TIC Toastmasters

Some people enjoy public speaking.  I would like to be one of those people.  I’ve had moments during public readings or radio interviews when my heart beat so fast I could hardly breathe.  I had a television audition during which my mouth became so dry that I couldn’t separate my tongue from the roof of my mouth. 

I learned about Toastmasters from Mike Dooley’s book, Manifesting Change. Dooley’s first Toastmaster speech was on the topic, “Thoughts Become Things.” He is now a professional public speaker. 

I went to my first Toastmasters meeting last Wednesday, along with several other first-timers, most of them students at nearby Columbia University.

Presiding Officer, Vic asked all the guests to introduce themselves.  Then Toastmaster, Carole, introduced the word of the day: motivation.  Next, two speakers presented speeches.

Thomas talking on the Year of the Snake

Thomas, a Toastmasters regular, gave the first speech, “Happy Year of the Snake.” He used the floor space and aisle, asking listeners, “What do you associate with the snake?”  Thomas explained that the lunar New Year means a lot more to him than January 1st.  He said the snake is good for money and flexible so we could expect a good year of change and financial fortune.

Vic talking on Privilege and ResponsibilityNext, Vic spoke on the topic, “With Privilege Comes Responsibility.” Vic recounted his defining moment, when as a child in India his bicycle broke down on the way to school and a young boy helped him fix it.  The boy said proudly, “My elder brother goes to school.”  This boy was working in a garage to help his brother study.  Vic realized then how privileged he was and determined to use his gifts to help others.

Next came a section called “Table Topics” during which Vice President and Topics Master, Rory, called on attendees to speak for two minutes or less on various topics, including the Superbowl electrical malfunction, whether the New York Times should continue in print, whether St. John the Divine Cathedral should sell abutting land for tower blocks, and whether many children or a single child is better in a family. 

Me talking about Wine Pairings

I was asked to speak about what I would choose if I were on an important business meeting and asked to select a wine to accompany fish.  My knowledge of wines is so poor that I admitted I would have to request assistance from someone in the know.

After an anonymous vote, prize bookmarks were awarded to Vic for Best Speech, newcomer, Nora, for her 46-second Table Topics answer to the family size question, and Thomas for best evaluator.  

All speeches are timed and measured by an Ah Counter for the number of sounds used as a crutch.  I expected my Ah Counter to be off the charts, but it was zero.  Toastmasters is such a relaxed environment in which to learn confidence in public speaking, I’m actually looking forward to giving my first speech.

Frugal Feasts, Harlem Style


I learned about Frugal Feasts from Sasha Lyutse, who is a Policy Analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council and also teaches yoga.  The idea was inspired by Mark Bittman’s $5 challenge with Slow Food USA, which states, "I pledge to share a fresh, healthy meal that costs less than $5 — because slow food shouldn't have to cost more than fast food."

“The concept is infused with the principle that comes from the work we do,” said Sasha, “to use the most sustainable sources possible."

“Sustainable means we strive to eat lower on the food chain, so the items have less environmental impact.  We use organically grown food from local farmer’s markets.  It’s a balanced meal and it’s created on a budget.”

I attended a vegan feast hosted by photographer, Alexis Percival.  There were three couples at the Frugal Feast, four single ladies, Alexis and Ricky the cat, who lap-hopped throughout the evening.

Each of the four courses had a wine pairing. I don’t really understand wine but in honor of the Frugal Feast, I sampled the first wine, which was a sparkling wine, a Cava from Spain. 

Wine photo by Mikel Washington

This is what I learned about wine that night:

Sparkling wines, like the Cava make an excellent aperitif because they are light and won't overwhelm the palate. Dry wines have higher alcohol content (12% and above) because the sugar has been converted to alcohol.  

Radish photo by Mikel Washington

The first course was Mustard Greens with Olive Oil, Rice Vinegar and Salt, topped with "moo" radish and crispy fried scallion.  Alexis brought out the second wine, a Riesling from France.  I felt I should taste it in honor of the event, but when I contemplated every course having its own wine, I decided to just take a sip.

The second course, Austrian Style Purple Potato Salad, was accompanied by a Beaujolais, also from France.  The third course was Whole Wheat Pizza with Roasted Butternut Squash & Garlic, Portobello Mushrooms, Onions and fresh spinach. The wine was Ribera del Duero from Spain.  At this point, I stopped trying to keep up with the wines.

Ricky the Cat with a Lady, photo by Sasha Lyutse

The other Frugal Feasters were clearly tipsy by the third course. Then Alexis brought out the dessert, Poached Apples with Syrup topped with Candied Walnuts. My wines were lined up, glinting expectantly.

Guests came from as far away as the Lower East Side and Queens to sample Alexis’s feast.  The conversation ran the gamut of world travel, relationships, food and wine and the effect on our minds of video games and social networking. 

The simple pleasures in life, good company and good food, still have a lot going for them, and Frugal Feasts are a great way of continuing the tradition.