Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.


Agneta Pleijel’s A Fortune Foretold


“It is through writing that one can begin to remember,” writes Agneta Pleijel. The Swedish poet, playwright, and novelist recounts memories focusing on her youth and teenage years. Young Neta’s story is narrated in the third person, evoking for the reader the separation that Peijel feels from her own history. The conflicts of those memories range from the seemingly mundane (not having the right kind of fuzzy hat to wear in the winter) to the very serious (dealing with her parents’ crumbling marriage and her mother’s inconsistent mental state).

This autobiographical novel beautifully encapsulates the oft-experienced solitude and confusion of youth, when any perceived slight twists itself into self-truth. In young Neta’s life, these slights are pervasive. She knows that she is a cause of her parents’ separation. She knows that she is a burden to her mother. She knows, but she does not understand, and she never feels comfortable asking for clarity. Neta’s journey – from questioning, anxious child to furiously independent teen to a woman who will become an award-winning writer – drives this memoir. The moments of triumph carry the reader through: Neta’s success as a crooning seductress in a high school musical revue; her Parisian marriage proposal; her determined money-earning efforts so she can be less of a burden to her family.

However, I found most of the story overwhelming bleak. The possible charm of jazzy parties in post-World War II Sweden is dissipated by Neta’s purposefully distant personality, every happy family memory is tainted by Neta’s conviction that she was such a primary reason for that family falling apart, and those relationships described as valuable by Peijel herself (not her third-person memory) are twisted by the distrust and iciness of Neta’s youth. The shiny, constant hope offered by the character of Neta’s Aunt Ricki dims and then dies, even as Neta is maturing as an artist.

Fans of Agneta Peijel will likely savor the illuminating prose. Those completely unfamiliar with her work, as I was, can still appreciate the story. It is not a beach read, but is thought-provoking in the shade or after sunset. Perhaps consume in the evening, when the veil to the past is thin but the present is calm. Our own stories – moments and years-long struggles – can be reflected on with the peace of hindsight and understood more thoroughly.  Peijel’s novel encourages one to do just that, either by comparison or in solidarity.

Top photo: Agneta Pleijel, credit Maciej Zaremba

A Fortune Foretold
Agneta Pleijel

Pat Saunders—Supporting Athletes


By Charlene Giannetti

Anyone who has an athletic child knows the commitment involved. It takes a special person, however, to make a commitment to help other people’s children achieve their athletic dreams. Pat Saunders has spent more than twenty years working tirelessly for the American Junior Golf Association, serving on the organization’s board of directors, traveling internationally with the golfers, and serving as tournament chairman for local events. Recently, the AJGA recognized Pat’s efforts, awarding her the prestigious 2009 Digger Smith Award (photo, left below). “Pat is a prime example of a person who never stops giving to others,” said AJGA’s Executive Director Stephen Hamblin.

saundersdiggerawardAlthough Pat is a golfer herself, helping young people succeed at the game has become a passion for her. “I love meeting the kids and traveling with them,” she said. Her satisfaction comes from seeing young golfers benefit from their involvement with AJGA. With more than 80 tournaments each year, AJGA provides a high profile venue for young golfers to compete and earn college scholarships. Many of AJGA’s graduates ultimately turn professional, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, among them. In 2003, Saunders traveled to Sweden with a group of young women who competed in the Junior Solheim Cup. At least three of those women—Brittany Lincicome, Paula Creamer, and Amanda Blumenhurst—are now competing professionally. The last two years, she has accompanied both boys and girls to the Evian Masters Juniors Cup in Evian, France. (Photo , top, shows Pat with Annie Park, left, and Kyung Kim, members of the 2008 U.S. Evian Masters Juniors Cup Team).

Saunders’ dedication to young athletes does not stop with golf. As a member of the board at Asphalt Green, she has been active in raising money for the organization’s Swim for the Future, an initiative launched after 9/11 that does for young swimmers what the AJGA does for young golfers: provides the resources to cover the costs for these students to swim and train at Asphalt Green. Many of these Swim for the Future recipients have gone on to qualify for Olympic trials, hold national records, and are members of the U.S.A. National Swim Team. “These students have great futures in the world of swimming,” said Saunders. She also supports Asphalt Green’s efforts to teach public school children how to swim through the Waterproofing Program.

party with Olympians

Saunders has been a member of Asphalt Green’s Masters Swim Team for sixteen years. (Photo above, Saunders with members of the Masters Swim Team and, on left, Olympians Craig Beardsley and Janel Jorgensen). When two member of the team, Andrew Fisher and Doug Irgang, perished on 9/11, Saunders, fellow Masters swimmers, Asphalt Green staff, and coaches at Asphalt Green met with the families. “We wanted to raise money for competitive juniors swimmers at Asphalt Green to help those who do not have the money to cover the costs of training and competition,” she explained. With the support of the Fisher and Irgang families, the first Swim for the Future benefit was held in November, 2001, and raised $150,000. “People came out and the dollars poured in,” Saunders said. On September 12, the Ninth Annual Swim for the Future was held, a brunch, preceded by a practice swim dedicated to those who died, a “lap of silence” swim by Masters swimmers, and a relay race featuring scholarship recipients and Olympic swimmers. (Photo below, Saunders, front, with Olympians and members of the Asphalt Green Board).

