Monday, July 23, 2012

The (impossible) dream

The Brooklyn Bridge as seen from the East River Ferry.

So my husband and I have this crazy dream of moving to New York City. The lights, the energy, the skyline, the people, the food, the endless possibilities... If you've ever been bitten by the Gotham bug, you know what I mean.

We're at this crossroads in life: he's got 10 years in the auto industry under his belt and I've established my journalism career on the West Coast, plus marriage and two babies along the way. But our souls are restless and our life in Southern California has run its course. It's time to get up and move forward. Eastward!

Taking snaps in Union Square.
Friends have asked why on earth we would give up the "good life" here in Orange County. Three years ago, we bought the loft of our dreams. Not to mention the kids are set up in great schools, we have a wonderful community of friends here, and the husband had a great design gig at a reputable car company. But sometimes you gotta give up the good life to go on a great adventure. The things we hold on to - the house, the cars, the jobs, the conveniences - sometimes those are the very things keeping us from seeking out bigger experiences. Bigger opportunities. A bigger future. 

So we're selling our possessions, packing up, and seeking what sometimes feels like the impossible dream. Big, bad New York City. City of dreamers and wishers, city of the ambitious and hopeful. The center of the world, the grand metropolis, the Big Apple. 

I think Mayor Michael Bloomberg summed up my sentiment perfectly:

"Moving to New York has always been an act of optimism. To come here you must believe in a better future, and courage to seek it out; you must trust the city to give you a chance; and know that you'll take advantage when it does. You must believe in investing in your future with hard work and ingenuity. You must, in short, believe in accepting a challenge."

A view of Manhattan along the High Line.

Following crazy dreams means embracing, even welcoming, the unknown. For him, the unknown is pursuing his entrepreneurial aspirations ("Will this design venture succeed?"). For me, it's chasing after the journalism career I've always wanted ("Can I work my way up to an editorship at a national magazine?"). I'll admit, living in the unknown is uncomfortable. Especially for someone as Type A as me. I like to know exactly where I'm going at all times. But all those cliches are true: the road less traveled, coloring outside the lines, breaking free from the cage, you only live once, Carpe Diem...

So we're gonna go for it. We're ready to take a big, juicy bite.

Eating the best doughnut of my life, courtesy of Dough.
And write the next chapter of our lives.

The Empire State Building as seen from the streets of Midtown.

The only thing stopping us is ourselves...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Remembering Stephen Salaff

Stephen Salaff was passionate about the great outdoors. Here, he poses with a Canadian spruce tree.

My husband's uncle, Stephen Salaff, lived a full and unique life. Nature lover, activist, intellectual, mathematician, writer...During his 74 years on this planet, his actions were marked by a passion for equality and social justice.

Here's the obituary I wrote that ran in yesterday's Toronto Globe and Mail

Writer, activist, father, brother, uncle, friend. Born Jan. 7, 1938, in Stamford, Conn., died Jan. 29, 2012, in Toronto of complications from cancer, aged 74.

Mahatma Gandhi advised us: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Whether opposing the Vietnam War or advocating peaceful uses of nuclear energy, Stephen Salaff lived his life convinced that one person’s actions could make the world a better place.

The son of an engineer/union organizer, Stephen had a sense of social justice nurtured from an early age. Extraordinarily bright, he demonstrated precocious mathematical and musical aptitude.

Though he was an accomplished flutist at age 18, his exacting standards prevented him pursuing a music career. “If I can’t become the best, I’d rather do something else,” he told his younger brother.

Stephen attended Columbia University and the University of London, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics (and picked up a British accent). He earned a PhD in mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley. There, he met Janet Weitzner, a fellow student and activist. They married in 1964.
His wife’s research took them to Asia. Stephen taught math at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he met student prodigy Shing-Tung Yau and took him under his wing.
“Without Steve’s help, I would not be the mathematician I am now,” says Yau, who is world-renowned for discovering mathematical proofs of string theory and is currently chairman of Harvard University’s math department.
Stephen’s proudest accomplishment occurred on May 27, 1972, when daughter Shana Angela Salaff was born in Toronto and named after journalist Shana Alexander and writer/political activist Angela Davis.
He revelled in fatherhood and often wrote letters to his mother-in-law, recording Shana’s every diaper change, every feed, and every milestone. He wasn’t your typical dad, Shana remembers, as he usually did things to the extreme: no sugar, no TV and a serious emphasis on education.
He loved to cook Asian food and learned from the experts. One could often find Stephen in the back of a Chinese or Indian restaurant, where he’d chat with the chef about cooking techniques and later reproduce that same dish in his own kitchen.
He could execute advanced yoga postures with joyful abandon. Later in life, Stephen became a freelance writer, producing hundreds of articles about atomic energy’s impact on the environment.
He was chief editor for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s book on peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Brilliant, tenacious and principled, Stephen lived a spartan life. He will be remembered for his steadfast work on the change he wanted to see in the world.
Jennifer Cho Salaff is the wife of Stephen’s nephew.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the growing artisanal movement here in the US. There seems to be a heightened appreciation for the work of the artisan in so many areas—from small purveyors of artisanal bread, cheese and beverages to the creation of luxury items like furniture, clothing and jewelry.

