I wanted to make a fun and not-so-naughty holiday cocktail and went with a twist on a margarita for our Christmas party. A hibiscus margarita is one of my favorites and I usually make them with hibiscus tea sweetened with honey, lime juice and tequila, with a dash of orange bitters. For the holiday version, I simmered the hibiscus tea in a pot with whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. (Yes, the house smelled great!) I transferred the cooled tea to a pitcher, adding lime juice, frozen cherries, and bitters. A vintage pitcher and glasses found at local thrift and antique shops made it even more festive. Later, for a Christmas brunch, I added the spiced hibiscus tea to prosecco.
More on better-for-you cocktails: My story for Purist magazine, with drinks made in LA, NY and Aspen.
When I was in high school, I attended a program called the “Presidential Classroom for Young Americans” in Washington, D.C., with other idealistic, civic-minded teens who wanted to rule the world. I remember meeting my Congressman, sitting on the floor of the House of Representatives, and feeling so inspired. I didn’t end up in the political arena, but I’m so excited for the next generation of young women seeing history being made and thinking they want to be President one day.
I vote in every election and proudly wear the sticker. Today, I walked to and from my neighborhood polling station and had a few friendly exchanges with neighbors. It was a lovely Southern California evening and I paused to remind myself about how very lucky we are to vote for our leaders and shape our futures.
I’m grateful my parents raised me to be aware and to be part of the process, whether that means casting a vote for the candidate of your choice or taking a stand and fighting for what is right. It’s an honor.
As I looped around the park during my morning walk, I saw this guy carefully removing the violin from its case and I stopped to hear him start to play. Just one note and memories of my violin-playing school days came to me. Like how Mr. Gelfer loved the Beatles and we played “Eleanor Rigby” for one of our junior high school concerts. I didn’t practice as often as I was instructed to and I didn’t quite get all the parts of the Bach Brandenburg Concerto, but I always loved being in the orchestra, and it’s amazing how good it feels to hear the sounds of those strings.
This meant learning lessons from fields, courts, and tracks even before my brother and I were old enough to play sports on our own. He repeated Vince Lombardi and John Wooden quotes and shared stories of legendary sports heroes, like the great Yankee Lou Gehrig, nicknamed the Iron Horse for his commitment and endurance on the baseball field.
We watched a lot of sports together. When he coached high school football, we went to the games and cheered for the Westhampton Beach Hurricanes. Autumn Saturdays were for high school games and we planned dinners on Sunday around football games. We liked all the home teams: the Yankees, Knicks, Giants, and Jets. Yes, it’s possible to be a fan of two different home teams—why not?
We were taught that giving it your best was expected. “As long as you try your best” applied to everything. You can do it. Try and try again—that’s courage. It’s a game of inches, he said after a player made (or missed) the end zone, basket, or base, or when a runner reached the finish line. You have to work hard, stay focused, and go for it.
Athletic skills and physical feats were appreciated and even marvelled at, but we were taught that mental toughness was what made a true champion. Determination and dedication—that’s what you need to win. You can’t just show up—you have to prepare and play hard, no matter the circumstances. To succeed, practice is as important as competition. So is putting your heart into what you’re doing. You have to love the game and the pursuit.
He said “have fun” instead of “good luck.” After all, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. “Be a good sport” applied to all. The highest value should be placed on being a good teammate, keeping your ego in check, maintaining your cool, playing by the rules, persevering when things get tough, and respecting your opponents. Attitude is everything.
It’s not right to root against someone. A sportsmanship award is better than a first-place trophy. If you don’t have an allegiance to a team or athlete, go for the underdog. He thought blow-outs were boring, even if your favorite team was the one in the lead. What he wanted to watch was a good game.
In school, joining a sports team was encouraged and also seemed like the natural thing to do. I’m so glad I did. I ran cross-country and track and the lessons I learned are with me today, decades later. I wasn’t a fast runner, but my dad was proud of me because I trained hard, tried my best, and loved being on the team.
When I went to college at Albany State, I joined the school newspaper with the intention of covering sports. My favorite was college basketball. In the last couple of years, Albany’s team has made it to the first round of the NCAA tournament. This was an opportunity for my Dad to talk to me about hoops and send me an email with the simple subject line: “Go Great Danes.”
Our mutual love of sports was a bond we maintained and treasured. Through email, we would share links to articles or video clips that were inspiring—recent ones include a video segment on Terry Fox, feature stories on Roberto Clemente and Yasiel Puig, a commentary about Phil Jackson and the Knicks, and an old photo he found online of Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. His comments were short and sweet: “good stuff,” “inspirational,” “get a tissue,” or “enjoy.”
After I moved to Los Angeles, he sent me an article of great LA sports figures and we were able to go to a UCLA basketball game. When I recently joined a fantasy football league with friends, he wanted to know the players I had on my team and he’d notice how my star quarterback or running back was performing. During the post-retirement visits to California my parents took, we watched Sunday football games together at my home and I planned meals around game times.
In everyday life, I have relied on sports lessons to motivate me, whether it’s pacing myself, going the distance, or kicking in the end. During tough times, my father’s encouraging words—similar to the ones he would share with the students he coached—have supported and lifted me. It was as simple as reminding me that strength comes from within.
There’s always a game on and it pains me to think I won’t be able to talk to him or sit down on the couch with him to watch—or talk on the phone, plan a visit, open my email to see another message that would surely bring a smile to my face. There is so much I already miss about my dear Dad. I can almost hear him say, “chin up, Stefanie Susan.” I will miss that love and support and his voice telling me to have fun. But I’m so grateful for the gifts he gave me.
One of my favorite things to do is take photos of tourists, usually at the beach. I do this enough to call it a hobby. It is such a quick and easy way to make someone happy and I get a boost from it as well. I like knowing families will return home with a photo that shows them all, and that single travelers will have a photo that is better than a selfie. There’s usually a bit of small talk and I share local tips when prompted. They smile for the camera and I smile right back. I spotted this woman walking to the shore this morning with a huge smile on her face. When she held up her phone to the ocean, I stood up and offered to take her photo. She said she was visiting from the Midwest. I told her to make sure she dipped her feet in the water. Then I sat back down and watched her continue to the water, still smiling.
On the evening of David Letterman’s last late night appearance before retirement, I wish I could easily access the press clipping from my college newspaper of the behind-the-scenes story we published. I didn’t get to meet Dave during that taping and visit to the set—but I had my photo taken with Paul Shaffer backstage! Did we have anything profound to say at the time? Probably not.
But there is this: I grew up with Dave as my late night TV host and I’m so glad I did.
Like so many others, I tuned in to unwind after a long day. To listen and to laugh—and to discover musicians and bands, too. I was lucky to be in the audience a few times, once during a wild Howard Stern appearance. As a New Yorker, I loved when he chose to put the spotlight on his neighbors, from Meg in the office across the way to Rupert Jee in the deli down the block—and I cried during his first post-9/11 show. I was entertained by regular guests, from Bill Murray and Chris Elliott to Teri Garr and Regis Philbin. Then there were the things we came to count on: like the Top 10 lists and hearing Darlene Love sing “Baby, Please Come Home” year after year. He famously flirted with female guests like Drew Barrymore (who famously flashed him), and he let down his guard to connect with regulars like Warren Zevon (who provided us all with a profound final appearance).
It was okay when Dave was moody—even grouchy—because he was always sharp and he didn’t stand for BS and always found the humor in things. (Also: it was late at night.) He was obviously hilarious and insightful and he would also surprise you with his sheer silliness or his warmth and affection for guests. At the end of the day, it was the right time to welcome a mixed bag of emotions and tricks. What a great run.