creativity

The Joy of Pizza with Rachel Josar

The Joy of Pizza with Rachel Josar

Pizza. The word alone brings an immediate smile to our faces. We can’t contain the joy it sparks, and nowhere is the joy of pizza more prevalent than in New York City. Rachel Josar, the creator and host of the They Had Fun podcast, joins the JoyProject podcast to talk about all things pizza, her weekly tradition with her husband, her passion for this incredible city, and the history and culture that is entwined with food. After 250 weeks of Friday night pizza, Rachel gives her expert opinion on where to get the best pizza in New York.

About Rachel
Rachel is the host of the podcast, They Had Fun, where she talks to real New Yorkers about the most fun they’ve ever had in the city. She’s lived in NYC for 16 years and enjoys fries at the bar, gallery walks, talking to anyone who will listen about why New York is still great, and of course, negronis and pizza on Fridays.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • The best places in New York to get pizza
  • Rachel’s weekly pizza tradition with her husband
  • The history of pizza and it’s place in New York city culture
  • The quote about pizza in the New York Times that helped Rachel and Christa connect and become friends
  • Rachel’s amazing podcast, The Had Fun
  • Why New York City is the greatest city
  • New York’s restaurant scene and supporting restaurants through the pandemic
  • Christa’s favorite childhood memory about pizza

Links to resources:

creativity

A visit to NYC’s Merchant’s House Museum

Me and Ashley at the Merchant’s House Museum and the Tredwell family photos and bios

Last night I had a blast taking a ghost tour of the Merchant’s House Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan led by one of best and dearest friends, Ashley Semrick. She was, as always, incredible. A fellow tour guide who is responsible for me taking the NYC tour guide exam (which is a grueling 4 hours long!), we always nerd out about the incredible history of our city. Her dedication to the museum, a vital piece of NYC history, is a gift to all of us.

Built in 1832, the house in the only building in NYC that is landmarked on the federal, state, and city level, inside and out. When you enter, you are literally stepping back in time into the 19th century. The house is perfectly preserved with the original furniture and furnishings, personal belongings, books, artwork, dishes, kitchenware, piano, and even their clothes!

The house was occupied by the Tredwells, a wealthy merchant family, and their four Irish servants from1835-1865, when the mercantile seaport of New York City emerged as a growing metropolis and the commercial emporium of America. In 1865, just as the Civil War was drawing to a close, the patriarch of the family passed away in the house. Gertrude, the youngest of the 8 children, passed away in the house, in the same bed where she was born, in 1909 at the age 93. And that’s when things really got interesting from a paranormal perspective. 

There have been 100s, perhaps 1000s, of reports of supernatural activity in the house. It is the only museum in the country with a full-time all-volunteer paranormal team that employs impressive technology to capture activity. Though I didn’t see any ghosts on the tour, the house does have an energy to it that has to be experienced. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, a visit is a-must do activity in NYC.  

And the museum needs our help. For 10 years, they’ve been fighting an intense legal battle with a developer who wants to build an 8-story hotel right next to the museum. Engineering experts have said that if that happens, the museum will be rendered unsafe for anyone to enter. To lose this museum and this piece of NYC history would be tragic. With an all-volunteer staff, every dollar you donate and spend on tickets to tours and events goes directly to preserve this stunning space. 

Self-guided and guided tours operate on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The staff is entirely volunteers and they offer numerous events year-round, both in-person and online. Though most aren’t ghost-related and focus on the history of the home, the family, and our city, they all give you an opportunity to walk in the literal footsteps of the Tredwells. 

The holiday season is particularly special as the house is decked out in 19-century Victorian style, just as the Tredwells did for their famous celebrations and parties. There are musical events, readings, and performances. Go to https://merchantshouse.org/visit/ to learn more.

creativity

Spend time with trees to fight cancer

Blue Atlas Cedar tree in Central Park – photo by Christa Avampato

Last week I went to a talk by Dr. Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a botanist and medical biochemist. She’s also the author of one of my favorite books, To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest. She was speaking at the New York Times event titled How Can Art and Technology Help Us Tackle the Climate Crisis? You can watch it on YouTube and Dr. Beresford-Kroeger’s talk is from 1:55:35 — 2:30:38.