Perhaps it’s a backlash against mass production or our desire for a simple, thoughtful existence. Whatever it is, we want more than cheap junk. We want to connect to an experience, to be a part of a story.

For Jacques Flynn, it was born out of pure necessity. He left disappointed after searching every department store and boutique for the perfect wallet. So he made one himself. Impressed with his craftsmanship, friends and family encouraged Jacques to sell them. So he founded JAQET, an online boutique offering his signature, one-of-a-kind leather wallets.  
Jacques’ 100% handmade products are the antithesis to the disposable. It’s anti-Walmart, if you will. No planned obsolescence here, but elegance and intentionality. I first found out about JAQET when my husband, who worked alongside Jacques at Mazda, brought home a JAQET wallet. I was struck by how simple yet beautiful it was.

Jacques makes all of his wallets out of his home in Southern California. He’s turned a corner of his living room into a makeshift atelier. He picks only domestically sourced leather, dyes them by hand, individually cuts each piece of leather, hand punches, stitches and burnishes them, and finally brands each wallet with the JAQET logo. Because he makes each one by hand, no two JAQET wallets are alike.   

I had the privilege of talking to the 32-year-old designer about his new venture and what inspires him to create:

Jennifer Cho Salaff: Where did you get the idea for JAQET?
Jacques Flynn: It started maybe two years ago. I had a wallet and it just fell apart. So I went out to find a new one. I didn’t want a zipper on it; I didn’t want crummy leather. I wasn’t looking for a logo on it and I didn’t want it made in China. I just wanted a simple, handmade wallet. But I looked everywhere and I couldn’t find it. I thought, “Man this sucks, this should be the easiest thing to find!” So I decided I was going to make it myself.

JCS: Did you know anything about making wallets before you started this venture?
JF: Ha, no! In the beginning it was just trial and error. I went through a lot of prototypes. The best thing is that I have this skill now, which I didn’t have six months ago.   

JCS: Tell me about the JAQET brand. What makes your product unique?
JF: When I think about the brand, I think it reflects me. I was born in Europe and raised in America, so even from a young age I had a strong cultural pride about where I was from. It’s super cool to have both of these cultures. I’ve always loved the American cowboy aesthetic and European tailored looks. To me, JAQET embodies both of these. That European elegance rooted in cowboy ruggedness.    

JCS: There seems to be a backlash against things that are cheap, poorly-made and mass-produced. As a designer, do you see that, too?
JF: There’s definitely a place for mass produced products. Like if you need to go to Target to buy a mop or something. But there’s a huge opportunity for products where it’s more than just something you chuck in the closet. People want to learn where (the product) came from. There’s so much of a story in that item you’re holding in your hand.  

JCS: What’s the best part about working with your hands?
JF: I love working with leather. I love the way it looks, the smell, the texture. I love the way leather breaks in, the way it comes to life. And that it will look so different 10 years from now.

JCS: You launched JAQET just a few weeks ago and you’re already getting amazing feedback. Where do you want to take this? Right now it’s wallets. But do you see branching out into different products?
JF: In the beginning, it was about a product that I thought should exist. It just grew organically. But my brain doesn’t stop and I definitely think about possibilities and what I would do. Maybe men’s clothing. I’ve always been into fashion. I remember telling my high school teacher that I wanted to be a fashion designer, even before I found out about car design. But right now, JAQET is something that I enjoy. I don’t have dollar signs in front of my eyes. It’s not about becoming a millionaire.

JCS: What’s the dream?
JF: The dream is to have a small team of people working with me. We would work on one brand. We know every aspect of the brand and have everything under one roof. It would be awesome to have it all in-house. It would be a different model—a sustainable model—of how things are done. Nothing would be outsourced. It’s definitely a little fantasy of mine.

 To find out more about JAQET, visit