For years, I've repurposed old, metal lunchboxes. A Rambo lunchbox became a lunchbox dedicated to Great Women of Literature. Another honored Great Writers of the South. More recently, I've dedicated a lunchbox to The Donner Party. For a long time, though, I've had it in my head to create the ultimate Superhero Lunchbox...not a lunchbox featuring Batman or Wonder Woman, but a box honoring my real-life heroes.

I posed this challenge to a wide circle of friends: get your hands on a metal lunchbox, and put some thought into who or what your heroes are, and why. And then get to work making the Superhero Lunchbox of your dreams.

This online exhibit is the result of that challenge. I hope visitors to this site will find it fun and interesting, and maybe even inspiring. Lunchboxes are such useful things, and so many of us have fond memories of toting tuna sandwiches to school in our Partridge Family or Six Million Dollar Man lunchboxes. There seems to me to be no reason for us to outgrow this tradition of toting around our meals in metal boxes that say something about who we are, what we like, and what our values are. I know I've never outgrown it.

Start here, because it's what started it all for me, and work your way up. Enjoy. Leave some feedback. Make a lunchbox.

For a more detailed view, click on the individual images.

If you're moved to make a lunchbox of your own, and have it included in this exhibit, submissions are welcome. Get your hands on a metal lunchbox (no plastic, please) - you can buy a blank one from or repurpose an old one. Go to town. Choose your superhero, and and run with it. Photograph your finished lunchbox, write a few words about your subject, and send the photos and text to me at, with the words "Superhero Lunchbox" in the subject box.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lana Nieves - Ma: Tiny, But Mighty

I didn't find this lunchbox - it found me. Walking down towards the ocean, in San Francisco's Outer Sunset district, I found a free-box outside of an organic food co-op. The sign over the box read, "Everything here is free for the taking - recycle, reuse, enjoy!" The free-box contained mostly old, broken toys - lots of Matchbox cars with wheels missing, random Lego bricks, Pokemon cards. Under these, though, lay a small, metal lunchbox. About half the size of a standard lunchbox. The theme was Batman, and it seems to have been part of some card collector set: collect all the new Batman cards, and keep them in this handy, mini lunchbox. I fell in love. The perfect canvas had landed in my lap.

My mother was an extraordinary woman. Funny, smart, opinionated, loving, fiercely loyal, loud, wise, bossy. Some people found her to be a little bit scary, at times. She did not mince words. She had a fiery temper. She had a heart as big as all of Brooklyn, and was extremely generous.  On the other hand, Brooklyn and the Caribbean both coursed through her veins: she knew how to stand up for herself and her loved ones, hold a grudge, tell someone off in two languages, haggle a salesman down to the lowest price, and make her opinion known. I always loved her for her style of parenting, for letting me, as a kid, know that my own actions, and the decisions I made, were of consequence. I never felt like she was controlling what I did, but saying, "Do what you will, but life is all about living with the choices you make. The ball is in your court." I loved her for this. And, really, I liked her so much. I don't just mean love. Every kid loves their mother, in some way, I suppose. I liked her. She was fun to be with. We made each other laugh. She enjoyed motherhood, and she enjoyed developing real friendship with her children. When I was a kid, she loved to play with me. When I became a young woman, she loved to get up early on Sunday morning and drink coffee with me, before anyone else was awake. Years later, when I was living half a world away, she loved talking on the phone with me, and exchanging care packages by mail. And she never did anything small or half-assed. A perfect example:

During one of our long phone conversations, I mentioned how much I missed American peanut butter. The peanut butter in New Zealand, I explained, just didn't taste right. I'd kill for just a slice of bread with Jif. A week later, a large box was left on my doorstep by the mail man. Instead of having a meter stamp, the box was covered in $1 postage stamps. Front, back, top, bottom...the box was covered in postage stamps. I laughed, cut open the box and found inside two one-gallon jars of Jif peanut butter. Industrial-sized. Enough to keep me in peanut butter for well over a year. I immediately phoned her, and we shared a laugh over the madness of the just over 100 stamps she'd stuck on the box, on a whim, because she thought it would be funny,  and the massive jars of peanut butter. It was so typical of her, to do something in such a big way. Largesse applied to every aspect of her life. She wasn't just generous, she also loomed large. Her laugh was big. Her voice was big. Her personality was huge. When she entered a room, she filled it up. To me, she was a giant. The single most important person in my life - then, now, forever. 

The irony lies in that my mother was all of 4' 11" tall. People who knew her find this difficult to believe. Even people who knew her for years -people who worked along side her - can't believe this is true. A giant in so many ways yet, physically, so very small. Short enough that her feet never touched the ground on a NYC bus. Being a superhero has nothing to do with height.

When I found this little lunchbox, the phrase "tiny, but mighty" popped into my head, and I knew this was meant to be. 


  1. What a gorgeous picture of your mother, Lana. First of all, it looks like you in a blonde wig! So funny. But it is lovely, and you made such a lovely montage. Also, though, you made such a beautiful verbal picture of your mother. I really feel as though I have a keen sense of her from the way you describe her. I have a real feeling about her superheroine-ity. She rates. You have made her a true star.

  2. You did a great job! And your mom did a great job on you, too! She sounds like she was an amazing woman.