How forest bathing reduces cancer risk
In her talk and her book she advocates for 15 minutes of month forest bathing, particularly near evergreen trees, as a way to reduce cancer risk. As a cancer survivor, I do everything I can to prevent recurrence. Sadly, there’s a lot of nonsense out there and plenty of products that claim to prevent cancer. Most of it is just slick marketing taking advantage of people through scare tactics. But does this recommendation from Dr. Beresford-Kroeger have scientific research to back up the claim? Can 15 minutes a month with trees really help us reduce the risk of cancer? It does and it can. 

Numerous scientific studies (here, here, and here to call out just a few) have found that the biochemicals in our immune systems (collectively referred to as Natural Killer (NK) cells such as lymphocytes) are strengthened with even brief 15- to 20-minute visits to wooded areas and the effects can last more than 30 days. These research findings support Dr. Beresford-Kroeger’s recommendation and the ancient wisdom she’s studied and accumulated her entire life.

Combining indigenous knowledge with modern medicine for optimal health
Now, does this mean we can substitute forest visits for regular checkups and exams with our doctors or forgo medical treatments if we are diagnosed with cancer? No, I would not recommend that course of action. Modern medicine found and treated my cancer, and I’m forever grateful for the care I received at NYU. But did I also benefit from good nutrition, exercise, my time in nature, and my determination to find joy every day to keep up my spirits during the darkest days of my life? Yes, I did. 

Preventing and fighting cancer requires a multi-pronged approach. We can benefit from ancient wisdom and modern technology. I used both to keep myself healthy before, during, and after treatment. I’ll use both for the rest of my life that I’m so fortunate to have. 

Why I still got cancer even though I live a healthy lifestyle
Now, you might be thinking, “Well, Christa, you go to Central Park every day and you still got cancer. So how do you explain that?”

Yes, that’s true. I did get cancer even though I have no genetic predisposition to any kind of cancer, I eat a healthy plant-based diet, I exercise regularly, I’m a healthy weight, I control my stress levels, I spend a lot of time outside in nature, and I see my doctors regularly. Cancer is a sneaky set of diseases. It wears a lot of costumes and disguises in its attempts to thwart our immune system. Even in the best of circumstances, a cell can get past our immune system, not because we’re weak but because cancer is such a deft and relentless shape-shifter. All it takes is one microscopic cell. 

The Hudson Valley is a cancer hotspot
We also live in an increasingly toxic world, which can wear us down without our awareness. I grew up on an apple orchard in the Hudson Valley of New York State in the 1980s and 1990s. Sounds bucolic, right? In many ways it was. 

But what you may not know is during that time the rampant use of chemical pesticides was practiced all over that area. I have vivid memories of bright red tankers full of pesticides being sprayed in the air on neighboring orchards for months on end to keep the apples pest-free. Those farmers didn’t realize their sprays were poisoning our food, air, soil, and water. 

At the same time, General Electric (GE) dumped 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River from its capacitor manufacturing plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, New York. Though they ended that practice in the last 1970s, the PCBs remain in the river sediment to this day. PCBs are known carcinogens (meaning they cause cancer). 

These practices of farmers and GE have partially caused the Hudson Valley to become a cancer hotspot. My family had well water. The toxic chemicals from the pesticides and GE’s practices seeped into the water table, not to mention were directly linked to our food and air. The truth is we can do everything right as individuals but collectively, the practices of others can harm us and we are powerless to avoid the impacts once they’ve happened. 

Though it’s difficult to prove, my cancer was likely caused, at least in part, by environmental pollution I was exposed to as a child. As the New York Department of Health explains, “Cancers develop slowly in people. They usually appear five to 40 years after exposure to a cancer causing agent. This is called the latency period. This is one of the reasons it is difficult to determine what causes cancer in humans. Also, many people move during this period of time, making it hard to link exposure to a cancer causing agent to where a person lives.” 

