Young Adult books under her belt, Annabel also writes a bi-weekly column for the Rye Record, is a contributor to the Huffington Post and a lifestyle columnist for The Week.

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Annabel’s column in the Rye Record is where I first discovered her writing.  Here is what you need to know about Annabel.  She is funny!  I went back and read every single one of her columns after that first one.  She perfectly captures the everyday things we all navigate and makes you laugh.

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Annabel writes in two places in her home.  For her column, she writes in her kitchen/family room, as she says, “to keep it real.”  For fiction, she writes in her beautiful living room at a table by the window.

IMG_2956What is your training?

I was an English major in college and took writing classes.  But mostly, at that time, my writing training was just reading a lot.  The more you read, the more the flow of a story or even a sentence becomes natural to you.  As an adult, I’ve taken a novel writing course and a screenwriting course at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, which I loved.

When did you start writing?

I started writing when I was a little kid.  There’s a fine line between being a kid who likes to lie and a kid who’s creative!  I made up stories all the time, for better or worse.

I got away from writing when I graduated from college and realized how dependent I’d become on food and shelter.  I got a job at an investment bank and didn’t write another word until I was 37, when Elisabeth Wolfe and I wrote Click!

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Why did you start writing/motivation?

Growing up, I would read stories and think “how did they do that?”  I was often more interested in the writing of the story that the story itself.  I like the way big words and little words got arranged to create a feeling.  I like how capitalizing a word could amplify it’s meaning.  I liked how an author could suck me in with the smallest detail, and suddenly I’d find myself still reading at 3am.  I started writing because I wanted to be able to do that.

Keeping it real!

Keeping it real!

Where in your home do you like to write?

I write in two places.  When I need a clear head and I am writing something complicated and that doesn’t stem from my own life (fiction), I like to write in my living room.  It’s the only room in my house that no one uses, primarily because there’s no TV.  As a result it’s always clean and offers a good spot to keep a clear mind.

When I’m writing my column, which is mostly about the messy reality of being a stay at home mom, I like to write in my kitchen.  Sometimes I look at the morning mess, which has merged with the night before mess, and I decide to just get writing and become a part of it.  You know those people who can’t think straight unless the dishes are done?  I am not one of those people.

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What in this room inspires you?

Living Room: Obviously, the fact that there are no stray socks in the room is a plus.  But everything in this room means something to me.  I have recovered a lot of my grandparents’ furniture and write on the game table where I used to play gin with my Nana.  The white rug, the most impractical thing I own, was selected by my mom who was equally impractical and infinitely more beautiful.  There’s a red painting that I love, made of beeswax, which reminds me to mind my own.

Kitchen: The mess honestly inspires me.  I can be writing about a small slice of mom life and look up and see six or seven examples.  Surrounded by chicken grease, socks, a floating goldfish and a forgotten school photo order form, how could I ever run out of things to write about?

Do you write everyday?

I try to write everyday.  Ideally, I write from 10 to 2:50.  There’s a lot of other work to do as a writer that is not writing, like managing social media, scheduling school visits or reading articles like “Six Signs You Might Be a Procrastinator.”  I’m frustrated when I am at my computer all day and I’ve written nothing.  Some days I have to set a timer and disconnect from the Internet to keep me focused.

What are you reading now?

Swindle by Gordon Korman.  Yes, it’s a little below my reading level but it’s for my mother/son book club.

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Fantasy place to write?

I frequently dream of going to a cabin on a lake for one solid week alone to write.  There would be a really good coffee maker, a fireplace and a wooden table with a comfortable, but not too comfortable chair.  However, this dream goes off the rails when Justin Timberlake shows up at my door to borrow a cup of sugar and asks me to dance…

Favorite guilty magazine or blog?

Hands down, the superficial.com.  It’s just celebrity gossip that no one cares about but whoever writes it (I think it’s anonymous?) is the best, funniest voice on the internet.

Dream accomplishment/project?

I’d like to be on the New York Times Bestseller list, mainly because then I’d feel I wrote something that really resonated with a lot of people.  But my dream job would be to write a column for The Wall Street Journal, like maybe Joe Queenan would retire and give his column to me. (Ahem, Joe!  Are you out there?)

Are you working on anything now?

I’m working on my regular column about being a mom on the edge at Christmas time, due tomorrow.  I’m also working on a screenplay, which is an animated fairytale that I really, really like.  And I’m also working on finding the time to get the third Digit book out of my head and into my laptop.  Any idea where I can rent a cabin on a lake, preferably near Justin Timberlake?

Here are links for more information on Annabel and her books! (Digit and Double Digit)

Twitter ~ @AnnabelMonaghan

Instagram ~ annabelmonaghan

Facebook ~ www.facebook.com/AnnabelMonaghan

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