On Bringing Nerdy Back?

A random stop to L.E.S. led to a chance meeting with designer Laura of Lola Haze.

A random stop to L.E.S. led to a chance meeting with designer Laura of Lola Haze.

Apparently nerds are sexy now. This development would have been helpful to me 15 years ago when I was in the midst of my socially crippling awkward phase.  Now, the same giant rimmed glasses that led to rejection in high school adorn the faces of runway models and NBA superstars alike.  The horror.

As a teen, I tried to convince the ladies that I was a trail blazer.  To no avail. Vindication in 2013 is of little comfort to 1998 Donald.  That young man is still scarred.  Fortunately, some folks have been able to harness and capitalize on the nerd chic revolution.

Earlier this year, I met Harvard English major turned lingerie designer Laura Mehlinger at a party on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  Rocking a side pony and a knit sweater, didn’t really give me an inkling of her chosen career path, but she did resemble friends of mine from my mid-90’s nerdery.  Turns out we were at a 90’s party, and I was the one who came unprepared.

Despite once again being out of fashion, Laura agreed to sit down and chat with me about her work and career path.

What She Does: Founder and designer of LolaHaze™ lingerie company.

School: B.A. in English from Harvard University.

Goals: “I am excited about growing Lola Haze in the U.S. and abroad, as well as creating new collections that more people can enjoy at all different price points.  At the moment, I’m trying to create the new Spring 2014 collection, and I have so many ideas … they’re really giving me the run around!”

What’s below: What makes Lola Haze™ unique even in the New York fashion world; Why traveling helps spur creativity; and How Laura’s love of literature inspired her to pursue design. Read more of this post

On Learning by Osmosis — Pittsburgh, PA

Salim opened his own deli in 1979 after studying at the University of Pittsburgh.

Salim opened his own deli in 1979 after studying at the University of Pittsburgh.

Learning is a funny thing.  While I’m pretty sure every state and the District of Columbia require kids to go to school, in many ways learning is still something we all take for granted.

Thanks to instinct and biology, I don’t remember learning how to crawl, or walk, or talk. Thanks to having a mother who was an educator, I have no memory of learning how to read.  As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always known how to do things.

In fact, my earliest memories of learning were more associated with frustration and failure than success.  At six years old, I dreaded the one-block walk to the Harlem School of the Arts for piano lessons and eventually convinced my mom to quit.

In high school and college I took Spanish classes because it was a required course.  I never really applied myself in Spanish class, but it wasn’t until I graduated that I really began to see the value in mastering a new language.

During my high-school slacker period, my mom would admonish me, “you’re not going to learn by osmosis!”  She may have been right to light a fire under me, but I do think she underestimated just how effective osmosis can be in learning. Read more of this post

On Learning by Osmosis Interview

Salim welcomed me into his deli to share his story with me.

Salim welcomed me into his deli to share his story with me.

For many people college provides an opportunity to find their true passion and begin the path of turning that passion into a career.

Salim El-Tahch left his family in Lebanon to attend the University of Pittsburgh with just that goal in mind.  After learning English, he was going to study computer science and build a family.

Unfortunately for Salim, his circumstances changed. After several years of civil war in his native Lebanon, Salim felt his family could no longer afford to support his studies abroad.

Salim would have to find another way to make ends meet.  So rather than finishing school, he started working, opening his own business to meet the demand for Middle-Eastern food by his classmates and community.

That was more than 30 years ago, and Salim’s deli is still located at the Bloomfield location where he started with $500 and just two shelves of spices. Salim and his wife have expanded their business, sent their five children through college, and made lots and lots of great food in the meantime.

College is a place where lots of young people discover their calling and career. For many others, their calling is revealed by the career that finds them.  Salim may have taken a detour from his college plan, but ultimately found his path through a combination of hard times and hard work.

What He Does: Owns and operates Salim’s Deli, a Lebanese and Middle Eastern grocery and eatery in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh.

School: Family-taught in cooking, self-taught in business, and studied English and computer science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Goals: “After nearly 35 years, the name is there. I would really hate this business to fade away, but this is a lot of work. I don’t think I want my kids to have the headaches or put in the work in that I do. I do twelve hours in here, every day, six days a week. I like it, but my kids are doing extremely well with a lot less hours than I’m doing here. That’s why I worked so hard, so they could do that.”

What’s below: What made a computer science major decide to open his own deli; How a recent Lebanese immigrant introduced a new city to his native cuisine; and Why, after more than 30 years, Salim still loves getting up for work every morning. Read more of this post


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