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From my first Curious George book, I’ve been fascinated by monkeys and apes. At 21, I interviewed to take care of baby gorillas at the Bronx Zoo; I walked towards the babies and 1-year-old Hodari climbed up right into my arms. I was hooked, he trusted me—we had a moment, and I had the job. For 1 ½ years, I took care of 2 young gorillas, Hodari and Mopi. We played games, they napped on my lap, and I made sure they were happy and healthy, while talking to zoo visitors about their behavior. Eventually I graduated to Mammal Zoo Keeper, and wrote some papers on animal species preservation. I support good, humane, educational zoos because they connect people to animal species they would never see otherwise, and create an understanding of why we need to protect these animals in the wild, and what we will lose when they’re gone.
Creating connections is integral for humans and animals alike. Someone once said that each human is a single species of their own, and that’s how I approach people in my life—everyone has a history, a legacy, and a rich story that is uniquely theirs, and they should live it every day.
Being underwater is pretty surreal. We’re humans. We’re not supposed to breathe underwater. So much of the ocean has been unexplored so you’re in this whole other world a lot of people haven’t seen. My husband actually got me into scuba diving. When we were dating, one of our first trips was to Costa Rica where I finalized my certification. Now we plan our trips around diving. Some of the places we’ve been to include Belize, Aruba, Mexico, Bimini, Key West, and Thailand. What I love the most is seeing the sea life. In Bimini, we dived with great hammerhead sharks and in South Africa we did cage diving with great white sharks.
Seeing the effects of global warming, especially coral bleaching, during a dive is really eye opening. My husband and I are members of Project Aware. The foundation works with scuba divers to create awareness of threats to the ocean and promote conservation of sea life. I feel like the more people who can go diving and see this first hand, it’s like “Oh, this is really having an impact, what can I do to help this?”
It was a bit random. I moved to Paris in 2003 and met my first friends through an expat family network called MESSAGE. I’ve always loved to bake and would bring treats to playgroups. Then, someone asked if they could order cupcakes from me for a party. At that time, French moms had no idea what cupcakes were, and mine were a hit. Little by little, through word of mouth, people started to call me for cupcakes. It got to the point that I outgrew my small home kitchen, and in 2008, started my business, Sugar Daze.
This was when cupcakes took off in the US, and the same thing happened in Paris. It was a case of right place, right time, right product—and thankfully, I was there. My store got a lot of press, and it was an overnight success. I made cupcakes for everyone from Apple to Yahoo, did all kinds of events, movies, pop-ups. And I had a bunch of celebrity orders. One time, Tom Cruise’s assistant called me to make cupcakes for Victoria and David Beckham’s son. She wanted them sent to their hotel, and all I could think was— Can I make this delivery myself? —imagining David Beckham himself greeting me at the door!
I have always been into storytelling. In my 20s, I met a friend who had just sold her novel, and it was motivating to see someone I knew succeeding in the publishing world. She invited me into her writing group, where I was encouraged to chase a story I submitted. For about two years, I woke up at 5:30 every morning to write before work. At some point, I realized that what I was writing was a novel. After a laborious process, I sold my first book, Where Earth Meets Water, and two years later, my second novel, The Faces of Strangers, was published.
What I love about fiction writing is how it satisfies me. Even if the pages I write don’t get published, I feel invigorated. I can handle whatever life throws at me, because I did something for myself that day that no one can take away. Part of it, too, is the challenge. I would hear people say that they’ve always wanted to write a book. My first thought is, So do it. You can do this. That’s not to say that I haven’t faced lots of challenges along the way; there have been plenty. But when you have a passion, just because you have children or a day job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow your dreams.
I grew up in the late ‘60s when activism was not uncommon. I remember being 11 years old, marching around our public school when Martin Luther King died. It was a culture I was attracted to—I don’t like to see suffering or injustice, and I like to help people, to try improving their lives. There’s also an inquisitive side to it, finding out the causes to problems.
Sometimes, obvious things can be addressed but aren’t because of barriers from culture and society. But people should feel free to speak up if something isn’t quite right in their neighborhood or community. If you have the urge to help, go with it. Think about the skills that you have and where they could be helpful to people. It’s good to volunteer where it’s needed the most. Everybody could do it, even in a little way.