So, yes, I live a healthy lifestyle and yes, I still got cancer. But as my doctors always point out, because I was so healthy when I was diagnosed, I was able to withstand intense surgeries and treatments, and emerge on the other side healthier than ever. The combination of my good health, modern medicine, and indigenous knowledge saved me.

Fighting climate change is another way to fight cancer
Preserving and expanding natural areas and mitigating the impacts of climate change is another important piece of the puzzle to maintain our health. Said another way, our best defense is a good offense. We need to have nature on our side to maintain our environments, and that means we must care for natural and wild areas. 

This is why I advocate for the planting, maintenance, enhanced access, and expansion of forested areas, particularly in cities like New York where I now live and where trees are necessary for our health and wellbeing. Trees save and enhance our lives in so many ways by cleaning our air and water, lowering our stress levels, and enhancing our immune systems.

My forest bathing practice in Central Park
I’m fortunate to live near one of New York’s City’s green gems, Central Park. Forest bathing doesn’t mean you need to retreat to the far corners of the wilderness (though if you can, I recommend that kind of trip as well). Urban forest bathing once a month (or more) is highly effective, easy to do, and accessible. 

On a sunny Saturday, I went to Central Park with my dog, Phineas. For 15 minutes, we sat near a majestic Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica glauca) that stands near the Reservoir. The effects for both of us were palpable. Phin closed his eyes and went to sleep as I soaked up the sun and clean air, all the time quietly expressing my gratitude to this tree. 

When we got up to go home, I bowed to the tree in reverence for what this beautiful being had freely given me. “I’ll see you again soon,” I whispered.

I left with my heart and lungs full with all good things, thankful for what nature offers us if only we will take the time to accept her gifts and wisdom. When we take care of nature, nature can then take care of us. Go sit near a tree for 15 minutes once a month. You’ll be better for it. 

(Below are a few photos of me and my dog, Phineas, on our most recent forest bathing trip to Central Park).

creativity

My alive day — 13 years ago today

13 years ago today my New York City apartment building caught fire and I was almost trapped in the building. I used to think of this day as the worst day of my life. Now after all this time, I’ve made it into something that made me better. I became a writer and found Emerson. I learned the true value of my life. The PTSD I had got me into therapy so I could heal from trauma I’d had since childhood. It got me out of a terrible relationship and out of a job I hated. I adopted Phineas as an emotional support dog a year later.

A lot of people helped me in that immediate aftermath. They gave me a place to stay while I looked for a new apartment, helped me find my new apartment, gave me support at work, gave me the legal language to confront my landlord to get my deposit back and get out of my lease, let me borrow an air mattress, went to look at apartments with me, recommended a therapist, and 9 months before the fire had recommended rental insurance that saved me financially. So many checked on me regularly to see how I was doing. One recently checked on me after a large fire erupted in New York City earlier this year as he knows fires can still be a trigger for me. Healing takes a village, and I’m so grateful for mine.

Fire transforms everything it touches and it certainly transformed me. This healing was hard-won. I went through a lot of dark days to get here, almost ending it all at one low point. Though I’d never wish this experience on anyone, I wouldn’t wish it away for me. I have a few other big anniversaries of healing coming up. I’m not as at peace with those yet as I am with my fire. I hope time and distance will ease them, too.

creativity

How writing my Emerson Page novel trilogy saved my life—my conversation with Dr. Ed Freeman on The Stakeholder Podcast

In June 2022, I had the great good fortune to speak to my professor, mentor, and dear friend, Dr. Ed Freeman from the Darden School, on The Stakeholder Podcast.  