Pat with Olympians

In addition to the AJGA and Asphalt Green, Saunders has aided children’s causes through the Legal Aid Society, serving in the past as chairman of the Civil Support Division and a board member. For many years, she was instrumental in organizing the society’s yearly Christmas Party for children living in shelters, as well as the “Thinking Out Loud,” luncheon with speakers that included Linda Fairstein and Anna Quindlen. She now serves on the agency’s policy committee. As a member of the St. Vincent’s Auxiliary, she co-chaired the group’s annual benefit and worked on the annual Christmas boutique. And while she dedicates most of her time to benefit children, for sixteen years she oversaw a weekly lunch for senior citizens at the Church of St. Thomas More on East 89th Street.

pat-rowdy1Saunders’ drive to give back began when she was growing up in Brooklyn. In high school, she spent her off hours volunteering at a nursing home and for the Red Cross. She received her bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from Binghamton University, where she now serves on the Foundation Board. She received her master’s degree in social work from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1969. (Photo left, Saunders with three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Rowdy Gaines, a board member ar Asphalt Green).

Saunders, and her husband, Paul, an attorney, raised their two sons, Paul Jr., now a cardio thoracic surgeon, and Michael, a corporate executive, in Manhattan. When her sons were young and she stopped working fulltime, Pat became involved at their school (she served as secretary, vice president, and president of St. Bernard’s Parents Association) and lent a hand with sports activities for children at the Apawamis Club in Rye. Both sons played golf and were members of the club’s swim team. After many years of watching golf on TV, she began to take lessons herself. Her involvement with AJGA began in 1990 when she served on the committee for the first AJGA event at Apawamis. For ten years, she served as chair of player services for the Buick Classic, held at the Westchester Country Club. Other tournaments she has worked at include the PGA Championship at Winged Foot and the U.S. Open in Bethpage.

Saunders knows what so many parents have discovered: that being involved in sports like golf or swimming benefits children. “A sport like golf teaches a young person patience, that if you want to do well, you have to put in the time,” she said. “They learn respect, for themselves, fellow players, and the course.” During each AJGA event, the group holds “thank you” writing parties, where the young golfers write notes to the sponsors and volunteers. (Photo below, Saunders with the 2008 U.S. Evian Masters Juniors Cup Team).

Evian Team

Now a grandmother of four (Michael and his wife, Kathryn, have two children, Tatum, 4, and Henry, 2, and Paul Jr. and his wife, Susie, also have two children, Erin, who will turn four in October, and William, two and a half), Saunders can often be found in the pool helping them learn to swim. She continues to swim on Asphalt Green’s Masters Swim Team, in the pool three times a week before 6 a.m.

Although Pat admits she doesn’t work on her own golf game as much as she would like, she loves the experience of playing golf. “There are so many special moments in travel,” she said. One year on vacation in Kapalua, Hawaii, she remembers taking a path and coming out on a promontory that afforded breath-taking vistas of the islands and ocean. “If you didn’t play golf, you wouldn’t have that experience,” she said. “It was like being in heaven.”

Woman Around Town’s Six Questions

Favorite Place to Eat: Uptown, Vico, 1320 Madison Avenue, downtown, Frankies Spuntino, 17 Clinton Street
Favorite Place to Shop: Peter Elliott, 1071 Madison Avenue
Favorite New York Sight: Returning to New York by air and experiencing the wonderful views of the city as the plane cruises up the Hudson or East River.
Favorite New York Moment: After a snow storm, I went cross country skiing around Central Park with my friend, Kathy. We checked our skis and had lunch at Tavern on the Green.
What You Love About New York: The neighborhood experience, enjoying the diversity of the great neighborhoods in our city.
What You Hate About New York: The incivilities, honking horns, littering and other discourtesies on the part of our fellow New Yorkers.

For more information about the American Junior Golf Associations, go to www.ajga.org

For more information about Asphalt Green, go to www.asphaltgreen.org/

My Career Choice: Marika Lindholm – ESME (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere)


Being a solo mom can be tough. Marika Lindholm, solo mom herself, wanted to help others. So she launched ESME (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere), a website that aims to redefine single motherhood by providing resources, inspiration, and a point of connection for the underserved community of Solo Moms.

