Ask Red & Black

England's in the news because of the Oprah interview. Didn’t you once live there?

Design by Sawyer Pennington


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If you count spending a semester at the London Business School as part of my M.B.A. program at New York University. It was the late 70s (yes, I am that old), and I was one of the few women in the business program in New York, so it was "interesting" to go to a country that did not have many women attending university, let alone graduate school. To this day, I remember a class project where we worked with British executives and I had to pretend to be the assistant of one of the male students. Regardless, it was a great experience, and I actually loved the challenges of being both a woman and an American in the male-dominated business school and business environment. (As a side note, while there, I learned that I spoke "American" not "English.") Plus, I thoroughly enjoyed the shopping, restaurants, and nightlife in one of the great cities in the world.


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Did you notice that she didn't mention visiting any of the amazing historical destinations? Or the incredible theater – both in London as well as at Stratford-upon-Avon? Well, that's because she didn't do any of those things until I visited her, and she only did it to humor me. (The trip was her Sweet 16 gift to me.) It was a wonderful introduction to England and years later, while a student at Wake Forest University, I also spent a semester in London. But after marrying a Brit (one of Black's London Business School classmates), I lived in England on two separate occasions. The first time was for six months, before heading to Asia to live for many years (first Hong Kong and then Shanghai) and then again for almost two years before he was transferred to The Netherlands and then to the States. And while I loved so much about living in England – the quaint villages, the narrow roads winding through beautiful countryside, history everywhere you turn, including my beloved Tudor history – I realized that I'm first and foremost an American and feel most comfortable here.

FULL QUESTION: Have your thoughts or opinions changed about January 6 (riot at the Capitol)?


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As a lover of history, I understand how the shock and impact of events fade over time. It’s just human nature. Which is why it’s important to have anniversaries to commemorate certain events that are so profound, so game-changing, so incomprehensible, that we must never forget them. In my lifetime, there were 9/11 and January 6, but I’ll admit to something that I know shocked Black.

When the question about January 6 came up, I didn’t immediately connect it to the attack on the Capitol. It wasn’t that I forgot the event or even the hearings. But I did forget the date. However, I’ll never forget the Capitol being overrun by rioters. I’ll never forget the extraordinary and horrific visuals. I’ll never forget being at my computer, working on Red & Black, when the first images began to appear, and it just kept getting worse and worse, seeming like something out of a movie or a third-world country. Not an actual event taking place in the United States. And even once civility was restored, it continued to get worse because, only months later, we saw never-before-released video in the 13-minute film prepared by the House impeachment managers. And new information continues to be released that shows the true horror and disturbing reality of what had happened.


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Today is the second anniversary of the January 6 violent storming of America’s Capitol, a dark and tragic moment in our country’s history. A day when America was stopped in its tracks as the unthinkable happened, and so disturbing and incomprehensible that the following day I wondered, “Did anyone else think of 9/11 yesterday?” And while “Hope In This Horrible Time” focused on the horror of 9/11, I believed that January 6 would be another example of how we, as a country, would come together.

Now, two years later, that clarity and feeling of hope are harder to embrace as it seems Americans, even with countless hours of videos, testimonies, interviews, and documentation, cannot even agree on what happened, who was responsible, and how do we prevent it from happening again. I can only hope we can find a way to come together … for the sake of our country. For the sake of democracy.

FULL QUESTION: I know it’s become a holiday tradition, but what do you think of “ugly sweaters”?


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Given I love comfy and casual sweaters and sweatshirts (and Black probably thinks they’re all ugly), your question made me realize I don’t have any holiday-themed ones. I’m not sure about the history of ugly sweaters or if they even existed when I was growing up, although you might argue that some of the holiday sweaters Andy Williams wore on his holiday TV specials met the definition. Regardless, I first remember seeing them when my girls were very young (that’s almost 20 years ago!), and while I know they’re supposed to be “ugly”, and some of them definitely are, I think many are just fun and festive.

Of course, I have to mention the ugly sweater scene from the first Bridget Jones movie when Renee Zellweger’s character goes to a holiday party at her parent’s house. After her mom “forces” her to change into a very unattractive (translation frumpy) Christmas dress, she sees the back of what seems to be a very attractive man, and then he turns around. It’s Colin Firth (who was known as a bit of a “heartthrob” at the time after appearing in the TV mini-series “Pride and Prejudice”), but her excitement turns to borderline disgust because, you guessed it, he’s wearing an ugly Christmas sweater. (As an aside, I thought both the sweater and Colin were rather cute.)


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What I find amazing is Red does not have a holiday sweater, and I do. And, although it could be described as “ugly” or “tacky”, I bought it because I found it most amusing. I heard about the company, Tipsy Elves shortly after its successful pitch on Shark Tank, and it got coverage in business publications. When I got on their website, I thought the “adult” red cardigan sweater with white snowflakes and deer was hilarious, as when you quickly looked at it, it was just an ugly sweater. However, if you looked more carefully, you would see the deer were, uh, mating.

I will not get into the business aspects of ugly sweaters, or how ugly sweater competitions and parties continue to grow the trend. But, at the risk of sounding warm and fuzzy (another thing you would expect of Red, not me), ugly sweaters remind us that the holidays are supposed to be festive and fun, and even though the sweaters may be ugly … they can remind us of the beauty of the season.


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If you had asked me this when my girls were young, since we celebrated both Chanukah and Christmas, I would’ve said, “Shop for lots of gifts.” Which, I found out the hard way, resulted in lots of credit card debt. The funny thing is, except for my immediate family, I give homemade baked goods to almost everyone else on my list. Black made me realize how important it was to plan and budget for the holidays, and I started buying things throughout the year and/or putting aside money. But, maybe more importantly, it also made me think about the “best” gifts to give my girls.

And I quickly realized it was the gift of time. I couldn’t help but think of the times I’d be busy and only give half my attention to the girls, promising to spend more time with them “later”. And “later” would never happen. So, I created “Day with Mom” gift certificates that were redeemable for a day to do what they wanted (within reason, of course). Surprisingly, actually shockingly, each chose simple things to do, and this special day of spending time together became one of their favorite gifts (and mine, too).


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I have a very short list. In terms of family, I always give my nieces gifts throughout the year versus feeling forced to find something during the holiday season, although I do give small “token” gifts and send Red rugelach from Zabar’s. (It is efficient as I am already on the website on Cyber Monday buying business gifts.) Of course, for some people I want to “thank” during the holiday season, cash is the best gift.

I recognize I am very fortunate, and charities (like Make-A-Wish) help me keep my life in perspective. I have an annual budget, and as situations arise throughout the year (unfortunately, given the increase in natural disasters, they occur all too frequently), I make charitable donations. But, I also realize that during the holiday season, many people are hungry and turn to food banks, so part of my holiday tradition is donating to the Houston Food Bank (part of Feeding America).