Link to the podcast episode: https://stakeholdermedia.libsyn.com/christa-avampato

Ed and I chat about:

  • how writing my Emerson Page novel trilogy saved my life
  • my live storytelling shows, screenwriting, and passion projects
  • my love for history, being a NYC tour guide, and how I got a tattoo live on stage
  • how product development helps me as a writer, and how being a writer helped me as a product developer 
  • living through difficult times and mental health challenges through creative work
  • my multi-faceted and varied career
  • making a living through a creative life
  • business and product development
  • building a better, more sustainable world

Ed is a treasure. He’s been one of the greatest influences on my work and life. He recently won University of Virginia’s highest honor: The Thomas Jefferson Award. Ed’s pioneering work on stakeholder theory changed the way we think about business and how businesses all over the world make decisions to create value. 

If you’ve ever used the word “stakeholder,” you can tip your cap to Ed. His writing about sustainability and stakeholder theory is what put UVA’s Darden School on the map for me, why I applied, and why I was honored to attend and graduate from the school with my MBA. He changed my life in incredible ways and I’m forever grateful for him. Thanks to Ed and producer, Ben Freeman, for having me on the podcast as a guest. 

creativity

The Rising—Scenes from the Roe vs. Wade Protest in NYC

My friend, Ashley, in NYC. Photo by Christa Avampato.

Yesterday we witnessed a horrific historic moment in the U.S. A majority of the SCOTUS decided guns and zygotes have more rights than women.

We lose 68,000 women every year to abortions that have been forced underground for those who have no access to safe clinics and hospitals.

My friend, Ashley, dressed as a handmaid for the protests at Washington Square Park and Union Square here in New York City. People were amused. They shouldn’t be. This is not a joke. This is not a drill.

Thousands of people flooded New York City’s streets to demand justice for women. My friend Kelly and I were both proud and devastated to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors.

We are now at the point of revolution. We must be. This attack on women cannot stand. Not now. Not ever. We will be as relentless as those who mean to send us back into the shadows.

This is not the end. This is The Rising.

Scenes from the New York City protests on June 24, 2022. All photos taken by Christa Avampato.

creativity

For the love of pizza and fun

It’s almost the weekend so here’s something fun. I was interviewed for the They Had Fun podcast. Hear how my ability to wax poetic about New York City pizza in The New York Times sparked my friendship with the host, Rachel Josar, why my pandemic was a little extra, and the fun I had on The Drew Barrymore Show. It’s been a long 2 years for all of us. Let’s have more fun together!

Listen to the episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.

The Fat Max… with Ed Gavagan They Had Fun

On this week's episode, storyteller and contractor, Ed Gavagan, tells us about hitting rock bottom in NYC but finding a little hope after having some fun all by himself in Soho!See Ed's story from the Moth, Drowning on Sullivan StreetCheck out Ed on InstagramHave fun like Ed? Donate to Cheyenne Botanic GardensCarl Andre's sculpture featured in the storyfind us at They Had Fun & on Instagram
  1. The Fat Max… with Ed Gavagan
  2. I Think They Really Thought I Was Pregnant… with Jen Toth
  3. At That Point, Poland Spring is Our Best Friend… with J Hype
  4. Just Say Yes… with Laura June Kirsch
  5. The Limo Would Be Parked Right In Front Of The Post Office… with Richie Weeks
creativity

Write every day: Prohibition and organized crime

Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 7.05.39 PMTake a ride through the underworld with me! I wrote a piece about Prohibition & organized crime in New York City for Inside History magazine’s latest issue called Crime and the Underworld. The piece is titled If Organized Crime Could Make It In New York…It Could Make It Anywhere! If you’d like to read just my article, click here.

The entire magazine is filled with juicy true crime stories throughout history so if you’d like to get a copy, here are the order links:

UK delivery (print)
Worldwide delivery (print)
Digital PDF download

creativity

Joy today: The Imagine Science Film Festival starts this Friday

Screen Shot 2019-10-14 at 12.45.38 PM
Image taken from Science for Nanos: Taking Flight

creativity

Joy today: Research for my next novel in NYC’s Little Italy

This week I went down to Little Italy to revel in the joy and desserts of my ancestors, and to do some research for my next novel that will be set there in the early 1900s. The San Gennaro Festival runs through this weekend and it’s an absolute delight. If you’re in New York City, wonder down to Mulberry Street where you’re sure to find some characters and cannolis.