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Marika moved to New York City with her parents when she was a young child. Always fascinated by civil rights, women’s rights, and global issues, Marika realized when she took a sociology class that she could blend her passion with a profession. This awareness led Marika to take on graduate studies at SUNY, Stony Brook, where she received her Masters and Ph.D. in Sociology. Marika spent the next 13 years at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, teaching classes focused on issues of inequality, diversity, and gender.

During her time at Northwestern, Marika became a Solo Mom. Newly divorced with two young children, she was fortunate to have a stable job as a college professor, but realized many other Solo Moms were working for minimum wage while desperately trying to make a good life for their families. She was also aware that, while finances were a primary issue for many Solo Moms, other challenges united them: co-­parenting with an ex, isolation, navigating holidays and finding much needed time for self-care.

She was inspired to build a digital resource that could help women raising kids on their own. Spurred by this new challenge she used her skill set as a sociologist, researching, conducting focus groups, and talking to Solo Moms to gain insight into their lives. The results of her inquiry made clear that women parenting alone wanted and needed support, community, and resources, eventually leading to the creation of  ESME.

Marika is now remarried and living in New York’s Hudson Valley. In addition to overseeing ESME, she runs an organic farm with grapes, apples, chickens and 350,000 bees and is the mother of a blended family of five children, including two daughters that she and her husband adopted internationally.

Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
When I was a newly divorced mom juggling work and young children, I became very sick with a curable blood disorder. While doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong with me, I felt scared, weak, and alone. Even though I had a good job and friends, the reality of uncoupling was so much harder than I’d expected. When I got so sick soon after, I vowed that if I ever had the opportunity, I would try to support other women who faced similar struggles parenting without partners. The opportunity came years later, but the seeds were sown during that difficult time in my life.

What about this career choice did you find most appealing? 
It’s very gratifying to apply my sociological imagination and expertise to building a company dedicated to supporting women who parent alone. I’m always inspired by hardworking Solo Moms, who do so much for their children. It’s an amazing feeling every time a mom says that she was helped by ESME.

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
With a sociology PhD in hand and 13 years of teaching at Northwestern University under my belt, I wanted to apply my skills outside the classroom. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I pursued the idea of helping single moms. Fortunately, I’m determined, organized, and energetic. The learning curve has been steep and exciting. I love that at age 50, I’ve acquired a whole new set of skills that complement the work I’ve done as a sociologist.

Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
When I first told my friends and family that I wanted to build a support site for Solo Moms, most of them nodded their heads, said “that sounds nice,” and moved on. But once they saw our effort and the site itself, they’ve been very encouraging.

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt career change?
I remain passionate about ESME and don’t let doubts overwhelm me. My current work is a wonderful culmination of my skills, experience, and interests. My academic background, especially my research on women and social movements, made it easy to imagine a social platform that empowers single moms. Raising children as a divorced mom and now as a stepmom and adoptive mom puts me in touch with many of the issues that ESME digs into. I’m so fortunate to be able to work in a creative, intellectual space that makes an impact.

When did your career reach a tipping point?
A tipping point was my realization that ESME.com was attracting talented Solo Moms writers, guides, and allies from all over the country. In the beginning, I relied on networks to find freelancers and collaborators, but then one day I realized that we didn’t have to push to find Solo Moms for our team. Instead, they found us!

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
One of the most challenging aspects of building and running a website was diving into the unknown. At Northwestern, I knew my stuff and had a lot of control over what and how I taught. In my current role, I’ve had to learn so many new skills: marketing, search engine optimization, business systems, social media, content management, editorial decision making, and lots of other intangibles. Even though I’m a quick study, I’ve made a bunch of mistakes as a newbie. I’m glad I was relatively clueless when I started out, or I may have been too intimidated to move forward. My strategy is to gather as much information as I can by talking to people with experience. Regardless of what I’m trying to figure out or learn, I always ask folks who’ve been there before me, “What mistakes did you make?” Then I try very hard not to make the same mistakes. Of course, as I take risks and try to do things differently, I will make my own mistakes.

What single skill has proven to be most useful?
I read fast! Which means I have the opportunity to read widely. I read every article we publish, and I’m able to find writers and cull assignment ideas because I read voraciously. I love fiction, but also read journals and magazines, and keep up with social media on a wide range of topics.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I was able to transform a secret wish from the worst time in my life to a collaboration and passion project to make this the best time in my life.

Any advice for others entering your profession?
Surround yourself with people who share your vision. Start-ups can be excruciatingly demoralizing – lots can and will go wrong. You will need cheerleaders, so pick your team carefully. Team ESME rocks!

Photo credit: Circe Photography